Ethknoworks LLC

Michael Agar @alcaldemike


Home Base

Crazy busy

Tuneup on the way to Halloween

I'm getting to really like the cliche "crazy busy." My neighbor Pat said it the other day when he was unloading his pickup and I asked him how he was doing. The owner of our community shopping center--yes, there is such a thing--said it because she and her husband are adding a hardware store and have no idea what some of the things they're ordering are for. I'm thinking it's an epidemic. I'm getting more and more communication from companies I deal with that say, "here's where we're at" when in fact it's not where we're at at all and I get to lose several hours of my life straightening it out. Their employees are all crazy busy and probably underpaid.

And I'm feeling that way more and more lately, which is ridiculous. I'm supposed to step into plaid shorts now and play golf. I could take the plaid shorts--post-structural ironic style is fashionable here--but I tried golf when I was a kid and I had trouble staying awake between swings. Maybe I could use two five irons for hiking poles.

Let me get a little more positive here before I'm forced onto the golf course. An article I've been trying to publish for years will finally appear in a journal called Cultus, an Italian based journal for translator/​interpreter/​intercultural types. A prepublication version is in the column to your left, "Looking for culture in all the right places." The article grew out of work with computational and anthropological linguistic colleagues around efforts to figure out how to train civilian and military heading for faraway places. I miss my language and culture work. This project came out of that magical long ago moment when Obama and Petraeus intersected on the theme of, the U.S. really has to stop being so stupid about countries it deals with, echoes of Vietnam and the Iraqi follies of Bush the younger echoing strongly in the background.

I'm continuing with my mission to talk to anthropology departments about how much they have to offer if they just sync the academic tradition with expanding roles in the so-called real world. The latest version is a talk I'll give on Oct 30th to the anthropology department at the University of New Mexico. The funny thing is that I gave a talk at UNM in the winter of 1971 when I was a fresh Ph.D. looking for work. I wound up taking an Assistant Prof job at the University of Hawaii instead. I know, I know, but truly, I went there mainly for the chance to talk with Gregory Bateson. Ok, I landed and immediately turned into a scuba diver and sailor and body surfer. But really ... Anyway, I'll post the abstract they distributed on the top right hand side of this page.

I've started a book, finally, called "Backwater," about New Mexico (and the world's) issues with water governance. Me and about a thousand other people. Amazing to have seen the topic diffuse so rapidly even in the few years I've been working on it. No end in sight. No matter, I'm enjoying the brain food, and the spread of water--and environmental--consciousness is a good thing.

In September I gave a talk at the School for Advanced Research, http:/​/​sarweb.org/​index.php, a long-standing center for anthropology and indigenous arts in Santa Fe. (The abstract is in the left-hand column). It was similar to the talk I gave in Ensenada, only with New Mexican instead of U.S./​Mexico frontier examples. It went over pretty well in both places. Believe me, I’ve bombed plenty of times and know the difference. What I’m doing now with talks makes me think of documentaries I’ve seen, one by Jerry Seinfeld developing new routines in clubs after his TV show closed down, another by Lily Tomlin about taking a performance on the road to try it out. In fact I quoted her at the end of Language Shock when she leaned into the camera after discussing a detail with a co-performer and said, “You thought we just came out here and did this, didn’t you?” After a few years of wandering through the unbelievably complicated world of water, I’m finally seeing a framework to help make sense of the voyage into the anthropocene, a place that we know is taking shape even though we can’t be sure exactly what it’s going to look like. Not there by a long shot, but something is emerging from the fog and it seemed to work, partly, for two different audiences. I’ll write more about the framework here once I digest the talks and start in on another I'm giving in the UK next month.

And now, as November approaches, it's time to start thinking about my brief but meteoric career as a "Visiting International Fellow" at Surrey. The main event will be the "constructed complexity" project gathering, a phrase I fell for the moment I heard it. I'll hold off describing that until after the visit, in early December.

Now here's some items from the previous web page.

An article in The New Mexico Mercury recently came out, a description of a public water policy meeting in Albuquerque to inform decisions about how to use new money and water rights in the Gila River Basin. It highlights the lack of human social science research in the process and the limited view of "stakeholders" and "community" that result. The URL is at the top of the column to the left. Another new bit of writing is a forward for a book in preparation, by Larry Torres, a collection of his popular newspaper columns called "Growing Up Spanglish." Each column tells a story from the perspective of Canutito, a young boy growing up with his grandparents in Northern New Mexico. I've been a fan since the column first appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper and was honored to be asked to add a touch of linguistic anthropology at the beginning. It is downloadable from the column to the left.

Life continues to be interesting.


Selected Works

“FROM RICH POINTS TO LEVERAGE POINTS AND BACK AGAIN: HOW RESEARCH, APPLICATION AND PRACTICE WORK TOGETHER” Starting with the day in 1968 that Vietnam landed me in the world of heroin addicts as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, I became a “despistado” anthropologist. (“Despistado” was used by many Honduran colleagues in a recent project to mean, more or less, “derailed.”) Until that day, I’d accepted the common wisdom that “anthropology” meant a faculty position in an academic department of the same name. Over the decades I’ve learned that contentious discussions about academic, applied and practice miss the fundamental point, not to mention failing to nourish potential developments of the field now underway as increasing numbers of institutions tire of failure of “the numbers” to identify and solve problems. The point is that, though contexts of work vary, the epistemology—the “anthropological perspective”—remains the same whatever kind of anthropology one does. The problem for the future, for all three kinds of anthropology, is the general one of boundaries in our post- or trans-discplinary age. This talk will be built on case examples ranging from a seven year NIH grant to brief projects with clinics and courts. The thread that will tie them and the various anthropologies together will be the roughly 200 year old argument that human social research requires a different kind of science.
Nonfiction
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