Category Archives: From the editors

On Facebook, Death and Memorialisation

Over at the UCL Social Networking Sites and Social Sciences Project, Danny Miller writes about his research at a London hospice where he has been exploring the resonance of new media at the end of life:

Alongside my ethnographic research in The Glades I have now been working for over a year alongside The Hospice of St Francis. When I am in the UK I try to spend a day a week interviewing their patients who are mainly terminal cancer patients. I was delighted to hear this winter that the wonderful hospice director Dr Ros Taylor was awarded an MBE in this year’s honours list. My intention in working for the Hospice was a concern that a project of this size should also have an applied or welfare aspect where we could see the direct benefit. The initial work was simply an attempt to see how the hospice could benefit from new media. The report was published on my website, but once I was working with them I realised that in a way the hospice was the clearest example of what the whole team have endeavoured to demonstrate through this blog.

The hospice movement represents no kind of technical or medical advancement. It is entirely the product of a transformation in collective consciousness. Previously it was assumed that when people knew they were dying this was tantamount to a stage in merely their withdrawal from the world. We talk about ‘investing in our children’ as though there were long-term financial assets. The same logic would condemn the dying as of limited value. The Hospice movement was all about saying that knowing someone is terminal should be seen as an opportunity. It is no longer a medical issue, they will not be cured, instead we can concentrate on their quality of life and make this stage of life, since that is what it is, as enjoyable and fulfilling as it could be. Everything that Dr Taylor says and does demonstrates this, as does my colleague in this research Kimberley McLaughlin a senior manager of the hospice.

On reflection this is perhaps our single most important finding also as anthropologists of social media. People become fixated on the technological advances of new media. What each device can now be capable of – the latest app or smartphone or platform. These certainly feature throughout our work. But the vast majority of our blog posts are not about that. Instead they describe changes in the same collective consciousness: the social uses that people creatively imagine for these media as part of their lives.

The two issues come together in my observations of Facebook in relation to death and memorialisation. One of my early informants was a woman who felt that she wanted to use the experience of terminal cancer to help educate the wider world about her experience. A subject people tend to avoid but need to gain a better understanding of. I last saw her six days before she died and she was quite clear that using Facebook as almost a daily blog had enabled her to do just that. I am hoping (if I obtain the funding) to make a film based on her and other patients who have used Facebook in this manner.

I would be equally positive about the ways people have found to use Facebook in memorialisation and grief. Previously we have tended to use highly formal and religious institutionalised frames for dealing with death. As I argued in my book Tales From Facebook, this was out of synch with changes in our notion of the authenticity of the individual. Where once we took formal posed pictures, now we like to capture images that seem spontaneous, informal and thereby more ‘real’ to us. Similarly we needed a form of memorialisation that contained this element of personalisation and immediacy. People on Facebook can put both serious and jokey memories and do so at a time of their choosing. I find these sites poignant and effective. I don’t find other social media sites, such as Twitter or Instagram, as having the same potential, so I hope we retain this capacity of Facebook.

But the point is that the inventors of Facebook were certainly not thinking about its relationship to death or memorialisation. Rather, as in the case of the invention of the hospice movement, this reflects a change in our collective imagination in what we could potentially do in relation to death and grief. This is why we argue it is anthropology rather than more tech-driven studies of new media that are most suited to understanding what social media actually become. Most of these reports reflect not the technological potential, but the imaginative realisation of social media.




An update on our perspective on Open Access

Haidy Geismar, UCL

In October last year (2013) I posted a draft of an editorial for the Journal of Material Culture which rehearsed some of the options we (the editorial board led by myself and Susanne Kuchler, with guidance from Danny Miller) have been working through regarding taking the journal towards Open Access. The take home message for that piece was that we felt strongly that the current recommendations for open access “compliance” in the United Kingdom were inadequate and inappropriate in terms of their effect upon ideas not just of scholarship, but on scholarly community. The prevailing models in the UK for Open Access, known as Green and Gold, both depend on individuals to decide whether or not their individual articles should be made open access. Gold Open access costs significant amounts of money but results in an article openly available through the journal’s home page. Green means that any author has the right to post the accepted version of their article on their homepage or institutional repository (for some journals after a specific embargo period). This is very much a national situation for OA in the UK and it’s different in the US (and indeed in many other places), but in our editorial, Susanne Kuchler and I argued against models that sidestep the journal itself as an intellectual frame for committing to OA by passing the buck to individual authors. We raised questions regarding the implication of moving to a view per article/pay per article model for the future of scholarly journals.

