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Michael Agar @alcaldemike

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Tuneup Thanksgiving 2015

The anthropology blog Savage Minds ( invited me to do a five part series in early November called "Rewind and Fast Forward." My assignment was to look back over decades of work and say what I thought anthropology "is" based on that experience. Lot of fun to work on over the last few months, lot of work as well. I used the 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 many of the "same" thing that I'd done in the village. 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 not. I do hope it's useful to some. I know I enjoyed putting it together. All five are gathered together at the top of the column. And today, looking at it once more, I realize how much I have to be thankful for.

I keep trying to connect with water governance in Puebla, Mexico. The article in the American Water Resources Association magazine called Impact was published. I sent it to a few Mexican colleagues who liked it, and it was retweeted a couple of times by them, but I'm not sure where to take it from here. The article is in the column to the left as well. That same organization, AWRA, accepted a paper that I presented at their annual meeting, though this one was 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 hell out of bingo in the senior center.

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--all hell broke loose at a later meeting--but the thing that bothered me was that thinking marches along in the same obsolete grooves. The place runs on wells. The world becomes more and more aware that pumping aquifers is unsustainable. Not a clue here. Just keep on pumpin'. The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper URL is in the column to your left as well.

Then the third item is also courtesy of Savage Minds. One of their co-conspirators, Ryan Anderson, runs a periodic e-journal called “Anthropologies.” He was kind enough to use a brief piece from me for a recent issue, accessible through their web page. 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 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.

I added a new poem on the bio page that reminded me of Catholic School. Meantime, give thanks today, 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