Some UnivCafe Headnotes

What follows is a set of notes I wrote down on my smarphone while coming back from a University of the Streets Café conversation. That convo was titled “Made to market: How do we contribute to an ad-saturated world?”. Guests were Kim Bélair and Felix Bander. The conversation was moderated/facilitated by Sara Potau. The event was clearly oriented toward overconsumption.

We arrived at Burritoville about an hour before the condo started and got a chance to chat with interesting people, including a UnivCafe regular who teaches about environmental policy.

I made my usual three comments: a fairly long one during the first phase of the convo, to wrap together several emerging issues (talking about reductionism, marketing as potentially blinding an angle, and conversations as two-way instead of “selling body parts”); a shorter one (in French) around the middle of the event to shift gears a little (detachment, media literacy, and critical thinking as tools against ads, marketing as message transmission outside of critical thinking); and a very short one at the end as a take-home point (we all have a responsibility to train ourselves and others to think critically because we can all develop these skills).

Without further ado, my headnotes (written down from memory, after the fact):

Dichotomies: UnivCafe as in-group vs. Habs fans or advertisers as out-group with Felix as self-created scapegoat.
Turn-taking: making sure that it doesn’t become dialogue with Felix, that it doesn’t get out of hand, that people who had their hand up were seen (though “Curves” guy in the corner had to try several times but was apparently ok with it), and dealing with a partes, peanut gallery, heckling…
Those who stick to topic (ad-saturation), bring it somewhere else, or react to other point with theme as an excuse. (all useful.)
Tacit approval, quiet disapproval, and body language.
Two-speakers dynamic (with Kim being either preserved from opprobrium by short talking time or prevented to speak by more vocal participants)
Good cop, bad cop between Kim and Felix?
How diverse the crowd really is, assumed consensus, shared experience (mention of McGill, e.g.): who does UnivCafe attract
Do people always clap? What are contexts for clapping and other back-channel activities?
One guy taking notes and not speaking up.
Groups of people coming together (including Salinda Hess’s students).
Who knows whom?
Use of first-names vs. “Green Girl”
Importance of pre- and post-convo smalltalk and networking.
Phases in the convo: number of active participants in a row, covering initial topics, clarifying some issues, getting closer to debate mode, toward wrap-up, last lineup of active participants…
Sense of closure?

Pseudo-quant: how many active participants from which part of the room?

On themes and topics;
Human nature?
Ends justify the means?
Free will?
Critiques of capitalism, modernity, and industrial society (but not really Globalization)
Can we avoid advertising individually? Collectively? As a species?

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RIEP11: Podfade and Future Plans

I’ve decided to move on. I may still do some ethnography-related podcasts and I’m still quite involved in social media. But this is the final episode of Rapport: The Informal Ethnographer Podcast.

RIEP11: Podfade and Future Plans

RIEP11: Podfade and Future Plans

One reason I’m “podfading” is that I’m getting more opportunities to discuss things through other social media. Moving on from this podcast is a way to focus on other things. Not that it was time-consuming or that it required a lot of effort. But it did what it had to do.

I learnt a fair amount through the experience. Not that most of this learning experience can apply to other people or other projects, but as an experiment, it worked.

If I were to do it again, I might set it up so that other people are involved from the start. In fact, if I can, I’ll probably create a new podcast, based on having some other people on board.

Another thing I might do differently is set up a separate WordPress install through my own webhost, instead of using A major advantage of is that it offers a well-packaged system, with reasonable upload limits. And it’s very inexpensive. But I might as well put things on The Internet Archive, and control the whole platform, especially since I’ve been dealing with a few WordPress installations and know what’s involved.

What I’ve learnt through the experience, though, has less to do with technical issues and more to do with my career plans. When I created this podcast, I wanted to make a conscious effort to put social media at the centre of my professional life. I had already been quite active in social media for a few years. But, until then, social media activities weren’t really part of my professional life.

In some ways, the main lesson has been about the value of separating professional and personal activities and identities. The podcast itself didn’t become a huge part of my online identity. But it helped separate “Alex, the Informal Ethnographer” from “Enkerli, the Disparate Blogger.”

