Category Archives: Organisations and Work

Don’t Quote Me On This!

Here is a photo I took of an elderly woman in Jandiayacu. She is one of very few people (possible only five remaining) who speak and have a deep knowledge of the Sapara Language. The knowledge of Sapara people is not written down; it is an oral tradition that has been recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

 

I am not going to cite, quote or reference anyone in this post, and I wonder if that will change the opinion of those who read it. Does citing someone else make what I write more valid, more accurate or more valuable? Citation and referencing are an important part of academic writing; it is a painstaking, laborious and often frustrating process that is, unfortunately, unavoidable. Of course, I understand why it is necessary. When communicating ideas or concepts it is useful to use citations to provide signposts to our readers should they want to know about something in more depth or detail. It is also important when we are talking about ‘facts’, particularly historic occurrences, statistics or things people have (supposedly) said. But there is another side to this practice that is more of a burden on the writer than it ought to be.

I have terrible paranoia when it comes to plagiarism, and I know I am not alone. After submitting my dissertations for my undergraduate degree and both of my masters degrees I remember having an awful feeling that on results day I would collect my grade and see the dreaded zero. Months of hard work and emotional and physical exhaustion would have been wasted and my career would obviously be ruined. None of my other achievements would matter; I would forever be known in academia as a fraud, a cheat, a plagiarist.

I would express these concerns to family and friends and I would talk to fellow students about it, too; many of whom felt the same. Inevitably, people would ask me ‘do you think you have plagiarized someone?’ or ‘did you make sure you referenced properly?’ the answers to which were always ‘of course not!’ and ‘I think so?’ but this didn’t shake the feeling. I always thought I would be caught out, that I would have made some silly mistake. I might have paraphrased someone in a manner a little too similar to the original quote and accidentally plagiarised them. I would spend hours reading my work, checking and rechecking each sentence I had written. I would over cite everything, often using more than one reference for each sentence, just to make sure.

I ended up resenting the practice, and I felt like I was restricted to only thinking things people had thought before or, more specifically, had written before. If I came up with an idea that I genuinely thought was my own, I would search and search for someone who had said it (or something similar) before, and if I couldn’t find a source I would sometimes omit the idea altogether because it was safer than taking the risk of saying something ‘new’ and accidentally plagiarising. With the vast amount of information that exists in the academic world it is impossible to read everything, even everything that is directly related to your own narrow field of study. If you are an interdisciplinary academic (as I am), it is even more difficult. So, why do we bother to cite anyone at all? Well, the ‘good’ reasons are those that I mentioned above (i.e. signposting, backing up ‘facts’ and attributing quotes), but there are other reasons, too, that really don’t benefit the writer or the reader very much at all. I believe it is based in the general acceptance that ideas people have are owned by them and that valid knowledge is always written down, which is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, the belief that people who write academic work are in any way creating something independently is a fallacy.  All researchers and writers are part of a wave of academic consciousness, a collective thought process that we are all immersed in and interact with through a continuously iterative process. What researcher, for example, has never had a moment of inspiration where their work has sparked a new idea, something they have never read (or at least don’t remember reading) in anyone else’s work, which is followed by a quick Google search that immediately reveals that someone else has said the same thing, almost word for word! Why should a person be credited with an idea just because they had it first? The answer to this, in my opinion, is related to how we view ownership in general in the capitalist world. The belief that people can own ideas, and that once that idea is written down (in an academic form) they can own it forever, can be viewed as a patent or a licence for an abstract concept. Meanwhile, we ignore the collective consciousness of society or groups of society, instead dividing knowledge into easily controlled, ownable and tradable units.

This leads to the second ‘bad’ reason to cite and reference excessively. In our culture it is believed by many that the thoughts, opinions and ideas of people who have respectable academic credentials are more valuable than those who are outside of the (western) academic world. This perpetuates the idea that certain types of knowledge, i.e. academic knowledge, are more valuable than others and underpins the social construction of so-called ‘experts’. Often we cite dead white men in an awkward and forced way to show that the point we are trying to make is valid, rather than explaining precisely what we mean because we don’t have a ‘good’ source. What this does is reinforce hierarchical structures of society in which many ways of creating and expressing knowledge are discredited and relegated to the realms of obscurity. In this, we are doing ourselves and our academic colleagues a disservice. What, if not the synthesis and critique of all available knowledge, is academia after all? Moreover, it is a burden that restricts some writers more than others. Beginning my research with indigenous people (the Sapara, who have no written history, but whose culture and language are recognised by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’) has been a stark reminder of this. How can indigenous knowledge be cited by indigenous researchers and/or researchers who work with indigenous people? Of course, interviews, life histories and ‘myths’ can be cited, but when these contradict ‘official histories’ (i.e., those that are written down) I wonder which account people (including me) are most likely to believe.

