Posted by: soanstolaf | March 17, 2014

Art, Prison, and South Africa

Kyla[Kyla Rathjen, center]

Kyla Rathjen, a senior SOAN major from Eden Prairie, MN, spent her last semester studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa through CIEE, a non-profit organization offering study abroad programs across the world.

Kyla’s experience, a “service-based learning” program, sought to educate students about issues of social justice and ethical citizenship by requiring students to become directly involved in a community-based service organization.  Kyla split her time between the classroom and her service project, spending three days a week studying social science theories and research methods two days a week volunteering at an organization that sought to decrease racial and economic inequalities in Cape Town.

Specifically, Kyla worked with Young in Prison, a non-profit that seeks to give educational and emotional support to youth experiencing incarceration.  Kyla divided her time between the Young in Prison office and Pollsmoor Prison, a large high security prison famous for housing Nelson Mandela.  Working at each location one day a week, Kyla focused on building positive relationships and improving self-esteem through various art projects. 

A large part of the student’s time is focused on the creation and implementation of an end of term “capstone” project.  Working with Young in Prison, Kyla proposed and developed a creative writing project that sought to connect current and former prisoners.  Through writing letters back and forth in a “pen-pal” format, Kyla hoped to help people who had extremely limited human interactions build relationships and relate with someone who had been through a similarly difficult experience. 

Through her work with Young in Prison, Kyla gained valuable insights into both the practical challenges and important functions social justice organizations face.  Kyla learned quickly that one of the most persistent problems of non-profit work is figuring out how to carry out a project in cost-effective and practical ways.  While Kyla developed many potential arts projects for the prisoners, the limited resources of the prison itself often made the implementation of these projects difficult or impossible to achieve. 

Yet, while practical constraints often limited the scope of the projects, Kyla observed that it was not the projects themselves but rather the relationships prisoners were able to form through the arts projects that ultimately had the most long lasting and meaningful effect.  Kyla told me that many current and former prisoners felt a great sense of loneliness and abandonment.  Their art projects, then, allowed them the opportunity to make human connections and build relationships. 

Kyla’s SOAN background helped her both in her transition to living abroad and in the classroom.  First and foremost, Kyla felt as though her SOAN classes allowed her to approach her time abroad with an open mind.  Additionally, her previous experiences studying social inequalities in the United States prepared her to both analyze the social inequalities of South African society at a structural level and confidently discuss issues related to race, class, and gender in a large group setting. 

Kyla stressed to me that her program might appeal to students seeking a slightly less “traditional” study abroad program.  Because many programs go directly through a university, students going abroad often find it difficult making connections outside of their university community.  What Kyla appreciated about her program was the opportunity it gave her to connect to larger, more diverse communities in Cape Town.  Additionally, the focus on service learning placed a greater emphasis on what a student does outside of the classroom.  While Kyla appreciated her time spent engaged in group discussions, she continually reiterated that her internship with Young in Prison had the largest and most meaningful impact on her while studying in Cape Town.

While Kyla hopes to return to work at Young in Prison in the future, she is currently seeking out positions in programs involving youth-centered and arts-based restorative justice initiatives in the Twin Cities.

If you would like to contact Kyla about her experiences working and studying in Cape Town, email her at rathjenk@stolaf.edu.                                                                                                                                                – Interview by Mac Leydon

Posted by: soanstolaf | February 19, 2014

The Anthropologists at Intel

From the New York Times business section:  “At Intel, an anthropologist’s team travels the globe, trying to learn what customers crave in their everyday electronics.”

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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/technology/intels-sharp-eyed-social-scientist.html?_r=0

Posted by: soanstolaf | February 15, 2014

Anthropologists as Journalists

New Rules for Radicals

How George Goehl is transforming community organizing.

BY DAVID MOBERG (Ph.D in anthropology from University of Chicago)

Published in:  IN THESE TIMES

As a hungry young drifter who had only recently (and barely) finished high school in the late 1980s, George Goehl (pronounced “gale”) got by with a little help from a free soup kitchen in Bloomington, Ind. A few years later, that kitchen served as the launching pad for his dynamic career as a community organizer. For the past six years, as executive director of the community-organizing network National People’s Action (NPA), Goehl has spurred a rapid growth. More important, he is spearheading a dramatic transformation of NPA’s strategy and goals—while helping to unleash more of the progressive potential of the large and uniquely American community organizing movement.

