A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘blogging

[WRITING] “Fast Writing: Ethnography in the Digital Age”

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Savage Minds features an essay by Yarimar Bonilla that takes a look at th interesting question of how to write texts of enduring relevance at speed.

In a recent contribution to this writers’ series, Michael Lambek offered some reflections on the virtues of “slow reading.” In an era of rapid-fire online communication, when images increasingly substitute for text, Lambek argues we would be well served to revel in the quiet interiority and reflective subjectivity made possible by long-form reading.

In this post I would like to think more carefully about this claim and to consider whether we might want to make a similar argument regarding the shifting pace of academic writing. If, as Lambek and others suggest, the temporality of reading has been altered by the digital age, can the same be said for research and writing? How have new digital tools, platforms, and shifts in technological access transformed the temporality of ethnographic writing, and is this something we necessarily wish to slow down?

I recently had occasion to experiment with sped-up academic pacing when offered the opportunity to contribute a piece to American Ethnologist about the protests surrounding the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In brainstorming our article, my co-author Jonathan Rosa and I asked ourselves hard questions about what we could contribute to the unfolding discussion about Ferguson. Both of us had produced academic “slow writing”— the product of years of careful research, analysis, drafting and editing. We had also engaged in some forms of “fast writing.” For example, I had published journalistic pieces on social movements in Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe. But these pieces focused on events not being covered in the mainstream media and for which informed journalism was necessary. The same could not be said of Ferguson. Despite an initial lag in journalistic coverage, by the time we were drafting our article, Ferguson had reached a point of media saturation, indeed it had become a challenge to keep apace with the numerous thought pieces and editorial columns emerging at a feverish pace during this time.

In plotting our article we thus asked ourselves: how can we contribute to this fast moving conversation while still producing a piece that might hold up over time? That is, how could we produce something fast but not ephemeral?

The result was an exercise in mid-tempo research and writing. It was not the product of long-sustained fieldwork, and was very much written “in the heat of the moment,” but it nonetheless tried to anticipate how anthropologists might look back on Ferguson over time—how they might use this event to teach and write about broader issues of racialization, longer histories of race-based violence, the racial politics of social media, and the shifting terrain of contemporary activism.

This process forced us to think about the challenges of being not just fast writers but fast ethnographers. How can we speak to fast moving stories while still retaining the contextualization, historical perspective, and attention to individual experiences characteristic of a fieldworker? Also, how can we engage with emerging digital platforms like Twitter with the comparative and ethnographic perspective characteristic of our discipline?

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2015 at 7:34 pm

[META] On technical problems and the future

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Unfortunately, due to technical issues–a laptop that was sent back to the manufacturer for repairs, a desktop that is no longer working, a tablet that is a bit wonky–the frequency and nature of my posts here may be limited. I’ll try to keep things up, but I can’t make any promises.

For technical reasons, posting to my WordPress account is likely to be rather easier than posting to my Livejournal. A Bit More Detail’s address there is


In the meantime, if you have any suggestions as to future content at A Bit More Detail, please leave them in the comments field. Thanks!


Written by Randy McDonald

March 23, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Posted in Meta, Non Blog, Writing

Tagged with , , ,

[LINK] “Medium gets a little more Twitter-like, and a little more blog-like”

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Mathew Ingram suggests that Medium is starting to occupy the online space once occupied by Livejournal. (I really should get back to my account there and see what’s what.)

When it first emerged, and for most of the time since then, Medium has been seen as primarily a place for long-form posts or articles, in part because the site has a clean and flowing design that encourages large images. Most of the content that the site itself commissioned and paid for has also tended to be long-form, and Williams has often talked about his vision for the site as being similar to a magazine.

On Tuesday, however, Medium announced a number of new additions to the service, including a very Twitter-like instant post-creation tool that appears on the front page of the site, with a simple box and the phrase “Write here,” and allows users to publish quickly. In a blog post, Williams said he wanted to make it easier “to start writing whenever you have an idea?—?and also to make it feel like less of a big deal to do so.”

