Friday, April 29, 2011

Social Networking for Researchers!

About a week ago, I came across this wonderful new social networking site - for researchers. It's called Academia.edu, and I've been super excited about it.

It provides profiles in a similar way that Facebook does, except it focuses on your research and the research you are interested in. You can post your current position, university affiliation (if any), and other basic details as well as post your talks, books, papers, teaching documents, blog posts, CV, and websites. You also add your research interests, which, if they match what others put down, you are then linked to them as interested in the same thing. When people try to find you via a search engine, it saves the keywords the people use to get to your academia.edu page.

In addition to being linked via research interests, it also lists everyone in your department. That includes professors, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students. You can also follow people whose interests or research you like (or for any other reason, really), which shows up in your "feed" on your homepage. You can see when they make changes, such as who they are now following, when they add new talks, books, papers, etc., and other such details.

The only downside seems to be that researchers don't seem to update their academia accounts as often as most people update their Facebook accounts and Twitter accounts.

Being as excited as I am about this site, I created my own profile, which you can view here. Other than my abstract, which I also posted here, there is an updated version of my CV and you can see who I'm following and generally stalk me and my research. No one is following me yet, but one can always hope.

First Talk Submission

This happened a few weeks ago (April 14th, to be exact), but I submitted my first abstract (and wrote my first abstract) for an individual paper presentation for the AAA (American Anthropological Association)'s annual meeting on November 16-20, 2011 in Montreal. Prof. Bialecki, whom I took ANSC 100B (Ethnography of North America) with at UCSD (University of California, San Diego, was kind enough to comment on the abstract as well.

This is the title and abstract of the submission:

Emotional Labor in Service Industry Workers: Using AutoEthnography to Narrate Workers' Subjectivities

The West has seen a shift to a service-based economy where affect labor (‘immaterial labor’) is what is being bought and sold (Hardt 1999) rather than other material products, which is characteristic of ‘late capitalism’. The hospitality industry, in particular, isn’t in the business of selling a room with a bed and other amenities; it is selling the labor power of its employees (Sherman 2007). As a result of this move toward the use of affective labor, employees have come to face a triangle of power (Lopez 2010) between the worker, customer, and manager involving control of their emotional labor. The employee is forced to negotiate and maintain their own emotional state as a requirement (and sometimes the entirety) of their work at the same time being controlled/supervised by the manager and customers simultaneously. This creates anxiety, disorganization, and confusion within the employee as she tries to navigate her work environment and plan for the future (Sennett 2000). Using autoethnography (Ellis 2004; Ellis & Bochner 2000; Chang 2008) as a method to show how subjectivities as the basis of agency (Ortner 2005) are created and constituted as workers at a three-star hotel in southern California engage the challenges of emotional work, I will narrate (rather than explain or translate), using my self as an informant in addition to my coworkers/informants within a broader social context of service work in late capitalism, how autoethnography can bring a greater connection into the human experience than traditional methods of researcher as outsider allow.
Unfortunately, the abstract would be a bit difficult to understand without having read the specific articles/books I am referring to in the abstract, which subtracts from the larger goal of this blog. However, if any of my readers want any clarifications, I will be happy to do so.

I won't know if my submission was accepted until early July. I'm really hoping they respond in the affirmative, because I've never presented and I would really like the opportunity to really contribute in an academic atmosphere and get feedback on my work. I'm planning on attending the conference regardless for networking, the sheer joy of attending these talks and panels (yes, sheer joy), and so I can participate in the board meetings and activities of NASA since I am one of two undergraduate representatives. Nonetheless, it would be nothing short of amazing if I could present along with the others.

I'll post as soon as I learn whether or not my submission was accepted and I'll link it to this post. Wish me luck!

UPDATE: My presentation was accepted! See my new post for the full information!

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Academic Blogging

Since starting my own blog, I have been reading several others and I am always coming across new anthropology related/inspired blogs. Recently I've been looking at what others have decided on as the proper format or content for such an academic blog. One blogger (identified only as O.W.), identifies four different types of "anthropological blogging" (O.W. 2007):

Popular – geared towards a non-academic audience.
Diary/Journal – mix between public consumption, and random notebook (fieldnotes posted online) [ie this blog]
Collaborative group blogs – sharing a site. increased visibility, community.
Professional – Having high quality, disciplined, well researched, and citable information.
As I read this, I wondered where my blog fell on that spectrum, or if those categories are all-inclusive of every kind of anthropological blog in existence. (I am sad that s/he doesn't provide a citation). Because while I try to provide as many and as valuable citations as I can and do some reporting on anthropological issues, there are parts that are most definitely informal (I can hardly see this entry as publishable, for instance).

