media

On imagined communities online, digital self and YouTube..

As life is moving deeper and deeper into digital existence, it’s important to discuss the change of society models: a change towards the digital self, creation and adaptation to imagined communities (however, in a slightly different sense to Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities). A few years back I watched a video on anthropology of Youtube and it all triggered a deep interest in the topic. Now, working with audiences on YouTube every day and helping to create a tailored content for them, I often wonder about the communities created (imagined). Why do these people like this content? Who are all these people behind the countless usernames and avatars? Is this brave and aggressive person actually really shy and obeying in the life offline? Have the BFFs online ever met or will ever meet outside of this platform?

The ‘self-image’ is the key to human personality and human behaviour. Change the self image and you change the personality and the behaviour. [Maxwell Maltz]

In my mind, this is exactly the quote to describe the individuals in modern digital societies. You can be whoever you want to be, there are no restrictions, no borders and no end to imagined communities. There’s even no time when it comes to our digital personae – you can exist everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Time doesn’t work the same way online as it does offline.

Identity & the concept of imagined community

Identity, the notion of “the self”, community, cultural change and social networks have been popular themes in anthropology and sociology from the beginning when writers like Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, Alfred Radcliffe- Brown, Edmund Leach and others were debating community ties and individuality. Identity construction has always been linked to modernity and self-consciousness; for example, Mauss’ idea is that the person is the self; the notion of the self involves consciousness shaped by our mental and physical being (Mauss 1985[1938]: 1).

So this tells us – identity is a big part of the concept of self. Self is the totality of person’s thoughts, feelings etc. with regards to oneself as an object (Rosenberg, 1986). In this wide concept, our identity is whatever we show to ‘the others’, it is whatever others know us by (Altheide, 2000, p.2). To create an identity it’s not enough only deciding on our personality traits and claiming them ours, it’s also about others accepting these claims and associating us with our chosen identity (Stone 1989, p.188 – “coincidence of placements and announcements.”). In other words, in every community, online and offline, there is a need of acceptance by others, both – as part of this group and as the individual you have chosen (and been accepted) to be.

Identity in local (face-to-face) interaction is constructed based on rules of the certain setting. The physical existence at that point is what constraints and prevents people claiming more daring identities that would not fit their real life offline characteristics from social background and race to looks and gender. (Zhao S.; Grasmuck S.; Martin J., 2008, p.2 (p.1817)). These restrictions might be lower when interaction happens between two strangers, but let’s be honest, we’ve all seen someone trying to bullsh*t us into thinking they are something they’re not… it has its limits!

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I mentioned in one of my earlier post that “people do have aesthetic addiction to objects and there is a great need for that physical proof of existence no matter how digital we are.” Even in the digital sphere we need to have a certain personality and traits. We need to prove to someone else we are a fan of this band or that we are interested in a certain type of sports etc. And even though we cannot physically touch or sometimes verify this information it is still important to us.

Considerations such as these can help us appreciate the notion of „imagined communities‟ (B. Anderson, 2006), both virtual (social networks, high-tech communication) or physical. Anderson’s work has been noted as one of the most influential works on imagined communities in anthropology nowadays and fairly so. His theory on imagined communities, when talking about creation of nations, is easy to weave in discussion on digital communities even though they are fundamentally different. The main point Anderson raises is that the communities are imagined because even in the smallest of them there is no chance that all the members know each other, however they do experience the sense of communion.

Digital self and the creation of identity online

Internet as most might argue has opened a way for expressing yourself in more ways than offline life ever could. Everyone can become an artist with their own gallery that will not cost a penny on Flickr, everyone can own a blog and become a writer in hopes someone would read their work, feed-back on it wherever they might be without leaving their homes or spending money on editors or post. However, these are just the few examples of internet extending the opportunities based on our ‘real-life’ interests. Main thing I am interested in is why do we seem to change our identity online and does it have an impact on our offline one? One’s identity often differs from that adopted in different online settings that may vary from anonymous to full exposure of the ‘real’ identity.