Some people interpreted the editorial as a statement against OA. In fact, we take the journal’s responsibility for open access very seriously and have spent considerable time (after hours from our regular job and duties as editors) exploring these issues as we really want the journal to be accessible to everyone who wants to read it. we are balancing these desires with the fact that Sage owns the journal’s name, the back issues and has said that they will reform the journal with a different editorial board if we leave to move to an open system (like open journal).

Our editorial launched an online questionnaire with which we hoped to gather more opinion from material world readers and Journal of Material Culture readers. This probably says more about electronic survey burnout and the limitations of our own reach, than it does about the question of open access but since December 2 we have had only 16 respondents to the survey (If you would still like to participate you can by following this link.).

Whilst 16 is obviously far to few a number to make any kind of generalization, I can report that out of the 16 respondents (15 of whom work in academia), most only read the journal in digital form accessed via a university subscription. Of those 16 people, 5 would be prepared to pay a submission fee to a journal without guarantee of acceptance (and 11 would not). The following chart shows how people felt about paying for open access, upon acceptance for publication:


The following response was more interesting:


People had many different ideas about the most appropriate source of funding for open access, but NO ONE thought that authors were the most appropriate vessels to provide for open access.

People were also given the chance to provide substantive comments about open access and 5 people chose to share their opinions, which I cut and paste here:

Respondent 1: Publishers views should not be considered. They are not neutral stakeholders. Their goal is to maximise profits, not to further scholarship or increase accessibility, despite the lipservice they may pay.

Respondent 2. Elsevier, T&F, OUP, and many others are multinationals using slave labour of tenured individuals (not me – I’m unemployed though I have a visiting fellow position) to maintain the high standards of journals. They are taking public money and putting it into private hands, just like in war time. Some of the most interesting, innovative, and exciting journals are open access. While stodgy publishers need to make their buck somehow, knowledge and research should be shared among those to whom it is relevant. The multinationalisation (a fantastic nominalisation) of publishing is as boring as it is restrictive and elitist.

Respondent 3: The questions are confusing. The question of whether I am prepared to pay for my article depends on how and by whom the journal is edited. I refuse to pay submission fees if the journal is edited by a large publisher such as currently is the case with JMC with SAGE. As long as the journal is with sage, I don’t pay any submission fee. If the journal would move to Gold open access and away from SAGE to an independent, not for profit platform, I would be prepared to pay. The question is not: to pay or not to pay, but about the relationship between publisher and author. The main point is to get away from for profit publishers.

Respondent 4: In principle I am fully supportive of the move towards open access. However, as an early career researcher (postdoc), I am concerned about the transition to open access on two different levels: 1) Whether my financial situation (be that personal finances or relating to grants/institutions) will limit my ability to publish my work in a timely manner; 2) How the costs of open access AND the changing nature of publications under these changes will affect my ability to be competitive on the job market. We have very little information, for example, about how hiring committees view open access/non-traditional publications vis-a-vis more established journals, or whether open access will make the road towards a monograph publication (still considered a basic requirement for permanent employment in anthropology) more difficult/costly.

Respondent 5: effectively is a ‘pay to publish’ system that also completely excludes early career or independent academics who have neither the money nor the backing of an institution to pay for them. This will ultimately mean that material from these types of researchers and writers will never be published, thus compromising the academic exercise and diminishing the scope of debate as some excellent work will be missed, go unheeded. A disaster for the future.

These figures show that there are many different opinions and feelings about open access even within our admittedly tiny sample.