As time went on, I eventually starting writing blogposts about teaching. While these weren’t about ethnography per se, it seemed to fit more directly here than on my main blog. Still a loose fit, but it made sense in my crude “personal/professional” categorization.

Since then, I’ve actually created a simple site (an installation of BuddyPress) meant to serve as a place to discuss learning and teaching, in connection with social media (hence the “Learning 2.0” idea, based on the “Web 2.0” coined by Darcy DiNucci at O’Reilly). On that site, I created a number of separate blogs, including some meant purely for testing purposes (using the “sandbox” idea). But I’ve been posting things on my individual blog there. Haven’t reallly been advertising it but I’m already receiving some useful feedback.

One thing I’m trying to do with that learning/teaching blog is to “contribute to the conversation” by adding links to diverse blogs. Some of my blogposts there are meant as replies to other people’s own blogposts. Also, because these blogposts are related to my teaching activities, they’re a way to “think out loud” about teaching. In fact, I might import some teaching-related blogposts from my main blog. At this specific point in time, it sounds like blogging about teaching may be part of what I do. Not that I’m switching from ethnography to teaching (both remain very important, to me, no matter what). But I seem to be shifting my focus a bit, whether or not I realize it.

After creating this podcast and building my online identity as an “informal ethnographer,” I’ve had the opportunity to do a bit of work related to social media. Just a few key contracts, from the very simple and short to an elaborate project lasting several months. These contracts have confirmed a few things about my work and helped me clear up a few things. All of them have been part of a learning experience. And I’ve been meaning to blog about them… 😉

One thing which was clear from the beginning is that my strengths are in the social dimensions of social media. What wasn’t clear, though, is that practical and technical issues often come in the way, making this type of work more difficult.

If I am to think more about my skills and expertise, I notice several things having to do with my work life:

  • I love working with people. Either through collaboration or in diverse roles, from consultant to teacher.
  • My personality is part of my work and that’s ok. No more “impostor syndrome.”
  • Feeling good about the work I do is key. This includes satisfaction with the quality of my work, stimulation from that work, and comfort in doing that work.
  • I’m a “Jack of All Trades” and I’m proud of it. In many ways, I’m no expert, and that should be alright.
  • While my skills aren’t unique, the combination might be.
  • It’s actually not too hard to juggle a few projects at the same time as long as I feel good with what I do.
  • It’s better to focus on projects or activities where my contributions are likely to be unique than to accept any kind of work just because I can do it.
  • I don’t necessarily require job security, at this point.
  • There are some actual positions I could fulfill rather well.
  • Life’s good when we’re open to diverse possibilities.

But enough about me…

There are many interesting podcasts, out there, though it hasn’t been easy finding some which are really compatible with ethnography. Among exceptions are some podcasts hosted by sociologists.

One is BBC’s Thinking Allowed, hosted by former York sociologist Laurie Taylor. The show often covers ethnographic issues and research, though Taylor made a surprising comment recently to the effect that people “still” did ethnography. Guess he meant it as a comment on sociology specifically.

Another one is Sociology Improv, hosted by graduate students in sociology at University of Minnesota. As might be expected, they talk about sociology in general, not about the ethnographic dimension of sociology. But it frequently addresses things which are shared issues among several ethnographic disciplines.

Apart from podcasts, there are many ways to spot ethnography online. One is the Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC), a Ning site with an impressive number of members, including a few very active ones.

Another place is Twitter. In fact, it seems that the OAC was started through Twitter conversations. There are several lists of ethnographers on Twitter, including one I created through my IEthnographer account,

And, I insist, don’t be strangers. There are multiple ways to contact me. You can find much of my contact info on this “online business card” I created recently. You can also email me here, contact me through @IEthnographer on Twitter and on, or just do a search for my last name (Enkerli).

As I often say at the end of a semester: “If I don’t see you again, please have a good life!”

