Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association of Senior Anthropologists
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Technology
Secondary Theme: Science
As the venue for the 2018 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Silicon Valley has inspired members of the Association of Senior Anthropologists to reflect on the advances, quandaries, and realized and unrealized potentials in the newly developing research technologies they grappled with earlier in their careers. Experimentation with promising new kinds of equipment and procedures often involved resistance, resilience, and adaptation—specified as elements of this year’s meeting theme of change in the anthropological imagination. As with panels arranged by ASA previously, the lived experiences of senior anthropologists are complemented by the historical perspectives of younger colleagues.
Precursor technologies, along with the advent of computers, exponentially enhanced our capacities for managing research findings, but also created unprecedented vulnerabilities to information overload, incoherence, oversimplification, and misdirection. The very power of data crunching modalities can obscure guiding purposes and visions of feasible projects. The case studies in this session explore breakthrough developments in data collection and manipulation as precursors to current challenges and ongoing accommodations in anthropological research. What can we learn from the guiding assumptions, emerging potentials, new protocols, and changing applications of the Human Relations Area Files? How did the Termatrex machine” serve as a bridge to computer processing of vast amounts of data, making empirical research more systematic while possibly diverting efforts from alternative intentions and understandings? How were the opportunities and pitfalls of a rigorous behavioral anthropology exemplified by the applications of Eliot Chapple's Interaction Chronograph”? What lessons can be learned from a retrospective consideration of the first attempts at using mainframe computers for storage and analysis of large bodies of anthropological data and initial experiments with portable computers in ethnographic fieldwork? Antiquated, even quaint, technologies can anchor assessments of the history of anthropological research, simultaneously inspiring further innovations and offering cautionary tales.