Goehl’s first political awakening came after he had returned to the soup kitchen as a volunteer in 1990. One day, it hit him that many of the patrons from years earlier were still regulars: The kitchen, part of our country’s tattered safety net, had kept them alive, but it had not reduced poverty, generally or individually. He began discussing the root causes of poverty with the kitchen’s patrons. Then, with tips from a mentor he met at a tenants’ organizing conference, he transformed the talkfest into the Coalition of Low-Income and Homeless Citizens. His work caught the attention of Shel Trapp, an organizer and a disciple of Saul Alinsky, the founder of modern community organizing.

Trapp recruited Goehl to study the craft in Chicago’s hard-pressed West Side neighborhoods in 1996. Goehl dutifully learned the commandments of traditional Chicago-style community organizing: Don’t talk ideology, just issues. No electoral politics. Build organizations, not movements. No coalitions: Protect organizational turf. Focus on neighborhoods and on concrete, winnable goals. Goehl quickly recruited hundreds of new members to Blocks Together, then an allied organization of National People’s Action, his first association with the multi-state network of community groups founded in 1972 by Trapp and the brilliant neighborhood leader Gale Cincotta.

NPA won widespread admiration for its 1977 success in getting Congress to pass the Community Reinvestment Act, which prevented banks from engaging in the practice known as redlining: disinvesting in poorer, seemingly riskier neighborhoods. But Goehl grew frustrated with the limits to his community organizing work. He thought that NPA had become too preoccupied with enforcing its landmark legislative victory and had failed to press onward to bigger goals, such as breaking up the banks or further regulating the industry.

And Goehl grew frustrated, too, with Alinsky-style organizing. Community organizing was dominated by several large networks, each with its own training centers, styles and goals, which had accomplished a lot: helping members deal with local problems and sometimes tackling bigger issues such as homeownership, energy policies or healthcare. But Goehl, like many other critics, thought that these community organizations lacked the ambition, vision, strategy and full arsenal of political weapons needed to roll back decades of corporate conservative victories and to create a more democratic economy and government. One big flaw in traditional organizing was that it was “designed to win the best things possible for a landscape we had not created,” Goehl says.

Goehl left NPA in 2004 for a stint as an organizer for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM). There, he had a second political awakening: “A lot of people came in [to immigrant rights organizing] with a political analysis first, then [learned] organizing,” Goehl says. “For me, my politics developed after my organizing skills. I would be in a room like this”—he gestures to the spartan basement of the NPA’s national headquarters in Chicago—“and almost all of the organizers were immigrants, and their ideas around movements, strategy and political analysis were so different from anything I’d experienced in the Chicago school of organizing— so much more expansive, broad and complicated.” At FIRM, Goehl began to understand the value of flexibility in adopting new tactics and strategies, as well as collaborating with different groups to build movements.

When Goehl returned to NPA six years ago as executive director, he found most of his staff and community leaders open to a bolder strategy. That ambition inspired new affiliations and new organizing, helping NPA’s membership leap to about 90,000 members in 30 groups across 14 states, he says. But Goehl doesn’t think growth alone will enable community groups to rival the networks built by the corporate Right. To win game-changing victories they also need more alliances (with progressive issue groups, unions and other community organizing networks, for example) and a stronger progressive infrastructure (more varied and potent communications strategies and funding sources, including more member donations to end overreliance on foundations).

At the same time, Goehl stresses that the NPA must retain what he sees as the soul of its tradition: “the willingness to challenge corporate power and both parties, [to take] direct action to transform power and transform the human spirit, and to organize from the bottom up.”

With these ideas in mind and with assistance from Richard Healey, a consultant with the nonprofit Grassroots Policy Project, Goehl and the NPA spent the last six years developing a new strategy that the group adopted at its April 2013 convention. The crux: The NPA is no longer satisfied with protesting the powerful and aims to help the powerless take the reins instead— through elections, and also through greater worker decision-making power in workplaces. And it is thinking not just in months or years, but in decades.

The organization now commits itself to a vision of a “new economy”: democratic and public control of finance, and cooperative and alternative forms of business ownership. Beyond using cooperatives to show how worker-run economic alternatives are viable, NPA also envisions giving workers real decision-making power within corporations and giving the public the right to revoke the charters of corporations that provide too little social value.

NPA wants to directly challenge the conservative ideas that limit the American political imagination, such as hyper-individualism, market fetishism and hostility not only to socialism and other alternatives to capitalism, but to government itself. It also emphasizes the need to eliminate the structural racism that impedes any strategy to address inequality. Although “NPA has always worked to advance racial justice,” Goehl explains, it must eradicate any barriers to leadership by people of color within NPA.

