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My Tribe Is an Unsophisticated People | CultureBy – Grant McCracken
"This is a photograph of Sara Little Turnbull (1917–2015). Sara was an designer and anthropologist. In 1988 she founded, and for 18 years she ran, the Process of Change Laboratory for Innovation and Design at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

I like this photo for a couple of reasons. Sara was caught at her desk, mid-task, mid-thought. She senses the camera and gives it a knowing look. What’s maybe most striking is her clothing. Ever so fashionable. Ever so anti-anthropological.

My tribe dresses badly. Jeans. It takes a lot of denim to clothe the field. We don’t ever dress up. The idea appears to be to dress as far down as possible without provoking the suspicion of vagrancy. When formal clothing is called for the anthropologist sometimes resorts to the clothing of the culture they study. Put it this way, no one ever looks like Sara.

A lot of this is “badge of pride” stuff. Anthropologists dress badly to make a point. They want you to know that they reject the conventions of a mainstream society, that they care nothing for the bourgeois respectability, upward mobility, and/or conspicuous consumption that animate the dress codes of the rest of the world. It’s not a punk violation of code. It’s just a way of saying “Look, we’re out.”

This strategy is not without it’s costs. As Marshall Sahlins, God’s gift to anthropology, used to say in his University of Chicago seminars, “every theory is a bargain with reality.” (By which we believed he meant, every theory buys some knowledge at the cost of other knowledge.) And so it is with every suit of clothing. It give you access to some parts of the world, but it denies you access to others.

This social immobility is not a bad thing if you are a nuclear scientist or a botanist. But it does matter if you are prepared to make claims to knowledge when it comes to your own culture, and anthropologists are never shy on this topic.

Anthropologists believe they know about a great deal about their own culture. But in point of fact, there are many worlds they do not know and cannot access, worlds of which they have scant personal knowledge and in which they have few personal contacts. Generally speaking, they don’t know anyone in the worlds of venture capital, advertising, graphic design, publishing, fashion, forecasting, strategy, philanthropy, art museums, professional sports, industrial design, user experience, startup capitalism, banking, branding, public relations, small business, big business, or politics. It’s a lot, the things anthropologist don’t know about their own culture.

Anjali Ramachandran recently heard Salman Rushdie speak in London and recalls he said something like,

“One thing I tell students is to try and get into as many different kinds of rooms to hear as many different kinds of conversations as possible. Because otherwise how will you find things to put in your books?”

Just so. Rushdie’s “many rooms” strategy is not embraced in anthropology. By and large, anthropologists encourage their students to stick to a small number of rooms where, by and large, they conduct the same conversation.

This is ironic not least because one of the field’s most recent and convincing contributions to the world beyond it’s own is actually a contemplation of the danger of living in a silo. Gillian Tett (PhD in social anthropology, University of Cambridge) recently published a book called The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers. This is a book about the compartmentalization of all organizations, but it might have been a study of the field of anthropology.

The further irony is that in its post-modern moment, anthropology claims to be especially, even exquisitely, self reflexive, but the sad thing is that it does ever seem to be reflexive on matters like this. Clifford Geertz used to say that much of anthropology is self confession. Too bad that’s no longer true.

Irony gives way to something less amusing when we see that this provincialism is not just self-imposed but enforced as a tribal obligation. Those who dare dress “up” or “well” or “fashionably” or, as we might say, “in a manner that maximizes cultural mobility” is scorned. As graduate students, we actually dared sneer at the elegant suits sported by Michael Silverstein. How dare he refuse this opportunity to tell the world how world-renouncing he was! There is something odd and a little grotesque about willing a provincialism of this kind and then continuing to insist on your right to make claims to knowledge.

