Social science by the wire
While most people would think the “hard,” lab sciences usually receive the National Science Foundation Research for Undergraduates Grants, according to associate professor Matthew Durington, the College of Liberal Arts Department of Anthropology is working to change that notion.
Durington and professor of anthropology Samuel Collins received the NSF grant for a program called Anthropology by the Wire, an applied research project in anthropology to engage undergraduate students over six weeks in the summer.
The goal of the program is to create what Durington called networked anthropology.
“It’s about creating small, meaningful networks that actually have policy—implications rather than just throwing up the most aesthetically-pleasing video,” he said.
Anthropology by the Wire recruits students from community colleges, but Towson students can become involved as undergraduate learning assistants.
“So they are more or less taking the course in step with the community college students but it puts them in…a leadership and a mentor role as well,” Durington said.
The $400,000 grant, which included three, six-week summer sessions of the program as well a pilot year in 2011, has allowed the students to work with organizations such as the JACQUES Initiative at the University of Maryland Medical Center and City Uprising, a four-day event dedicated to testing 1,000 people in Baltimore for HIV/AIDS. This year, participants also worked with the deindustrialization of Sparrow Point.
“What we’re doing is attempting to document what these individuals who are part of a waning, industrial manufacturing economy in Baltimore, how are they transitioning back into a work force that doesn’t have those sectors anymore,” Durington said.
The program hopes to document what life is like in Baltimore to dispel the prominent media representations, like in the TV show ‘The Wire,” from which the program derives its name.
“We end up going to the same places that The Wire is shot at,” Collins said. “But this isn’t about drug deals gone bad and stuff like that, this is about people and their lives and stuff like that.”
Anthropology by the Wire’s name also refers to the online nature of the project.
“We want to create an alternative representation of Baltimore city, its residents and the communities they live in at the same time, we’re doing this vis-a-vis [the Internet],” Durington said.
Durington said that he and Collins will find something new to incorporate for the program’s last year with the NSF grant next summer, but since the project seeks to work with communities over an extended period of time, next year’s program will include partnering with the same organizations.
According to Durington, this methodology is called long-term participant observation and is one part of Anthropology by the Wire that overlaps with the anthropology curriculum at Towson.
In addition, Durington and Collins have incorporated aspects of networked anthropology into the curriculum as well.
“All this is now integrated into our anthropology curriculum…that was the real success is that we’ve been able to really integrate and move the anthropology department in a lot of ways in the department and the college,” Durington said.
Anthropology students interested in learning more about Anthropology by the Wire and in seeing feedback from participants can visit http://anthropologybythewire.com/.