At the same time as publishing this editorial, impatient and unsure of our options, we also decided to experiment with Green open access. We emailed all the contributors to the first issue of this year and asked them to upload their author version (which we handily appended as a cleaned up pdf) to their own home page or institutional repository, in compliance with Sage’s Green archiving policy. We also asked them to send us the link and we set up a sort of mirror page of the journal, with the intention of creating a Green archive. So far, only one person has even replied to this email so the site remains empty apart from our editorial).

Now there are many reasons why people may not fill in online forms, reply to emails from me, or want to self-archive their publications, but to my mind these experiences highlight the need to make decisions about journals at the highest level, in the model of Cultural Anthropology, rather than leaving it up to individual authors or readers which will naturally result in a patchy experience of open access at best, and no open access at worst.

They also indicate that there is a much more complex field of engagement with these ideas than would be seen from the presentation of very polarized debates in the media. I present these partial perspectives here not as an indication of any complete picture of opinion regarding open access, more as the beginnings of an ethnography of how open access is currently being parsed by some people in the academy whose views are not often represented in literature that presents the voices of editors and publishers, but far less often authors. Indeed, in a conversation I had recently with another journal editor, they observed that many of their authors are content to have their work behind paywalls. They observed that many people working in South Asian studies are extremely fearful of cases like Wendy Doniger‘s, namely of having their work willfully misinterpreted by others in what are highly fraught political contexts (in Doniger’s case, Hindu nationalists succeeded in having her scholarly book on Hinduism pulled from the shelves in India). This is NOT my view, as I do not think we should write or publish defensively or with only a control audience in mind (and Doniger’s book was published by Penguin and was hardly behind a paywall) but I cite it, and the comments above, to reflect the fact that there are large number of academics who are either disinterested, or fearful, of open access, for numerous different reasons (sometimes just because they are plain old tired!) and that we need to take stock of their opinions and situations, if we are to convince them that open access is something that they should sign up to.

This experience has also shown me how geo-located these debates are – the conversation in the US is different to the UK, which is different again to France, India, China or Australia. The Journal of Material Culture has an extremely international author pool which may (or may not) explain why many of our authors seem to be less engaged than we are in the highly specific questions that are emerging around OA in the UK.

So now – alongside the issue of how to take the Journal of Material Culture forward in terms of open access, I am also wondering why this isn’t of concern to many people, what issues do drive decisions around publication and how we can participate and even intervene in those conversations, expanding the one we are already having. I see this is a nascent anthropology of open access which would locate OA as an experimental moment within a very particular institutional discursive frame that constitutes authors, intellectual property, and openness in specific ways. I’ve started a small dossier of these fragmented perceptions, misgivings, and complex feelings that may not only help us to see OA as some others do, but help us to unpack the assumptions about OA that we ourselves are working with. As always, comments more than welcome here or on the survey.


More commentary on iconoclasm in Papua New Guinea

After a legal case to have the speaker of the PNG Parliment’s order to destroy several of the building’s carvings recognized as illegal failed, a group of academics has published a discussion paper entitled “Purging Parliament: A New christian Parliament in Papua New Guinea“.

The piece debates whether or not it is appropriate to understand the iconoclasm of the Speaker of the house in religious terms, or whether or not the event “signals deeper social transformations underway”.

Chipping into the debate on Open Access

Haidy Geismar, UCL Anthropology

As the incoming co-editor of the Journal of Material Culture, as well as one of the editors here at Material World Blog, I have been involved in many conversations regarding the politics, economics, and materiality of Open Access.

It is clear that there is great concern about open access in many arena from policy (see for instance, the UK’s Finch Report  ”Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications”), within academia (see the discussion on Open Access in the new online only journal, Hau and this interview with Tim Ingold) and in the world of cyber-(h)activism (a good summary of the Aaron Schwartz case is actually presented on JSTOR’s website).

