Tag Archives: ethnography

Transformative Anthropology – update on project

draft view of some of the nodes of transformative anthropology–click for lightbox enlargement

I’m sorting out the turning point, concerned with the presentation of my main research focus in the open-source of the web.

The first step was to create a page for the work-in-progress notes about so-called Transformative Anthropology. This will be temporary in the sense that I’m will eventually shutter the Transformative Tools blog, folding it back into Explorations (here,) and then reconfiguring the SquareONE web site so it can allow ‘research subjects’ (you?) to input their personal recollections.

Those personal recollections are qualified by the parameters given by my research into life-altering serendipities; although the more meaningful term is a necessary conceptual coinage: chance strategic contingencies. This is the kind of recollection I’m interested in documenting.

I’ll track changes to the Transformative Anthropology page—as updates–here, yet, at some point in the near future, those notes will be organized by the structure of the reconfigured ‘main’ web site.

(The music sites, nogutsnoglory studios and Rhythm River, aren’t effected by any of this.)

The principal objective sometime in the not-so-near future, is to beta test experiential learning tools based in the as yet un-implicated instrumental, (thus constructivist,) conceptions of Transformative Anthropology. Yet, here’s a clue: would a learner assimilate to a novel, modestly salutary, self-understanding, were he or she to go through a learning process aimed to sensitize the learner to the ingredient of chance strategic contingencies discoverable in their own life? Are life’s chance strategic events consequential as part of the terms for self-reflection?

Ha! I don’t know, yet, if I’m onto something.

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Blog: Africa Is A Country

Sean Jacobs authors the excellent Africa Is a Country blog.

His blog sets the bar high for any area-interest blog: diverse, well written, very smart, and, oft Sean bears down on a subject with laser focus.

hat tip to Sean, for this:

Sean Jacob’s summary-bio at the Graduate Program in International Affairs, New School.

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We Are Stardust

Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devils bargain
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.
excerpt, Woodstock, by Joni Mitchell

In August 1969, I was 14 years old, and spending the summer with my cousins and aunt and uncle outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. One of my cousins suggested that we go up to the music festival in Woodstock. This was vetoed by my uncle in explicit terms, ‘It’s no place for a 14 year old.’

He knew something I didn’t know. In truth, I was not a hippie at the time, wasn’t much in tune with the tie-dyed times, and was not anywhere near as motivated as my cousin, a college student.

However, noting this reminds me of how much on the cusp I was at the time. By the fall of 1969 I had undergone various initiations and soon was long-haired and full of authority-questioning notions. Etc.. As it turned out, in my new school, several of the seniors and juniors had made the trek to Woodstock. It sounded fun and I understood from their tales what my uncle must have meant.

Counter-culture. Thank goodness for it. Survived it; learned a ton; got some of the current in my cells; had many adventures; continued to be informed by the transformative ripples.

It was a tough time–full of wreckage for greatest generation parents. There’s much I might say, doors of perception and stuff, but, instead I would like to introduce a map showing in what locations the counter-culture took hold (in blue).

By the way, this also is a map of the Presidential vote in 2008. Red=not hippies.

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Transformative Anthropology III – Gas Stop

I had the good fortune to reacquaint myself this week with a friend from 40 years ago. After explaining my research into the fragile contingencies underlying life changing events, she offered a terrific example, and, additionally brought a new term into my thinking on these matters.

She told me about meeting a future employer at a gas station, on the occasion when both had stopped at the same station, you know, for gas! The thing is: a stranger approaches her, recognizes her because she had taken note of her reputation in some public notice or the like, and strikes up a conversation.

What followed, eventually, was a job offer. And, what followed from taking the job were all sorts of other events that, in concrete respects, stand on the foundation of her changing jobs.

What would have happened had the soon-to-be new employer and employee not stopped in the gas station at the same moment? No one can say, but it’s as if such a speculation is about an alternative universe, rather than the universe in which this life altering and happenstance event took place.

My friend called the event, random. “Random” hadn’t occurred to me as a qualifier. It’s a good term because it strips away something of the various evaluative adjectives which follow from a random event turning out to be positive or negative.

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In this excerpt from my film “Zrareet ! ” my mother-in-law explains how to train a Moroccan husband with a great sense of humor. They have been married for over 60 years.

wifechadly Youtube channel

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Local craigslist garage sale announcement. …seems like an interesting household.

garage in back open rain or shine.
hand tools,drill bits,power tools, collectible case international and versatile toy tractors, wilson’s leather jackets, harley davidson full face motorcycle helmet size xxs used twice for 12yr old rider,lawn equipment, nice new lighted gun case, new guitar amp, 55 gallon custom fish /reptile aquarium, 2×2 custom built harley davidson cage great for small animal or reptile, pair of adult ball pythons, adult female rose hair tarantula, adult female red claw emperor scorpion, (2) 4mo old male husky mixes one with steel blue eyes one brown eyed house and crate trained, pro form recumbent exercise bike like new, houseware items, antique mantle clock, computer stuff and more.

