Archive for November 5th, 2012

Anthropology & global issues   no comments

Posted at 9:26 pm in Uncategorized

This week I have done some more reading on anthropology’s methods, complementing the findings I wrote about last week. The more I found out about anthropology, the more I wondered how as a discipline it would tackle global issues. Indeed from reading the introductory texts, I got the sense that anthropology (the socio-cultural kind) was concerned with the study of human kind. A priori this doesn’t seem to pose a problem in terms of the globality of the subject matter, but in its approach and even epistemology, anthropology is firmly based on the notion of classification. Indeed its ontologies are cultures, peoples, societies, etc. and its methods are primarily descriptive and comparative, assuming the existence of different ‘things’ to compare. As mentioned in previous posts, an anthropologist looks at a society/community/social group which he/she investigates doing fieldwork, conducting interviews, historical research, etc. But what happens when the group in question is the entire world population, as is often the case with so-called global issues? How then would such a discipline tackle questions that seem to contradict its own epistemological foundations?

Trying to look at the digital divide from an anthropological lens, I have hit what might be the crux of the issue in this assignment – how to let go of my previous assumptions about the world, shaped in large parts by my training in International Relations and instead of re-phrasing the ‘problématique’ I immediately see with the global digital divide in anthropological terminology, attempt to ‘discover’ the problems and ‘frame’ it as an anthropologist would. In order to try and do that, and while I did find some answers in the introductory readings, I decided nevertheless to look for some more targeted articles on the issue.

An article by Kearney (1995) ‘The Local and the Global: The Anthropology of Globalization and Transnationalism’ in Annual Review of Anthropology was particularly helpful. The answers or thinking I considered fall in two broad categories – theoretical and practical.

On the practical side, Peoples and Bailey (2000, p. 5) assert that for global issues, which have admittedly gained importance in the past two decades, anthropologists are often called to consult on specific projects – an emerging sub-field of the discipline referred to as applied anthropology. The idea here is that solutions to global problems often require local knowledge, provided by traditional anthropological research and therefore increasingly useful in the field.

On the theoretical front, Kearney recognises that new thinking is required in ‘anthropological theory and forms of representation that are responses to such nonlocal contexts and influences’ (1995, p. 547). He sees global issues (and globalisation) as having ‘implication for [anthropology’s] theory and methods’ as research which is limited to local units of analysis ‘yield incomplete understandings of the  local’ (1995, p. 548). He sees the redefinition of space-time into a multidimensional global space with fluid boundaries and sub-spaces as the most important disruption to anthropological epistemology. He also notes that the notion of ‘progress’ assumed in the discipline and the notion of ‘development’ is and needs to be questioned in the context of globalisation, that is to say that there is no inevitability in the course of global history. Moreover with the ‘deterritorialisation’ of culture, the focus of anthropological study is shifting towards ‘identity’.  Underpinning these changes is the fundamental reframing of the concept of classification, no longer considered ‘an invariant subject of investigation in anthropology, but taken instead as a historically contingent world-view category’ (1995, p. 557).

This has given me some interesting avenues to explore so I will conclude my introductory reading on anthropology here. Next week I will start looking at management as a discipline.


Kearney M. (1995) ‘The Local and the Global: The Anthropology of Globalization and Transnationalism’ in Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 24, pp. 547-565

Peoples, J. and Bailey, G. (2000) Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, 5th ed., Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning

Written by Jennifer Welch on November 5th, 2012

Tagged with , ,

Economics, Models and Data.   no comments

Posted at 11:43 am in Economics,Uncategorized

Economic theories are constructed using models and data.  Models can be described as frameworks which organise how economists think about a problem.  Models create a simplified and easier to manage reality with which to test theories.  Data is the facts with which the model interacts, therefore the data needs to be relevant.

Data can be;

  1. Time series – which shows how a variable has changed over time.  This is usually graphically represented.
  2. Cross sectional – shows a fixed point in time how a variable differs between groups or individuals.

Data is represented as;

  1. Index numbers – this allows the comparison of data without using units and showing any change relative to a base number.  Indexes can also be expressed as averages.
  2. Nominal or real variables – nominal values show the price of things, whereas real values show the price of things taking into account the factors which may influence the price.  For instance, a nominal value may have increased, but a real value would show the increase was due to rising labour costs and there was not an increase at all.

Economic models use empirical research to examine the realtionship of interest. 