Internet has changed the traditional ways of how we look at ourselves, meaning there is also a way for us to make others see us differently. Internet has changed the rules of identity creation. More so, there is no need to stick to one identity. It is mainly due to the fact of the ‘missing physical body’ giving space to the disembodied text. And it can go the opposite way where even with the physical characteristics being visible we withhold any or some information about the off-line personae, giving us the control over our new desired identity. Tempting isn’t it?

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S. Turkle (2011) points out that the creation of a ‘greater amount of culture’ doesn’t mean we are more sociable though, quite the opposite, we might have lost some of the sociability with the expansion of digital. She bases this on the fact that technology makes us less human. So is this one of the triggers that makes us to hide our real life self behind countless put on identities that might change some undesired physical or character traits? It can go to ridiculous lengths such as change from introvert to extrovert or even a digital change of the gender. And it can be empowering. This phenomenon of online roles has been researched a lot and it seems to me that our online identities are markers for what we secretly want to be, our hidden self which might be restricted in face-to-face interactions due to wide range of obstacles such as social background, race, gender and physical features.

One thing in my mind separates the concept of identity creation online and offline is the acceptance of your identity by others. Face-to-face interaction will always require the model described before where you claim the identity and others either accept it or declined it based on what they see before them. In my opinion, online identity creation is much easier to achieve as the other members of the online community will have to accept your identity the moment you claim it as they can’t verify details you don’t want to reveal about yourself, such as age, gender, race etc. (Not talking about stalkers here though, stay safe! ).

We have to remember however that no matter how limitless the online identity can be, there are some pre-determined parts of us and anchored offline relationships we carry with us to our online identity. People know people offline and interact with them online, get acquainted with the friends of their friends, losing some of that freedom of anonymity in the process. Let’s take G+ accounts as an example or even Facebook. Everyone is linked. Google learns information on our location, interests, etc. and based on that not only caters the advertising to our preferences but also suggests the connections – old classmates, people living in your town, people you have mutual friends with. This again implements certain constraints to identity claims.

So even though we could argue that identity online is the ultimate freedom and you can become whoever you want to, there are aspects that restrict this freedom from being limitless.

Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else. [Epictetus]

YouTube’s example of identity creation

YouTube as you probably know is the most viewed video-sharing site in the world and the third most visited website in the world overall behind Google search engine and Facebook (Alexa, 2015). Created in 2005 by three former employees of PayPal to make video sharing easier and sold to Google in 2006, YouTube has grown to be one of the most simple but at the same time one of the most complex networks on the web nowadays.

Most of the content is uploaded by individual users with  300 hours uploaded every minute in 2014 which was 3 times more than the year before and it’s still growing (YouTube data). Some of these individuals who create videos become highly influential and have a certain say in the creation of the identities of others, especially those of the younger age group. But is it only affecting their online identity? Or do they influence the everyday life decisions, choice of certain material things, choice of travel destinations and so on. And it works both ways. Influential or not, there are physical beings behind these online roles with feelings and choices. Creating an account on YouTube and putting time into making videos is one of the most popular ways to express ourselves for the new tech-savy individuals.

New media not only introduce new ways for us to express ourselves, but also new forms of self-awareness – new ways to reflect on who we are and how we relate to others [M. Wesch, 2009]

However, it is not only about ‘broadcasting ourselves’ as Youtube kindly invites us to do. It is about co-creation instead of creation – substitution of camera with community by letting them influence the content. What makes a successful YouTuber? Listening to your audience, letting them participate in making of your channel. “Let us know in the comments below, thumbs up if you like this video and subscribe for more” has become one of the most important phrases people add to their videos and it is working. Why? Because people love to be in charge as a default, they feel special when their suggestion is the one chosen from tons of comments and that makes them feel even closer to the person that seems to be the centre of this imagined community. The more appreciation you get from the influencer, the higher you step in the community, which is still in its core horizontal, anonymous and imagined. And it doesn’t end there, you can be a part of as many communities as you want, the more you surface online the higher the possibility to become influential even though this might not have any effect on your offline life.