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Sitting at the local coffee shop, waiting for a business partner to arrive so that we could discuss a project, I decided to kill time by opening my laptop to check my email. In my email was a post from a friend and in his email was a link to a youtube video of a Congolese musician.

A few minutes into the video, I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. A stranger interrupts me to ask about the video I’m watching and listening to on ear buds. This person saw the video playing on my screen from their spot at an adjacent table.
As it turns out the stranger is interested in the african dancers that are part of the video. Inviting the stranger to join me, I share a replay of the video with her.

We strike up a conversation. It ranges over our shared interest in music and the arts. After telling her I have collected a wide variety of music resources over many years, she mentions that she is an artist for whom music and dance is a key source of inspiration. We set up a future engagement to audition media resources and to continue getting to know each other. Perhaps we will become friends.

In fact, a friendship develops and it eventually alters the course of both of our lives. There will come a time when both the once-a-stranger, and myself, having become colleagues and having undertaken together and separately further life changing projects, travels, and learning, realize almost all of what unfolded was contingent upon the pivot provided by the original encounter in the coffee shop.

What would you, the researcher have to know to determine what was necessary to have happened in the lives of both parties to this encounter in the coffee shop prior to its occurrence, so as to guarantee its occurrence?
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Sometime in the spring of 2001 my colleague and professional partner Judith hipped me to an interesting project. She knew a filmmaker who was hoping to commence a project about sports and experiential learning. ‘Would I be interested in talking over the experiential learning aspects with the filmmaker?’

Sure. And so Judith waved her finger across Starbucks and a lithe red haired woman approached our table and pitched her project. She told of a Sunday pick-up softball game played on a local diamond. This game has been going on for 15 years; anybody who showed up and wanted to play could join in; it’s duration was set by a noon ending irrespective of what inning it was.

I asked Laine, the filmmaker, what she thought the experiential learning hook was for her film. She told me some more intriguing things about the game. It attracted regular players from all over and, yet, most players didn’t know each other’s last names or what people did for a living. She described really good players who didn’t mind playing with the most green and inexperienced players. Although a score was tallied, she mentioned that a lot of times many of the players didn’t know the score.

“It’s not very competitive, even if there are some intense competitors.” She told me.

I certainly was intrigued. Laine suggested I check out the game myself. After all, ‘anybody can play, no matter how bad they are!’ (I must have chuckled to myself, knowing that somewhere at home lay a thirty-plus year old Wilson outfielder’s glove.)

“Laine, how did the game come about?” Then she blew my mind with her answer.

click for large version

“A professor at Weatherhead started the game up, first on campus and then it moved to Forest Hills. His name is David Kolb.”

“The David Kolb?!”

(Yes. David A. Kolb, author of Experiential Learning. Experience As the Source of Learning and Development. How important is this book to me? It would suffice to state that Dr. Kolb’s essential work then (1984) and to this day provides a cornerstone for my understanding of our field. His contribution is, for me, equal to the other cornerstones provided by the contributions of William James, Gregory Bateson, and Jack Mezirow.)

Yup, Kolb is one of my main guys, and Laine’s invitation to check out Kolb’s pick-up softball game pleasantly shocked me. As Judith said later, ‘I just wanted to see the look on your face!’

So it went. The film never got made or even started, yet I’ve played almost every Sunday since that fateful day at Starbucks. I’ve done so in accordance with one of the game’s ‘meta’ protocols: the seasons begins on the first Sunday after tax day and the season ends sometime in November when the weather suppresses the turnout below the minimum needed to play. Ha! We’ve been known to play with a minimum of six players.
Team late 2008
That first season I planted myself in my old position, left field, and have stayed planted for seven seasons. I take the immense enjoyment I get for granted, except Dave’s wife Alice and he have collaborated on a research paper about the game and its learning ecology. Thus, last season I was invited to be interviewed–as were all the players–as part of their research. I went further, did some research of my own kind, and supplied ethnographic notes. Once I began to reflect and think about the game, about its rituals and routines, and about the way it binds participants to a shared construction of its distinctive ‘lifeworld,’ what had been taken–by me–for granted morphed into a much more fine grained regard of the complex social and developmental system that undergirded the game’s survival cum vitality for over twenty years.

The paper, Learning to play, playing to learn, A case study of a ludic playing space, (Kolb & Kolb, Journal of Organizational Change Management; 2008) incorporates and cites some excerpts from my notes. Cool beans! It’s an excellent work of qualitative and phenomenological research. The Kolbs delineate a clear case using complex evidence in support of an (also) complex hypothesis. Basically, the informality of the softball game nevertheless supports complex processes, some formal, some tacit, that in turn support learning in, as the Kolbs write, intellectual, physical, spiritual, and moral realms. Given how embedded I am as participant/observer in the very praxis the paper investigates, it’s no complaint for me to note that this game-as-exemplar could infuse a more lengthy treatment–even make for a good film!
too cold to play
I’m holding the camera, and Dave, Tom, and Jim are on their way out of the park on November 9th, evidently the last day of this year’s season, and the first day since last year’s last day when not enough people showed up to be able to field two teams.