So that leaves me to wonder where my blog fits in and what my blog's purpose is. Initially when I wrote my first entry, I wanted it to be more professional. But for the same reasons I've found I've been drawn to autoethnography, I am also drawn to making this blog more personalized to include my own career paths as well as observations about current projects.

Another blog, specifically about blogging for clarity on fieldnotes, writes this (Cicilie 1996):

This brings me to a question some people have asked me; is your blog your fieldnotes? No, my notes don’t look like my blog at all. My fieldnotes are very sketchy and cover a vast array of themes, and they’re not at all as coherent and focused as I try to make the posts in the blog. The texts here can perhaps be described as somewhere between fieldnotes and academic texts in terms of stringency, but not in terms of analysis. My posts are meant to be descriptive rather than analytic. (I’m not in that phase on the project yet.) The idea is to describe the process of discovery that I’m going through during my stay here. This includes ethnographic discovery, as well as day-do-day theoretical and methodological reflections.

I like the idea of "ethnographic discovery."  It's fun, and it suggests a work in progress, a process of "becoming" (Butler 2004). She also adds that blogging about her fieldnotes "sharpens the attention." I have found this also to be true, because while fieldnotes is more akin to journal writing, blogging about fieldwork experiences can add more depth of understanding to your experience than just taking some notes and moving on.

What about using facebook, texts, and other "New Media" (Gershon 2010) to write one's fieldnotes or at least part of them? Haven't found any blogs or traditional sources for that idea. Perhaps that's too radical to say out loud just yet.


Cited

Butler, Judith
2004   Undoing Gender. London: Routledge.

Cicilie
2006   My blog, my project and I, part 1. Accessed April 11, 2011. http://www.antropologi.info/blog/cicilie/2006/my_blog_my_project_and_i_part_1.

Gershon, Ilana
2010   The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

O.W.
2007   Kinds of anthropological blogging. Accessed April 11, 2011. http://nodivide.wordpress.com/2007/12/11/kinds-of-anthropological-blogging/.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Verbiage

After frying my brain on "simple" number operations in my preparation for the math portion of the GRE (perhaps more on that later), I started looking through the most recent Anthropology News. I used an article written in AN in my very first post. Out of all anthropology publications, I find this one to be the most useful in enabling me to think about anthropology, rather than just thinking about concepts within anthropology.

In the "Dialogue" section of AN, letters are published "for the purpose of addressing issues that relate to the discipline and practice of anthropology." It's kind of amazing, actually, given my interest in talking and thinking about disciplines and methods that I haven't looked at it in depth before. However, this letter caught my eye: Is "Governmentality" Necessary? A Plea for Ordinary English in Anthropology.

In this letter, Robert Hahn states: "A anthropologists, we are experts in translation and cross-cultural communication, and we should be able to bridge the gap. It is odd and unfortunate that we rarely do so." (Hahn 2011: 3).

Those two sentences alone are poignant, but it really brings into focus my original goal in creating this blog. While I have endeavored to make it more personal and shed some light on the process of becoming a (paid) anthropologist, I really want to stress how important it is that other people (those not trained in anthropology) be able to read what anthropologists write. He makes this point very clear when he brings up the unnecessary creation of words (he refers to them as neologisms, but in an effort to be clear, I have chosen not to use this word) in anthropology to stand for new ideas. This happens in all disciplines unfortunately, but because of our duty to be able to translate cross-culturally, we should also be able to communicate our ideas to our own culture.

For instance, he brings up Foucault's notion of governmentality. "In a lecture named for this concept, Foucault describes this form of societal organization in which a government exerts pervasive control of  its constituents through its production of ideologies and multiple forms of power." (Hahn 2011: 3). He then asks if this new understanding deserves a creation of a new word. His answer: "The new words obscures a need to elucidate the concept and its coherence, but this shorthand also creates a barrier to comprehension." (Hahn 2011: 3).

I have to agree with him on this point. Last quarter, I took a class called the Ethnography of North America. In that class, we read A Space on the Side of the Road by Kathleen Stewart. I dare you to pick up a copy and turn to the introduction, start to read, and let me know what the hell she's trying to say. Her writing and choice of words are so obtuse that it is nearly impossible to read without doing extensive searches into the philosophical background of the words she uses. Then one might be able to begin to unpack the history and usages of the terms and their underlying meanings to understand what argument she is trying to make.

Thus, there are two problems to the accessibility in her book. First, her word choice confuses the reader and makes it difficult to understand even when she isn't using unusual vocabularly. Second, she uses words and invokes philosophical traditions and theory without announcing what they are or explaining what they are. Thus you might have to spend hours trying to figure out what usage of mimesis she means to invoke on the first page of a chapter and still not be able to follow her thought process because her word choice is incomprehensible to most people.

