Ethknoworks LLC

Michael Agar @alcaldemike

Draft of Betwixt and Between: Geological Phase Transition, Adaptive Co-Management, and Anthropology
Article for Anthropologies, under revision, coming soon

Home Base

Tuneup end of October 2015

Here is a preview of a five part blog that Savage Minds invited me to do ( It ran over the first two weeks in November.

A couple of months ago I was having dinner with an old friend in Seattle. He stopped his fork in mid-flight and looked at me, astonished. “Microsoft hires anthropologists?” “Yes,” I answered, “They fire them too.” He’d just complained about the over-techification of his hometown, worried that the rumors of AliBaba adding to the existing digital mob were true. I had just said that “even anthropologists” were part of the new tech world. He still thought of us as collectors of quaint and curious customs of exotic people. Interesting and entertaining perhaps, but hardly relevant to the brave new digital world.
It made me wonder, again, how to explain what anthropology “is.”  Why did my old friend still see it only in terms of the “savage slot,” Trouillot’s phrase that describes anthropology’s traditional academic assignment. 
I do know that anthropology “is” something. It exists. It’s certainly the most self-conscious discipline that I know of, sometimes embarrassingly so at gatherings of diverse professions. It definitely tends to be more tied to the personal identity of its bearer than most professional labels that people use when you ask “what do you do?” Whatever it is, it has strong personal and social force. What is that force?

End of preview. Lot of fun to work on over the last couple of months, lot of work as well. I took the weird transition I went through from traditional academic ethnography in South India to Public Health Service anthropologist in a treatment center for heroin addicts as the plot device. This unexpected career shift, courtesy of the Vietnam War, threw me into what in those days was an odd setting for an American anthropologist. But I discovered that I was doing some of the "same" things. The five blogs explore that "sameness" under the label of an "anthropological perspective" and make immodest claim that the perspective eliminates the usual boundaries around academic, applied and practice as well as the usual "four fields." I can't tell any more whether it's off the "du-uh" scale or very very deep, and possibly therefore boring. I do hope it's useful to some. I know I enjoyed putting it together.

In other news, I keep trying to connect with water governance in Puebla, Mexico. The article in the American Water Resources Association general magazine called Impact was published. I sent it to a few Mexican colleagues who liked it, and the group tweeted it, but I'm not sure where to take it from here. That same organization, AWRA, accepted a paper proposal for their annual meeting, though this one is on agent based modeling of river basin stakeholders in the Middle Rio Grande. Another alien--for me--group, the American Association of Geographers, invited me onto a panel on water in the Southwest at their national meetings next spring. And out of the blue a department of informatics at Indiana invited me to give a talk based on The Lively Science, which they use in courses. It's all a little disorienting, but it beats the hell out of bingo in the senior center.

Here's the report on some recent publications from the previous blog page posted at the end of August.

Lately, at last, I seem to be finding my water groove, or maybe I should say standing wave. I’m not sure why, except that as I learn more about Elinor Ostrom I’m learning what a pioneer she was—the nerve of her, dying like that just when I wanted to meet her. She was figuring out how the world really worked and how it had the potential of organizing in a way that would recast the relationship between humans and their environment so that the current divorce hearings would modulate into at least a peaceful coexistence and possibly even into the accepting if not happy ending of a French New Wave film.

The latest piece was an op-ed in my local paper. I went to a “community” meeting—in scare quotes because never was there such an overused word that on critical analysis means conflicting interests in the same place—on raising water prices. That fact upset no one, but the thing that bothered me was that thinking marches along in the same obsolete grooves. I put the Santa Fe New Mexican URL on top of the column to your left.

Shortly before that I learned that Impact, the general magazine of the American Water Resource Association, took my piece on the rise of a grassroots movement in the city of Puebla, Mexico. I’ve visited several times and during the last visit in June had a chance to sit with two members of the group, the Asamblea Social del Agua de Puebla, to discuss their protests against privatization of the water utility in the city. It’s a great story with implications for the water governance, and it’s right under the op-ed piece in the left hand column.

Then the third item is courtesy of the anthropological group who developed the web page known as Savage Minds. One of their co-conspirators, Ryan Anderson, runs a periodic e-journal called “Anthropologies.” He was kind enough to take a brief piece from me for the next issue. It reads like a book proposal, says my sig other editor, in that it lays out an argument that Anthropocene implies complexity phase transition implies uncertainty implies management models that are very compatible with an anthropological perspective. That item is number three on the list to your left.

Finally, I’ve found an editor of an e-journal, Water Alternatives, who likes my writing. So I’ve done some book reviews for them. The recent one, not yet out, has to do with the concept of “co-management” of water. It, as the preceding paragraph suggests, maps pretty well onto whatever it was that they hammered into our heads in anthropology courses and I’m pleased that some local water colleagues have found it interesting. It’s number four on the list to your left.

Feels like I’ve found the trail. Now where does it lead? At the moment the agenda item is, how do I develop this work?

I added a new poem on the bio page and need to update the home page now to catch up with everything that's happened in November. Meantime, give thanks, whatever you think of the real story.

Life is interesting.

Selected Works

Wonder why studies you read about your world usually don’t get who you are and how you really live? Frustrated that “the numbers” don’t solve the problem? Does it bother you that policies and programs, more often than not, don’t work like they’re supposed to? People, organizations, countries–they rely on information about real human social lives. Usually they don’t have it because they only test what they think they already know in narrow situations of their own design. The results have value, some of the time, but it’s not nearly enough. We need a human social science that begins and ends in the real worlds of the humans that it claims to be about. One has been around for a couple of hundred years. The Lively Science tells the story of its historical roots and the reasons for its neglect, blends in new intellectual tools, and argues that it’s time to get on with a science that changes research objects into human subjects and learns who they are and what they’re trying to do before conclusions are drawn.
Living in a world of linguistic and cultural differences
A personal story of decades of work in the substance abuse field, a story of how our ineffective drug policy came to be and stayed in place. Now available as an e-book at iBook on iTunes and on Barnes and Noble.
The story of the working world of independent truckers in a time of deregulation
Nonfiction, Introductory Text
An introduction to ethnography