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ATT2: Study Advice to my Students

I posted the following on a forum in my “ANTH202/4B Introduction to Culture” course and realized it might be useful for other people. So I decided to post it here, in the spirit of “Alex’s Teaching Tips.” Some parts are specific to this course and most of it is about the way I teach, but it may still make some sense.

For a tiny bit of context: the midterm is tomorrow. Through the first part of the semester, I’ve tried to give other kinds of tips. This post was meant as a way to put things in perspective. I sent it to a forum called “Mid-Term Preparation.”

Someone asked for advice on exam prep. It’s a bit late for this and I want to be fair to everyone in the same way, so I’ll answer with a general forum post. At other points, I was (and will be) able to give customized advice, based on a student’s needs. But this is generic advice about preparing for an exam in one of my courses.
I’m actually somewhat torn about this. Some of you may feel even more overwhelmed while others may find this reassuring. Yet because I get the impression that it can be useful to a number of people, I’m posting this anyway.

First note that, if you’ve been doing your work and following advice I’ve already been giving you (say, by starting from the most general to the most specific or by focusing on links across the material), you probably have nothing to worry about. The exams aren’t ways to trick you but to assess your understanding of the material. There won’t be questions about specific details of the “Which anthropologist is credited with” kind. Wouldn’t make sense for an exam. Fairly useful in a self-administered quiz, not so cool on a midterm.

But, if you still worry, here are a few notes. My purpose here is to get you to “think like a cultural anthropologist,” not to make sure everyone gets high marks. But it’s clear that those who are able to think like a cultural anthropologist are also the ones who typically receive high marks on exams in a cultural anthropology course.

So, a bit more of a “procedural” advice, keeping in mind that we’re all far along in the process…

You all have, in fact, already started your exam preparation, even if you didn’t sit down to review material for the exam. The work you’ve put into the material should pay off. Keep that in mind.

So, at this point…
Go back to “the big picture,” before even glancing at any of the material. The “What have you learnt?” question. Focus on the most obvious things. It’s no secret that the course is about culture so you can think about what you now know about culture. Take notes, either in your head or in writing. Part of this should help you notice that you did learn a fair deal. This can be done quickly and almost effortlessly. You’re not trying to recreate the course in your mind. You’re just trying to pick what was most salient, what struck you. Chances are that those things are related to what’s important to understand.

Then, go through concentric circles, from the most general to the most specific. Think about the structure of the first part of the semester (class meetings and book chapters), first without any material then more specifically with the course material. You can use yesterday’s slides, for this. They’ve been reposted in a variety of formats and, though they don’t contain anything that new, they may be a useful summary.

After that, use any of your own material. If you’ve been posting journal entries in order to assess your own contributions, now may be an appropriate time to go back through them to put the course material in context. These entries weren’t meant as a study tool and that’s part of the reason they can be useful. If you’ve been taking notes while working with the book, look at these notes. Same thing with notes you may have taken in the classroom. Or anything about teamwork and individual exercises!

I would not advise you to go through the podcast recordings, at this point. Even at double-speed, it’d take you way too much time to listen to all of them and it might confuse you. But if there’s something you locate in your notes which seems like it has been discussed in class at a specific moment in time, you may be able to quickly retrieve this discussion from a podcast recording. Not something everyone is necessarily very good at, but it can be done. (Since I listen to a lot of podcasts, I’m pretty efficient at this. But it does require some practice and/or a specific type of memory.)

I also don’t advise you to take the self-quizzes, at this point. It’s very useful when you’re first learning about some concepts and you want to make sure you were paying enough attention while working with a given chapter. But it puts way too much emphasis on details and rote learning to be helpful just before an exam. At the same time, if you’ve taken those quizzes in the past and have some way to see what was unclear to you at that time (i.e., where you made mistakes), you can use this as a way to focus. As long as it’s not about details.

Using multiple-choice questions for Chapter 2 as an example… (Again, if you never took this quiz, do not take it now!)