Therefore economists;

  1. Construct a theory
  2. Develop a model to test the theory
  3. Test the theory with data

Written by Abby Whitmarsh on November 5th, 2012

EW IV: Philosophy and Law   no comments

Posted at 10:49 am in Uncategorized

This week I had a look at David Bainbridge,  Introduction to Computer Law, and Godwin, Cyber Rights. The Bainbridge is terrifically dull – he’s a professor of law and business and it really comes across in the text. I did find this vaguely useful, in the sense that now I realise why I will never be a lawyer. Anyways, he does make some useful commentary on the issue of freedom of expression, which is what I think I am going to be approximately focusing on for my coursework. He goes through a few case studies of real trials and discusses the outcomes which might be interpreted as being problematic in different ways. I think what Bainbridge is saying is that there isn’t really much precedent for questions of freedom on the internet yet – there’s only a limited number of real life trials that have happened and the results aren’t necessarily consistent.

The other book by Godwin, Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age, is much better, and I would recommend it. As the title suggests, it is advocationist in nature right from the start. Godwin thinks that freedom on the web is something that should be defended, and we should be much more worried about the consequences of restricting people rather than the consequences of not restricting people. Godwin is himself a lawyer, and discusses a large number of case studies on the issue of rights on the internet, particularly as related to free speech. He also argues that the web is really quite different from the other inventions of communication that came before. On page 75 he says

“The constitutional justification for special regulation of broadcast content – which covers radio, television, and cable and includes regulations like time-based restrictions (such as limiting material for mature audiences to distribution at certain times) -has been twofold. First is the concept of scarcity of resources. There is a notion that broadcasting frequences are so scarce that the government is the only institution with a global enough perspective to step in, allocate them, and govern their use for the public good. Second is the notion that broadcasting is pervasive in some fashion – that it creeps into the home in a way that makes it unique. Regardless of whether you accept these justifications for content control over the airwaves, the fact is that the internet is nothing like broadcasting in either way. Internet communication is not scarce. Every time you add a computer node to the internet, you’ve expanded its size. It is not pervasive because (with the arguable exception of spam…) you don’t have people pushing content into your home; you have people logging on and pulling content from all over the world…It is a fundamentally choice-driven medium for communication…” – p75

Written by Eamonn Walls on November 5th, 2012

Wittgenstein (Philosophy of Semantics)   no comments

Posted at 8:35 am in Uncategorized
Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations

Augustine describes the process of learning language and human behaviour as a child; by seeing the words and motions used in the proper place and at the proper time he learned to use them properly himself. Speech software can do something a bit like this? Or whatever. Basically soft AI can learn to manipulate speech, though it has no conscious desires outside of what has been programmed. In mimicking physical human behaviour though we might go into the uncanny valley.
“Every word has a meaning.” p2

Wittgenstein draws up an analogy for the use of language as mental object retrieval in which a shopkeeper is given the instruction to retrieve five red apples. The ‘apples’ are matched to a catalogue, the colour ‘red’ is compared to a colour sample and the cardinal numbers to ‘five’ are listed. For each number, the shopkeeper retrieves one apple of the chosen colour. Following this protocol, the shopkeeper fulfills the instructions and may return to a position of readiness. p3
This is simplification in this example helps to draw aside some of the murkiness which “surrounds the working of language” (p4), and highlights the fact that in the earlier stages of language learning, that is, learning the functions of words, it is not explanation that is imparted, but training.

“In the practice of the use of language on party calls out the words, the other acts on [responds to] them.” -p5

“Naming something is like attaching a label to a thing.” -p7

“What are the simple constituent parts of which reality is composed?” Our conception of things (chairs, trees) is made up of parts, but what is the simplest (ie not composite) form of these parts? The elements? The atoms? We infer lots of stuff from looking at a wooden chair. The wood, and all that this implies (trees, branches, forests, saws, varnish, factories); the paint; how comfortable it may be. This complex web of background knowledge is completely natural in humans but really hard for computers.

