Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Diary for 31st January to 6th February 2008

THURSDAY 31ST JANUARY - Collecting your thoughts

To kick off the week, I'm attending a conference being held at the British Museum all about 'Extreme Collecting' - and the ethical, social and political decisions that people working in museums have to make. For example, should museums continue to collect objects from other cultures or countries? There are a series of workshops over the course of the day - under the heading 'Ethnography of the Ordinary', including one by Robert Opie which explores whether everyday packaging is 'trash or treasure'. Details of all the workshop are available on the website, and admission to the sessions is FREE, though it is limited - you need to contact to confirm attendance.

FRIDAY 1ST FEBRUARY - Give me a clue

Ever wondered exactly what ethnic endogamy is, or what exactly it is that a nomad gets up to? Perhaps not, but for all those nagging anthropological questions a good place to do some initial research could be the online Dictionary of Anthropology. It has biographies of anthropologists themselves, the topics they study and also breaks down some of the theoretical terms you might come across. At the moment, it's a growing resource, but does provide links to further articles on the subjects it covers, so is definitely worth a look around, which is exactly what I'm going to do today.


Today I'm going to read an obituary that was published last week on the Guardian website of David Pocock, one of the more influential anthropologists from the last century. His teaching over the years was as important as his writing, and he was particularly important in the resurgence of the Massobs archive which is occasionally mentioned on the blog. Also, for newcomers to the subject, Pocock published the introductory text 'Understanding Social Anthropology', as well as many other books. He once made a statement that really sums up anthropology and what its practitioners believe in: 'Social anthropology is concerned with the whole of life, and not just something you do until six o'clock. The study of social anthropology encourages you to have a new kind of consciousness of life; it is a way of looking at the world, and in that sense it is a way of living.' Inspirational stuff.

SUNDAY 3RD FEBRUARY - Uncovering the Veil

On Sunday I'm going to listen again to last week's Thinking Allowed programme which, amongst other topics, featured a discussion with a social scientist about the wearing of the veil in French schools, which was outlawed a couple of years ago. This subject ties in to many of anthropology's concerns, since it is an issue that cuts across many social issues, from nationalism to religion to identity.
For another point of view, it's also interesting to listen to this archived BBC examination of the cultural practice of men wearing the veil, which included contributions from anthropologists; or alternatively invest in this book written about the social role of the veil. A word of warning, in order to hear the feature on the veil, you first have to listen to a piece about a group of Americans convinced the apocalypse is imminent, and what is more, that it's nothing to worry about...

MONDAY 4TH FEBRUARY - International affairs

As I am sure you will have noticed, there is considerable unrest in Kenya at the moment following the elections held at the end of 2007. Today I want to research some anthropological perspectives on the subject, in order to gain a fuller understanding of what might be going on... In particular, I'm going to watch a short report by an anthropologist, Angelique Haugerud, who argues that the western media have concentrated too much on 'ancient' tribal conflicts as an explanation for a situation that actually has a much wider set of causes, such as economic inequality and widespread corruption. She has also written a long article on the issue, and her point of view has been echoed by several other writers, for example in The Guardian. It is a good example of how anthropology can help us understand 'news' situations in a more in-depth manner and on a broader platform, but most importantly for now - in Kenya.

TUESDAY 5TH FEBRUARY - Wartime on film

On Tuesday I'm going to hot-step it down to Riverside Studios to catch a showing of the Humphrey Jennings' classic film Fires were Started. The 'documentary', made in 1943, used non-professional actors and real-life footage to portray a day-in-the-life of the Blitz. It is widely studied on Visual Anthropology courses as an example of the use of film as propaganda, but is just as much worth watching for the impressive visuals. Admission to the film, which begins at 19.00, costs £6.50 for students, and you can view another of Jennings' wartime films online here.

WEDNESDAY 6TH FEBRUARY - Working into the night

Today I'm going to get myself booked in for an Open Evening at Birckbeck College in London, when I'm hoping to learn more about the short courses they run in social anthropology. Their Certificate in Higher Education emphasises the cross-cultural perspective you can gain from studying anthropology, and students can pick from a variety of 8 different modules, studying subjects such from religion, to health, and tourism. The courses start at different points during the year, and credits can count towards a BSc in Social Sciences. The evening session is running tomorrow, 7th February, from 16.00 until 19.30 at the Royal National Hotel in Central London - you can book online here.