Something to think about? Always.

Further readings:

  1. B. Anderson “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism” (2006)
  2. S. Turkle “Life on Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet” (1995)
  3. A. Acquisti, R. Gross “Imagined Communities: Awareness, information sharing, and privacy on the Facebook”
  4. H.A Horst, D. Miller “Digital Anthropology” (2013)
  5. T. Boellstorff “Rethinking Digital Anthropology” (2012)

I went to a public pillow fight. And it was awesome!

“Why fly?  Simple.  I’m not happy unless there’s some room between me and the ground.”  ~Richard Bach

A month ago, I got an invitation from one of my acquaintances on Facebook saying “Come join me in this crazy, fluffy madness”. I have to say, I was well intrigued. Obviously, that was a mass invitation from the person, so I still had to find someone to go with. And at the last moment, luckily, I did.

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So now that I had a pillow, a partner in crime and a topped-up oyster, I was set to go. Attending a mass pillow fight was really exciting, mostly because I used to love pillow fights as a kid. Pillow fight in the middle of the London with thousands of people (mostly full grown adults, some in onesies, some in pj’s and some just being casual) enjoying life? The idea of strangers coming together and organising a pillow fight? Ridiculously GENIUS!

What I did not know before attending is that this event was a part of a greater project – Sound Asleep film (A comedy about insomnia). FYI, they are having a kickstarter project, check it out, just few days left to help the dreams happen!  LITERALLY!

KICKSTARTER LINK HERE: SOUND ASLEEP PROJECT

So why do people need these kinds of activities and why they have so much response you’d ask?

Because of several reasons, in my opinion.  Firstly, we all need days when we can just relax, not be judged by the way we act (as long as it is legal) or dress. Everyone needs that one day to let go of all the problems, anger, emotions or just nothingness. And what better way than trashing another person, who you possibly see for the first and the last time, with a pillow. It did not matter – big or small, tall or short, foreign or local. Everyone got smashed with a pillow (even after the event, like in this video).

Secondly, it might have been a bit awkward if I have gone to the event alone, as obviously you want to share the positivity with someone, but nevertheless, it was a great way to meet people. I am certain that I would not know anyone in London and would go to the event it would not stop me from blending in and having fun.

Thirdly, everyone needs and deserves to act like a child sometime. Everyone needs to go back to that moment when you are self confident enough to be silly and make an ‘angel’ in the feathers. For me it was like returning to the simple days, like opening the memory box with all my old concert and festival tickets, pictures, little important things to remind me of what I do not want to forget. It is like when you visit your relatives and you find some old, forgotten thing that used to belong to you. It is all about the emotion, about the connection to yourself and others. It is about rethinking where are you at this exact moment of your life.

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And fourthly (And to be honest, not lastly. I am just lazy), these kind of events give us that extra kick of energy that we need to reboot and go on with out lives. At least it was like that for me. It might seem weird that fighting and spending energy will give you more of it. Maybe not straight away, but the feeling I had after the fight was amazing, I hadn’t felt that good and careless in a long time.

Anyhow, check out the awesome project of Sound Asleep and help them make this film (links down below after the video)!

 

Links:

1) Kickstarter project

2) Sound Asleep on Facebook

3) Sound Asleep on Twitter

4) Me on twitter

5) More pictures from the event

6) My video from the pillow fight 

On image and it’s meaning in the age of ‘Snapchatting’.

Photography and the idea of still image has been around for a long time. The idea of a pinhole camera has been described as early as Aristotle and Euclid 5th-4th centuries BCE. However, first documented chemical black and white photography was carried out in 1820s (first colour photography came in late 1860s). In comparison, the photography back then and now differ greatly, starting with the simple fact of extremely long exposure, which would make taking picture a terribly long and complicated process. We entered the digital camera age only in 1981 when Sony unveiled Sony Mavica which technically was not fully digital, but it did save image on the disc eliminating the use of film. It’s been a long way till we got to where we are now and the possibilities of capturing image are still evolving by days.