The third and final reason I am going to mention (though there are many more) is that having a reference does not always mean something is ‘true’, particularly since many types of research have become electronic pursuits. The truth is, if you want to say anything (no matter how absurd or poorly thought out it is) you can probably find a reference for it somewhere on the Internet. Among the hundreds of thousands of publications that are available, academic or otherwise, there is a constant and wrongful process of self-legitimization. For example, if one researcher includes a citation from a newspaper article or blog that was incorrect or inaccurate in an academic paper it can then be cited by other researchers as a ‘fact’. Moreover, if a study is conducted and the resulting paper is cited, and then another researcher cites that paper and so on ad infinitum, the original meaning can go through a process of change, corrupted by the point each author is trying to make and their own way of interpreting the data. The result is a loss of quality of ‘data’ and an alienation of the information from its original context.

These issues with citation and referencing do the opposite of its intended purpose. Rather than leading to robust, good quality research it instead restricts writers’ ability to think freely and write honestly. It reinforces social constructs of what constitutes legitimate knowledge yet allows information and data to be removed from its original context and meaning. This has a greater impact on researchers who work on the fringes of academia, particularly indigenous researchers, than it does on those who work within the established mainstream.

Of course, I am not saying that citation does not have its place (it is undoubtedly an important part of creating and sharing knowledge), nor am I saying that plagiarism is acceptable. But those who are truly plagiarising, cheating on essays, dissertations or theses, or claiming other people’s work to be their own are finding faster, more efficient ways to hide what they are doing and avoid being detected by the increasingly sophisticated plagiarism checking tools. Methods used include automated thesaural or synonym apps, removing or obscuring the text layers in pdfs, or plagiarizing exclusively from articles in other languages. I find this to be quite repellent behaviour, not necessarily because they haven’t cited people, but because it is just outright dishonest and is an attempt to gain credit for something that has taken little or no thought or effort. Moreover, it adds nothing to our existing knowledge and reduces the perceived value of the hard work put in by others. Nonetheless, how and why we cite our work should be subject to the same critique and analysis that we in academia claim to use in all other areas of our research.

 

 

Going Out of My Mind in Jandiayacu

 

The Airstrip in Jandiayacu

This is a photo I took in July, 2014, during my fieldwork in Jandiayacu. Jandiayacu is a Sapara community in the Amazonian region of Ecuador. It is accessible only by plane or a difficult journey on foot and by canoe, which takes several days.  (click for full size image)

 

So often we talk about being rational, making decisions based on established facts and existing knowledge, as if it is, and should be, the aim of all people at all times. Ways of being or knowing that sit outside of accepted knowledge can open a person up to being dismissed, discredited or ridiculed, particularly in the academic world. Anybody who knows me knows that I am a somewhat methodical and ‘rational’ person (most of the time). I love questions and puzzles and finding answers, and I struggle with things being disorganised, chaotic or inefficient. This is probably why I have found beginning my research with the Sapara nation, an Indigenous people here in Ecuador, so difficult. (more…)

Is The Sociology Finished Yet?

University of Bristol BSc Sociology Graduates, 2011

University of Bristol BSc Sociology Graduates, 2011 –  (authors own)

This is a guest post from Guy Sanders.  Guy is a freelance graphic artist living and working in London. He specialises in promotional design and branding for theatre and entertainment companies. He holds a BSc in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Bristol. Guy’s interests include cultural criticism and the deconstruction of nation making. He tweets @GuyJSanders

Is The Sociology Finished Yet?

I completed a BSc in Sociology and Political Science in 2011. What followed immediately was a period of indecision about continuing my studies, and a prolonged period of misplaced commitment to jobs I didn’t enjoy or do well because now this was ‘real life’,and I needed to ‘get a job’. All of this was very un-sociological. Very uncritical. Very driven by having no job and none of the various kinds of capital (economic, social, Starbucks) that came along with having a job. I now work as a freelance graphic designer, helping arts and entertainment companies find images and words that best represent their products. It’s enjoyable, challenging and involves thinking critically. But that doesn’t mean it’s wholly “Sociology friendly”, even if I have, at the very least, ditched the Starbucks.

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Reflections on Voluntourism

 

Source:  Points of Light

Source: Points of Light

 

After spending five weeks conducting ethnographic research in Nepal, I was ready to return to the United States and many of the luxuries of a developed nation. I knew that it would take time to adjust my sleep schedule. I also figured that it would take some time to return to the fast-paced life of New York. What I did not expect was the overall difficulty I would have returning to a developed country. The air conditioning is so cold. The price of day-to-day life is so high. People’s daily problems are so trivial.

The majority of literature on volunteer abroad programs, voluntourism, and service vacations suggests that volunteers frequently have a relatively small impact on the people and countries where they volunteer. These scholars suggest that volunteers frequently frame their experience in terms of what they got out of the experience rather than what they were able to give to the organizations and people in the nations where they worked.