“If we fail to win the battle of big ideas, we fail,” Goehl says.

To spread these big ideas and pave the way for a new future, the group plans to advocate concrete structural reforms that shift power from corporations to people. These might include, for example, “democratizing money” by establishing state banks like North Dakota’s or reforming the rules of electoral politics—“people in, money out”—as some statewide affiliates are trying to do. The idea is that, as these structural reforms accumulate, they will lead to a transformation of society, ushering in a new social and economic egalitarianism. A major upcoming NPA campaign will focus on raising tax revenue for local, state and federal governments through a financial transaction tax. When anti-tax crusaders claim the country can’t afford higher taxes, Goehl’s rejoinder is, “We found the money, and it’s not in Grandma’s pension or our children’s classrooms, but on Wall Street.”

While traditional community organizations eschewed electoral politics—unless it was simply to confront an elected official—many have now ventured into direct electoral waters, even endorsing candidates and mobilizing voters for them (as the progressive coalition USAction does). The NPA has established a separate nonprofit 501(c)4 arm, called the National People’s Action Campaign (NPAC), to engage in everything from legislative advocacy to registering voters, and even running candidates.

TakeAction Minnesota, an NPA affiliate with an active electoral politics arm, provides an example of how NPAC may operate. Like many progressive groups, NPAC hopes to be independent of the two big parties but has no plans to form a third party. Being politically independent, says Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota, means that candidates for office must be accountable to grassroots members instead of party leaders. TakeAction also has been independently nurturing its own candidates to run in primaries or general elections. Ultimately, Goehl says, the Democratic Party will be “the field of struggle” for most of NPAC’s political candidates, since the Republican Party’s terrain is so far right.

TakeAction Minnesota won a big victory in 2012 when it helped defeat a supposedly slam-dunk referendum that would have required voters to show a photo identification card. This fall, a city council member and longtime TakeAction Minnesota activist, Betsy Hodges, was elected mayor of Minneapolis. Her campaign stressed the need for racial and ethnic equality, and used community organizing tactics to defeat former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew, the candidate favored by many Democratic Farmer Labor Party leaders (even though the party made no endorsement) and by most of the city’s labor unions (except SEIU). That split underscores why a leader in another network, who spoke off the record, thinks that NPA needs to learn how to work more closely with the labor movement to forge common strategies as early as possible.

The ambitious and long-range strategy of Goehl and NPA could greatly alter the progressive movement as a whole, both by adding heft to existing campaigns—for a financial transaction tax, for example—and by initiating new ones.

However, the NPA has its work cut out for it. NPA’s intent to shift power through a series of reforms is appealing, but it is often difficult to develop campaigns that meet all the ideal criteria of structural reform. The nation’s big corporations had a decades- long approach not only to changing policy but also to winning the “battle of big ideas,” in Goehl’s terms. It was certainly easier for corporations with great power to launch a 40-year campaign to regain what little they lost in the progressive reforms of the 1960s and the 1930s, than it will be for progressives to execute a long-term strategy to dethrone the corporations and other concentrations of power and money. But NPA’s work on such plans offers both a counterpoint to the short-term thinking that too often shapes the progressive agenda, and a template for how progressives can make greater gains—perhaps on the scale of the New Deal—as opportune moments arise, whether they are crises like the Great Recession (when many opportunities were missed) or the growing reaction now against extreme inequality.

“The biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity,” Goehl says. “So many people—black, white, Latino, Asian—are being pushed down by the current economic order. If there was ever an opportunity for people to get on the same page and go after the real culprits, this is it.” Goehl hopes the organizational grandchildren of Alinsky will move from neighborhoods to national challenges. “Now community organizations not only can win policy campaigns,” he says. “They can change the country.”

Posted by: soanstolaf | November 13, 2013

Professor Nordstrom-Loeb’s Sabbatical Research

While Bruce was on sabbatical, the issue of gay marriage became a topic of increasingly intense political focus.  Within one year, Minnesota went from debating whether it was appropriate to define marriage in the state constitution as being exclusively between “men” and women” to passing a bill allowing same sex couples to legally marry.  While Bruce already planned on conducting research surrounding issues of gender and sexuality in the context of evangelical “Mega churches,” the events that unfolded made his questions even more timely.