My point, then, is that I share the hope of Robert Hahn that anthropologists might begin to use "ordinary English" in an effort to make anthropology accessible not only to those not trained in it, but also to the students who seek to continue the production of new knowledge within anthropology as a discipline.


Citations

Hahn, Robert A.
2011  Is "Governmentality" Necessary? A Plea for Ordinary English in Anthropology. Anthropology News. 52(4): 3.

Stewart, Kathleen.
1996  A Space on the Side of the Road. Princeton University Press.

AutoEthnography - Mandatory Training

I have been working on an autoethnographic project since the beginning of February 2011. As part of my everyday need for money to sustain existence, I have been working as a parking attendant at a large parking company in San Diego, with my location being at a mid-range hotel. My primary job responsibilities are to sit in a parking booth located to the right of the hotel entrance. I am supposed to greet guests pulling into the lot and collect tickets and fees on the their way out, among other things. The job involves a high amount of customer interaction and the parking company has been emphasizing enhanced customer service since the beginning of the year, which is probably why it required this mandatory training session last Saturday (April 2, 2011).

The training session was titled "Building a Better Guest Experience" and included an 8 page "participant guide" which I was able to take home and share with you now. On the bottom of each page was a warning: "This training program is the property of [Parking Company] and any reproduction is unlawful. While we are not vengeful, we can be provoked. To receive copies, call the T & D Dept.: XXX. XXX. XXXX". (The actual phone number has been replaced with X's and the actual name of the company removed due to ethical reasons.)

I wasn't the only one who noticed this warning on the bottom of page (except the title page). A few of my fellow coworkers pointed it out to me and laughed about it. And, since I wouldn't want to provoke them, I haven't reproduced it in any fashion here, except to quote it.

The training session was conducted by a middle-aged woman whose name I did not catch. She stood in the front of the room slightly to the right of the projector. She wore a pinned on microphone, which was helpful, even though the room wasn't very large. There were two rows of tables lined up on either side of the room and only half were occupied. We learned that there were three locations present, all the same hotel franchise. The great majority of the employees were valets with a smaller number working as cashiers (which is what my job is officially).

We began on page 2 (page 1 was the title page) with the "Class Objectives." There were three: "Identify the four communication styles. Identify how to engage the guest in a genuine, professional manner. Recognize how to create a positive guest experience." These were not elaborated on, however there was a rather curious image of a bible with a tree growing out of it that I have yet to identify the significance of.

The third page is titled "What Do Guests Want?" The answer, of course, is "Treated as Individuals," as labeled on the powerpoint and the handout. We were given four options and told to "vote with our feet." In each corner of the room was an option and we were to go to that corner if we thought that was how we wanted to be treated by a service person. The options were:

A. They're friendly, warm, build personal rapport with me.
B. They keep our interactions as brief as possible.
C. They're very methodical, proceeding step-by-step.
D. They're focused on the technical aspects; they're not building a relationship with me.
As we all got up and started heading in only one corner, I turned to a male valet who I knew well from my own location, "This is so rigged." He laughs and motioning to the three men who chose something other than option A says, "Yeah, those three guys just lost their jobs."

I laughed too, because it was a very poignant example that we weren't supposed to be showing what we actually think, we were supposed to show them what they wanted to see. It was our job to show that we understood what "true customer service" meant and show that we were good, obedient employees. Which is why I didn't bother going into the corner for "B".

Then she says, "Ok, now back to the 'depends" mentioned earlier." (And to paraphrase, because I didn't think to bring my digital voice recorder with me) What if you are just getting off work and it's late at night. You are on your way home and you remember that you have to go to the store to pick something up. Waiting until the next day is not an option. You're tired and you just want to go home. What kind of interaction would you want now? Vote with your feet.

Not surprisingly, nearly everyone moved to option B, myself included as it appeared I could easily conform with the crowd. (Who wants to put oneself in a position where one may be called out in front of the entire group to defend one's position and therefore be labeled unequivocally as a "bad employee"?) The speaker seemed relieved and empowered that we fell into her visual so easily. She went on to describe how we can't treat everyone the same in all situations. We have to learn how to treat guests differently based on the non-verbal cues they are giving us, which is the whole point of this training session.