Some say images have no space in traditional social sciences and that they are the disciplines of words. However, image, picture, visual plays a great role in society and the way people perceive things. In some parts of the world an image is believed to keep ones soul alive after death or the belief that taking photos is a bad omen and ones image should never be captured in a still image.

“Anthropology has had no lack of interest in the visual; its problem has always been what to do with it.” [MacDougal, 1997:276]

The Yoruba, an ethnic group in West Africa, have even incorporated photography in their contemporary and traditional culture such as rituals (see Sprague, S.F.: 2002, ch.11). A possibility of capturing the moment has always been as tempting as that big red button to push.

The meaning and value of the image

An image (from Latin: imago) is an artifact that depicts or records visual perception, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject – usually a physical object or a person, thus providing a depiction of it.

What an image means to every one of us depends on how we value it. Our images are memories, friendships and moments stopped and saved for later. Every image has its own story and its own value accordingly, from a casual snap on the train to a long planned family reunion portrait. It might be just me, but I feel like with the evolution of apps and social networks, the value of an image has fallen greatly. And that is where Snapchat comes in. But I’ll return to that later.

To be completely honest, I am a ‘sucker’ for pictures which is probably why this post was hanging about my drafts for so long in the first place. I like taking them, not a great fan of being in them, but as it happens I do have a massive amount of pictures online and offline. The hell with it, I even decorated my white room into a kind of ‘a gallery of good times’.

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People have a great aesthetic addiction to objects, other people, emotions. During my visual anthropology course we talked about the perceiving of image as a part of the culture and tradition. As a medium for documenting the culture, capturing lives in the exact form and moment. In my head it is completely different than the pictures we take at the events or so called ‘selfies’ at home. Don’t get me wrong, we still do document the moment, the people, the objects but it is not the same. Hans Belting is talking about image linked with our mental images. A body is understood as “a living medium that produces, perceives, or remembers images that are different from the images we encounter through handmade or technical pictures”, therefore, image would be just a still portrayal of the emotions, memory, a part of this living medium but at the same time not. Belting completely turns away from the understanding of photography as just a type of art. However, I still believe that the practice of photography itself  is a type of art. And it probably should be treated like one.

Photography in a digital age could be compared to a selective memory – we can take millions of pictures and afterwards decide which ‘memories’ to keep and which just erase with a push of a button. With all the technological wonders our progress has given us, almost anyone can do it which, much like with economy, means the value of image is decreasing. To add to this, image has the power of capturing the real and the staged you. With the digital photography age and knowledge of photo editing softwares, it has become a less relevant question, as you can look at the picture and decide to re-take or retouch it, whereas, back in the day of film photography, image was something permanent, something that had to work from the beginning, something that captures the moment without a chance of changing the memories.

“As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are therefore coincides, with their production.” [Marx, Engels: 1974]

Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, sharing online and the conclusions.

I have talked a lot about social media, sharing, communication etc. I personally am one of the people that does a lot of sharing like pictures on Flickr, I do have both WhatsApp and Snapchat, I do share on Facebook, Twitter and on here. However, as an anthropologist, I would say that with all this ‘cloud’ type of sharing we have lost the main idea behind a valuable image.

When I am looking for an example, I love to get other people involved in an opinionated discussion before writing every post and so I did this time. I started with a question on photography and social media apps, just the general opinion. Apparently, with social media like Facebook and applications like WhatsApp there is ‘still some hope’ as some of my friends told me (mainly because you know your audience and the reaction to photos that can be shared, viewed, reviewed, copied, saved etc). Instagram was rated as an app where you share only what is really important, something that would matter to you (again keeping in mind your audience), something that would describe you with addition of cool effects and countless hashtags. Finally, Snapchat was nominated as the most obnoxious and maybe a little bit creepy app that would be the complete opposite of meaningful or even important memories. In fact, I was told that the pictures there are mostly meaningless (!!!) and it is only great for sharing “a shitty day/looks/nudes with your friends without worrying they will use it against you sometime as it will be gone in matter of seconds”.

