The Structure of an Article

This week’s blog will be annotations for three journal articles related to my ongoing project. The reason for this is, it will give me an idea of how to structure my article, as well as knowing who the authors are citing and the theoretical literature they draw from in relation to my research area. This will allow me to know where to situate myself within the dialogue (especially for the article from Nawpa Pacha).

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Sayre, M., David Goldstein, William Whitehead, & Patrick Ryan Williams. (2012). Chicha de Molle and Huari State Consumption Practices. Nawpa Pacha 32(2):231-258.

Summary – The authors analysed macrobotanical remains from two Huari sites (Cerro Baul and Conchopata) to examine “cultural preference” in food/consumption practices. They contrast this approach to the typical one taken in the Andes (and elsewhere) of looking at style (ceramics, architecture, burial patterns), settlement patterns, and material sourcing to understand cultural preferences. To do this, they compared different sectors of the sites that were interpreted/labelled from excavation contexts (elites, administrative, and domestic). They compared the density and ubiquity of C. quinoa, S. molle, and Z. mays. Their analysis showed that chicha de molle was preferred in Huari contexts, despite the ethnohistoric data that suggested otherwise.

Structure – The article begins with an overview of how the issue of cultural preference/distinction has been addressed by previous researchers, and the theoretical reasoning behind this approach, as well as introducing how their approach actually fits nicely within this paradigm (they therefore, do not argue that past approaches were wrong, but simply that food should also be considered). In particular, they want to argue that food consumption is an indicator of cultural preference and then they introduce alcoholic drink production/consumption as a source of “human sociality and the performance of identity”. From here they move to addressing some of the archaeological evidence used to identify production/consumption of alcohol generally, as well as specifically in an Andean context.  This section is very short, only about 1 page (4 paragraphs) total.

In the next section the authors discuss the Middle Horizon period, what characterized it archaeologically, and how food production and consumption have been under-researched to address insights into authoritative strategies (an area of great interest during the Middle Horizon because of reasons they outlined in the previous paragraph). This section then moves on to the significance of certain crops in the Andes, both as a food source and for their use in public rituals using archaeological and ethnohistoric accounts. Additionally, they discuss some of the properties of these plants, and their growth cycle to make the case that they are useful in the production of alcoholic beverages for feasts. In a short (1 page) section they discuss the significance of chicha de molle in Huari contexts and the context of the sites themselves (i.e. significance to the Huari settlement pattern and state organization).

The next sections are divided into the two sites analysed. The subheadings including: Site Description and Methods of Analysis, and Results. They begin with a description of excavations and the methods used to collect their samples, as well as the utility of such an approach to their research and how the results can be of benefit to other researchers in the region. In the results section, they describe which plants were the most ubiquitous and the significance of the context in which they were recovered from the site.

There are three final sections: Discussion, the presence of molle at other Andean sites, and the roles of molle in the Tiahuanaco and Huari states. Discussion is less than a page, in which the authors compare the two sites based on their results. This is then compared with the evidence of molle consumption in other Huari sites in a very brief less than 1 page overview. Finally, the authors end their article with an overview of the significance to molle consumption to the Huari and Tiahuanaco states. They argue that control and influence over maize chicha may have been a prime motivator in the expansion of the Tiahuanaco state. They leave with a call for further investigation of botanical remains to address avenues unexplored thus far.

Critical Perspective – Aside from the introduction (which was very brief) and the conclusion/discussion (which was also brief) the authors chose to focus on their results more than the interpretation. Despite their being an emphasis on cultural preference and practices of production/consumption their analysis was mainly that chicha de molle was produced and consumed by the Huari, which is a different practice than the chronicles depicted. However, the information was very clearly presented along with their methods, results, and significance to the state of the literature thus far. Therefore, the structure is quite useful since their focus is also on feasting (albeit the food rather than ceramic evidence) and their research followed a very similar approach to mine. Additionally, it was interesting to note which authors they were citing when talking about food consumption and identity which were the same or different from the ones I had drawn from in my MRP, such as Mintz (1985).

Fischler, C. (1988). Food, self and identity. Social Science Information, 27(2):275–92.

Summary – Fischler is providing an overview of the social and natural sciences approach to understanding the relationship between food and humans. He then connects these two approaches that have previously been very separate domains of study. It is hard to summarize the exact conclusions, but essentially Fischler does an excellent task of showing these two approaches are not mutually exclusive and have much to offer each other because humans are unique in being both omnivorous, therefore, requiring new/different food sources, and also social/cultural creatures.