Obviously, my difficulty readjusting to being back in the U.S. is self-centered, based on my personal experiences and what I realized while I was living in a developing country. And when one of my friends asked me, “Do you think you made a difference,” I had to spend time reflected on the question before I could answer. (more…)

Men’s Room: why space is a feminist issue

I am lucky, (if you can call it that, as I am fairly sure I can claim some credit for its creation) to spend much of my life surrounded by feminist men. I was raised by one, and have friends and colleagues who are very happy identifying as a (male) feminist. They can deconstruct the patriarchy, discuss oppression and understand intersectionality. They constantly and consistently ‘check their privilege’. And maybe this is why a recent article; ‘20 tools for men to further feminist revolution’ struck such a chord with me. It is written from one male feminist to the rest, pointing out that it is not enough simply just to identify as being feminist. Fighting patriarchy, (whatever your sex or gender) cannot be done apathetically or without actually doing anything.

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The Local Face of a Global Epidemic

Source: COPS

Source: COPS

 

In my last posting, I wrote about my concerns as I prepared to travel abroad to volunteer for a NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal. Today, I have settled in and completed three days of my volunteer assignment. In the past few days, I have learned about trafficking in one of the most powerful ways possible, through day-to-day interaction with survivors of the human trafficking trade. (more…)

The Internet of Things: some implications for sociology

Source: http://recode.net/2014/01/10/what-your-internet-of-things-is-saying-about-you-comic/

Source: http://recode.net/2014/01/10/what-your-internet-of-things-is-saying-about-you-comic/

This week BBC News asked “can wearable tech make us more productive?”  The news package covered a research project which has the broader purpose of investigating impact of wearable connected tech on every aspect of our lives. The umbrella term that (albeit loosely) confederates connected technology is the ‘Internet of Things’. Its advocates believe the Internet of Things is one of the most compelling ideas of the twenty first century.  The original definition of the Internet of Things referred to inanimate objects that had an electronic product code so they could be inventoried. Now, thanks to IPv6 (which provides 3.4×1038 addresses on the Internet), as utility (or the market) demands it, all our everyday objects such as TVs, microwave ovens and cars can be allocated an address on the Internet and offer the potential to transmit and receive digital data. However, an IP address is not a prerequisite of the Internet of Things. The term can also refer to devices that have the potential to produce digital data for the Internet. This includes technologies of the ‘quantified self’, such as the GPS enabled sports watch I use for example. (more…)

Men and Global Gender Justice

A side-event at the 2012 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Attribution: Silje Bergum Kinsten/norden.org via Wikimedia Commons

A side-event at the 2012 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Attribution: Silje Bergum Kinsten/norden.org via Wikimedia Commons

The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Juliana Carlson, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas and member of the Mobilizing Men in Violence Prevention research collaboration, on the topic of men’s global engagement in the prevention of violence against women and girls.  She argues that “men and boys have been largely relegated to the sidelines of violence preventions efforts” but that a growing movement “aims to create structural change by engaging boys and men in conversations about equality, gender expectations, family health, fatherhood, and the concrete, positive roles they can and do play, such as sharing caregiving and being a role model for younger generations.”  The proliferation of NGOs doing this crucial work with men and boys extends well beyond the prevention of violence against women and may signal a larger shift in human rights and global development discourse.  (more…)

The U.S. Military’s Sexual Assault Problem

Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault hosts conference at Liberty Field House. Conference helps raise awareness and combat sexual assault. Retrieved from wiki commons

Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault hosts conference at Liberty Field House. Conference helps raise awareness and combat sexual assault. Retrieved from wiki commons.

The United States Senate failed to pass a bill that would have altered the military’s response to sexual assault.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute or prevent charges for alleged rapes and other serious offenses in favor of giving the authority to military trial lawyers operating under a newly established office independent of the chain of command.  The vote fell 5 votes short of the 60 necessary to move ahead with the legislation, with opponents of the bill arguing that commanding officers should be given more responsibility in preventing and punishing sexual offenses and that removing power from commanders threatens the organization of the military. The bill failed to pass despite multiple news reports revealing the extent of sexual assaults in the military and the lack of response by military commanders. (more…)

Fly me to the Moon: Aviation: past, present, and future

By Yamaguchi Yoshiaki from Japan [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

This year marks one century of commercial flying. On New Year’s Day in 1914, a large crowd gathered in St.Petersburg, Florida, as an airboat named ‘Benoist’ (after its creator, Thomas Benoist), took to the sky for a 23-minute flight over the Tampa Bay, carrying a single passenger (Abram Pheil, who won his $400 ticket in an auction). This maiden flight soon became a regular route, thus marking aviation’s birth as a viable industry. In the following decades, transnational routes, jet engines and global airlines became fixtures of modern life.

What a difference a century makes. Today, 52 aircraft take off every minute, and an incredible half a million people are in the air above us at any one time. Flying now facilitates family visits, holidays, business and academic conferences, and freight trade; it’s made the world smaller, and the global economy bigger. (more…)