With this question in mind, Bruce decided to look into Evangelical Protestant’s beliefs on issues such as gay marriage and gender roles in the twin cities.  Specifically, Bruce was interested in investigating evangelical “Mega churches,” and chose to visit churches with congregations of between 2,000 and 15,000 people.

Attempting to gain a better understanding of contemporary Evangelical Christian beliefs on gay marriage and gender roles, Bruce imbedded himself into Evangelical-Christian culture, visiting 16 different churches over the course of the year.  Bruce split his time between attending services, researching different group programs offered by the churches, examining church literature, and reading up on current sociological studies of evangelical Christianity.

During the course of his research Bruce came to a few rather surprising findings.  Contrary to popular public portrayals, Bruce found that most evangelical “Mega churches” in the twin cities do not actively speak out in opposition of LGBTQ rights.  In the media, evangelical Christianity is often portrayed as being vocally opposed to issues such as same sex marriage. However, in his study Bruce found that only 5 out of the 16 churches gave sermons in which the pastor made negative comments about same sex marriage.  Additionally, the literature most of the churches circulated to their congregations contained few if any traces of anti-GLBTQ rhetoric.  While many of the members themselves may have been opposed to same sex marriage, the vast majority of the churches did not publicly address the issue of homosexuality or gay marriage.

Instead, Bruce found sustaining and supporting heterosexual marriage was the primary concern of these “Mega churches”.  Viewing the institution of marriage as an entity in danger of losing cultural significance, these churches sought to educate their members about the importance of marriage in family life.  While little time or resources were invested in opposing gay marriage, almost all of the congregations Bruce visited had a number of programs that were targeted towards married couples.

In addition to pressure from church leaders, Bruce concluded that changing demographics and attitudes of the members of Evangelical “Mega churches” also created an increased focus on marriage.  Women now make up the majority of church membership, and many of these women also work full or part time.  This increase in responsibility leads many of the female congregation members to seek a “companionship oriented marriage”.  However, these egalitarian beliefs about marriage seemed to contradict the more traditional gender roles traditionally taught by evangelical churches.

Nowhere was this paradox between modern and traditional views of gender roles more apparent than in the many men’s groups and sermons that Bruce listened to.  On one hand, Bruce noted that meetings such as this encouraged “soft patriarchy”.  While never explicitly stating that men should have control over a women’s agency, by encouraging men to assume positions as leaders within their families these churches seemed to be promoting an unequal power dynamic between husbands and wives.  Yet, by challenging fathers to take a more active role in their children’s lives, these churches were simultaneously encouraging their male congregation members to participate in more maternal aspects of child rearing.  Bruce concluded that situations like this highlight the complex, oftentimes contradictory relationship between masculinity and femininity at Evangelical “Mega churches”.

When I asked Bruce if he had any advice for so/an students interested in conducting their own research, he continually reiterated the importance of designing a project that fits your time and resources.  Bruce noted that employing ethnographic research methods was a simple and relatively inexpensive way to conduct individual research and that this was his primary method of data collection for his research on “Mega churches”.

If you would like to know more about Bruce’s research on evangelical “Mega churches”, feel free to contact him at nordstrb@stolaf.edu.  Additionally, he has office hours on Tuesday 10:00-11:00 a.m., Wednesday, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Thursday 3:45-4:30 p.m. in the Cage, and Friday 10:30-11:30 a.m. and by appointment.  We are extremely excited to welcome Bruce back – his wealth of knowledge of both issues regarding race and gender and cookie recipes was sorely missed!

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 15, 2013

A sociologist looks at the sharing economy

October 14, 2013
New York Times
 By JULIET B. SCHOR

BOSTON — In Somerville, Massachusetts, just across the line from Cambridge, is an institution called Artisan’s Asylum. At 40,000 square feet, it says it’s one of the largest “makerspaces,” or community craft studios, on the East Coast of the United States. A nonprofit group, it hosts craftspeople, artists and entrepreneurs, analog and digital alike. In addition to classes in traditional fields like woodworking, fiber arts and metalworking, it offers coveted rental space for creative types.

At one end of the space, tech whizzes are building Stompy, a 4,000-pound hexapod — a six-legged robot. At the other is a “bike hacking” collective that repurposes old bicycle frames. In between are the folks who invented a 3Doodler, the three-dimensional pen — it extrudes heated plastic that can be formed into just about any shape. The 3Doodler raised $2.3 million on Kickstarter (far outpacing its $30,000 goal) and is on track to be the next must-have gift item.

Community fabrication spaces like Artisan’s Asylum are becoming popular across the United States and Europe. For many, they represent an appealing vision of the future of work.

