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ElicetE made a really good point in a recent comment to the Nouveaux Pauvre posting.

I think the best thing anthropology can do is try to understand the problem.  If we can get to know the homeless community and understand their basic needs, maybe we can start finding solutions for them.

The question then becomes: How can anthropology do this?

Felicia Salcido’s recent posting on this subject illustrates one response that practicing or applied anthropologists can do to begin to answer these questions.

Does the past century of anthropology hold other secrects or applications we have not yet discussed?


Guest Author: Felicia Salcido will be blogging with us due to her particular expertise in this area. She is a student of anthropology and a very capable ethnographer. The following is from her:

I began working with the homeless when I received an email from my Professor Hank Delcore, about local architects wanting to build dwellings for the homeless in Fresno. I never worked with the homeless and definitely wanted the chance to be involved with something that would help out the community.

In January I volunteered to help get a head count of the homeless. I spent my afternoon at the Poverello House. The count is done bi annually to help the city and county implement the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. If you did not know this already, the count will provide leaders of the county a better understanding of the number of homeless people.

The Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness was adopted because of this rapidly increasing population of displaced persons. It is about time that the city and county established that homelessness is problem, but what’s next? How does the county end homelessness in ten years? I have been given the opportunity to witness first hand how the community is responding to this plan. It is no secret that there is a need for affordable housing. Yes, it is true that housing costs are low, but it is also true that a large portion people living in Fresno County are going into foreclosure. Thus, the community needs affordable housing. Local architects of Fresno recognized the need for affordable housing and therefore designed and constructed a 350sq ft dwelling that would allow the homeless to live in. The dwellings would be built in a vacated lot in Downtown Fresno. These built dwellings would hope to reduce some of the homelessness in our city.

Where does Anthropology come in? The architects were concerned with the efficiency of living space and wanted to know what the minimum amount of space for a successful dwelling was. A mock up of the dwelling was showcased at Archop night in February and it was the jobs of the student anthropologists/ethnographers to solicit, observe, document and analyze behavioral and communicated responses to the built space. Questions in regards to the built spaced were asked, such as “What do you think about this space?” “Can you imagine yourself living in a space like this?” and “Do you know someone who this space would be perfect for?” The answers were analyzed and conclusions were drawn. The research conducted was used to drive the re-design of the space. I may have more on how the data drove re-design at a later time.

This has been my experience working with the issue of homelessness so far, I am motivated to help in anyway I can and I am privileged that Anthropology has given me this experience. What the local architects are doing is only one step to ending homelessness in Fresno, Ca and I encourage everyone to help in anyway they can. Thanks.

The March 26th 2009 issue of the New York Times headlined with a story about Fresno.  With the subtitle, “New Hoovervilles Emerge in Fresno…” our fair city made national headlines because of our poverty.

The article, which I encourage all to read for free at this link, describes an increasing problem in Central California that I’m referring to as the nouveaux pauvre.  [NBC’s Nightly News has a similar news story you can watch at here.]  You all may recall that the French phrase, nouveaux riche refers to those who recently came into money.  What you may not know is that the French also have a phrase depicting the opposite: nouveau pauvre.  Although the Wikepidia entry for  nouveau pauvre is only in French, you can take my word for it that this describes those lesser fortunate folks who have recently come into poverty.

hoooverville_williamette1“Hooverville” named after President Herbert Hoover, refers to the name poverty laden shanty towns [pictured here——->] received during the Great Depression.  Blaming Hoover for the Depression, his name will forever be linked to poverty.

Fresno Famous, a great blog about our city, has been discussing the very issue of some time as well at the following link:

My question is: What can anthropology can do for the problem of the homelessness in Fresno?

I invite you to make any comments or report things here that you have found or written elsewhere.

Is your head in the clouds?teminator32

How about your data? Worse yet, is it in his?—>

Software as a Service (SaaS), sometimes referred to as “Cloud Computing”, was the topic of this morning’s  Central Valley Software Partnership meeting.  The Partnership, launched by the RJI (Regional Jobs Initiative) has been meeting monthly at the Central Valley Business Incubator to discuss software applications in industry in our area.

Ian Duffield, COO of Decipher, Inc. Survey Reporting and Data Collection lead a discussion revolving around the implications of SaaS as well as current applications in the Fresno area.  From what I gathered, SaaS is here to stay and is a real success in local industry.