It’s hard to find a place in which all the issues in fact coalesce: some people are concerned about democratizing accessibility to research (particularly across national borders, and to people without the support of privileged universities). Others are concerned about who should pay for, and who should profit, from academic publications. Yet others are interested in the implications of Gold open access (where authors pay or fundraise for their invidivual articles to be made publicly available) or Green (where final versions of peer-reviewed articles are placed within institutional repositories) on the form of journals as the need for issues is replaced by an emphasis on individual articles.  Many of us are wondering about the implications current policy requirements have for open access on the fate of academic monographs and are also following with interest the move in the sciences towards “open data” (which naturalizes many assumptions about data versus research, and raises problems for past informed consent and research ethical clearances). Finally, lies the overarching question of value: how is research valuable and for whom, who should profit and how. For instance, I was intrigued to have the value of peer review laid out as “in kind donations” by a representative of Taylor and Francis.

Below, is an editorial upcoming in the Journal of Material Culture, laying out our current concerns and thinking about Open Access. The journal is undertaking a survey of readers. If you are a reader of the JMC please take some time to fill it out. If you aren’t a reader, you can still take the survey, skipping the couple of questions specific to the journal. The link is here.


On Open Access and journal futures

All academics are, by now, aware of the on-going discussions and key policy directives concerning “open access”. Philosophically, open access publishing has the potential to circulate scholarship more broadly and democratically, to more diverse audiences, allowing for potentially greater impact of, and engagement with, research. Logistically, thinking about how to achieve open access also provokes us to rethink how we evaluate the labour that goes into academic publishing, who should be entitled to profit from academic research, and who research is really for. Pragmatically, many important questions are currently being raised about the allocation of resources for the dissemination of academic researchers and the sustainability of academic publishing.

In the United Kingdom, where the editorial board of the journal of Material culture is based, the National Research Councils, the primary organs of British academic funding, have stipulated that in future their audits will only accept Open Access publications, which will make research funded by taxpayer money available to all readers without subscription. The UK Government commissioned a working group, chaired by the sociologist Dame Janet Finch, to evaluate the best methods to achieve Open Access. Their report, “Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: how to expand access to research publications” (2012) identifies two principle routes to open access. The Gold route involves direct payments by the author (or their research grant or university) to the publishers to cover the costs of publication and distribution.  The Green route, which is supported by most publishers, permits authors to make available the final accepted, but unbranded or copyedited, version of the article through their institutional repository, usually after a specified period of embargo. Details such as fees or periods of embargo vary considerably from press to press.

Members of the Journal of Material Culture’s editorial board have been discussing these issues for some time. One of our founding editors was recently part of a broader debate in the new online journal Hau ( In his piece, Daniel Miller (2012) argued that anthropologists in particular have an obligation to ensure that the people they work with should have access to research and that we have a moral responsibility to make our work as accessible as possible. Since then, we have been considering the different models available and discussing with great seriousness the future of the journal, entering into conversation with Sage, our publisher, and with UCL’s Library and Repository services. Our discussions have highlighted that the issues are in fact more complex than those presented in the Finch report. The wider contexts include the ethics of accessibility,; the shift from print to digital publishing (with potential for additional visual and other materials); and the shift from print to online consumption. It also raises hard questions about how “profits” are defined and who should benefit from research outputs.

The problem with Gold

The Finch report is generally concerned with the UK situation, and is responding to concerns by both national publishers and funding bodies. Since 2007, the share of submissions to the JMC from within the UK has fallen nearly year on year, and now stands at roughly 20%. We currently receive about as many submissions from North America and Continental Europe.  The Finch report also does not concern itself with unfunded research. In this journal, funded research comprises about one third of published articles in the past 5 years and its share shows a falling trend, accounting for only 10% in 2012 and 5% in 2013: and just 20-30% of submissions between 2011 and 2013. Whilst the Gold route makes open access the decision of individual authors, from the perspective of the journal we cannot think of open access solely in the narrow and exclusive terms of work produced by UK funded researchers.

