A blog for EPIC
The difference between a bottom line and a budget and how it affects practice with social services
A review of Pahl-Wostl’s book, "Water governance in the face of global change”
In Water Alternatives
Rewind and Fast-Forward, Parts 1 though 5 (242.3KB)
What "is" anthropology, looking back over decades of academic, applied and practitioner life. Original done for Savage Minds, savageminds.org
AWRA IMPACT article Who Owns Puebla Water? (280.5KB)
Rise of Asamblea Social del Agua, water anti-privatization movement in Puebla Mexico
Betwixt and Between: geological phase transition, adaptive co-management, and anthropology
Article for Anthropologies on Savage Minds
Op-Ed piece My Infrastructure Runneth Over
Santa Fe New Mexican on water in Eldorado
Review of Water Co-Management (83.0KB)
Forthcoming book review for Water Alternatives
Review of The Social Life of Water
Book review for Water Alternatives on an edited book of anthropological studies of water crises across numerous different kinds of sites
Ode (Owed?) to Baltimore
Blog about past research in Baltimore while thinking about recent killing and riots that followed, with thanks to Dick Powls for sponsoring it.
What Kind of Plant is Santolina?
New Mexico Mecury article about hearing to decide fate of a proposed suburban development near Albuquerque.
New Mexico Mercury article about lack of empathy and grounded understanding of human social issues in NM proposed legislation
Water Is For Talkin' Over
In the New Mexico Mercury: A report back from the 21st annual statewide New Mexico Water Dialogue meeting and thoughts on an inclusive governance strategy for our water's future.
Turbulence Real and Imagined: Water Governance in New Mexico
Abstract for a talk given at the Santa Fe Institute in January
Looking For Culture In All The Right Places (59.8KB)
Article on culture training through language for the journal Cultus, forthcoming
Why Human Social Science Needs to Be Used to Get "Stakeholders" and "Community" into Water Policy
NM Mercury article about a public meeting on changes in the use of the Gila River Basin
Forward to Torres book, a collection of his Growing Up Spanglish newspaper columns (102.9KB)
Introductory comments based in linguistic anthro to a collection of stories written in Northern New Mexican "Spanglish"
Lecture at School for American Research in Santa Fe 8/17
"A Game of Scientific Clue: It was the Human in the Anthropocene with Water." Talk on role of anthropology in water governance reform.
The Lively Science sample chapter (185.4KB)
A readable book about how an alternative social science that doesn't try to pretend it's a chemistry lab can do a better job. Available in print and e-versions on most internet bookstores
Review of The Lively Science (177.4KB)
Another Review of The Lively Science (129.4KB)
Putting water into aquifers instead of sucking it out
NM Mercury article story of a meeting where I live about water shortage and climate change and what to do about them.
Traditional irrigation in New Mexico
NM Mercury article on museum exhibit about traditional acequia irrigation in Nuevomexicano communities
Article on how the war on drugs corrupted public health epidemiology
Blog invited by Rachelle Annechino for the Ethnography Matters group
A version of translation as basis for ethnography with an AI influence (259.4KB)
Academic article, "Making sense of one for another: Ethnography as translation," for Language and Communication
Human Eddies and Flows, an article in Journal of Water History (1.3MB)
Academic article about a dynamic model that explains a case of water conflict in Albuquerque in the 1950s/60s
How water governance needs some "creative destruction."
NM Mercury article about a panel of experts talked about the need for water policy reform in the state.
Ethnography as essential part of the organizational development mix (180.8KB)
Academic article in Organizational Research Methods
An Outsider's Ethnographic Thoughts About Design (112.7KB)
Academic article in Arts and Humanities based on an interview about ethnography and design
Models for sharing water instead of going to court in times of drought
NM Mercury article about the "Water Dialogue" meeting, many different kinds of water users talking about how to get together and adapt to drought.
The state plans for a new water policy that looks like the one they planned for and never implemented
NM Mercury article about the kickoff meeting for a new water plan to base policy on.
Academic article on early days of ethnography in the drug field (97.0KB)
In press in a special issue of Advances in Criminological Theory on qualitative research in criminology.