Structure – The paper has not been set up with a clear skeleton/structure. There is no abstract to summarize the purpose of the paper, but instead Fischler goes directly into discussing the interesting relationship between food and humans, and the typical way it has been approached by the natural sciences and contrasting that with the social sciences. He does this to set up his “thesis” which is to create a more integrative approach that takes into consideration both aspects. He then gives an outline to his article, stating what he is going to talk about, in what order, which theorist he is drawing mainly from, and with an explanation for why he chose to do it this way. His voice is very explicitly clear in the introduction, he has summarized, but also criticized the work done prior and then provided his take on how to address this problem. Likewise, his explicit breakdown of how he is going to go about this makes the paper unambiguous in its intent and methods. Therefore, despite not having an abstract or the goal stated at the beginning of the paper, there is no ambiguity. This paper isn’t a review, however, he spends the majority of the paper making a connection between two different approaches that have for their history been talking past each other. Rather than end with a summary or conclusion to the article, Fischler ends by considering his analysis in our modern context. Leaving us with a visceral connection to these ideas, rather than abstract ideas of other times, places, and cultures.

Critial Perspective – The article by Fischler is very useful to my research and project because he summarized and critiques many of the ideas surrounding identity formation through food (which is integral to any analysis of feasts), but contrasts this with the biological and natural sciences approach. Therefore, I have a better sense of what is being left out of mine and other’s analysis of food by taking a very social approach. In particular, what might be motivating choices beyond just the identification of certain cuisines with a specific identity. Are these choices, at least in part, formed by preferences that are based on nutritional needs and/or hazard aversion that are formed through our biological drives? He makes a compelling connection between the nutritional understanding of a food (itself in part cultural) and identity through the example of eating red meat in our culture. Red meat is thought to give strength to the individual, even if it is on an abstract level (you don’t actually just gain strength through eating it).

Bowser, B. J., & Patton, J. Q. (2004). Domestic Spaces as Public Places: An Ethnoarchaeological Case Study of Houses, Gender, and Politics in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 11(2), 157–181. 

Summary – The authors are examining domestic spaces very differently than they have been traditionally approached. Rather than separate domestic and public/politics they are looking at how political life is conducted on a daily basis within the domestic sphere. This complements research focused on gender issues, which have in the past, placed women’s role firmly within the domestic space and therefore outside of the realm of politics. In their analysis, they are looking at multiple scales of analysis including: the organization of the community, spatial relationships within the house, and the painted designs on pottery used within the household. Their findings suggest that men and women negotiate space differently in Conambo, but women’s roles are also complementary whereby they have agency to act as mediators between the two factions in the community.

Structure – The introduction to their paper is set up by framing their particular approach by contrasting what has been done previously, critiquing this approach, and setting up how their approach will be different while also addressing some of these criticisms. The next two sections provide an overview of the context, including the village and what is known of the social and political organizations, as well as how this particular village is situated within the wider regional and temporal context. They then break down the article into the three categories they have mentioned (community organization, spatial relationships in the house, and pottery designs), treating them as somewhat discrete entities for the sake of clarity and organization. In each section they analyse the potential differences in men’s and women’s spaces, along with what women’s roles were to the political sphere. There is no clear narrative, instead there is different lines of evidence that are then combined in their conclusions to talk about politics in everyday life.

Critical Perspective – The article is useful to my project because the authors discuss politics in domestic settings, which are relatable to politics in a feast (the serving of food, who is serving, who is receiving, in what space/context is it taking place). In regards to the narrative style, there does not appear to be a clear narrative, multiple lines of evidence are considered and a conclusion is drawn from this. Perhaps because the authors are only looking at a single time period, they are not looking at change over time it does not lend itself well to a story-arc. However, they do take an approach that views society as always in a process of becoming. Therefore, daily life is deeply political because it is constantly in the process of contestation and renegotiation of space, alliances, and histories. Their narrative, then, is one that does not have a beginning or an end.

Tedx Talks, Space Junk, and Archaeology

In this post I will be giving an overview of a conference-style presentation given by a researcher in anthropology. The purpose is to learn about their particular approach and through an analysis begin to decipher what works and perhaps what doesn’t work to engage a particular audience. For this exercise I am looking at a talk given at a TEDx event titled “Space Archaeology: Alice Gorman at TedxSydney”. The youtube video for this talk can be viewed above. The presenter is Alice Gorman, she works as a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University, and an Adjunct Fellow at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at ANU. She is also a member of the Space Industry Association of Australia.