In turn, publishing houses are notoriously opaque in quantifying the price of journal publication, especially article by article. If the burden of financial support is being passed onto individual authors, do they not have a right to know how the money is spent, what percentage is profit for the shareholders of the company, and what is not included in the business model? Editors and reviewers are perhaps the most essential part of a journal’s “value”, yet their work is considered to be a “time/expertise donated4free” (@Taylor&Francis Open 2013). In fact, commercial publishers are also concerned about the Gold model, which shifts the burden of paying for future articles onto authors but still maintains a subscription model for back issues and articles not paid for by authors to be open access, a phenomenon that has come to be called “double dipping”.

For all of these reasons, as academic editors we do not favor the principles of the Gold model. We do not think that shifting the decision to go open access onto individual authors is good for the integrity of journals as a whole and we challenge the economic rationale behind the pricing of the Gold route.

The problem with Green

Whilst making an important leap towards accessibility, the Green model also raises significant problems from the standpoint of both journals and authors. Like the Gold route, the Green route transforms journals from curated intellectual conversations into a more ad-hoc presentation of individual research. Green open access requires the additional support of an institutional repository and an institutional investment into a digital infrastructure that will by no means be consistent from institution to institution, or from country to country. It also potentially compromises our scholarly integrity: putting the accepted but not final version online means that there is the potential for multiple versions of articles to circulate with multiple forms of citation, different paginations and so forth. Fundamentally, the Green route places the burden of archiving and maintenance onto the individual repository and also undermines the intellectual support and framing that a journal itself is supposed to provide. We are exploring the possibilities of creating a parallel Green archive for the JMC, but we also wonder how the Green route will ultimately effect the future of journal publication. Both Green and Gold dismantle the structure of journals in favour of the dissemination of individual articles and it is important to evaluate the impact of this on the editorial policies and intellectual framing of journals.

What do we mean by “Free”?

Both Gold and Green routes demonstrate that open access may ensure an opening up of readers, but that there are still significant costs. The recent success of the new online only, open access anthropology publication Hau, demonstrates that open access journals can work well, but also demonstrates that they depend upon significant financial support from Higher Education (or equivalent) Institutions as well as a significant amount of freely donated labour. In the longer term is this a model that can be applied to the entire realm of academic publishing? This journal certainly requires a robust institutional framework that ensures the income and the labour required for its production. It is important to carefully assess what kinds of support journals need to be successful, ethical, and sustainable.

Alongside the supportive environments of some universities and learned societies, organizations such as JSTOR have been established to consolidate and archive scholarly material, made available by subscription, but on a non-profit basis. Whilst it is not without its detractors, as the Aaron Schwartz case made clear, JSTOR makes its content available for free or at low cost to high schools and to other institutions in more then 69 countries. The cost of its subscription has not gone up since 1997 (source: In turn, it does not claim copyright on any of the material it archives which means that that material may freely (or at cost) circulate elsewhere as well. Perhaps the non-profit model of economic costing and institutional infrastructure instantiated by JSTOR, and some University Presses, alongside the critical regime of the creative commons license, will create a publishing ecology that is both ethical and liberal, allowing authors to make strategic choices within a strong framework of accountability.

We also wonder if the possibilities of electronic publishing have been realized within academic journals as they transition to online. At present online journals generally maintain the form (largely text based), the structure (set numbers of issues per year, set word limits for articles) and the coherence (themed issues, centralized editorial staff) of print publications. Yet we now have the capacity to present other kinds of data hyperlinked and internally cross-referenced. We can present articles simultaneously in multiple languages, amongst many other possibilities. What are the implications of electronic media for the form of the journal essay – a tightly written textual argument, limited to a set number of words or pages? These developments are attractive, especially for a journal such as ours, but may require further costs and skill-sets that cannot be taken for granted amongst most academics involved in editing journals.

The climate of open access has therefore provided an opportunity to rethink the intellectual framework, as well as the economy, of scholarly publications. Accessibility means more than electronic circulation – it requires us to think about the politics of language, of inclusion at every level, to understand our current and possible constituencies, and how we may best engage with them. The current shift of publishing practice must make us reflect on the intellectual frameworks and aspirations of academic journals, as well as on their place in the world. Conceptualizing open access as the reduction of each article to a single payment makes what should be a collective and on-going conversation and responsibility into a one-time individual decision.