The dream of drinking all that deep brackish water under the desert
NM Mercury article about a visit to the national research center on desalination in Alamogordo
Ethnography as a nonlinear dynamic system in process and outcome (104.5KB)
Academic article in Complexity
"Knowledge transfer" has to move in several directions in an organization, not just top down (175.7KB)
Article in Practicing Anthropology with several examples of how power squelches innovation
Chapter 1 of Culture: An Upgrade (575.2KB)
Preprint of article on Ethnographic/organizational research for Org Research Methods 13(2) 2010 (113.0KB)
E:CO article on complexity, narrative and the organization, wonders what ordinary language in a complex organization would look like from the perspective of linguistics (475.2KB)
Agents in Living Color article in JASSS, describes going from ethnography to an agent-based model that describes how narrative drives or brakes an illegal drug epidemic
My Kingdom for a Function article in JASSS, describes ways to convert ethnographic complexity to language a computer can understand
Middle of July Tuneup
Overwhelmed by a Spanish Title
Some time ago a student at the University of Sevilla, Luis Muñón Villalon, flew a friendly email my way. He was using my work in his thesis and wondered about a couple of things. The things he was wondering about were things I have wondered about for a long time, so we corresponded for a bit.
I just received an email from him. He completed his thesis and received a score of 10 – out of 10, I imagine, since he also received honors for his work. On the elegant cover, reproduced above, was the title of his thesis, "Dialogando Con Agar." Good lord, a thesis that is a dialogue with me? Shouldn't we do dinner first?
When someone tells me that my work helped them with their own, there is no higher honor in my book of compliments. But I've never been the title and focus of a thesis. My first reaction was embarrassment, because of my 1950s black-and-white cowboy movie socialization where the hero never takes credit for anything. But of course I had to read the thing right away.
It's a fine piece of work, in ways that have nothing to do with my ego involvement in it. And I have no plan to recapitulate in this blog all of what Luis did, or all of what I did that he used. You can read the thesis for yourself at https://antropologiaytonterias.wikispaces.com/file/view/MUÑOZ%20VILLALON.%20Dialogando%20con%20Agar.%20TFG2015_16%20R.pdf/586928479/MUÑOZ%20VILLALON.%20Dialogando%20con%20Agar.%20TFG2015_16%20R.pdf. It's in Spanish of course. But I thought it'd be fun, if a little embarrassing for an old guy who’s supposedly seen it all, to write something about what I eventually thought of as “receiving a Spanish title.”
As I started in, it felt like an out-of-body experience. Luis had reviewed work from the early 1980s up to the present. I can't remember where I left my cell phone an hour ago, never mind what I wrote in 1980. As I continued reading with my medium-rare Spanish, I worried that I would feel like I was driving by an elaborate highway accident – my collected works – with the usual shock and horror at the catastrophic damage. But no, he put my work – together with the work of many others and his own creative intelligence – to good use in solving the problem with which he began.
Here was the problem. Ordinarily, anthropology students produce an ethnographic case study to get their union card. Instead of doing that, Luis convinced his committee that he wanted to think about just what an "ethnographic case study" was before he did one. Since I've obsessed about this very question over the decades it made sense for him to use my work, not as an answer to his question, but as opening moves in the same language game that he wanted to play. In a perfect world, he would've been a student at a University where I was on the faculty so we might have continued the game over a longer period of time.
I was more or less forced into the problem because of the Vietnam War when I was assigned to be the lone anthropologist at a treatment center for narcotics addicts. Suddenly all shared vocabulary built up inside the anthropological academic cave was null and void. What I did there looked – to staff who, if they thought about anthropology at all, mentioned Indiana Jones and Carlos Castaneda – suspiciously like a mix of bad journalism and goofing off. Oh, really, it wasn't that? Then what in the hell was it? I wrote several different kinds of things over the decades shaped by different historical moments that tried to answer the question.
I did get divided into Agar One and Agar Two, the boundary being before and after the work I did on complexity theory that began in the late 1990s. I was happy about that. It's an old academic trick – when a particular figure X in the social sciences is being discussed and someone asks you about them and you really have no idea what X said, you just ask, "Do you mean early X or late X?" So now I could say, do you mean Agar One or Agar Two? Luis developed threads of continuity between one and two but also noticed that references to anthropological and other social science literature appeared only on the horizon in the agar two era. He was right. I wondered why.