If questions you got wrong, at the time, were about “Annette Weiner’s re-study of the Trobriand Islands” or about the indigenous group studied by Napoleon Chagnon, you shouldn’t worry about them. There will not be questions like these on the exam and it just means that these parts of the material were unclear while you were working with that chapter. No biggie. Moving on.
On the other hand, if what you got wrong was about a definition of rapport, it might be useful to look at why you got it wrong. Not because it’s so important as a concept but because you should be able to find the correct answer by elimination.
The question about the AAA’s code of ethics is also a good example, even though there won’t be negative questions on the exam and it sounds as if it’s asking about details on the AAA. If you really understood what ethics in cultural anthropology is about, it’s quite likely that you’ll know what the right answer is without knowing the first thing about the AAA (no, I don’t mean the US equivalent of the CAA wink).
One way to put it is that it’s about “common sense.” If you miss such a question, though, it’s not because you lack “common sense.” It’s that yours differs from the kind of anthropological thinking we’re talking about. In fact, with that ethics question, I could imagine a sociology student choosing “Be open about who you are and why you’re there” as what the AAA’s code does not include because there are very well-known cases where sociologists aren’t advocating this kind of transparency (even though informed consent is now a requirement in any study done with human subjects, including sociology). There are even anthropologists who have concealed their identities and we’ve talked about this in class. But I think it should be obvious from the classroom and textbook material that cultural anthropologists do seek informed consent from people with whom we work.
This part is all about those who did take the self-quizzes in the past. But I think it also helps you understand what the exam is about.

A final approach, which can still be taken at this point…
In the past, I’ve been telling you about finding links between issues and concepts. It’s still good advice, especially if you use it as a way to get yourself thinking about broader issues or if it helps you notice that you do, in fact, understand most of these. The list of glossary items is useful, in this case. Pick two items at random and, in your head, think about what you might say on their relationships to one another.
Now, this may not be for everyone either. Some of you may get lost in this while others do it “in their sleep.” That’s why I list it last.
Doing the exercise myself, using the slides from yesterday (using QuickView on my Mac, not even opening the file): “horticultural” and “negative reciprocity.” There’s an obvious link, there, but I’ll actually go toward something a bit more involved, for demonstration purposes. Horticulturalism is what we call a “subsistence strategy” and negative reciprocity has to do with “economic anthropology.” So I’m thinking about the relationships between “means of production” (in this case, how we get our food) and means of distribution (how we share resources across members of a group). It’s pretty much a “textbook case” of the kind of holistic approach Omohundro explained with the puzzle pieces. In this case, it’s about links between what we’ve called “infrastructure” and social structure. So you can quickly go very far. Or stick with what’s obvious (that both have to do with goods or that either is typical of a certain set of cultural contexts).
Again, this kind of stretch isn’t for everyone, at this point. If you try it and find it too difficult, skip it. As with physical training, not everyone can benefit from every exercise.

I very sincerely hope that this helps at least a few people and that it doesn’t have a negative effect on anyone.



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RIEP10: Social Butterfly Effect (SBE)

Ramblings on a rather simple concept.

RIEP10: Social Butterfly Effect (SBE)

My original blogpost:

“Social Butterfly Effect”: More Than a Silly Pun? « Disparate.

Another take:

Influence and Butterflies « Disparate.

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ATT1: The Collaborative Syllabus

My first tidbit is actually based on something I borrowed from Quick Hits. In fact, if I remember correctly, it was described by Scott Sernau, who was one of my teaching mentors at IUSB. But I adapted it to my needs.
Simply put, I let students select topics to be covered during the semester. And I find it advantageous in some contexts.
The way I do it is quite simple. During the first week of class, I distribute a list of topics and each student has to select a limited number of them. Topics with the largest numbers of votes are added to syllabus and the coursepack is built based on this selection.

I reserve the right to merge topics. So, two topics which seemed relatively unpopular may form parts of a broader topic which can reach more students. I put topics in a sequence after they’ve been selected, to avoid some bias effects on the section process. And I typically have predetermined topics for the first few weeks of class, both as a way to make sure everyone is on the same page, especoly about basic concepts, and because it gives me more time to prepare the readings for the rest of the semester.