We are currently debating all of these issues at the JMC so that we can make a considered decision about the future of the journal, in terms of its form, content and its model of distribution. Before any decisions are made, we would very much like to solicit the views of our readers. So please take some time to answer the short survey below by following its link. Our readership is the most important part of our community and we would like to hear from you.

Survey Link:

Haidy Geismar and Susanne Kuchler, Editors, Journal of Material Culture

(with thanks to Daniel Miller, UCL Anthropology and Martin Moyle, UCL Libraries)


Miller, Daniel 2012   Open Access, Scholarship and Digital Anthropology, Hau 2 385-411

@Taylor&FrancisOpen,  Twitter exchange with @haidygeismar July 3, 2013.


Our editor at Sage, very kindly provided us with a series of links about OA publishing from their perspective, focused around a conference they convened in association with the Academy for Social Sciences and the British Academy.

*   View conference presentations that Sage organized at LSE to discuss Open Access here and here

 *   Watch the recording of the event here
 *   View the twitter conversations, and here, and here


Occasional Paper No 4: Properties and Social Imagination

Haidy Geismar, UCL Anthropology

We are pleased to announce the latest issue of our Occasional Paper Series as well as the relaunch of the site with new and improved design by our newest editor, Matt Hockenberry.

Properties and Social Imagination is a book length project that drew on explorations and experiments by students and staff working with UCL’s Ethnography Collections.

The project has drawn together Masters and PhD students, staff, and a team of scholars and artists based in the College for Creative Arts at Massey University. Our primary focus is UCL’s ethnographic collections and we have explored the dynamic ways in which the formal qualities of stone, wood and cloth create new cultural sensibilities and new collaborative research practices. Our projects instantiates the dynamism of collections-based research and presents a number of visual projects inspired by these processes, demonstrating that collections are not static but continually in motion.

Housed within the Anthropology department, the ethnographic collection is used as a teaching collection, but our understandings of what can be learnt from it have changed radically over the past few decades. The collection, comprising over 3000 artifacts, contains objects from every continent of the world, made out of every kind of material, and referencing many different cultural groups and practices. Originally part of the Henry Wellcome non-Medical collection, the collection was gifted to UCL in the early 1950s and has been periodically added to over the years through fieldwork of departmental staff. The collection was separated from its original catalogue and supporting documentation and arrived in UCL as essentially a series of orphaned objects. This was of less concern to anthropologists at that time, who were able to draw the collection extensively into their teaching, allowing students to handle objects as three-dimensional illustrations of the cultural groups, ethnographic data, and theories they were being taught at the time. For many decades the collection was used to exemplify ritual and artistic traditions, regional variation and specificity, and as a tool in the comparative analysis of cultural production. With the emergence in the 1990s of Material Culture Studies as a subfield within the department, the collection was increasingly recognized as a storehouse of materials – different forms with properties that themselves contributed to the cultural environments that had produced them.

We wanted to respect the unique qualities of each object in the collection, rather than subsuming their materiality to understand them as “typical” or “illustrations” of culture located elsewhere. We wanted to explore what we could learn from the objects themselves, starting first and foremost with their material properties. We chose three objects – a piece of unadorned barkcloth from Sulawesi, a greenstone adze from Papua New Guinea, and a carved wooden Aboriginal spear- thrower from Australia and breaking into small groups started to explore the objects, from their surfaces, both outwards and inwards.

Our starting questions were:

  • What kinds of cultural information, context and knowledge may be found in the form of the object itself?
  • What kinds of research methods can be developed from a focus on the material or physical properties of objects?
  • What methods can we, as anthropologists, contribute to others (material scientists, artists, and so on) working with materials?

Working in groups we pulled apart our understanding of what the objects were, using the sensory experience of the objects and their physical forms as the starting point to engage with the cultural uses and practices that these objects inhabit. Alongside these investigations, our project partners in New Zealand worked remotely with these, and other, objects from the ethnographic collections, making them the centerpiece of artistic explorations of form, physical encounter, and indeed loss.

