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Michael Agar @alcaldemike

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Tuneup April 15

I moved the previous blurb about the webinar I gave this month to the blog page. Itís the second time Iíve done one for the IIQM. Iím usually pretty good at live performances, at best a Jon Stewart wannabe, a few laughs, a couple of ideas. But this thing where you sit in your home office wearing a headset staring at your own slide, no feedback except from rabbits and birds outside the window, maybe a coyote if youíre luckyóitís like sensory deprivation with a soundtrack and eventually you wind up proving Chomskyís argument that a person can produce infinitely long sentences that make no sense at all. I would have been a lousy studio musician, though I dunno, at least itís usually a group and thereís someone yelling ďcutĒ from the booth. Anyway, never again. Though I did like the idea behind the talk and maybe Iíll write it up in summary form another day. Itís about taking a universally useful feature for analysis up and down levels of scale, from human social interaction to governance, and looking for it in primate research, human development, and evolutionary theory as well as cross-culturally to make capital C culture and lower case c culture part of the same theory.

A new New Mexico Mercury piece came out, at the top of the column on the left, a hearing about a proposed housing development called Santolina on the outskirts of Albuquerque that has become a major environmental event here. A young activist got me interested. She came to my SFI talk, see below, and wanted to know how to use what I said in the community struggle against the sprawl. I really enjoy this journalism type work, looking at an event through ethnographic eyes and writing an essay to give readers a sense of what it was like to be there. Iíve gotten some good feedback on this one. It helps that the two guys who run the e-magazine have Bachelorís degrees in anthropology.

The trip to Puebla didnít work out so well. I did give a talk at the Univ of the Americas and that went very well indeed, but the water people didnít show. The other two university contacts I was in touch with didnít come through. Disappointing, but then everyone is so overloaded, who has time for a meeting when they already have too many demands to handle. One thing worked, though, after I got home. Thereís a grassroots movement called Asemblea Social del Agua de Puebla. I connected with them on Twitter and hope to do an article on them for The Mercury. Twitter is amazingly useful.

One surprise though. My sig other was doing intensive Spanish and I had several conversations with the guy who ran the school. Fascinating variety of theories of how students differed, initially and then with time as the learned, and how he altered teaching styles to match. Sort of zone of proximal development in living color. Made me wonder if the 2nd language literature deals with ethnographic interviews of teachers. Maybe a project there.

What follows repeats material from the last blog on recent activities. Life will quiet down now for awhile so I can work on a couple of things. No big events until September when I return to my old haunt, Vienna, for a conference on Intercultural Communication.

Back to the old news. 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. That project, in turn, 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 naive about countries it deals with, echoes of Vietnam and the Iraqi follies of Bush the younger echoing strongly in the background.

I've started a book called "Backwater," about New Mexico (and the world's) issues with water governance. Me and about a thousand other people are writing them. 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 in general--consciousness is a good thing.

In September I gave a talk at the School for Advanced Research, http:/​/​​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. Then in January I gave a similar talk at the Santa Fe Institute, only with more complexity in it http:/​/​​gevent/​detail/​science/​1930/​.

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 in the column to the left. Then another article in the Mercury lays out an idea for a more inclusive water policy process in the state based on the annual Water Dialogue conference. Its URL is on the left as well. Finally, the most recent article rants about the lack of empathy in proposed legislation in New Mexico.

Another new bit of writing is a forward for a book that just came out, 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

Wonder why studies you read about your world usually donít get who you are and how you really live? Frustrated that ďthe numbersĒ donít solve the problem? Does it bother you that policies and programs, more often than not, donít work like theyíre supposed to? People, organizations, countriesĖthey rely on information about real human social lives. Usually they donít 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 itís 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 itís time to get on with a science that changes research objects into human subjects and learns who they are and what theyíre 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