Anthropology Blogging 101: Peeps

This post is part of the Anthropology Blogging 101 series. In this edition of Anthropology Blogging, we welcome Aliah El-houni and Anya-Milana, Co-Editors of Peeps Magazine, an anthropology magazine for non-anthropologists! 


Tell us a little about yourselves:

What are you studying now and how do you see your professional or academic work as anthropologically oriented?

47K2816bAliah: I am currently studying law at McGill, a degree I began a year into my work with Peeps. I was drawn into Peeps coming out of my undergrad in sociology, and a year of work at OISE in the department of Humanities, Social Science and Social Justice Education. My interest is in stories, human behaviour and social organization, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with a publication that explores all these themes.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 4.54.18 PMAnya-Milana: I am not studying at this point. I finished my MA in 2013 and six months later I started working with Peeps, landing a gig with Aegis (Peeps’ parent company) as a cultural analyst. Peeps rapidly took over, though, and I’ve spent the majority of the last year helping to hone our business model, our literary model and our publication standards. The keystone of my position at Peeps, though, has been to serve as a liaison between the Peeps publishing crew and academia- just because I’m the most recent person to exit the system.

What are your areas of expertise/specialization?

Aliah: The biggest strength that I bring to the Peeps team is that I am able to take the perspective of the reader. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a curious and thoughtful reader, and that I am very interested in people, context, and culture. As an editor at Peeps I am able to put those interests to work and help our contributors to tell a story that will be intelligent, thought-provoking, and engaging for a reader who shares those characteristics. Given Peeps’ mission to bring qualitative research to a popular audience, this is an important area of expertise that I am very happy to bring to our team. Anya-Milana, on the other hand, brings academic rigour and narrative strength to our stories.

Anya-Milana: I am a kind of interdisciplinary jack-of-all-trades. After my first degree (BA in English: Film and Theatre), I became a producer, writer and director for a nationally-broadcast documentary series that featured stories from and, in most cases, by First Nations Canadians. From there, I completed a second BA in International Development and moved on to an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Anthropology, Film and Humanities with a focus on Balkan Studies). The MA was ultimately an examination of how nations are articulated by the people who inhabit them across generations to themselves and others. Media studies, narrative construction and discursivity underpinned my approach to analysis and these approaches to theory inform how I edit the works we receive for Peeps.

Tell us a little about Peeps:

When and why was Peeps created?

Aliah: Peeps was created by its publisher, Greg Salmela. He is the Principal of a design communication firm called Aegis, and he began to notice a trend in his work. He was producing more holistic and thoughtful design on projects where he was able to work with qualitative research. While some of his clients were more than willing to provide this type of research, many more did not see the need for a social scientist to be brought onto the payroll. Greg noticed that these clients had a very limited understanding of the work done by qualitative researchers, or its value to a design project, and this inspired the idea for Peeps.

Anya-Milana: We are all magazine lovers on the Peeps team, and we all like to read well-written stories about the world. We found that there just weren’t enough stories out there for our own appetites. The fact that anthropologists, sociologists and social scientists in general have this virtual artesian well of amazing things to share made it the obvious space to create a new magazine.

How did you get involved as a Editor?

Aliah: That is a good story. I was originally hired onto Peeps as an event coordinator. I had managed many events at OISE and Greg had just begun to put together PeepsTalk02 and was looking for a support person. During that first three-month contract Greg shared his long term ambitions for Peeps with me, revealing that he hoped to develop the content of PeepsTalk into a print magazine. I was like: “I’m up for that!”, and my position as an editor was created! In fact, this was a lifelong interest of mine, having always been interested in writing and storytelling, and Greg trusted me to bring his vision to life. But we could never have done it without Anya-Milana.

Anya-Milana: There was an ad on the university job boards for the role of communications manager for a new magazine about anthropology. It was kind of perfect. They had already filled the role with the person who ultimately become our social media director, Ixchel, but they found room for me as an editor after my interview.

How has Peeps grown, expanded or changed since you started working there?

Aliah: Peeps went through an absolutely critical and defining change when Anya-Milana joined our team. Up until that point we had simply not sufficiently addressed the perspective and needs of our researchers. She was able to be the voice of our writers, and her contributions have been invaluable.

Anya-Milana: Aliah and Greg spent over a year researching indie magazines, creating a structure and blueprint for the mechanics of the magazine (which changed, of course, in response to the contributions we received). I am kind of in awe of Greg’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the independent magazine market, and Aliah can tell you how each one is constructed in these super detailed analyses. They knew they wanted to feature anthropological research, but they didn’t have a sense of how the field worked in the academy. Interestingly, I think it was Greg’s lack of knowledge of the difference between the different arms that has allowed the magazine to find it’s niche. It grew out of Greg’s passion for reading anthropological research – and because he is not trained in the field, he didn’t distinguish between the work of anthropologists working in business and those working in the academy. There are not a lot of places where the work of applied anthropologists and academic anthropologists sit side by side in publishing.