This raised my attention. How can a photo be meaningless? The whole idea since the photography evolved from the very first attempts was to capture the memories in still images, nice and easy. I guess I could say that by the development of technology we are going back to a point where photograph is not a permanent, physical object. Another thing that worries me on this is the loss of fear of consequences. With photos being taken we are taking responsibility for what is portrayed on them. With Snapchat? No worries, just put it on for 1 second and puff they’re gone – no questions asked.. or will they?

“Snapchat is the fastest way to share a moment with friends. You control how long your friends can view your message—simply set the timer up to ten seconds and send. They’ll have that long to view your message and then it disappears forever. We’ll let you know if they take a screenshot! Build relationships, collect points, and view your best friends. Snapchat is instantly fun and insanely playful. Show your friends how clever you can be and enjoy the lightness of being!”

This was the first description of Snapchat on iTunes when it just came out… This is the second one:

“Experience a totally new way to share today. Snap a photo or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend (or maybe a few). They’ll view it, laugh, and then the snap disappears from the screen – unless they take a screenshot! If you want to share a Snap with all of your friends, add it to your Snapchat Story, where each Snap lives for 24 hours until it disappears, making room for the new.”

So at this point what has changed is the idea of telling you when someone decides to keep your 10 second moment for later. As I said before, people do have aesthetic addiction to objects and there is a great need for that physical proof of existence no matter how digital we are.

At the end of the day, it is no-one’s business what we decide to share and for how long. But I can definitely say that the release of Snapchat has marked a new age in photography. The one where it is no more about the image, it’s quality or the memory it keeps. It has marked the age of photograph as a means of conversation, a casual chat with no consequences, no long lasting memories and no promises. I just hope that with this new type of communication we won’t forget that the photograph can also be linked to our mental images, be used to keep important memories and value the moments captured through the lens.

Suggested readings:

  1. Belting, H. An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body (2011), available for purchase here
  2. UCL SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES & SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH PROJECT
  3. Phelan, P. Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time in Signs, (Summer 2002) available here
  4. Collier, J. Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method (1967)
  5. Sprague, S. F. Yoruba Photography: How the Yoruba see themselves in Askew, K. and Wilk, R. The anthropology of media: A reader (2002)
  6. Banks, M. Visual methods in social research (2001)

On privacy online – a serious threat or a way to success?

Let’s face it: people live on the network. We wake up, read our e-mail, check our messages on Facebook, interactions on Twitter, Snapchats, Whatsapps, Instagram and what else not. We use credit and debit cards, oysters, mobile devices, digital records and so on. We create communities and platforms online. We live online. Internet creates a great space for creativity, but is it a way to personal success and fame or is it a serious threat?

As I mentioned in my previous post, being active on social networks online is playing a great part of the great success in the jobseekers world nowadays. However, where is that boundary of privacy we are willing to step over?

With every trade we make, comment we leave, person we flag, badge we earn, we leave a reputation trail. (Rachel Botsman, TEDGlobal)

All the bits and pieces we share online automatically become a part of who we are and how people perceive us. It is a massive part of modernised social recruiting strategy and, in my opinion, there is a fairly bigger possibility to succeed by actually using these networks the same way people would use their private networks and people they know 50 years ago. The difference here is how much easier Internet makes everything for us. But as they say – with great power comes great responsibility. By having this powerful tool of sharing and connecting online, we have to be careful not to open ourselves up too much as it can become an enormous threat to our privacy and personal life.

The variety of social online platforms nowadays allow us to kind of distinguish between our personal lifes, family, travel and friday-nights-out and professional online networking on sites like LinkedIn. However, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have started to overlay professional vs. personal. And only us – users – are there to blame for their popularity. Anyone with an interest in modern technologies and successful business knows that these social platforms are the key to success in countless ways – advertising, recruiting, branding. And it is not only the personal vs. professional lifes we can talk about. For example, online dating sites, the odds are based on what your profile says and what pictures you put up.