So what is this all about anyway?  Many of us are using  “web based” email from Yahoo or Gmail and more and more of us are watching TV on hulu.  These are SaaS.145px-hulu_logosvg2

To Rent or to Buy

Beyond the “geeky” technical difference between having your own tech team or having someone else solve all of those problems, there lies two distinct (and competing) business models: To rent or to buy?  To illustrate these models in terms of mass market personal use, let’s talk about Rhapsody’s subscription model and Itunes‘ purchasing model.  Rhapsody is a service that allows you (for about $14 a month) to listen to all the music you want on a few devices.  You can fill up, empty and refill your MP3 player as often as you like.  Conversely, with Itunes, you buy one song then another etc..  Although Itunes is far more profitable than Rhapsody at the moment, this “Subscription” model is most likely the wave of the future.

This brings us back to “Skynet” the evil fictional monster in the machine that made the Terminator films such big hits.  If we are to embrace “Cloud Computing” more fully, we are going to have to let go of the notion that holding information is safer than allowing others (often machines) to hold it for us.

Jason, a clever colleague of mine, found an interesting article that reminded me of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ use of bricolage [French for, “fiddle, tinker” and, by extension, “make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)].

The Fresno Scraper

The Fresno Scraper

Paul Boutin describes a variety of simple solutions to complex problems that typify the sort of ingenuity that launched “The Fresno Scraper” and will pull us out of the challenges currently facing us in the San Joaquin Valley. This sort of “routine applied induction” is occurring around us all the time but is rarely celebrated. In light of the economic troubles filling our minds (e.g., this story of Mendota’s water problems), we need to start hearing more of these stories of applied cleverness to balance things out.

Paul Boutin states this idea better than I ever could in his article:

Today’s shaky economy is likely to produce many more such tricks. “In postwar Japan, the economy wasn’t doing so great, so you couldn’t get everyday-use items like household cleaners,” says Lisa Katayama, author of “Urawaza,” a book named after the Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks. “So people looked for ways to do with what they had.” via Basics – Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems –

Approaches to Ethnographic Opportunity Analysis

We were recently invited to speak to a class of entrepreneurship students about how anthropology can help students of innovation add value to things.  We suggested the following:

OBJECTIVE: To equip you with a set of inductive observation and analysis tools you can use to improve your entrepreneurship skills.

METHOD: Introducing you to “the ethnographic method” through a explanation of what we call, “ethnographic opportunity analysis”.

BACKGROUND: This approach builds upon “the ethnographic method“, “induction“, design generally and “design anthropology”.

More detailed background can be found in the following articles:

Jon Kolko’s sold out book has a great chapter on Interaction Design here

More of Jon Kolko’s can be found here (use the html version to get all the test)

A article from Interactive Design that I’m still tracking down

SELECTIVE ETHNOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS: Qualitative Modeling For Work Place Ethnography by Maarten Sierhuis

ASSIGNMENT : 1) Conduct some sort of “inductive observation”, 2) analyze your notes, then 3) expand those notes into a brief report about what you found.

DESCRIPTION: Rather than looking into a completely innovative idea (service or product), the goal is to observe something that already works; observe it in great detail; then begin to understand it in such detail that you can make concrete suggestions about improving it.  In other words, rather than looking for how consumers COULD use a NEW service/product, the goal is to observe how consumers DO use a EXISTING service/product with the intention of looking for opportunities to improve or “add value” to that experience.


1. Find a routine, taken-for-granted task/service/product,

2. “Hang out” and “thickly describe” it in a notebook,

3. Suggest some sort of innovation that will add value to it.

The best observations will be published on this blogsite.
We will use the following to assess the quality of the submissions.

images1I sort of made it on the Oprah show; well actually that is not true. What is true is that her website mentioned my new living situation called “CoHousing”.  It is being referred to as a sort of “tribal lifestyle”. As an Anthropologist, I find this oddly fascinating. The story, by Jeanie Lerche Davis is from her byline called  Single and Loving It.  In an article entitled “New-Style Communities”, Lerche states that,

“Cohousing” is one answer. It’s a form of group housing much like a ’60s commune, but yuppie-style. These are condo-style developments built around a “common area” with kitchen, dining, laundry, exercise, and children’s playroom facilities. Cohousing communities are typically designed to resemble old-fashioned neighborhoods. Members get together often to share meals, socialize, and handle the ordinary stuff of daily living although they live in individual units. “Intentional community” is an inclusive term for ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, farms, urban housing cooperatives, and other projects. Intentional communities can be found all over the U.S. and Europe, their growth spurred by the Internet. Typically, community members jointly own land that has multiple dwellings. Frequently, members share a common bond—a religious, political, or social philosophy that brings them together…….