As many are already aware, a TEDx conference is an independently organized event that is “created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading,” . . . [that is] designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.” As you can see in the video when it pans out, it is open to a large audience. As such, the researcher is presenting to a broad range of people with varying interests. This type of venue along with the mission statement makes it essential to appeal to many different people. This is very different than a presentation given at a conference devoted to scholars of a particular discipline where esoteric knowledge is more expected because the scholar is speaking to individuals that share a common background of expertise. That is not to suggest TEDx talks are less intellectual, but they are created with the goal of making their research and ideas relevant outside their discipline. In an archaeology conference like the Society for American Archaeology, the researcher needs to appeal to other archaeologists and relate their research to issues within the discipline. What becomes important at a TEDx talk is relating their research to broader socially relevant issues that as a society, culture, or as part of humanity we can all appreciate its significance to us. Interestingly, it is also these types of presentations that are widely accessible to a broader public outside of the conference.

Although Alice Gorman studies the material culture of space exploration and its history, with a focus on orbital debris and working to reduce the problem of “space junk” by collaboration with international agencies, her talk does not focus specifically on the problems of clutter in space. Instead, her talk is aimed at making the audience feel a connection to some of the space debris by describing the cultural heritage and stories of its connection to our own histories behind some of these objects.

Unlike many academic presentations, she does not begin with a description of her “thesis question”. The talk is designed to feel more organic and less structured despite the clear intentions of her presentation design. The style of her presentation is relaxed and semi-formal. By this I mean she is looking out into the audience at all times and engaging with them creating a more relaxed environment where her ideas appear to just flow out as if she is having a conversation. She even includes many little side notes designed to engage the audiences attention through humour. But, it is still a structured talk that has been purposively organized to carry the audience with her through a particularly constructed journey.

Her talk begins with an anecdotal account of the experience that brought her to this “light bulb moment” where her interest in the topic of space exploration from a cultural heritage perspective took shape. She pondered to herself if, given the long history of the space exploration and age of some of the satellites in the sky, was it possible to do an archaeology of space? This story gives life to the creation of the idea behind her research by pulling back the curtain for people outside of archaeology to see just how relatable their process is to everyone else. Often, people will ask archaeologists how they know what to look for. While many follow a well-trodden path it’s clear that archaeology has expanded well past its initial boundaries and new avenues to explore open up through much the same sparks of inspiration we all have experienced and can relate to. She then describes the process behind her research. What steps did she take in the pursuit of her interests? And finally how she was able to get the opportunity to do this research full-time with her new academic position.

This is where the talk really starts to take shape. The “journey” aspect of her talk becomes more clear when she actually describes a journey she wants to take the audience with her on. In this way, she draws the audience in and captivates their imaginations in the same way that she was drawn to her own research. Of course, it is accompanied with many beautiful photographs of space that never fail to amaze. Buried in there is her stated goal of the presentation: “before we actually start trying to get rid of some of this stuff does any of it actually have cultural significance for us, does it have heritage value, and do we want to do something sensible about that instead of just destroy it all without thinking?” She is able to create a connection between these objects and our own histories by describing their creation and significance. She also is able to make it relevant to present day concerns over the space exploration programs around the world. And she ends by describing a satellite that has recordings of human cultures in various languages around the world, showing that there is a real piece of humanity that is part of space, we are in a very tangible way connected to it and should therefore care about it.

I think what makes this presentation so well done is her flawless ability to flow through many different sections of ideas seamlessly, all while adding details, descriptions, and personal anecdotes that, rather than take away from the main ideas, contribute by breathing life into the talk. She clearly knows her audience and has done a great job of relating the significance of her research to broader concerns and present day issues, all while teaching the public about some of her work. One problem I had was a lack of “well what now?” she created a very strong appeal to keep these objects for their connection to our history and the human experience, but what other value can we get from keeping them in space? Given that there is no room for Q&A after the talk these types of questions cannot be addressed through a dialogue with the audience. Finally, I think for her specific audience it was very well done. If she were speaking at a more formal conference her stated objective would need to be more upfront and clear, with a description of her methods, results, and interpretations/conclusions. None of these were particularly necessary when trying to simply engage a broad public about the significance of a particular area of study.

 

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Obligatory gif for getting through the blog post with me! 🙂