TGA’s Favorite Posts of 2014

2014 was a big year for TGA. We made the full transition to a group blog in May, and have had a number of outside contributors since then. Marie-Pierre already posted a run-down of our most popular pieces, but we also felt like some of our favorite posts that didn’t make that list also deserved some mention. We asked each of our staff to nominate their favorite piece of 2014 and write a few words about why they liked it. Without further ado, then, here are our favorite pieces of last year.

Have a favorite piece that you think we overlooked? Let us know in the comments.

Emma Louise Backe: “Scholarly Hipsters, Scholarly Geeks,” by Nick Mizer

I think the series hones in on several important theoretical issues within contemporary anthropology, while simultaneously demonstrating the power and potential of blogging. The series was initially inspired by a Savage Minds’ “Anthropologists as Scholarly Hipsters,” a piece similarly generated by other insouciant online conversations circulating around irony, academichipster-indy investment, and the artifice of engaging with certain cultural activities or practices. Having attended a school swarming with a welter of hipsters, I was very much submerged in hipster culture for the duration of my undergraduate career, while feeling distinctly separate from it. Whereas certain enclaves of the school consumed forms of visual and digital media out of ironic amusement, I felt somewhat out-of-place in my genuine, unadulterated love for Bleach and Sailor Moon. Part of the reason why I was drawn to Anthropology was the discipline’s applicability to some of my geeky interests, but I was also inspired by the other Anthropology majors as well. There’s a certain type of person who chooses to pursue the study of culture, and sometimes I wonder whether our initial enthusiasm has to be tamped down in order to be perceived as sufficiently “academic.” I myself have struggled with the dispassionate claim to ethnography some anthropologists have staked. If we reduce cultural monsters to manifestations of political economic tragedy, interpret the magical into something mundane and prosaic, are we not misattending to the beautiful epistemologies of the communities that so fascinate us? As Nick says so succinctly, “But only by making enthusiastic claims in ethnography can our work ever rise to the level of creating a Secondary World that others can enter into and share some of what we saw when we were “Being There.” If we’re ever going to share our enthusiasm we have to geek out. If we don’t experience any enthusiasm for what we’re studying, I admit to not being sure what the point is.” Nick also manages to blend fiction into his analysis of the “Scholarly Hipster” phenomenon, utilizing elements of the geek and ethnographic canon to explore what a hipster or ironic disposition looks like in the field, and whether such a position is sustainable or even desirable.

Rayna Elizabeth: “Contemporary Folklore in the Digital Age,” by Emma Louise Backe

Source: really enjoyed how Emma used Alan Dundes’ work as a frame of reference for how folklore is relevant within today’s technological world. She presents several relevant examples of how folklore is used within video games. By highlighting these often overlooked elements, it becomes clear that myths are not only reserved for knowledge of the past, but that they are being widely used and incorporated into digital life. Additionally, I was intrigued to learn from her piece that there is quite an assortment of research on digital folklore that I never knew existed. The urban legend of Slender Man was compelling too. Not only was the post informative, but it gave me quite a lot to think about and has opened my eyes to its relevance, as I delve into my own digital worlds.

Nick Lalone: “Spot Check” series by Nick Mizer

When I first met Nick Mizer (or Nicholas, I guess), he was just beginning to lay the groundwork for what would become his dissertation. It was somewhat amazing to hear about what he wanted to do because, quite honestly, I didn’t know if anyone but gamers would really see the value in it. Well, he took a step I didn’t expect and actually did the most public thing an academic could do, he crowdfunded his research with the promise of engaging them in a dialogue. Spot check is one of those projects that I think will never reach the audience that could most use it – video game makers – but it is a project that first attracted me to The Geek Anthropologist and next attracted me to the study of the so-called Analogue Game. For anyone looking for something useful to not only Anthropologists but to all social scientists, give Spot Check a look. It is public academia at its finest.

Nick Mizer: “Of Crickets and Gourds: Pokemon as Ancient Chinese Folk Game” by Jared Miracle

I really like the way that Jared erases the line between pop and folk culture in his presentation of the vgcint1cultural background of Pokemon. I’ve always been intrigued by the way that Pokemon games connect in-game space and out-of-game space by requiring proximity for trading and access to special offers, and I
think this post helps explain more of why that makes sense for a game like Pokemon. Of course, I’m biased towards a post about card games because of my own research on analog games, but I look forwards to seeing more from Jared as he continues tracing these connections and showing us how they play out in the ethnographic realities of play.

Marie-Pierre Renaud: ”Anthropology in Outerspace” series by Emma Louise Backe, Rayna Elizabeth and Marie-Pierre Renaud

There are so many reasons why this series is my favorite of 2014. First of all, writing with my colleagues Emma Backe and Rayna Elizabeth was so much fun! We talked on several occasions about our favorite science-fiction works, our ideas and objectives for this series and what we would love to make it evolve into. I loved writing the series as a dialogue: it was a very fluid and dynamic way of working, and it allowed us to avoid spending hours talking to reach a consensus and write in a unified voice. Instead, we each wrote in our own voice and relied on our own knowledge to write our pieces to comment on those of our colleagues. In fact, we turned the conversation that will eventually lead to the creation of a more detailed and coherent article into a blog series. I have always felt that academic blogging can be very effective if used as a way to keep a research journal, and indeed, our series reflects the research and thought process that the three of us went through together to explore the representations of anthropology in sci-fi.

Anthropology in Outerspace Series on TGA

The other reason why I loved working on the series so much is because so many people interacted with us to recommend sci-fi works in which representations of anthropology are present to help us with our research. We created a page especially for the series and we asked our readers to add recommendations in the comments section. I was impressed and happy with the amount of suggestions people sent our way either on this page, social media and Reddit. Finally, what’s not to love about writing about sci-fi? My main thing as a geek is sci-fi, and having the opportunity to mix my passion for it and anthropology was just perfect!

Benedict Singleton:  ”Anthropology in Outerspace” series by Emma Louise Backe, Rayna Elizabeth and Marie-Pierre Renaud

The series that first drew me into TGA was Anthropology in Outerspace. For me, this series has highlighted the troubling way that the discipline of anthropology is perceived in the (often largely Euro-American) world of science fiction. It highlighted how understandings of anthropological practice are largely based on former colonial-era practices. This realisation is of importance both for anthropology (under increasing pressure to justify its existence along with much of social science) and for wider human society. To my mind the lack of understanding of anthropology(ies) is symptomatic of continued imperialistic efforts to subordinate other cultures to ‘Western’ understandings of the world. Representations of anthropology thus end up being used to critique or assert this viewpoint either by showing the anthropologist as an imperial envoy or by showing the anthropologist categorising and ordering a discrete ‘alien’ other. The Anthropology in Outerspace thus presents a challenge to creators of science fiction: how can you show anthropology from alternative perspectives? I found the series thought-provoking and relevant contribution to continued social scientific efforts to understand and confront Latour’s mythical ‘moderns’.

Have a favorite piece that you think we overlooked? Let us know in the comments.

About Nick Mizer

Although much of my work focuses on tabletop role-playing games, I think that geek culture in general has a lot to offer for anthropological study, from understandings of modernity and consumerism to the role of the imagination and wonder in the midst of those more “serious” trends. As I explore these things, I find myself straddling the borders between anthropology, folkloristics, and performance studies.

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