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
I just returned from a workshop on complexity theory in San Antonio. The workshop was designed for health services researchers from Veterans Administration hospitals all over the country. I'd worked before with the two organizers and they asked me to be one of a number of faculty who would plan the workshop through conference calls and then attend to give presentations and work with small groups to help them process the paradigm shift that we wanted them to go through.
This isn't the time or place to go on and on about complexity theory. Increasing numbers of people do. For my money, Waldrop's book from the 1990s, called Complexity, is still a good way to sample the water. There are plenty of other resources, including MOOCs. The linguistics police should fine whoever came up with the name. The mathematical term for complexity is "nonlinear dynamic systems." When people hear complexity, they think "complicated." However, there are extraordinarily simple complex systems that produce extraordinarily complicated patterns.
For now, let's just say that complexity science is very different from the tradition of experimental laboratory-based linear causal research. That tradition is the one that drove Enlightenment science and became the "gold standard" of methodology, the one that does so poorly with social research questions around the actual – as opposed to laboratory – lived experience of human subjects.
A couple of things were particularly interesting to me during the workshop. One has to do with some old concepts in human social science, concepts like "declarative versus procedural." related to another less jargony distinction, "knowing that" (~declarative) versus "knowing how" (~procedural). It refers to two kinds of memory, one sort of like a dictionary or encyclopedia, the other sort of like an ability to do things, practical action.
The workshop participants, a smart group of researchers, got declarative complexity pretty quickly. But those same participants had been doing their research for many years under the threatening storm clouds of peer review based on the laboratory gold standard. So when it came time to talk about their own research, procedural knowledge kicked in and they thought in terms of methodologies deeply embedded in their memory for how to do science the right way. The problem is, you can't do complexity science only with, or even mostly with, gold standard methodologies.
Another interesting thing was the social version of the problem, called the et cetera principle by Harold Garfinkel. It goes like this. When someone describes how to do something, and you think you understand it and then set off to do it by yourself, things will come up in the task that you don’t know about and don't know how to handle. This is because the experienced person, who explained things, has subsumed many of the details of the task into a large “etcetera,” things that he knows how to do and assumes that anyone else would know, and possibly things that are so habitual that he isn’t aware of them himself. In this case, the problem is going from procedural to declarative without the hands-on experience that an apprentice role would provide.
One of many ways that this difference came up in the workshop was in the question of, “Where in the hell is the equation?” Most traditional research will use an equation to produce summaries and inferences based on calculation over some quantitative data set. A complexity science model may include procedures like that as well. For example, I used a power law distribution to set up the initial conditions of a social network for an epidemiology model. And I had to figure out ways to translate propositions about lived experience into a form understandable by the computer, which I thought of as "quantification as a form of translation" rather than "measurement." The resilient normal curve even played a part in setting up the initial risk proclivity of agents in the model.
But the overall picture of complexity science isn't about the initial conditions of a model. It's about all the surprising things a system might do over time given its contingencies and connections. The point of it isn't to develop the right formula to predict the future. The point of it is determining the space of possible paths that the system might take to learn what critical interactions, parameters and contingencies explain why one path might occur rather than another for different runs of the system.
The workshop succeeded in getting a large number of health services researchers at the Veterans Administration interested in a new framework for making sense of important health and organizational problems that the VA faces. And what I’m describing here could just be a version of the normal group learning process when a different way of thinking is on offer. And God knows I should’ve come clear on these issues long ago, given the many different kinds of workshops I’ve offered over the years.
I suppose I’m writing like I always do, to make sense of something I found interesting. In this case, I chalk it up to not being a participant and having a lot of faculty doing most of the work so I had the luxury to observe and listen carefully rather than having to run the show. Besides, I’ve been fascinated since I got into the business at how behavioral social researchers don’t realize that what is known in our disciplines applies to us and our research projects as well. Anthropologists call it “reflexivity” and in fact that topic came up at the very end of the workshop, at which point they handed the microphone to me, the anthropological faculty, so I could make something up about how things change when the researcher and the object of research were of the same category of phenomenon. We probably were all part of the same “good wave,” buena onda as they say in Spanish, a suitable way to close for a workshop in San Antonio. And I learned something about how to do workshops a little bit differently, probably just catching up with the ideas of Dewey and Vygotsky, something I should have learned long ago.
Life is interesting.