Sara Little Turnbull knew better. She understood how many mansions are contained in the house of contemporary culture. She embraced the idea that anthropology was a process of participant observation and that we can’t understand our culture from the outside alone. Sara also understood that the few “ideas” that anthropology uses to account for this endlessly various data is a little like the people of Lilliput hoping to keep Gulliver in place on the beach with a couple of guy wires. Eventually the beast comes to. Sara could study contemporary culture because she didn’t underestimate it or constrain her rights of access."
anthropology  clothing  clothes  howwedress  grantmccracken  2015  saralittleturnball  anthropologists  ethnography  designresearch  centerfordesignresearch  salmanrushdie  processofchangelaboratory  anjaliramachandran  culture  gilliantett  marshallsahlins  provincialism  fashion  whatwewear  immersion 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Grant McCracken at Interesting New York on Vimeo
"Grant discusses how cultural creatives are creating a world that, as it turns out, is making them suffer from Asperger's syndrome."
howwework  patternrecognition  interruptmoments  noticing  novelty  creativity  cognitiveperil  aspergers  generalists  culturalcreatives  2008  grantmccracken 
july 2012 by robertogreco
Rusting Buicks and the destruction of wealth :: Grant McCracken
"Which brings us back to British Columbia, and an aboriginal practice called "potlatch" when rival communities would take turns dumping Hudson Bay blankets and other valuables into the Pacific ocean. One of the explanation for this practice is that it is undertaken as a very deliberate act of wealth destruction. ( I don’t know the literature here as well as I should so I am penciling these data in provisionally.)
potlatch  wealth  wealthdestruction  economics  pirates  loggers  rationality  irrationality  grantmccracken 
february 2010 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: Issac Mizrahi on Metro North
"wonderful piece of advertising...certain emotional tonality that distinguishes it from most fashion advertising I've ever seen...has a narrative verve...But...semantics of the narrative have been withheld from us. So the fun of the ad is figuring out what's up." + comment: "There's a meta-story here, as well. In his post, Grant highlighted the Paper Monster graffiti detail, riffed a few hypotheses on what it might mean & then the actual PaperMonster wrote in clarifying that the graffito was one of his tags. So the Mizrahi ad has now become, at least for the several people involved in this interaction, a platform for dialogue & a "place where people are meeting." As with the best viral marketing, the distinctions between the realms of media & "life" have dissolved & we are left with a multiplicity of forces exerting influence on each other. Advertising in the age of the critically literate consumer & the internet has the opportunity to create this mechanism & the chance to exploit it."
advertising  isaacmizrahi  fashion  grantmccracken  internet  medialiteracy  literacy  viral  marketing  dialogue  discussion  metastories  graffiti  conversation  meaning  storytelling  understanding  dialog 
july 2009 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: MFFB: missing from Facebook
"Can someone make him/herself a vivid presence in the social, political and or culture world and go missing here? Can you be a thought leader or a culture creative and not be on Facebook? The answer to these questions is probably "no."" [See comments for contrary opinions.]
grantmccracken  facebook  socialmedia  genx  generationx  babyboomers  generations  boomers 
july 2009 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: Run with Nike and you run alone
"Nike Plus allows me to interact with other walkers in only one way. It helps me compete agains them. It does not allow me to treat my miles like a social capital and make them fungible for various purposes in various markets. It does not allow me to find them or walk with them. Walk with Nike+, and, sorry, but your walk alone. For instance, I would love to pool my miles with other walkers who live on the Connecticut side of Long Island sound. We could compete against those bastards across the water, the ones who live on the Long Island side of the sound. Now when I go for my walk each day I can imagine my competitors walking on Long Island, and who knows this might be good for another mile. (Yes, I'm that juvenile). There are plenty of ways to slice this, plenty of ways to see to the interesting, amusing, perhaps imaginative disposition of my new social capital called miles. Nike has managed to think of a single one, direct competition." +
grantmccracken  nike+  nike  socialnetworking  socialmedia  running  community  play  gaming  competition 
may 2009 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: Immanuel Kant and the Acura T1
"travelling from Vancouver to Victoria...Prevented from sprinting on deck (because the ferry is not a fun ride), I was obliged to entertain myself another way...see if I could calculate how much water was under the ferry. I didn't have any device for measuring, and because I was 7, I didn't have a metric. No, I just decided to see if I could "think about" all the water that was under the ferry. That would be my first "measure." Having done that, I then decided to "think about" all the water that was around the ferry. My second measure. I then began casting the net of calculation across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. My conclusion: there was a lot, really a lot, of water here...I miss the sublime, the old fashioned kind. I loved having my "power of judgement" outstripped, my imagination outraged. It was exciting. This is anthropologist's idea of a "fun ride." Almost as much fun as running on a ferry and probably much less dangerous."
sublime  cascadia  vancouver  childhood  memory  play  thinkinggames  entertainment  grantmccracken  ferry  measurement  scale  internet 
january 2009 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: What consumers do in a downturn