However, what I want to focus on now is the idea of candidate screening through their somewhat private social media. I sometimes catch myself posting pretty personal bits of my everyday life on Twitter, sometimes in English, sometimes in Latvian, which is obviously my own responsibility as my Twitter is public. They are never embarrasing or in other way compromising, but they still are opening a door to see what I am doing in my spare time, what are my interests or where I ‘check-in’ on Foursquare. And to think that my possible future employer or partner would look at the picture of my dinner or where I go on a night out makes me shiver.

In 2012, a research was carried out within 300 employers and a suprising total of 61% of employers had rejected applicants on the basis of viewing their social network pages. 61%!!!!!! That means, more than a half of applicants had their social networks “wrong”. Has it come to the point where your spare time activities, pictures or personal views come between you and the position which you would possibly do great in?

Obviously, it is not all bad. There are things you might miss out on your CVs and other things, but have mentioned in your online profiles which make you more appealing. There might be things like this pointless blog, which shows you from a different light even though you haven’t mentioned it anywhere, except your own platforms. The great opportunities that come out of an innocent internet browsing sometimes open up an extraordinary path to self-discovery. The problem is, can we balance it out?

Last year I decided to ‘clean’ my Facebook account. I started with old pictures of my ‘teenage rebel years’ (which, to be honest,were not that rebel at all). But then after first couple of pictures I stopped. Why should I erase my memories because of fear that I might be declined a spot somewhere? Obviously, there is always a chance of changing your privacy settings (which I did, I’ll admit). But then we come back to the same question – what does it matter to another person what I do with my spare time (as long as it is legal)? How can I be judged for something that doesn’t in any way compromise me as a professional?

Privacy is implied. Privacy is not up for discussion. — Mikko Hypponen

My problem with the internet and privacy is the fact that we can’t control the content. Someone anonymous can take a snap of you on the train and just post it. That snap might or might not go viral, but why should we take a chance? Someone you know can share pictures of you or write about you on their sites and it all has no limits of sharing (at some point). My problem is the fact that the information once being unique, valuable and most importantly forgettable (erasable) now can easily become global, searchable, immortal and not at all private.

“You use your money to buy privacy because during most of your life you aren’t allowed to be normal.”
– Johnny Depp

Daniel J. Solove (2007) in his work “The future of reputation : gossip, rumor, and privacy on the Internet” is talking about the ironic truth of the Internet communication era – the free flow of information sadly threathens undermining our freedom in the future. As the author argues during his book, internet is a great tool of destruction: “People have profound new ways to communicate, yet the gossip, shaming, and rumors that are being spread online are sometimes having devastating effects on people’s lives.” (p.4) Does being free online mean actually not being free at all? And since when do we allow our online lives determine our offline identity?

So where is that balance between privacy and free speech? I don’t believe the idea of just a binary privacy that something is either private or public. No not at all, we should be able to relax and share our fun times with those we love and at the same time have the ‘luxury’ of privacy when it comes to strangers. We should not be judged by our pictures on Facebook, but by our knowledge and skills. We should not be treated like clothes on manequinns in shop windows, where the customer chooses the one that looks the best without trying it on. It should always be a two way interaction, otherwise the only thing I can compare it with is stalking. Plain and disgusting stalking.

I feel confident sharing my thoughts, ideas or impressions online, however I do think there is a line where people should stop. I do respect another persons privacy and expect anyone to do the same thing.

Even though during this post I took a clear stand of being against invading someones privacy online, I did not mean at all to say that social networking and professional social networking is all bad and intrusive. That is definitely not the case. If you ask me, I completely defend the idea and I am definitely one of the examples of “showing off my personality” on social media platforms. All I am arguing about is the fact that we should have the right of sharing our private things online without putting our future in jeopardy.