By the late 1990s I had left my university position and started working independently, often in nonacademic settings. The usual French theoretical gremlins were the dominant force at the time – still are. Luis draws on them frequently in his thesis. And I could write another blog about some of the quotes he includes from colleagues in Spanish anthropology whose work I wasn't aware of. It's definitely “in” to talk about world anthropology now, but there's this languaculture problem that no one has figured out, Google Translate to the contrary notwithstanding.
I was pretty happy with the shift to complexity theory for many reasons that go beyond the limits of this blog. One important reason was, it represented the issues that I needed to talk about in the so-called real world in a way that was easier to explain to the various mixes of non-social science academics and practitioners and just plain folks that I was dealing with. If you have to start your work with background lectures on “habitus” and “doxa” and “symbolic capital,” you're going to leave a trail of annoyance, confusion, and a desire to get the fathead who has launched a monologue out of the room. Bourdieu – one well-known and popular example who is the source of those terms – is sufficient but not necessary to get the job done. Complexity is also sufficient and works better in intellectually diverse organizational teams where conversational norms are in play.
So I started paying more attention to the literature on organizational complexity rather than current debates in social theory, for better or for worse. I guess it showed, but it was good to see – according to Luis’ overview – that I had carried the same issues forward rather than using complexity to ignore them.
Another interesting jolt to me in the “Dialogo” had to do with the concept of reflexivity. It is key for Luis and neglected by me. He does a great job of talking about the many things that the concept has been taken to mean in social theory, one reason I neglect it. And he shows how some things I wrote aim in the right general direction to help him get where he needed to go.
It made me think. I've never been comfortable with the concept, though I don't have anything better to offer. For a long time I've been fond of saying "You are part of the data." And I've used Habermas’ concept of “Erkenntnisinteresse” to foreground the human, economic and political interests involved in a piece of social research. Lately I’ve tossed around the notion of "intersubjective science" by way of rendering the objective/subjective argument moot.
But none of this handles the problem that Luis is trying to solve. He wants a systematic way to include the ethnographer in his compass of how ethnography works. And he finds it, using many sources, of course, but also by figuring out what "breakdowns" and "rich points" and "abduction" and “recursion” and other concepts I've used over the years have to do with each other. I won't review all that here. But the main move in the game is, what he wants to call "reflexivity" isn't a separate issue; it can't be isolated from the more general question he asks. Reflexivity is implicit in everything that the ethnographer does, its relevant parts made visible throughout the ethnographic process. The "compass" that he builds for his future research has to include it, otherwise the compass wouldn't have a needle.
I like this move in the language game, but then I would. Lately I've been using the term "self reference" to summarize the old homily that "you are part of the data." That concept carries some ideas from linguistics, computer science, and mathematics that help understand the nonlinearity and paradoxes of ethnographic research. The version of "reflexive" that Luis is developing makes sense, though I'm still not completely clear about it, and I'll be curious to see how it works out as he develops his research.
Well, as Bette Midler supposedly said, "Enough about me. Let's talk about you. How do you like my new hairdo?" I don't mean this blog either as a review of Luis’ thesis or as a summary of my own work. Overall, I think he took some of the latter and moved it towards places that it didn't quite arrive at. I wrote this blog to enjoy the shock of being "titled." As Forster said, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" Luis gave me a different point of view on what I said and helped me see new moves in the epistemological language game we both enjoy. Reading it was good brain food for one of the farmers who provided a few of the ingredients.
I leave this blog with a quote from the conclusion of his thesis for those who read Spanish. Even given my self-interest (because of self reference) I agree that he deserved a 10 with honors.
Para cumplir estos objetivos, y en relación con los objetivos generales de este TFG, dos han sido por tanto las líneas argumentales seguidas. Por un lado, la profundización en el lenguaje etnográfico propuesto por Agar, además de una revisión epistemológica y metodológica en constante diálogo con él; por otro lado, y en relación con lo anterior, una argumentación epistemológica-metodológica que se nutre de la hermenéutica, sin quedarse atrapada en ella. Centralidad del lenguaje etnográfico construido a partir de Agar, retomando la necesidad a la que él hacía referencia en el final de su artículo y que escogí como primera cita del TFG: “La hermenéutica define un contexto para la etnografía que se ocupa de la significación. Pero la aplicación, la modificación y una especificación más precisa son problema nuestro” (Agar, 2008:137).
Life is interesting.