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[Final Report recently posted on the IPA website at http://www.csufresno.edu/anthropology/ipa/]

We are excited to announce the acceptance of a session of papers we organized about our Library User Experience Study.  We include the session abstract here and posted all of the paper abstracts at TheAnthroGeek.com

Practicing Anthropology in the Shelves: Designing Academic Libraries via Ethnography, a Presentation at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Philadelphia PA

Session Abstract: Anthropology is most relevant to the public when it improves the lives of non-anthropologists. Practicing anthropology, as a type of research done to solve practical problems with relevant stakeholders who stand to gain or lose from a project, has a long tradition outside academia. Conversely, practicing anthropology on a college campus, across disciplines is a relatively recent phenomenon. Responding to this year’s theme, the papers on this panel speak to an “academic public” comprised of non-anthropologists across college campuses. Acknowledging one potential “end” of anthropology as an independent university discipline, panelists illustrate a bright future for practicing anthropology amongst this “academic public”.

Using ethnography to empirically investigate the factors that influence human relations between each other and their environment, practicing anthropology helps provide stakeholders invested and interested in this research to adopt effective and efficient responses to the problems relevant to them. California State University Fresno’s Institute of Public Anthropology (IPA) is an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in California’s Central Valley through practicing design anthropology. By utilizing a mix of traditional and innovative methodologies, members of the IPA are able to make ethnographic approaches relevant to areas normally ignored by academic anthropology programs. The papers on this panel represent some of the latest research on user experience based upon a 15 month ethnographic investigation of CSU-Fresno’s Henry Madden Library.

In the first paper, Visser presents the context of the study, illuminating the relevance and use of traditional university libraries to “21st century students”. The following two papers by Barela, Arnold and Dotson provide a detailed explication of the background and methods of this study while emphasizing the strategies involved in ascertaining emic conceptualizations of “scholarship” (Barela) and ”library resources” (Arnold and Dotson) by predominantly ”first generation” college students. The next pair of papers by Mullooly, Ruwe and Scroggins explore some of the initial findings and that have evolved from the Library Study in terms of student/librarian disjunctures: disjunctures of the meaning of “reference” (Mullooly and Ruwe) “and of perception of time (Scroggins). The final paper by Delcore concludes the presentations with a discussion of the relevance of this sort of investigation to the evolution of design anthropology in relation to a variety of publics. Nancy Fried Foster, a leading voice in anthropological investigations of libraries, will discuss the papers at the close of the session.

The papers represent practicing efforts that analyze pressing issues in the contexts of scholarship, design, integration and innovation. Each presentation will be a rapid, data rich presentation (following the Pecha Kucha format) which will allow for an open discussion to follow including a critical analysis of the benefits of such approaches as well as the potential problems inherent in facing an “academic public”.

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Michael Wesch at Kansas State recently blogged about how he and his students run their research class.  The quote that hits home: “First off, we organize it as a research group, not a class.”  The rest of the posting describes how this works in more detail.

For the last two years, The Anthro Guys have been doing something very similar.  We run the Institute of Public Anthropology as an anthropological consultancy at the service of Fresno’s non- and for-profit community.  Our mission is to use anthropological skills and knowledge to improve the quality of life in the Central Valley.  The students in our field methods class work the projects we land.  They get real life research experience and our clients gain insight into how to improve the way they serve their clients and customers.  Win-win.

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From Left: Dalitso Ruwe, Kim Arnold (back), Jamie San Andres, Dave Moore (back), Felicia Salcido, Elfego Franco (back) and Ashlee Dotson. Alecia Barela not pictured.

Some of this bore fruit that past weekend.  On May 1, seven Fresno State undergrad anthro majors and one recent graduate traveled to SWAA’09 (the Southwestern Anthropological Association conference) in Las Vegas to present findings from Institute of Public Anthropology projects.  Four — Ashlee Dotson, Alecia Barela, Kim Arnold and Dalitso Ruwe — talked about the Library Study, two — Jamie San Andres and Felicia Salcido — about the anthro-architecture collaboration on ArcHop, and two — Elfego Franco and Dave Moore — about using anthro in product development, aka “how anthropology can make you wealthy.”  The audience was particularly attentive at that point.