Some things make this technique more practical. For instance, it works well in a small seminar but it’d be very hard to do in a large textbook-based class. Where I first used it (IUSB), it was possible to build the coursepack through the semester. In fact, the electronic reserve system even allowed me to bypass the coursepack format altogether. At another place where I’ve used it (Tufts), coursepacks took enough time to build that it could only be done for a later section in the semester. I had to start with prepared material before the semester started. In other cases, including Concordia, the coursepack system is such that it’d be very impractical to use this technique unless it’s possible to meet students weeks before the course starts.
I’ve noticed a number of advantages with this technique. One is that it pushes students to engage in those broad issues of course design which give them insight into the course as a whole. Not only does it mean that students are a bit less passive, but they get a behind-the-scenes look at what teaching involves and may understand diverse things about the way topics relate to one another.
A related advantage is that students can claim ownership for a dimension of the class. Even without discussing the effects of the selection process very specifically (it’s not my thing to say “you chose the topics, don’t blame me if you don’t like them”), there’s a clear sense that te course as a whole becomes a shared responsibility.
In fact, I’ve associated this with te typical seminar structure of having individual students “responsible for” individual topics. Though everyone has to understand all the topics, each student becomes more of an expert in a given topic, often doing a presentation about it. I should elaborate on this as a separate tidbit, but it’s a common format for seminars, in some contexts. The way it works with the collaborative syllabus is that people can choose, at the same time, a series of topics they want covered and a specific topic on which they want to work. I usually try to get the student’s expertise on that topic to carry through the semester, but that part hasn’t been too effective.

Yet another thing I’ve noticed with the collaborative syllabus is that the way I explain a topic may have a large role effect on how students select them. For instance, the first time I tried this method, in a seminar about linguistic anthropology, I had semiotics as a topic. When I explained it, I mentioned zoosemiotics and associated animal language with that topic. That semester, semiotics ended up being the most popular topic in the initial vote, something which I wouldn’t have expected, had I designed the syllabus by myself, without student input.

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New Feature: Alex's Teaching Tidbits

When I created this blog, I mostly thought about using it to host a podcast but I still wanted to use it as a place where I could blog about topics related to ethnography. Originally, I called it “Headnotes: The Informal Ethnographer Blog” (HIEB) and some remnants of this old name can be found in some places. Because the method I use to distribute podcast episodes assigns the blog’s title to the podcast, I decided to change this blog’s official title to reflect the name I had decided to give my podcast. “Rapport: The Informal Ethnographer Podcast” (RIEP).
I’ll still use this blog mainly for my ethnography podcast. I’m not really getting any significant feedback about that podcast, but I don’t have any reason to stop doing it. So I’ll maintain that.

But I’ve also been meaning to blog about other things. I could post things on my main blog, but what I have in mind is more structured and that personal blog is anything but structured.

What’s funny, is that what I’m thinking about isn’t that directly related to ethnography. At least, it’s not specific to ethnography.

Basically, I want to share some ideas I have about teaching. More specifically, I want to share little bits and pieces of things I found useful in my teaching experience. Not that I consider myself a better teacher than somebody else or that I have something very unique to share. But talking about teaching is a useful way to think about what it may imply and to enhance our teaching methods. In order to, hopefully, enhance people’s learning.

I don’t really want to do meta-teaching, here: I’m not teaching teachers. My father used to do it and I have some ideas about how that’s done, but it’s not my purpose, here. So this isn’t about telling others what to do or to boast about successes. In fact, while some of the “tidbits” I have in mind may sound like pieces of advice or indications about effective strategies, I mean this feature to be about short reflections on teaching, including challenges faced or failed attempts at using a given strategy.
In fact, I tend to be wary of “tips and tricks,” especially when it comes to teaching. We all have different approaches and what may seem like the best advice to give one person might actually disrupt somebody else’s approach. What works for me may not work for you. Furthermore, what didn’t work for me may in fact be quite appropriate in your case. Either because I wasn’t effective at implementing it or because it’s not appropriate in my context.