And to add to that here is some fun cartoon on the topic 🙂

Further readings:

1. Online and offline social networks: Use of social networking sites by emerging adults
2. Solove, Daniel J., The future of reputation : gossip, rumor, and privacy on the Internet, 2007
3. Motivations for Social Networking at Work
4. Does the Internet Increase, Decrease, or Supplement Social Capital?
5. Internet social network communities: Risk taking, trust, and privacy concerns
6. The ABC of Social Media Security
7. 11 tips for social networking safety
8. James D. Montgomery, Social Networks and Labor-Market Outcomes: Toward an Economic Analysis, The American Economic Review, Vol. 81, No. 5. (Dec., 1991), pp. 1408-1418.

On intercultural communication, learning the language and globalisation.

As Anthony J. Liddicoat has said in his paper “Teaching Languages for Intercultural Communication” (2005):

“Learning a foreign language is more than a simple task of assembling lexical items in grammatically accurate sentences. It involves fundamentally learning to communicate with others in that language and such communication involves an engagement with culture.”

So I decided it is time for this kind of post.

As stated by Gupta and Ferguson, changes in political and economic systems and migration of people has led to the situation where we have to re-evaluate the ways of exploring the cultures and maybe even redefine the concept of culture as a discrete phenomenon (1992). Culture is not a simple concept, therefore in my mind, changing it would mean changing the small components constructing it. The work of Gupta and Ferguson overall raises the wide issue of ‘place and space’: location, displacement, community and identity; it deals with change in Anthropology and it’s concepts due to the development of society, science, economy, politics etc. It talks about culture and cultural differences within the context of the modern globalized world. How big a part of a culture depends on where we come from? Does the certain culture only exists within a certain society, or it travels and changes together with people; or does a politically geographical distinction dictates the way of perceiving the culture as a part of certain people and territory?

Migration, nomads, foreign studies or work – are you supposed to have more than one culture or maybe none of them the same time? And where do we draw a line between cultures? Are there even several cultures or there is just one thing – a culture? Multiculturalism is a clear example of non-isolated cultures, of a movement as a part of human nature and culture, plurality concept (even though dividing cultures into subcultures seems to be an attempt of a distinct cultural view of world). National identity vs. Ethnic (cultural) identity: As J.Rotschild (1999) states, even though most countries are multi-ethnic; ethno-national self-determination is critical on a mental level. Dominant culture + ‘the others’ (concept of the otherness), plus mixture of cultures based on the power of dominant culture; (In my mind I would link this idea to A.D. Smith (1997) -> ethnic groups tend to form either by union or disunion of certain units -> Assimilation vs. Proliferation).

As a foreigner living in the United Kingdom, I can definitely say that it has not been easy for me to learn the “language”. And no, not in a grammatical sense of the word. Being here and studying anthropology I felt lost for at least the first month or so. I felt lost mainly because both – the environment and the study area – were completely new. I had to EXPLORE people through anthropological studies without having any idea how these people are different, are they different at all and what are their customs and mentality. With this we come back to the unloved idea of ‘the others’. During our classes we talked about ‘the others’ mostly when talking about groups of people that are considered to be not as developed technology-wise. But it isn’t as easy as that, is it?

When I told my supervisor I will carry out my research right here in the UK and, even more complicated, on people of my own age group and nationality, he called me crazy and offered me to go to the easy way. He offered me to write on the ancient pagan rituals and use of them nowadays in Latvia. For him, I was ‘the other’ from the place somewhere else which made this theme fascinating. For me the UK was “the other place” and I wanted to explore what I thought would help me to fit in. Basically, by looking for the reasons in other people like me I set myself straight. In time, I obviously made lots of friends who are British, learned the ideas, picked up some accents, social customs and even fell for a guy. I didn’t feel like ‘the other’ anymore, nor do I now. However, that had changed me – I feel more as ‘the other’ back home.