"Roughly speaking, consumers have two modalities: surging and dwelling. In the surging modality, consumers have momentum. We have a vivid sense of forward motion. Life is getting better. Each purchase is an improvement on the last one. Clothes change with fashion. The material world teems with new features, new things, new opportunities, new excitement. We look ahead constantly, keeping one foot in the present, putting one in the future. The good life is America is always a better life. That's the fundamental promise of the consumer society. In the dwelling modality, the consumer is not forward looking, but concentrated on the here and now. Now most of life's pleasure comes from counting one's blessings. This is a dwelling modality, because the individual is no longer in transit, racing towards a better tomorrow. Now the consumer is focused on what is good about what one has. The consumer stops anticipating and starts savoring."
anthropology  consumer  ethnography  economics  consumerculture  culture  simplicity  forwardlooking  future  now  happiness  meaning  well-being  cycles  boomandbust  recession  psychology  business  sociology  grantmccracken 
october 2008 by robertogreco
robertogreco {tumblr} - Unschooling and Messiness
"Jessica Shepherd reviews the recently published How Children Learn at Home in the Guardian. The review seems to focus more on the unschooling subset of home education and the part that I find most interesting is the comparison to the messiness that often results in creative leaps. It reminds me of a variety of articles that have been emphasizing the importance of random events and cross-pollination or hybridization of traditional fields of study."
unschooling  crossdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  transdisciplinary  postdisciplinary  nassimtaleb  glvo  crosspollination  messiness  davidsmith  julianbleecker  nicolasnova  robertepstein  design  learning  deschooling  education  creativity  comments  lcproject  schools  technology  consilience  creative  children  homeschool  research  books  blackswans  tinkering  serendipity  specialization  academia  grantmccracken  lelaboratoire  ted  poptech  etech  lift  picnic  lacma  art  science  medicine  us  terminology  vocabulary  specialists 
august 2008 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: Who is the Elizabethan widow now? "Is there a group of people who by their structural location and/or generational identity who is prepared to play the wild card, free agent?...most likely...boomers in retirement
"Strauss & Howe, the students of Gen Y, insist that "millennials" are quiescent. The impulses "counter" & "alternative" do not beat within their looks as if they may be right. No one from Gen Y appears to have risen to protest the designatio
culture  generations  via:migurski  history  geny  millennials  genx  generationx  babyboomers  widows  elizabethanwidows  grantmccracken  boomers 
july 2008 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: multiplicity watch
"Small works well because it reduces the number of people who have to be party to (and sign off on) the act of creation. The corporation often has really good ideas but these are murdered in committee, the victims of silos, turf wars and bureaucratic iner
innovation  branding  small  lcproject  management  administration  learning  leadership  gamechanging  skunkworks  grantmccracken 
june 2008 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: C-Schools: further thoughts on branding, creativity and education - "skunk works approach to creativity, where a group inside a corporation works according to its own agenda, communes with its own gods"
"Some of the best "schools"of creativity, strategy and innovation are inside the corporation. If someone were just finishing an MBA or a design program, and looking for "higher education," he or she could do worse than to spend a year or so at a corporati
business  creativity  innovation  education  mba  design  universities  colleges  work  experience  skunkworks  altgdp  leadership  management  small  administration  grantmccracken 
june 2008 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: Assumption hunters, a new consulting business?
"ferret out the assumptions. Hire someone to go through the operation of daily business and capture every assumption...identify the parts of the world that could present challenges...Keep watch with a big board."
management  philosophy  innovation  strategy  business  organizations  administration  leadership  predictions  future  sustainability  grantmccracken 
march 2008 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: Curator: meme in motion [see also:]
"Real curators think with their collections. The collections are intelligence, memory, conceptual architecture made manifest. I love the idea that someone would take up this function in the digital world. But that’s not what I see the new "curators" doing. This richer, more authentic, more sincere rendering of the term could accomplish something astonishing. It would help sort and capture contemporary culture with some feeling for context, relative location, relative weight, what goes with what. This is the sort of thing that Pepys accomplished, unwittingly, with his diary. This notion of the curator has yet to find its champion. I don’t think we quite yet have a Pepys of the present day."
culture  curation  collections  collecting  gathering  thinking  creativity  intelligence  memory  grantmccracken 
march 2008 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: Escape buttons and our technological devolution
"We now understand that every new advance in technology will be yet another measure of how little we understand and far we are falling behind. Now mastery is finding the escape key and the willingness to use it early and often. I'm using mine now."

[Now at: ]
technology  society  user  experience  buttons  grantmccracken 
november 2007 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: The Bloggers Business School (XBS 1)
"Then I fell to thinking about a business school founded in blogging. Here then are some rules for the blogger business school:"
blogs  learning  education  altgdp  business  alted  alternative  e-learning  schools  colleges  universities  grantmccracken 
november 2006 by robertogreco
This Blog Sits at the: Your next vacation
"I have an idea for your next vacation. Phone Saida at Saros Research in London and set up ethnographic interviews with 10 people in London."
travel  culture  fun  society  anthropology  research  people  world  cities  international  grantmccracken 
august 2006 by robertogreco

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