My hope is that my tidbits will be a source of inspiration for certain people. Simply put, I just want to share. Much of blogging (and social media in general) is really about sharing thoughts and ideas. In this case, the thoughts and ideas shared will be about teaching.

Part of the inspiration for this new feature is the Quick Hits series from Indiana University‘s Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching (FACET). I don’t presume to be able to imitate the Quick Hits or produce something similar in any way, but this blog feature is my homage to that series and to FACET, which produces it.

In a sense, it’s my way of giving back to the community.

Back in 2004-2005, I received a Future Faculty Teaching Fellowship (FFTF) to teach in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). One important benefit of this program is that it was an opportunity to fully immerse myself in teaching. I had already taught at different institutions, but this was a time to really focus on teaching. Some resources were provided through the FFTF program while others were available at large. In the latter case, I’m mostly thinking about teaching workshops and I attended ad many as I could, during that time. I still do the same, in fact, and I’ve given a few myself. As for FFTF-specific resources, two very valuable things remain on my mind. One is a mentor at the department where I was teaching. I was lucky enough to get two inspiring teachers splitting this task between the two semesters: Becky Torstrick (who was just coming back from a year abroad on a Fullbright covering both research and teaching) and Scott Sernau (who was then chair of the department).
The FFTF also offered a chance to work as a group of fellows across diverse campuses Before the start of the academic year, we were invited to spend a weekend at something close to a retreat during which we all participated in customized sessions on a variety of topics ranging from teaching portfolios to “non-traditional students” (those who are older than the typical age range for undergraduates). It’s during that retreat that we were given copies of one of the Quick Hits books.
The FFTF also brought us together at mid-year, for a series of discussions about our experiences up to that point and as a way to welcome new fellows. That event mostly inspred me to think about a sense of continuity between teachers. Like successive cohorts of students, we were gaining from peers who came before us and had a chance to help those who would come after us. From pithy advice to exam questions, we could reciprocate.

My FFTF year wasn’t my first year of teaching but it was the start of something special in my teaching career.
And it was mostly about getting inspired, not about being told what to do.

What does this have to do with ethnography? Well, again, not much. I did talk about “Teaching Ethnography” in one episode and I do frequently mention teaching as I talk about what I do as an ethnographer. After all, though I’m getting contracts as a “freelance ethnographer” and I do take on other projects using my ethnographic background, my main job as an ethnographer is still that of a teacher in a variety of ethnographic disciplines. Since I’m now using the “Informal Ethnographer” (and “iethnographer”) identity to regroup my work activities, it all makes sense, in my mind.
Besides, my approach to teaching is itself ethnographic. Not just because I do participant-observation in teaching contexts but also because my perspective uses the same considerations as ethnographic research.
There are some things which are specific to ethnographic teaching, in the tidbits I have in mind. But I really want to discuss teaching in general, whether or not it’s applicable as a reflection (or strategy) to disciplines outside of ethnography.
How do I dare do this? Well, it’s my blog and I feel free to use it the way I want to use it.
Those posts won’t be labeled “ethnography” unless they directly relate to ethnography. They’ll all have “ATT” in heir titles, to designate them as part of “Alex’s Teaching Tidbits.” they’ll also be categorized as “Alex’s Teaching Tidbits” using this blog’s simple post taxonomy. So they should be easy to spot and skip.
I don’t have a specific plan in terms of schedule but I do have a fairly long list of potential topics, already. Not sure I’ll cover them all but it’s easy to get started.

So I’ll start.

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RIEP9: Establishing Rapport

RIEP9: Establishing Rapport

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RIEP8: Failures of Anthropology

Discussion of what I perceive to be key weaknesses in classical approaches to cultural anthropology along with an ethnographic solution.

RIEP8: Failures of Anthropology

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RIEP7: Teaching Ethnography

RIEP7: Teaching Ethnography

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RIEP6: Draft Aesthetics (MP3, Complete)

Sometimes, there is such a thing as “Good Enough.”

RIEP6: Draft Aesthetics (MP3, Complete)

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