Unlike in the classic industrial setting, where the manual and mental aspects of work are separated between blue- and white-collar employees, those tasks are integrated in these “makerspaces.” There’s a commitment to ecological sustainability. There are no bosses or even “jobs,” in the traditional sense. Value is generated, for sure, but as “livelihood” or, in the case of the start-ups, worker/creator ownership.

This shift from employment to livelihood, while far from prevalent, has become a necessity for many in the wake of the 2008 global financial collapse, which led to the loss of more than 8 million jobs in the United States. At the time, I and other observers predicted that these jobs — a victim of labor-saving technical change, globalization and financialization — were unlikely to return. Five years later, the employment-to-population ratio in the United States, 58.6 percent, is at its lowest since 1983. In much of Europe, unemployment has soared, especially for youth, even as aging populations place pressure on pension and other social welfare programs.

As jobs disappear, people have begun to carve out new ways to gain access to income, goods and services. This is evident not only in the “makerspaces,” but also in what has come to be called the “sharing economy,” which encompasses activities as diverse as car-pooling, ride-sharing, opening one’s home to strangers via Web-based services like Couchsurfing or Airbnb, sharing office space and working in community gardens and food co-ops. Read More…

Posted by: soanstolaf | September 25, 2013

Anthropologist wins MacArthur!

Julie Livingston, a medical anthropologist and historian at Rutgers, was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation grant for her work in Botswana.

Her bio and a YouTube clip can be found here.

Posted by: soanstolaf | September 25, 2013

Raising children anthropologically

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Peter Gray’s new book uses lots of anthropological insights to argue for a better way to raise children.  Above all, he encourages parents to let children to follow their interests and to play without adult supervision, which is what most kids have done through much of human history.

Posted by: soanstolaf | April 21, 2013

Another Way to Think About Debt

The Debt We Shouldn’t Pay

MAY 9, 2013

Robert Kuttner New York Review of Books

Debt: The First 5,000 Years
by David Graeber
Melville House, 534 pp., $32.00; $22.00 (paper)

kuttner_1-0509143.jpg© The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society, New YorkDrawing by Saul Steinberg

At the heart of the argument about how to revive a depressed economy is the question of debt. When political leaders and economists debate the subject, they refer mostly to public debt. To conservatives, the economy’s capacity for recovery is impaired by too much government borrowing. These escalating obligations, they claim, will be passed along to our children and grandchildren, leaving America a poorer country. Liberal economists, such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, have replied that only faster growth rates and higher gross domestic product will reduce the relative weight of past debts. Budget austerity, in their view, will shrink demand and slow growth, making the debt burden that much heavier.

As important as this debate is, there’s something missing. Public debt was not implicated in the collapse of 2008, nor is it retarding the recovery today. Enlarged government deficits were the consequence of the financial crash, not the cause.1 Indeed, there’s a strong case that government deficits are keeping a weak economy out of deeper recession. When Congress raised taxes in January at an annual rate of over $180 billion to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, and then accepted a “sequester” of $85 billion in spending cuts in March, the combined fiscal contraction cut economic growth for 2013 about in half, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Moreover, some of the causes of public deficits, such as Medicare, reflect to a large extent inefficiency and inflation in health care rather than profligacy in public budgeting.

It was private speculative debts—exotic mortgage bonds financed by short-term borrowing at very high costs—that produced the crisis of 2008. The burden of private debts continues to hobble the economy’s potential. In the decade prior to the collapse of 2008, private debts grew at more than triple the rate of increase of the public debt. In 22 percent of America’s homes with mortgages, the debt exceeds the value of the house. Young adults begin economic life saddled with student debt that recently reached a trillion dollars, limiting their purchasing power. Middle-class families use debt as a substitute for wages and salaries that have lagged behind the cost of living. This private debt overhang, far more than the obsessively debated question of public debt, retards the recovery.

The debt debate is reminiscent of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In a grand inversion, minor characters have usurped center stage, while the more important ones are out of sight. The quarrel about public debts is really a proxy for the argument about how to produce a strong recovery. To that end, we should be discussing how to relieve the burdens of private debts and prevent future abuses of the power of the financial industry to create debt and engage in speculation.

As the economic anthropologist David Graeber shows in his encyclopedic survey, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, since antiquity

the struggle between rich and poor has largely taken the form of conflicts between creditors and debtors—of arguments about the rights and wrongs of interest payments, debt peonage, amnesty, repossession, restitution, the sequestering of sheep, the seizing of vineyards, and the selling of debtors’ children into slavery.