w_cavemen2The above is all fairly true in my case but the comparison to a “tribe” is not very helpful. You can call me a “hippie” or a “green commie” as my students do but to claim that we live at a very simplistic level sociopolitical complexity is way off base. I’m not taking offense at being compared to being a member of a“band-level society”. Rather, I feel the need to point out that complex societies allow for small “pockets of temporary simplicity” and that these pockets are temporary in nature. Such pockets stand in opposition and in fact “maintain” the very things that they are resisting. Lerche continues, 

“Urban tribes form in a vacuum,” Watters (author of the book Urban Tribes) tells WebMD. “Our generation has not joined the traditional social organizations our parents did, the churches and civic groups. We don’t stay in our jobs as long. That leads to a social vacuum, and humans don’t do well in a social vacuum. Something will fill it. That’s where Thanksgiving dinners started out as stopgap measure, then 10 years later, we realize these friends have become our family.” Read on at Single and Loving It.


You can read the rest of the article but if you are hoping to find any systematic anthropology there, don’t hold your breath. Now that I have lived in the Fresno CoHousing community for a couple of months, I can echo Kermit’s point that “it ain’t always easy being green”. The assumption that I’m a churchless single and drifting from job to job smarts. I’m active in my church, I’ve had the same job for the past six years (with no plan on departing) and I’ve been married for over ten years (and have a couple kids to boot). I guess my beef is mostly with Watters who, in an effort to make a point, has been a bit too reductive for my taste. This is one angry villager who is standing up for his subaltern status!

In my continual pursuit of finding out what it is that we practicing design anthropologists do, I came across the following description of “User Experience Deliverables”.  The irony of the title grabbed me instantly.  “User Experience” comes from architecture and the arts whereas “deliverables” comes right out of the corporate world of profits, deadlines and bottom lines.  Merging these two is a skillful craft I leave to Peter Morville at SemanticStudios in the following.

User Experience Deliverables

January 27, 2009

It’s an exhilarating time for the user experience community. Rising awareness of our value plus emerging technologies and transmedia trends have created conditions for a step change in our practice.

As an information architect, I’m enjoying the new challenges immensely, even as they sweep me outside my comfort zone. I’ve designed social software and rich user interfaces. I’ve sketched scenarios for the future of mobile search. I’ve mapped the user experience across channels and applications. And, I’ve increasingly found myself striving to clarify ideas for folks in the executive suite.

Consequently, I’m rethinking my role, redefining my deliverables, and embracing new forms of interdisciplinary collaboration. For instance, I’ve ensnared Jeffery Callender as co-author of Search Patterns, a new book (in process) about design for discovery and the future of search.

Read on at User Experience Deliverables.

Fresnans are often perplexed when I say “I practice anthropology” as well as teach it.

Visions of the sexy Indiana Jones aside, the sort of anthropology Hank and I “practice” is sometimes called “Design Anthropology”.  One great example of this sort of thing can be found by visiting the Point Forward’s web experience.


I saw “web experience” intentionally to denote the craft with which they have built their website.  You can be sure that it is a product of the sort of anthropology that they (and we) practice.

I found out about this firm’s web site by following a Google add link that was on my own LinkedIn page – yes apparently the whole “targeted advertising” thing actually works from time to time.  Like all effective web experinces, Point Forward’s site gives much more than it takes.  It not only described but reflexivly illustrates (i.e., it does what it describes) one of the most exciting, emergent areas in anthropology.  I really liked the cases they provided, e.g., the Chick-fil-A case and the Sony case are particularly effective.  They also offer reports for a more in depth look into the wonderful world of Design Anthropology.

I spent the last year blogging on my own about how Anthropology can be useful to non-anthropologists by popularizing or “making public” the otherwise dry theoretical content of the field.  Although I have enjoyed my work on my personal blog TheAnthroGeek, I have learned that this sort of public application of anthropological theory and method could be of particular benefit to my local context in Fresno, CA (USA)

Therefore, I am teaming up with Henry Delcore, a colleague and friend to focus on a more local inspection and reflection upon how the core competencies of ethnography can be practiced in California’s Central Valley.

I recently moved into Fresno Cohousing so I will likely be talking about life in a modern day village from time to time.  This move signifies a deep and lasting bond I have forged with my new hometown of Fresno, CA.  Let’s see if practicing anthropology here can make a difference.

TheAnthroGuys@ Swearingen's Swearing-in bash

[October 2010 Addendum: I (TheAnthroGeek) have since moved out of Fresno Cohousing but still live in North Fresno and TheAnthroGuy moved down to the Tower District.  We both remain committed to Fresno.  Although coincidental, was launched at the same time that Ashley Swearengin took office as Fresno’s Mayor.  In fact, our inaugural picture was taken at her inaugural event in 2008].

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