The book can be downloaded here and is also available to purchase as a print copy here:



The computer that you have in front of you right now will die sooner or later. And when it does you will get rid of it, perhaps, if you are well-behaved citizen, in one of the designated recycling drop-offs points your city council has created for technological equipment. That, however, won’t mark the end of your computer’s life. It will only mark the end of the first phase of its life as a valuable cultural and technological object.

After you dumpt it, you computer will start a second, and more complex, life as e-waste, most likely somewhere in India, China or Africa. You can see some pictures of what will likely be your computer limbo here and here, or here. And, if you are interested, you should also check this timeline to map out the evolving set of relationships, conflicts and strategies developing between the market, consumers, institutions configuring the particular political ecology of e-waste.


The Mobile Museum Pilot Project

Graeme Were, University of Queensland

The stores of Queensland museums are laden with ethnographic collections from Papua New Guinea, many of which originate from northern New Ireland. Few people there are able to gain access to these treasures even though New Irelanders hold great interest in learning more about their own cultural heritage through the artefacts museums hold on to.

The Mobile Museum project has been developed to partly redress this issue by utilising newly available digital technologies and resources. The project seeks to develop remote access to museum collections to objects physically located in Queensland and so offer the opportunity for New Irelanders to view their own cultural heritage as 3D digital objects. 3D digital objects offer the most complete documentation possible and allow for an analytical form of engagement using zooming, panning and rotation tools [in comparison to 2D images]. The roll out of Digicel mobile telecommunications in remote villages across rural and remote Papua New Guinea has made this development possible and provides the opportunity to explore the cultural and technical challenges of remote access via mobile phones and laptop computers. In 2011, the Mobile Museum project received 12-month funding to support the development of a digital toolkit in collaboration with people in New Ireland.

The pilot project utilises a participatory design methodology to develop an interactive toolkit to allow remote access to ten 3D digital objects held in the Queensland Museum and the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum. The aim is to test a proof-of-concept interactive tool designed in consultation with New Ireland communities to access and analyse their cultural objects via mobile phones and laptop computers. The project is the first of its kind as its methodology relies on consultation with a community in the Pacific in the development of a 3D imaging application.

Phase one of the project involved developing pilot 3D images of three malangan carvings from the Queensland Museum. These three carvings were collected by the colonial administrator H. H. Romilly in the late 19th century from northern New Ireland. In June 2012, myself and Ortelia software developer Lazaros Kastanis visited the Nalik speaking area of New Ireland and ran a series of consultation workshops with local people. We were able to test the pilot application, gather feedback and subsequently enhance the software in response to local requirements.

Later this year, we have organised for a small team of Nalik people to visit Brisbane and select key objects for scanning from the Queensland Museum and University of Queensland Anthropology Museum. We then aim to develop content so that people in the rural communities will be able to access relevant collections.

A future phase of this research will be to investigate the operations and effects of networks of digital images of ethnographic objects on the social and political economy in Melanesia. Employing ethnographic methodologies and survey techniques, the proposed research will document and analyse how people access, use and apply digital images in the course of their lives. The intention is that this research will lead to new understandings of how ethnographic collections play a significant role in identity building, community development and civil society strengthening in the Asia-Pacific region. It will inform the political and social values at stake in terms of cultural restitution policies in the 21st century ethnographic museum.

Adam Hant working with the Ortelia 3d toolkit, June 2012. Photograph: Graeme Were

Material World Blog Community?

Haidy Geismar, NYU and UCL

I was interested to read a very brief, rather parochial, account of the world of anthropology blogging over at the site of Anthropology News, the journal of the American Anthropological Association, . Material World was singled out as an example of a “team blog” but the authors were worried that the free spirit of blogging might be lost with the fence of editors and the feel of an online journal. Following on from Danny’s point about open access, I’ve been thinking about the remit of Material World and what we, as editors, could do to contribute to some of the ongoing discussion about the public dissemination of anthropological, and other, ideas.

This prompted me to look a little more closely at our range of contributions, our diversity of contributors and our own editorial policies.