“A name signifies only what is an element of reality.” -p29

And as an aside, from the Donna Harraway: “Microelectronics mediates the translations of … mind into artificial intelligence and decision procedures.” -p304

Written by Elzabi Rimington on November 5th, 2012

Demographic World View: Act One Scene Two   no comments

Posted at 12:59 am in Uncategorized

Etymologically, demography comes from the Greek words demos (for population) and graphia (for description or writing).Demography stated informally tries to answer the following questions:
– How many people of what kind are where?
– How did the number of people come about?
– What is the implication of the number derived?
Formally, demography is the scientific study of human population and its dynamics.
Demography deals with aggregates of individuals, it describes the characteristics of population. Most demographic studies employ quantitative and statistical methods, features of population are often measured by counting people in the whole population or sub-populations and comparing the counts.
Population size is a number with absolute and relative connotations. In the absolute sense, human population size quantifies the number of people in a country, region or space. Beyond the numerical quantity is the concern for distribution both within and among country, region, or space, this accounts for the relative connotation. Resulting from the concepts of population size and distribution is population density which is the relationship between population size, distribution, and the space that contains it.
Population density is consequential to the well being of the population. Notably, population density explains the viral spread of disease, knowledge, and ideas; epidemics is most likely to occur in a densely populated space as knowledge and ideas can easily diffuse.
Population study is concerned with the size and distribution of identifiable subgroups within populations. This concern yields information on the structure and composition of population. The characterization (categorization or classification) of population relies on endless list of traits- age, gender, education, religion, income, occupation, language, race, ethnicity etc. However, some traits are more useful; traits that change less frequently or has predictable pattern of change. Age and gender are the basic and most influential characteristics to demographic processes, hence they are known as demographic characteristics.
The dynamics of population is rooted in the basic demographic processes of birth, death, and migration. Basically, population changes can be associated with leaving or entering; to leave means dying or emigrating and to enter means being born or immigrating. This fact can be depicted in the basic demographic equation that follows:
Pt+1 = Pt + Bt ,t +1 – Dt ,t +1 + It ,t+1 – Et ,t+1
where Pt is the number of persons at time t and the number of persons one year later is Pt ,t+1; Bt ,t+1 and Dt ,t+1 are the number of births and deaths that occur between times t and t+1 respectively; It ,t+1 and Et ,t+1 represent the number of immigrants to and emigrants from the population respectively between times t and t+1.
The difference between Bt ,t+1 and Dt ,t+1 is referred to as natural increase (or decrease when the difference is negative) while the difference between It ,t+1 and Et ,t+1 is known as positive net international migration when the difference is positive and negative net international migration otherwise.
Growth in demographic parlance refers to change in population size. From the demographic equation above, growth means the difference between Pt+1 and Pt even though this difference is negative. The interplay of demographic processes results in population growth as well as compositional changes in population.

David Yaukey and Douglas L. Anderton, Demography: The Study of Human Population 2nd ed., 2001
Dudley L. Poston, JR. and Leon F. Bouvier, Population and Society: An Introduction to Demography, 2010

Written by Segun Aroyehun on November 5th, 2012

Tagged with

Current disciplinary debates in Political Science   no comments

Posted at 12:11 am in Uncategorized

Political Science

The book I have been reading this week contains an overview of how political science has evolved in the last decades as a discipline. Entitled Making Political Science Matter (Schram & Caterino, 2006), this edited book builds up on a debate sparked by Flyvbjerg (2001) focused on the limitations of current methodologies –current at that time- in social inquiry. One of the book’s claims is that methodological diversity in this field is somewhat constrained by the pluralism of post-positivism. In other words, positivism in political sciences emulates natural sciences in dividing the discipline in subfields that become isolated one another, each one with their own methodologies. Owing to this division or constrained pluralism, a need of ‘trading zones’ or common understanding between disciplines has been identified.
Also, all essays in the book are highly critical to the application of ‘hard science’ -in which quantitative methods are included-, in political analysis, as this approach seems to be too distant to the object of study, which in this case is the society, composed in turn by people, not objects. This is why hard science cannot fully explain or provide a complete understanding of social phenomena. This limitation is leading to a revolutionary period in which a movement called Perestroika is challenging the current paradigm in social science. Together with Flyvbjerg, Perestroika aims to include –not to switch to- phronesis in the study of politics. Phronesis is a key term in the flyvbjerian debate, meaning that intuition and practical wisdom are critical to the study of social phenomena.
In short, from this book, it seems like political science is distancing from the paradigms of natural sciences, moving towards an approach in which social and political phenomena are approached from a more humanist perspective, in which personal experience gains significance. This shift might be necessary to be considered by other disciplines such as computer science when looking for a common ground , a ‘trade zone’ in which to have a fluid communication.

Written by Manuel Leon Urrutia on November 5th, 2012

Tagged with ,