What do you perceive as the purpose of Peeps?

Anya-Milana: The purpose of Peeps is to get deep insights about people and cultures that we encounter very little through traditional media out to a wider readership. The magazine delivers a one-two punch. We bring stories that share unique contexts around the world that can at once universalize human experience while also illustrating how differently people around the world change, adapt and create stability (or not) in communities. And then we show how the same research techniques (in a very general way, modified and adapted to the needs of the project) are used to effect that very change, adaptation and stability within our own communities. The fact that an anthropologist can just as easily do ethnographic work in China as use ethnographic practice to develop wayfinding solutions is kind of revolutionary to people who don’t really know what anthropology is.

The final ingredient to Peeps is that we look at how anthropology is being used by business to make sure that the products that are being developed and/or advertised by a firm are doing so in a way that meets the audience’s own cultural needs and contexts. The not-so-well-kept secret is really that this final point is what initiated the Peeps project in the first place. Aegis is a brand communications firm that relies heavily on qualitative research. Greg worked with anthropologists to best produce communications for his clients. And Peeps was born of that original partnership.

Are there other models in journalism, blogging or ethnography that inspire the work on Peeps?

Aliah: Absolutely! We have been inspired by the work of many other bloggers and ethnographers who are aiming to share their work with a wider audience. Rockstar Anthropologist, Geek Anthropologist, Anthropologizing, Ethnography Matters, among others, have been great inspirations and collaborators. And as Anya-Milana said, we have taken particular inspiration from other independent magazines also intended for popular audiences. Kai Brach’s Offscreen has been our guiding light, and successful publications such a Delayed Gratification, Dumbo Feather, Boat, The Great Discontent, and Hello Mr. have all inspired different elements of our work.

Peeps brands itself as an anthropology magazine for non-anthropologists—why do you think that it’s important that anthropology be made more accessible to the public?

Anya-Milana: I could get us in trouble and offer a four page response to this question without pausing to think… The truth of it is that most people do not know what anthropology is or why it is an important tool in the disciplinary toolkit. I do qualitative research for our firm, and convincing clients that it is money well-spent is how I spend a lot of my time. Because the results are not easily expressed and reduced through numbers, the insights don’t seem actionable to clients: before committing to research, clients often feel like the insights could just as easily be achieved through relying on the clients’ own experience and perspectives. Which, of course, is exactly why research is necessary. At the same time, now that quantitative data is ubiquitous, funding for anthropology in particular, and the social sciences as a whole, is being slashed. But the limitations of quantitative data are becoming apparent. So, getting the message out about how qualitative research is not only important in understanding peoples around the world, but how we conduct business and build products seems really really important.

Community Building Through Peeps:

Peeps features writers from across various disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities. How do you see the different stories in dialogue with one another and helping to build a culture of storytelling in context?

Aliah: All of our contributors have one thing in common. Regardless of their area of study, they are all qualitative researchers. They deal in lived experiences and behaviours as opposed to numbers and statistics. We are able to bring these researchers into a dialogue by bringing these stories to the forefront, and share the insights that arise from them all the while respecting the context from which they are drawn. It is this methodology that brings the work of our contributors together, and helps us to bring diverse stories from all around the world into conversation.

What are your plans for Peeps in the coming months, if not years?

Anya-Milana: Peeps is in a very exciting place right now– we are in the process of finalizing content for Issue 02 (which is now available for pre-order on Indiegogo). We are also, for the first time, selling subscriptions to future issues of Peeps through this campaign, so readers can now subscribe as far into the future as Issue 06. We are gaining partners, increasing readership and looking forward to future issues. We are also hoping to develop new multi-media platforms, including a podcast and maybe a YouTube channel. We have big goals for Peeps, and with the support of communities such as this one we are confident that we can make them a reality.

What do you look for in a story that makes it captivating to the readership and worth publishing? What recommendations would you have to our readers about writing for a platform like Peeps?

Aliah: In my experience, almost all researchers have a good story to share. The biggest obstacle to writing for us is overcoming what, for many, is a lifelong training in professional or academic writing. Writing for Peeps is about connecting with a popular audience, and for our contributors that means shaking off a style of writing that has been developed to defend a thesis or distil an insight. This can be a challenging feat, but it is our job to help our contributors get there. And we love our job!

Peeps Magazine Issue 02 is now available for pre-order through Indiegogo. Peeps is also offering a reduced rate to Geek Anthropologist (and other Anthro Blog) readers! Peeps can be found on Twitter via @PeepsForum and Facebook. Interested in contributing? Peeps is looking for researchers, writers, visual media artists and photographers. 

About Emma Louise Backe

PhD student in Medical Anthropology at the George Washington University and independent consultant, focusing on the intersections of international development, global health, reproductive health justice, gender-based violence, and the politics of care. Social justice sailor scout working on behalf of survivors of sexual violence, gender equity, and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health among vulnerable populations.

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