He quotes the classical historian Moses Finley as saying that in the ancient world all revolutionary movements had a single program: “Cancel the debts and redistribute the land.”

Despite the implications of Graeber’s history for events since 2008, the present economic distress scarcely figures in his book. Rather, he has written an authoritative account of the background to the recent crisis. Both erudite and impertinent, his book helps illuminate the omissions of the current debate and the tacit political conflicts that lurk behind technical budget questions.

Graeber, an American teaching at Goldsmiths, a part of the University of London, begins his book with an anecdote. He is attending a garden party at Westminster Abbey. The guests are international activists and do-gooders, corporate liberals as well as antiglobalization radicals. He falls into a conversation with a lawyer for a foundation and explains his involvement in the campaign to stop the International Monetary Fund from imposing austerity on third-world nations. He mentions the biblical Jubilee, in which Hebrew kings periodically proclaimed debts forgiven.

“‘But,’ she objected, as if this were self-evident, ‘they’d borrowed the money! Surely one has to pay one’s debts.’”

Graeber reminds her that even in standard economic theory, “a lender is supposed to accept a certain degree of risk.” Indeed, the higher the anticipated return, the more likely the danger of default. Yet the premise that “surely one has to pay one’s debts” is so persuasive, Graeber writes, “because it’s not actually an economic statement: it’s a moral statement.” A debt, by definition, is something you owe that must be repaid. Read More…

Posted by: soanstolaf | February 16, 2013

Anthropology and understanding Kickstarter

February 8, 2013  New York Times
Why would anyone give money to Kickstarter?   By Rob Trump

For about three years, between the ages of 12 and 15, I spent much of my free time on Internet forums devoted to the collectible-card game Magic: The Gathering. It became an obsession, consuming my mind and becoming the only thing I wanted to talk about. And once I realized that nobody I ever met face to face was particularly interested in a long debate on the merits of Zuran Orb vis-à-vis Claws of Gix, I turned to the Web.

On one site in particular, I became a regular — not only in conversations about Magic rules and strategy but on general issues like politics, culture, science and sports. Over time, even as my interest in the game waned and I played less, my connection to the people I met stayed strong, and I was spending more and more time on the site. Many regulars and I became close friends. Yet my family was still freaked out when one community member, having decided to leave the game of Magic, sent me a huge box of his old cards.

When my mother found out that my mysterious benefactor by mail was a guy in his 20s, she immediately took the position that he was a child molester trying to lure me out to California from Minnesota. In all fairness, I have no evidence that he wasn’t a predator, but the simpler explanation seems much more likely: he just wanted to give me a gift.

When a person is open and giving, our default reaction is often suspicion, especially when the Internet is involved. And it’s exactly that sort of suspicion that has underscored much of the media reaction to Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding platform. More or less anyone is allowed to post a project on Kickstarter with a stated financing goal, and more or less anyone is allowed to contribute to that project. The major caveats are that the projects must be creative and that the creators must offer rewards at different tiers of contribution, much in the way that PBS offers you a tote bag if you donate a certain amount during a fund-raiser.

In the beginning, Kickstarter seemed primarily like a venue for upstart bands or small theater companies to raise a few thousand dollars to get projects off the ground. Over the past year, though, Kickstarter has played a surprising role in gathering increasingly astonishing amounts of money for increasingly well-known artists. In March 2012, the video-game auteur Tim Schafer sought $400,000 to make a new game but ended up with $3.36 million; in May, the musician Amanda Palmer set a goal of $100,000 to record a new album and raked in more than $1 million.

Along with a rise in the site’s public profile, the media narrative about Kickstarter has changed from one of astonishment (“So, people will just give you money?”) to one of skepticism (“All right, who’s getting hosed here?”) to the current uneasy middle ground — optimistic but ready to jettison the whole thing as soon as some opportunist abuses it to abscond with a bunch of cash. Kickstarter-financed projects that run into trouble or fail to materialize are often cited as a flaw in the model: to take only the two examples above, Schafer has documented for his backers that his project is on a pace to run over its budget, and Palmer, following her windfall, has faced criticism for soliciting free help from local musicians while on tour. The suggestion in both cases is that their Kickstarter contributors were somehow duped, like suckers who fell for a Nigerian e-mail scam. Read More…

Posted by: soanstolaf | February 1, 2013

This is anthropology!

A new venture from the American Anthropological Association, full of information on the discipline.

Check it out here.

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