Friday, March 27, 2009

Archaeopteryx: Magic Bus, Ethnography, Structure, Harbin Hot Springs

Hi Rory, {author of The Magic Bus},

Thanks for your note. Are you in the US to talk about "The Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India" then? Please let me know if you visit the SF Bay Area; I'd try to come to a reading you give. I'm enjoying reading it, too.

Let me briefly outline how I've thought about the structure for my Harbin book thus far. I have two target groups in mind for my Harbin ethnography. One is the academic anthropology community (graduate courses at the University level) and the other is a more general audience, similar, perhaps, to those who might buy "The Magic Bus."

For the first readers {or surfers}, I initially thought to structure this manuscript by writing

1. a 'classic' ethnography especially vis-a-vis the concept of 'place' / the 'field' in anthropology (because as I create a virtual Harbin, the concept of place, or on-the-ground, will be very relevant) using Evans-Pritchard's "The Nuer" or Malinowski's "Argonauts of the Western Pacific" as 'reference' ethnographies, with which to come into conversation. I see Harbin as an expression of counterculture in response to modernity, which has lasted, now, some 37 years. I also see Harbin, as such, as an unique field site, at the end of a road in a beautiful valley, with a fabric of life specific to this valley and emerging over 37 years, - since Ishvara bought the property in 1972; Harbin is also a hot springs retreat center business {Heart Consciousness Church and New Age Church of Being}, with guest accommodations.

2. Next, I've begun to create a virtual Harbin in Second Life, and will write about how the creation of virtual Harbin, with digital, virtual world technologies, is a new form of anthropology, and ethnographic representation, itself.

3. I'll use this virtual Harbin as a field site for ethnographic participant-observation or avatar-participation.

So this project partly involves the creation of a new kind of ethnographic field site, which is comparable to on-the-ground Harbin.

My argument is tentatively that Harbin is an unique response, as place and milieu, to modernity in the form of counterculture, which becomes a kind of hippie organization (commune), and I'd like to observe anthropologically how this 'fabric of life' moves into virtual worlds, in a variety of ways.

So the questions I'm interested in addressing have to do with what has taken shape at Harbin over 37 years, and how might 'counterculture' take new forms in virtual Harbin, which may develop then into a kind of social life of its own.

In the process, I'd also like to engage the only other anthropology of Second Life, the book by UC Irvine Professor Tom Boellstorff called "Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human" (Princeton 2007). He also engages "The Nuer" to structure his book. I think virtual worlds are fascinating and will become increasingly significant in the future, and therefore key to my novel and defining approach to ethnography.

For publishing, I have academic presses in mind. The University of California, University of Chicago, Princeton University, Harvard University, and Duke University presses all have published interesting work in related areas recently. But I'm quite interested in your thoughts and experiences about this, too, - as well as how to promote it. I'm also curious how you think one can have fun with all of these aspects of publishing.

For a general audience, I'd like to make the above unique and creative ethnography readable and engaging. Harbin is very colorful and has attracted a lot of fascinating people, and life on the ground there also has fascinating serendipity and synchronicity - energy? - perhaps due to Harbin's clothing-optionalness, its freedom, its rustic accommodations, its bohemian visitors, the natural setting, and especially in the minds of the folks who come there. A lot! of people have come through the gate over the years, but I'm primarily interested in the 10-20 residents who have been there the longest, - around 25-37 years, to start.

I've written a lot about Harbin on my blog - click on the 'Harbin Hot Springs' tag - much of which I'm excerpting and organizing, in addition to 440 pages of field notes I wrote last year, as well as interviews I did.

I'd also like to get this done without too many distractions, or much 'scatteredness,' in the next 3 months, if possible. I may need to speculate about some virtual world aspects, as I don't have the resources to build a full, virtual Harbin, at present, in Second Life, although I do have the beginnings of the Harbin gate house built on the American Anthropologist's virtual campus in-world. I'm eager to focus my writing, and sometimes get bogged down. I may make this a brief book, with additions through subsequent blogging and other developments over the years, as I'd like to return to Harbin in the decades ahead.

I'm very interested in your thoughts and insights about this structure.

I'd love, too, to hear your interview yesterday with Ron Kuby, but haven't found a recording so far. Is there one? Please let me know if you're coming to the SF Bay Area. Good luck with your International Red Cross book.

Starting with the Haight, as you suggest, for an overland trip to India, and another ethnography, is an exciting idea. :) (Setting up wikis - editable web pages - along the way, is also an exciting idea - {ethno-wiki-virtual-world-graphy} - and possibly modeling key places in Second Life, also while underway is a fascinating possibility, - so that people I meet might spend time in-world, in these new 'places,' - when they have the computing resources).

The weather is beautiful here in Canyon, near Berkeley, ~ I'm heading to Harbin soon.

Kind regards,

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