I, Anthroguy, was there and can tell you that they acquitted themselves superbly (and at the early hour of 8am!) with some astute observations, interpretations and reflections on everything from libraries to urban revitalization to iPhone apps.  “Anthropology: we do more before 9am than most sociologists do in a day!”  😉

Aside from working IPA projects, Dalitso, Elfego and Dave are also in my interdisciplinary anthro-business-engineering class this semester.  The class is actually organized as a start-up venture, and the ten students (three anthros, six entrepreneurship, and one engineer) have been working on developing an iPhone app that will enable electric guitar players to practice anywhere anytime and still have access to all their guitar effects:  “self-expression on the go,” as they say.  The anthro students did fieldwork and design workshops with guitar players to explore how they experience effects pedals and the feasibility of putting it all on an iPhone app.  All the students collaborated to work up a business plan based on the results of that and other research.

So….while the anthros were in Las Vegas, five of their entrepreneurship major classmates were in Chicago at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Day.  IIT requires all students to participate in an interdisciplinary team project centered on an innovative design solution to some socially pressing problem or market need.  On IPRO Day, teams present their projects for judging, and for the last two years I have sent a team from my interdisciplinary class to compete.  Last year, the Fresno State team took the award for best business plan.  This year, the business students from iPhone app team – Jared Apodaca, Jason Tromborg, Donna Dizon, Cesar Sanchez and Lee Vue – presented their business plan.  They didn’t win any prizes, but they were approached by a private investor asking for more financial projections.  (Fingers crossed.)

On Feb. 5, the Anthrogeek, six anthro students and I were down at this month’s ArcHop exhibit, a full-scale model of a small efficiency unit that, if built in a proposed development here, could be the first stop for people leaving homelessness in Fresno.  We were there, with architect/collaborators Kiel Famellos-Schmidt, Shaunt Yemenjian and Mike Pinheiro, for opening night, as members of the public came through to view the model and give us their thoughts on high-density, affordable downtown living.  The event was a success, crowded and bustling, with plenty of people willing to blab to our students who were on hand with notebooks, pens and cameras rolling.   This past Feb. 14-15, we started Phase II of the project, with two participatory design workshops for homeless people who might eventually end up in these units.  On Saturday, anthro student Elfego Franco, Kiel and I went down to Roeding Park where the folks at Food Not Bombs put on lunch for homeless people on the southwest end of Fresno every Saturday.  Al Williams, a local homeless advocate and former homeless person himself agreed to recruit some folks for a workshop the next day at 2pm.  We then met Mike and went to the downtown homeless encampment known as “Little Tijuana” to recruit for the 10am workshop.  This means we went up to about 15 homeless people, sight unseen, to explain the project and see if anyone was interested.  Despite some wary looks, most were, and we agreed to see them the next day.

We went back to Little Tijuana on Sunday, picked up nine participants and headed over to Broadway Studios where the model is located.  During the three hour workshop, which we did inside the model itself, we experienced an amazing degree of openness and engagement from everyone present, including the four primary Spanish speakers, thanks to Elfego’s translating capabilities.  At 2pm, we had similarly fine results with six more participants.  As I’ve said before, my job carries the privilege of being allowed a peek at other peoples’ lives.  In the workshops, we drew, talked, and acted out skits aimed at getting at the way the participants thought about home and housing, and how they would like their first home out of homelessness to be.  Everyone agreed that any homeless person would be tickled to have a roof over their head, an observation made all the more poignant by the three days of heavy rain we had preceeding the event.  But the participants also shared with us some significant design insights that Kiel, Shaunt and Mike will incorporate into future designs.

After the second workshop, I went home and changed into some nice clothes and made the geographically short but socially looooooooong ride to north Fresno, to the church where my future mother-in-law, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, was speaking about how to support each other in times of grief.  The transition from talking to people who have next to nothing to sitting among fifty fresh-faced people in Sunday best made my head spin.  We live in a strange society.

Though my Sunday night at church was the product of a personal connection, the radical shift I made across the social terrain of Fresno from 10am to 7pm could have easily been the result of my professional life.  I traverse that terrain every week and sometimes every day.  My current projects are putting me, the Anthrogeek, and our students in contact with Fresno State undergrads, homeless people, affluent magazine readers, and car salesmen.  Bored with life in Fresno?  Come join us.

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.

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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, TheAnthroGuys.com 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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