Another feature is more of a redesign of the individual author pages, profiles and tag pages — the latter being the new name for what used to be called topic “channels.” Now authors and editors can add tags to their posts and those posts show up in a feed that is arranged by tags such as Tech or Media or Photos, and then filtered by an algorithm based on how many users shared or recommended each post. The redesign of tag and author pages turns them into more of a stream, Williams said — in fact, a very blog-like stream, with a mix of the shorter posts that the site is trying to encourage and longer posts that readers have to click through to view. Much like tweets, the shorter posts can be read within the stream in their entirety, and readers can click to recommend or share them without leaving the stream.

Although Williams didn’t say this, it seems fairly clear that Medium is trying to lower the barriers to creating content on the site — in much the same way that Twitter has been trying to decrease the friction between new users and the service, in order to increase engagement. Although Medium doesn’t really talk about numbers, it seems likely that it wants to broaden the reach of the site beyond just people who feel comfortable writing a 1,000-word blog post, choosing multiple images, etc.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 17, 2015 at 10:35 pm

[META] My readers, what would you like from A Bit More Detail?

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It’s a sincere question. What would you like out of this blog? More linkage? Less? More original content? Different subject matters? More text, more photography, much more video?

Just let me know what you’d like in the comments.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 6, 2015 at 8:45 pm

Posted in Meta, Writing

Tagged with , ,

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly talks about the good and the bad of freelancing.
  • Centauri Dreams wonders about the technical issues associated with the Encyclopedia Galactica.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper speculating on how Jupiter would appear if it was an exoplanet.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a paper examining the tumultuous planetological history of Venus.
  • A Fistful of Euros argues that Cyprus’ engagement with the Euro has been marked by the government’s willingness to hide shady behaviour at all costs.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the death of out 60s pop icon Lesley Gore.
  • Language Hat deservedly celebrates its author’s return to health and blogging.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Perelstvaig notes that sdhe has an online course on languages available.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the lessons of Uruguay’s José Mujica for the left, and suggests that putting populists on pedestals is a losing strategy.
  • The Map Room’s Jonathan Crowe approves of the recent book Unruly Places.
  • Marginal Revolution shares a revisionist take on the 1943 Bengal famine.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw considers the role of community gardens in modern-day Australia.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wonders if Grexit will be triggered over so little.
  • Savage Minds shares tips on better writing for students of the social sciences (and all people, really).
  • Window on Eurasia notes the shattering of the post-Soviet space, suggests further advances into Ukraine are unlikely, argues that Lithuania would be much more likely to face conventional aggression than Estonia or Latvia, and notes Russia’s outlook to the European far left as well as the far right.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO notes that some Toronto-area Starbucks will now feature wine and beer options.
  • Gerry Canavan has his own massive post of links.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at the promise of a NASA mission to Europa.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that compact exoplanetary systems are common around red dwarf stars.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on an extinct South American rodent, Josephoartigasia monesi, that used its giant teeth as elephants used their tusks.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that the Harlem home of Neil Patrick Harris and his husband David Burtka has been profiled by Architectural Digest.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes an unintentionally hilarious 1914 book aiming to curtail the spread of lesbianism.
  • The Planetary Society Blog shares pictures from the Indian Mars probe featuring rare views of that world’s moon Deimos and shares the New Horizons probe’s first pictures of Pluto.
  • Peter Rukavina talks about podcasts.
  • Spacing Toronto shares descriptions of the fallout shelters built into a Toronto subdivision’s homes.
  • Strange Maps notes the many maps of the world of The Man in the High Castle.
  • Torontoist looks at the local measles outbreak.
  • Towleroad notes a Russian group that plans to out teachers.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that arming Ukraine would help stabilize the situation and suggests there are alternatives to Putin.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO notes a project aimed at crowdsourcing money to buy sleeping bags for Toronto’s homeless.
  • Gerry Canavan despairs at the corporatization of the University of Wisconsin.
  • Centauri Dreams takes another look at Kepler-444.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting no correlation between the sizes of Kuiper belts and exoplanets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes the crash of an armed Chinese drone in Nigeria.
  • Joe. My. God. and Towleroad both note Andrew Sullivan’s retirement from blogging.
  • The Planetary Society Blog argues rivalries between private space companies is all good for the future of space travel.
  • Livejournaler pollotenchegg tracks Ukrainian military deaths over the past year.
  • Registan is not worried by Russia’s new military doctrine.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy reports on an Islamic civil law tribunal in Texas.
  • Window on Eurasia has different reports on Putin, one claiming he’s not a rational actor, the other suggesting that Western governments should try to undermine him.

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