I know from google analytics that we have a very broad international readership, which is also reflected in the international diversity of our contributors. Most of our contributors are in the world of academic scholarship, many in anthropology, but also in many other related fields of enquiry. Our editorial policy is to keep threads of discussion and themes going, to encourage the presentation of new material. Unlike a conventional academic journal we are less concerned with promoting academic writing styles, and more concerned to exploit the inclusivity and format that the blogging platform facilitates. We see our peer review as really a form of encouragement – I think I can count the number of things we’ve turned down for the site on one hand – as a form of promotion, and as important outreach to wider communities of interest. We also have tried to develop a blogging strategy which looks outwards rather than inwards, and which is more interested in big ideas and descriptions than in personal opinion pieces.

For me, as one of the founding editors, the missing piece of the puzzle is the way in which we don’t generate a lot of comment on the site itself  - although I’m also wondering, counterintuitively, how important that is. I know from talking to contributors that posts generate interest and that many private connections are facilitated. Little of our vibrant community is actually visible through the comments section of each post. In that way, we do function more like a journal and less like a blog, I suppose?

Looking through this post from 2008, I was happy to see the range of people that came out as material world readers, students, academics, even soldiers stationed in Iraq. I’m breaking our non-reflexive tradition here and am wondering if any of our readers could weigh in on the need for comment on these kinds of sites. Is visible comment important? Are the comments of interest when visiting other sites? If so, how can we encourage more visible discussion and dialog? WE would also love to get a sense of who are readers are today and how we might work better to connect you to one another (and if this is even something you would be interested in coming to Material World for)?


Open Access, Scholarship, and Digital Anthropology: a Discussion

Danny Miller, UCL

Although this site was started as a collaboration between Haidy in New York and Danny in London, from the beginning we were hoping to attract postings from a global interest in this genre of academic work. We do pretty well in this regard, with contributions from academics, students and others from many different countries, but we would still be happier if there was more coming from Brazil, West Africa, South and East Asia. By the same token we see this and other similar academic blogs as attempts to open up information about new academic and related work to as wide an audience as possible. Within which one of the key attributes of online posting is simply that it is free. A person without good library access and funds can still go online and this in a small way helps alleviate some of the disparates in global access to academic work. There is still a digital divide but we don’t want to forget that the non-digital divide is much wider. But that logic could apply to all academic work. Given much of this is funded by public bodies, why really should anyone pay for access to academic research? And for a subject such as anthropology with its global concerns it is particularly important that are work is freely available to people from all around the world. However, shifting from the the current situation to that fully Open Access idea will not be easy and there are many issues around scholarship and the wider emergence of a digital world that need to be considered in tandem, and which are currently being debated in a number of different forums. In this spirit you may wish to look at a new paper I have published in the Open Access Journal HAU, which includes ten critical responses that help give some breadth and depth to the discussions that urgently need to take place:

Material World Occasional Paper Series – Call

Some time ago I put out a call for papers for our Occasional Paper Series. Indexed by the Library of Congress, this is our attempt to explore the possibilities of thinking about how Material World could also be thought of as an open source, online publication. Since that last call, we’ve migrated the blog to a better platform, and I think we are now in a much better position to explore the possibilities of online publishing.

We are therefore always interested in contributions to the OPS which push the boundaries of our blog-like format. Obviously the broad theme is an engagement with material and visual culture and the development of a thoughtful perspective on the issues this engagement raises. Are you working through the medium of sound, film, or photography? A graphic novel or series of paintings perhaps? Do you have a conversation or interview that provokes discussion about the material world? Would you like to have more multi-media in your work but are restricted by the formats of journal articles, books and academic theses and dissertations.

The OCP aims to make such work broadly available to the public. We are less interested in unpublished PhD’s, or unpublishable articles, and more interested in works that would find it hard to get published elsewhere primarily because of their form.

Our OCP is fully peer reviewed, indexed by the Library of Congress and permanently available online. Please email Haidy Geismar if you are interested in submitting something to us.