Friday

How to be(come) a creative anthropologist

I spent all the 4 years of my undergraduate program (in Advertising) learning how to be creative (among other practical matters). The literature and professors used to defend that creativity can be learned. I was told that some specific techniques allied to the practice of creative thinking would work even for the most hopeless case. To become creative seemed to demand hard work, patience, and perseverance. However, that was not for me. I was feeling fine and blessed in my condition of "naturally creative". I wouldn't take me more than a couple of minutes to come up with a great slogan or jingle; I imediatly sensed what would be an appropriate media strategy for a specific client, and I could shoot ideas endlessly during brainstorm sessions with my colleagues. I never had to think how painful it would be if I had to make the effort to be creative.

However, at some point I decided to leave the comfort zone and years after I find myself learning something new - something I would say some people are simply born to do. I'm trying to do good ethnographic field work. Yes, like an anthropologist.
And - what a coincidence - this learning process requires the practice of a specific way of seeing the world and thinking about it. I need to learn many techniques that are pretty new to me and it also demands hard work, patience, and perseverance.
Well, I'm willing to make the effort.

PS: The link on the title will take you to Grant McCracken's blog - and his great post ""How to think like an anthropologist".

Monday

Fat acceptance and the market

I’ve been burning my neurons in trying to find “the” link that better connects the Fat Acceptance movement to consumer theory. There are some highly relevant concepts I can borrow from sociology and psychology and I’m already reading a lot about stigma, new social movements, and online communities. However, I find recurrent posts on the fatosphere dissecting, analyzing, questioning or criticizing market practices and I do there is something there…Something we - consumer researchers – do not fully understand.

This feeling was reinforced today after I read this post at Shapely Prose (which I consider one of the nicest blogs on the fatosphere). In this post, Kate refers to another blogger who had a “dilemma”: whether to support an online store’s efforts to continue carrying larger plus sizes or to discard them as a retailer because they had just cut her size off their selection.
As I was reading both posts and the comments left by people who had read them, I realized that in this situation, the general attitude was not that of criticizing the market. They were actually attempting to help marketers to better serve “the plus market”. In this mood, Kate published a long email she got from the owner of the store involved in the dilemma, and even invited her audience to help the store owner:
“How do we help her make B & Lu a successful store that at least fulfills the promise of carrying sizes 14-30 (better yet, 30+)? If you wear a size in the high 20s, did you even know you could shop at B & Lu (before the selection became so limited, anyway)? How do they get the word out? What else can they do to improve? And of course, if there are things you do love about B & Lu right now, positive feedback never hurts.”
What this post tells me (I’m aware that there are many other relevant issues here – this is just the perspective of someone sited on a business school office) is that these individuals are trying to help marketers to serve them better. They want to fully participate in mainstream domains, and being the market is one of these domains, they want to have the same product choices and consumption experiences of other people, no matter their size.
From other posts, I know these bloggers and commenters are fully aware that the stigma associated with fat is frequently reinforced and fuelled by market practices – the market who excludes them is the very same market they are trying to get into.

So far I’ve read the activities of Fat Acceptance bloggers as a “collective form of stigma rejection” (Gofman 1974, p. 112) and I though marketers were simply caught in the middle of these fight against the stigma.
But this notion of collective stigma rejection does not fully account for the practices of the FA bloggers who sometimes praise market practices and attempt to “educate” the market on how to serve them better. Henry & Caldwell (EJM, 2006) already suggested that “in contrast to withdrawing into an enclave, the stigmatized individual may respond by challenging the stigma label by attempting to participate in the mainstream domains” but we have no data so far on how stigmatized individuals develop workable ways to interact with the mainstream (some studies on immigration deal with similar issues: e.g. Askegaard, Arnould & Kjeldgaard 2005; Penaloza 1994; Mehta & Belk 1991).
To fight the stigma also involves fighting its underlying economic and social aspects. Since the market practices are deeply rooted and strongly influential in these two arenas, they become one of the most evident targets for activists in their rejection of a stigma.
Being part of a group (in this case the Fatosphere) probably allows stigmatized individuals to access more information and share resources that are eventually directed to criticize market practices that reinforce the stigma they are fighting.

So if any of you from the fatosphere happens to read this – does my interpretation resonate with your thoughts? Would you like to discuss the topic further? I have some great references to share and I would love to talk to anyone who’s also interested in the topic. Just click on the comments link and let me know what you think!

Wednesday

Keep on caching

I didn’t think the first time I would have to apologize for not posting for a long time would come so soon, but at least I have good reasons to offer. I’m struggling with the need to define the theoretical focus for my research on Fat Acceptance; I’m having trouble in getting into the field for the research on Geocaching, and I’m running out of time – the summer break is going to be over in few weeks and I wish I can do advance these studies before my courses start.

I may have to take another methods course and I’m seriously considering one called “Advanced Research Methods in Anthropology”. I took only one course in Anthropology during my Master’s course and I feel a little ill-equipped to access informants and get insertion into a community to start my fieldwork. Maybe I know some techniques, but I just need to be reassured again and again that it’s ok to get acquainted to people if you want to get information from them to do research and write a paper. And then I find myself wondering if it’s just me or if this is a regular stage of the learning process... I will take the course, just in case.
I’m just going to shoot a list of reasons that may explain why I’m finding it hard to get into the geocaching community. If you ever had similar issues with your fieldwork, let’s talk - I’m willing to consider any counterargument seriously, because I do want to make this work.
- This is the first time I’m doing field work outside my home country and culture. I see how this can be positive because it makes me question things that would be taken for granted otherwise. However, it also poses me so many challenges! For example, I’m extremely resistant to the idea of going to parks by myself to look for geocaches because I still fear violence, even realizing that I’m safer here than I was back in my home country. Or the way I have to re-write a message ten times before posting it at the discussion forums just to be assured that I’m using the appropriate words to say what I mean.
- There’s no structured group or stable community – geocachers are disperse and extremely mobile. This is tricky... Let’s say that, for convenience, I get a group of informants who live in the same city as I do. If I want to participate in their geocaching activities, I will have to follow them all around in their trips, because the first thing a geocacher usually does is to hunt everything around her/his area. Then s/he has to travel around to keep the adventure happening. If I choose attending to geocaching events as a form of participation, I also need to move around to the meeting places and I’ll probably never meet the same group of people twice. Besides, much of the geocaching-related activities happen in the “micro-level”, in short periods of time, and in many cases, the hunts are not even previously planned.
- Geocaching may be not only “something you do”, but a lifestyle. What I’ve noticed is that unless you have a background of traveling/adventure related activities, you don’t simply start doing geocaching and keep your regular life untouched. This was one of my previous misconceptions that were broken as soon as left my first geocaching event. I thought geocaching was something to fill in the boring moments of ordinary life, something that would aggregate a little fun and fantasy to an unexciting routine. Now I tend to think of it as the anchor of, or at least as a complement to, a lifestyle. And the difficulty this re-categorization brings to my field work is: how far am I willing to change my lifestyle to take this research further? Do I need to exchange my urban weekends for a camping trip? Should I forget heels and skirts because it’s impossible to hunt for a last minute cache on them? Will I get used to carrying the GPS in my handbag everyday along with extra-batteries, flashlight, trinkets to trade, travel bugs, and camera?
That’s it for now (oh, except for the fact that Toronto seems to have one of the lowest concentration of caches per area...)!

Next post will give you a brief idea of all the things I’m thinking about while investigating the Fat Acceptance blogs.