Language for people is like a marker of identity. Our language implies certain things about us and using a language means constructing our social identity. Language allows you to express yourself. In my opinion, learning the language is somehow showing respect for the other person and in addition to that, you enrich your world by engaging with another culture and more importantly learning to understand it.

Recently I had an interesting conversation in my friends car on what I value the most about learning foreign languages. I replied that in my opinion it makes you more tolerant as you learn a part of the identity through the language, you participate in a cultural exchange without even knowing it. Every language is a way to explore and understand. And exploring a second language is the most obvious way of intercultural communication. It is important to keep in mind that when someone communicates in their second language they automatically encode the ideas in language which is located within a certain cultural context. Hence, language learners have to engage with culture as they communicate which is not always the easiest of tasks.

This leads to exactly what S. Tambiah had said in his work “Magic, Science, Religion and the Scope of Rationality” – he points out four main themes: rationality, relativity, translation and comparability and commensurability. All these points are tools to communicate, to understand “us” and “them” by explaining the information we gather in terms of our own understanding (S. Tambiah: 1990). In my opinion, it raises the question of “being lost in translation” or in other words misinterpretation. By interpreting cultures on our own knowledge basis, can we be objective or rational? Are any of the cultures better than the other? Even though Tambiah’s work has been written just over 20 years ago, a lot has changed since then. Global connections and information systems have been upgraded every day and cultures mix due to networking and social and economic organisations collaborating globally hence cross-culturally. Cross-cultural communication is happening not only in professional but also personal levels – people are migrating, i.e. labour migrants, integrate in the “local” society and become a part of it, but still with a different background, creating a new kind of cultural identity. However, the diversity of cultures has not been eliminated, as long as we acknowledge that we are individuals, there is a diversity in thoughts, traditions etc.

Models of intercultural communication have greatly changed accordingly, and one of the main communication changing aspects is globalisation. If we look back for almost forty years, E. Leach wrote: “Our internal perception of the world around us is greatly influences by the verbal categories which we use to describe it (…) we also use language to tie the components together again, to put things and persons in relationship to one another” (E. Leach: 1976, p.33). If we look at the ideas ten years later from that point on, late 80s and start of the 90s – anthropology has shifted from a clear idea of distinction between cultures who communicate to a much more open debate between relativists and rationalists. Ten more years later, Norman Long argues that globalisation is not uniformity but is to be considered diversity, since it allows more individual and self-organized system to operate and people become less united (N. Long: 2000, p.185). This leads to discussion on heterogeneity of society even modern and high-tech communication systems and media development should allow more easy communication. At some point it does. It is definitely much easier to find information on a certain project or interest, transfer information, check the facts etc. But this also allows the information to be more manipulated, used by the third parties or to be false.

And to conclude, it is always about understanding each other not about learning dry facts.

Further readings:

1. Hannerz, U. Mediations in the global ecumene in G. Palsson (ed.) Beyond Boundaries. Understanding, Translation and Anthropological Discourse, Princeton Academic Press, 1993.
2. Leach, E. Culture and Communication: the logic by which symbols are connected. An introduction to the use of structuralist analysis in social anthropology, Cambridge University Press, 1976.
3. Palsson, G. Introduction: Beyond Boundaries in G. Palsson (ed.) Beyond Boundaries. Understanding, Translation and Anthropological Discourse, Princeton Academic Press, 1993.
4. Tambiah, S., Magic, science, religion, and the scope of rationality, Cambrige University Press, 1990.
5. Liddicoat, A.J. and A. Sacrino (2013) Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning Wiley and Sons, New York.
6. Crozet, C., & Liddicoat, A.J. (2000) Teaching culture as an integrated part of language: Implications for the aims, approaches and pedagogies of language teaching. A.J. Liddicoat & Crozet, C. (Eds.), Teaching Languages, Teaching Cultures. Melbourne: Language Australia.
7. Gupta A., Ferguson J., Beyond “Culture”: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference,
Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 1, (Feb., 1992), Wiley, URL