Adventures in Blogging: Doing Public Anthropology in the Twenty-First Century

To mark the publication of Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, author Paul Stoller takes to the medium of blogging (again) to provide some background on the purpose of his new collection as well as the importance, at this particular historical moment, of anthropology and the sharing of anthropological knowledge.

Our troubled world is in desperate need of anthropological insight.

We are today witness to widespread political dysfunction, social disintegration, and ecological devastation. In the near future, this set of cumulative processes is likely to produce massive social dislocation, cultural chaos, and political disruption.

Will we be able to survive the ravages of human-induced climate change?

Our times require anthropological intervention. Anthropologists have long been the guardians of core social values. Since Franz Boas, we have been more than scholars who seek to unravel the mysteries of the human condition. Indeed, throughout the history of the discipline we have been advocates for social justice who have critiqued the scourge of racism, ongoing social inequality, and persistent ethnic and religious intolerance.

Adventures in Blogging demonstrates how we can use anthropological insights to find our way through the turbulence of contemporary social life. In my research among the Songhay people of the Republic of Niger I had the great fortune of being the apprentice of a great healer, Adamu Jenitongo. He was a short, slight man who lived in a grass hut at the edge of the town of Tillaberi. What could such a man, whose title was sohanci, teach me—us—about living in the contemporary world?

He taught me a great deal about the vicissitudes of life. He impressed upon me the value of slow learning. When I asked him about the sohanci’s central obligation, he responded without hesitation.

“I am the spiritual guardian of this place,” he said. “If someone abuses their authority or subverts our core values, I use power to set things straight.”

Above and beyond his reservoir of knowledge and practice, the sohanci is first and foremost a keen observer of social and political relations. Anthropologists are also keen observers of social and political relations. Like the Songhay sohanci, we, too, attempt to use our knowledge to make the world a better place. In these troubled times, it is crucial that we engage in one of anthropology’s core obligations—cultural critique—an informed, sustained, scientifically rigorous, and public assessment of our social and political life.

In Adventures in Blogging, I try to show how this media format is a particularly powerful way to practice contemporary cultural critique. Originally published in The Huffington Post, the entries in Adventures in Blogging are short, punchy, and accessible texts. Taken together, these blog posts, which cover a six-year period (2011-2017), show how anthropologists can use this form of social media to produce a sustained cultural critique that underscores again and again the following values:

1. Climate change exists and failure to recognize this fundamental fact condemns our children to climatic hell;
2. Income and social inequality are not socially sustainable and failure to rectify them is a historically proven prescription for social and economic devastation;
3. Corporatization will ruin the university;
4. Ignorance is our enemy and hate has no place in society;
5. Science is our friend and a pathway to the future; and
6. The quest for well being is the source of human resilience.

This list, of course, is far from exhaustive. In Adventures in Blogging, I have much to say about “fixing the truth” in our media, about manipulating false images and narratives for economic and/or political gain. I have much to say about how fewer and fewer people read books and/or articles. I have a great deal to say about the cluelessness of our public officials. Adventures in Blogging demonstrates how a socially mediated and sustained cultural critique is a powerful way to construct a strong alternative to social, cultural, and political dysfunction.

In the end, this book is a clarion call for the next generation of anthropologists to become cultural critics. We need your sustained, rigorous, and accessible insights to mark a path to a better future. We need you to share your knowledge in the public sphere. Indeed, in the classroom Adventures in Blogging can be read as a guide for doing the important work of twenty-first-century public anthropology.

Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University.