Just like it was with left field, when Dave delegated me to make out the line-ups every Sunday, calling me from then on ‘the handicapper’, I planted myself in the role. Earlier this year, Tom, a longtime player and our oldest player (70 years young,) said to me, “How come you always put Kolb on your team?”

Well, it’s like slotting yourself in to be Chuck Yeager’s co-pilot!


(Sometime soon, I’ll have comments on another recent publication by Alice and David Kolb, The Learning Way. Meta-cognitive Aspects of Experiential Learning; <pdf> Oct.2008; Simulation Gaming)

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Although I will pour over the satisfying demographic breakdowns in the coming days, the one that jumps out this morning showcases Barack Obama’s victory in every age group except the over-65 one. A new era has dawned. The future trend lines are clear too: doctrinaire conservatism is headed toward hard times as the U.S. heads toward becoming a more tolerant, more diverse society.

Yesterday I voted at 10am and then three hours later headed for the Shaker Square campaign office. I have to admit my election day activity represents my total concrete work output on behalf of Barack Obama, Oh, I gave a modest sum of money, more than I ever gave before. However, it was a great day and I spent some precious minutes in the company and most excellent vibes of many who had labored intensely for many weeks and months.

My day was a bit of a saga too. When I arrived at Shaker Square, they were buried in volunteers. They sent me over to the Broadway Avenue office to canvass. However, the last canvassing packet was distributed to the person in front of me in the sign up line. 

Broadway, Cleveland Ohio, Obama campaign office
(The Broadway Avenue Obama office) I was told to go to an address on Miles Road, a ‘canvassing dispersion point,’ to canvass. However nobody was there and so I started to drive back to Shaker Square, while I called various Ohio campaign offices to find out if I had gotten the Miles address wrong. Reaching the state office by cell, it was suggested that I check out the Lee Road office. I turned around.
Broadway, Cleveland Ohio, Obama campaign office
There I found my home base! Debbie, fourth from the left, was the Red Team leader. She matched me with Kenny and directed us to a polling place at Emile DeSauze Elementary School, deep in the heart of a African-American working class community. Our job was to manage the anticipated lines. Although those lines never developed–the early vote and absentee vote took care of much of the load–I spent the next four hours in Kenny and Liz, (a voting rights volunteer,) generous company. More to the point, I was on the front lines of the most historic political day of my life.
Broadway, Cleveland Ohio, Obama campaign office
The voter service was excellent at the polling place. Two high school seniors directed voters to the right ward voting booths from the front steps. Needless to say, the voters here were enthusiastic and most understood their history making role.
Broadway, Cleveland Ohio, Obama campaign office
Kenny, sixty-three, is somebody I won’t ever forget. We talked about political seasons in the past. And, we exchanged something of our hopes for the future. It was a blessed day on the front lines of our 225 year democratic experiment. The high point was rubbing elbows with the committed, and the hopeful.
Hope Barack Hopeful
It’s been a long time-a comin’.

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. . .of much needed change.
Taking the RTA Rapid to the rally

We started our journey to the Barack Obama and his family, and Bruce Springsteen, rally at 1:00pm at the third most easterly stop on RTA’s Blue Line. The gates were to open at 2:00pm and it usually takes 30 minutes to get downtown if you get on the train right away. However, the train was at least 45 minutes late and our total wait was an hour-and-a-quarter. So it was that the crowd at the RTA stop grew from twenty to–probably–well over a hundred. A bus was sent to take some downtown. We waited. The train was crowded and full of joyous ‘socialists!’


Our full train let out its passengers at Tower City where we all joined the growing crowd. Making our way across Public Square, we found a friend and joined her in the line leading to the two outdoor malls where the rally was to take place. It became clear at this point that this was going to be a rally of uncertain but very large size. Soon enough we were directed away from the line headed to the main, prime site. In other words joined the overflow. In this picture you can see the huge Obama puppet.


It’s impossible to show the true size of the crowd from within its midst. We situated ourselves on the south side of Lakeside, about 150 yards from the podium.


I took these shots by holding the camera at arm’s length above my head.


Where we stood (for three hours) ‘our’ people mostly seemed to be 30-60 years of age, and there were lots of young kids.


Although almost an hour passed between when the first round of speakers spoke and the appearance of Bruce Springsteen, the jovial mood of the crowd and its growing size inspired my patience. I had not been a member of a political crowd this size since the round of peace marches in Washington in 1971.


The Boss is so much the bearer of the flame of Woody Guthrie–he is our Woody Guthrie. Amidst the jejune rhetoric expressed in the rightward fear of socialism, it was a highpoint for me to hear Springsteen’s freedom songs. He nailed it.


I don’t know how Barack Obama will face down the problems of our time. But, I strongly value intelligence, the ability to develop a robust and accurate view of the system (or problem) at hand, and, above all, the ability to smartly criticize one’s own perspectives and analysis. It is in fact rare that a candidate for President is so smart and so sophisticated.

My simple wish is that he roll back the Constitution’s slide and be the greatest President since FDR.


My second closest friend Holly and Susan, my closest friend and better half.

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