Real life methods conference

Jovan at Culture Matters (and, not coincidentally, with me at Macquarie’s anthro department) pointed out to me a conference in Manchester. Titled, Vital Signs: Researching Real Life, the conference is an interdisciplinary meeting to think about how to do research on the kinds of complex tangles that we seem to gravitate towards at Neuroanthropology. The meeting will 9-11 September 2008 at Manchester University. The website describes how:

We are using the concept of ‘real lives’ in an open way to stimulate debate about how research methodologies and methods in the social sciences and beyond can rise to the challenge of producing knowledge and understandings that are ‘vital’ and that resonate with complex and multi-dimensional lived realities.

The call for abstracts is online and outlines the following areas for discussion:

  • Methods for researching nature, culture, the material and the social
  • Researching visual, auditory, tactile and other sensory realms
  • Bridging different disciplines in understanding real life; for example, combining ‘social science’, ‘science’, ‘art’, ‘literature’, ‘history’ and ‘journalism’
  • Mixing methods in real life research. Eg How do we, how can we, combine ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ approaches? Can we transcend that divide?
  • Accessing, measuring, and representing real life. What counts as ‘evidence’?
  • Authenticity, rigour and rhetoric in real life research
  • Researching intersubjectivity, memory, emotions, and humour
  • Communicating and disseminating real life research (in a vital way?)
  • Challenges in analysing real life data
  • Real life research in policy and politics
  • Participatory real life research
  • Real life research ethics and moralities
  • What is real life? Theorising real life

Keynote speakers are Les Back, Tim Ingold and Carolyn Steedman (more info on them here).

Overall, might be worth an inquiry if you’re going to be anyway near Manchester in September.

Podcast on the evolution of language

Friend of Neuroanthropology, Dr. Ginger Campbell, has a new podcast up on the evolution of language. It’s free to download (audio mp3 or through iTunes).

Dr. Campbell’s stuff is great. I tend to load the podcasts onto my little iPod shuffle and listen to them while I’m riding around on the tractor (got a new 4-wheel-drive tractor this week!) and while running the ‘whipper snipper’ (what Yanks call a ‘weed whacker’ or, less prosaically, a ‘line trimmer’). We have a 4 cylinder whipper snipper, and it gets to be a rough ride, so I always enjoy listening to a good lecture while I’m I’m tearing through the unruly grass around the farm. Ira Bashkow, my former writing group mate from Chicago, now on the faculty at University of Virginia (and author of the 2007 Victor Turner Award winning, The Meaning of Whitemen: Race and Modernity in the Orokaiva Cultural World), turned me on to the podcast-lecture-listening-while-doing-physical-work when he told me that he works out in the gym to them. I’ve put a bit of a farm-related wrinkle on the whole process. But I digress…

The bottom line is that the Brain Science Podcasts are a great resource for anyone interested in Neuroanthropology. In her interviews, Dr. Campbell reminds me a lot of Anne Fausto-Sterling, one of my intellectual heroes (just her enthusiasm, willingness to learn, and humility in spite of knowledge). As soon as I get the slasher (Yanks: mower) on the back of the new tractor and the pastures dry out a bit, I’ll no doubt have stack of the podcasts I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to loaded on the iPod.

Welcome to new readers: Why brain science needs anthropology

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchAfter a couple of really welcome links at places like Mind Hacks (from Vaughn) and at Dr. X’s Free Associations, as well as references from our friend Prof. Sue Sheridan at Life of Wiley (Home of the Daily Skeleton Action Figure), we at Neuroanthropology find ourselves with a lot more visitors over the past few days. Thanks to all of you who are checking us out for the first time and please consider yourself welcome at any time! As a way of welcoming our new readers, I want to reflect on what anthropology is, in my opinion, and why brain science needs it (a later post will discuss why anthropology needs the brain sciences, especially right now in the field’s development).

I was working on this piece before I saw Daniel’s most recent post, but I think it’s a good idea, especially considering the attention we’re getting from the neurosciences blogosphere.  Ironically, we’re probably getting more attention from brain scientists than from anthropologists.  The reasons for this seem to me to be complex, both a sense in the brain sciences of curiosity for things like ‘neuroanthropology,’ or ways of dealing with developmental, social, cultural, ecological, and evolutionary factors in the emergence of the human brain, but also an avoidance trend in cultural anthropology of dealing with psychology, neurology, and biology.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere, fears of ‘reductionism’ in biology in brain sciences and human biology among anthropologists seem to me to be exaggerated, mostly based upon the popularizers of brain sciences (like Pinker, who we’ve taken to task, but others as well) rather than on the more careful and interesting scientists working on the brain (we’ve discussed many examples in previous posts).

Continue reading “Welcome to new readers: Why brain science needs anthropology”

New features on Neuroanthropology

Just a quick note because I still have relatives staying with me (so I can’t get to a more serious post on Bruce Wexler’s book, Brain and Culture, to the collective memory conference I attended, or to the piece I’m working on about the equilibrium system and diverse physical training regimens). They go home tomorrow, so I should be able to present something substantive in the near future.

The first announcement is that we’ve added a Bibliography page that will try to keep a running list of the academic resources referenced in the postings.  Although I’m likely to fall behind from time to time up-dating it, my goal is to create a kind of ‘annotated bibliography’ with links back to postings or notes that discuss the readings.

In addition, Daniel Lende has generously put together a page of ‘web resources’ with links to things like news in the neurosciences and tutorials on brain architecture and function.  Especially for those of us in anthropology who are trying to better engage with the brain sciences, I think it will be an invaluable resource.

Finally, I’ve decided that we’re going to start using the icon from bpr3.org for blogs about peer-reviewed research.  You’ll see a small icon along articles that really discuss peer-reviewed research (rather than some of the ones we do about news or academic conferences or the like).  I’ll be happy to take care of providing the code, which I’ll just insert in appropriate posts.  It’s one more way that we can signal to our readers the nature of what we’re doing, and to let people in other fields know how research is being received and discussed among anthropologists.

Sorry I’m making you wait on other posts, but I promise more soon.

Nice to be noticed

Our little youngster, Neuroanthropology, just got a mention at Savage Minds. It’s not entirely unexpected as I posted an announcement on Culture Matters, the applied anthropology blog sponsored by Macquarie University’s Department of Anthropology. It was a bit of PR and may have been premature, but I think that Daniel Lende has taken to posting such high quality stuff that I didn’t want to wait any longer.

Many thanks to Christopher Kelty for the notice and the encouragement for the type of intellectual project it represents. Kelty offers encouragement, but he also gently points out some of the challenges of the vertigiousness inter-divisional collaboration that something like ‘neuroanthropology’ demands. He writes:

There is room for a new kind of medical and bio-cultural anthropology for people willing to connect—- though it does depend on finding the brain scientists willing to meet the cultural scientists halfway, which is no mean feat.

To which I would merely add that finding the anthropologists amenable to this collaboration is also no mean feat, especially judging from the savaging I just received for a submission on the topic to a major anthropology journal. Admittedly, the article needed a bit of work, but I don’t think it was EIGHT REVIEWS worth of bad.

Having Savage Minds notice you, however, if you’re an anthropology blog, is a bit like getting a cool older kid’s attention at school, so I’m pretty happy about that. More soon, too, on my recent presentation on equilibrium as a culturally variable dynamic neuro-behavioural system.

Again, I’d encourage those who are interested in participating to contact me directly. greg.downey@scmp.mq.edu.au