The next slide and page of the "participant guide" is labeled "Individuality and Communication Styles." Here are four boxes labeled "Analytical, Functional, Intuitive, and Personal" with each having four bullet points below them. Just in case you are interested, this is what it says:


Analytical
  • Unemotional delivery 
  • Specific numbers vs. feelings. 
  • Having lots of supportive evidence in reserve 
  • Trust comes from technical competence
Functional
  • Process, Process, Process
  • Highly detailed information
  • Recommendation at the end
  • Trust comes from proceeding step-by-step
Intuitive
  • Recommendations up-front
  • Do not equivocate, beat around the bush
  • Bottom-line big picture
  • Trust comes from not wasting their time
Personal
  • Get them involved
  • Informal, friendly
  • Are others doing it?
  • Trust comes from interpersonal warmth

She spent a brief period of time explaining what these four categories meant. I remember wonder where the hell she got these and what junior college taught her how to summarize so poorly. After she was done and explaining that she was a functional, she gave us another group exercise. We were to go around the room and talk to four different people (not at our table) and generalize to four different groups, defined as "business, families, couples, events." 

I found it impossible to participate in this activity. At this point I was so irritated with the whole nonsense and the level of degradation we were subjected to (can you imagine what age she was imagining all of us to be?), I couldn't place myself inside the position of employee and participate fully. I was analyzing it as an outside ethnographer who was angry at being subjected to such simplistic exercises that did not serve to help us "learn" what she was trying to "teach" us, but to ingrain her ideas into us as if we had decided that this was our idea all along. And while not everyone was fooled, there was many who were and participated enthusiastically. I imagined they were probably seeking promotions.

After we all settled down, she started throwing a foam ball around the room so that people could answer what they thought. I have to admit I zoned out a bit and checked my phone for texts and emails.

At this point we skipped a page and went to page 6 which was labeled "Conversations and Proper Phrasing." Prior to the state of the session, 16 large posters had been taped to the walls with several phrases, three on each poster. Her explanation of the directions of this activity confused nearly everyone and she had to stop us a few times to explain what she had meant and everyone was still confused by the time she asked us to sit back down.

On our handout were two columns, one labeled "Unacceptale" and another "Best Response." The activity, briefly, was to write on these posters what the best response alternative was to the unacceptable response. We counted off and I ended up in small group with two others whom I did not know. We went from poster to poster adding better responses until she told us to sit back down. I found myself correcting spelling and grammar mistakes from other groups as we went along. To the unacceptable phrase, "It's policy," I wrote "For your safety and convenience..." As I was writing the dots, the speaker came up to our group and said "That's actually really good." I was tempted to say, "Well, I am ivy league educated," but I restrained myself. 

Other unacceptable phrases included "How ya doin? It's policy. See ya later. My bad. No problem. I don't know. NO. No worries. Give me a second. That's not my job. That's not my fault. Hi/Hello. Yeah."

The next page was labeled "Opportunities for Extradordinary Service" which we skipped. The last page was labeled "Putting It All Together," but instead of going over that page we were instead broken up into small groups again where a few people were chosen to act out a couple of predetermined situations in which we were supposed to identify the communication style of the "guest." None of us paid much attention and were all too eager to return to our seats. I immediately turned to page 9 which was an anonymous feedback form. I admit I was a little harsh in my answers. For the question of what I liked about the training, I added simply "candy, powerpoint." When asked how I will apply what I've learned, I added that oversimplifying guests' identities into four different communication styles was only useful to a point, but that the point that we were allowed to customize our reactions and service to a guest was a welcome one and that I hoped it would be reflected on the secret shopper evaluations. When asked what they could improve, I was the most scathing. I criticize their teaching pedagogy (I seriously doubt they know what that word means) and their instruction method. I also suggested that the presentation was more confusing than helpful and that a number of people were confused as to the proper response and clearly laying that out in the handout might have been more helpful than blanks.

I was very grateful when it was over and annoyed at the fact that I had to drive back to my actual work location, change out of my business casual clothing and into an unflattering uniform, and work until 11pm. However, she (my boss) asked me to work the next day for 8 hours (6:30am to 3pm), so I left early at 8pm instead.

I'm still organizing this project in my head and I'm not entirely sure what all I am going to add to the article I am writing and what I am going to leave out. I have been using my facebook account to record memorable anecdotes from my experience working there, and since many of my friends enjoyed hearing about them, I decided it would be interesting to my friends and useful for me to record longer ethnographic experiences on my blog here. The 250 word abstract is due on April 15th to present this project to the annual AAA conference in November in Montreal. I will also be writing a formal article to be submitted and reviewed for publication in a peer reviewed journal. Although I loathe my job (which may be putting it mildly), I am enjoying this autoethnographic project and I hope to write more about it as I move from the ethnographic stage (I'll hopefully be quitting by the end of May) to the analyzing and writing stage. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions either here on my blog or on my facebook account.