Revisiting the Ik

Posted in research by thenextwavefutures on 8 February, 2017


The book club I’m a member of has just read the 1970s anthropology book The Mountain People, by Colin Turnbull. At the time it was a cause célèbre: my wife went to a theatre production at London’s Roundhouse based on it. Since then it’s become more controversial.

The Ik (pronounced Eek) are a group who live in Uganda, close to the Kenyan border. They had, at least by Turnbull’s (contested) account, been a nomadic people, but they had been excluded from most of their lands and had become farmers. They weren’t Turnbull’s first research choice, but he had some funds to spend and permission fell through for the first two locations.

Actually, the Ik weren’t even his first choice once he got to Uganda, and he knew precious little about them even when he arrived. At the start he’s accompanied by two young men from the area who have agreed to act as translators, but they take his money and mislead him, as far as one can tell from the text. The local leader offers to build him a house as a gift, or so he believes, and in no time at all, Turnbull finds he’s paying for a large team of builders to put it up.

Although much of the book is about how farming has reduced the Ik to a desperate plight, and he’s there during a terrible period of famine, he seems both incurious and unobservant. Some customs he observes is great detail (the divorce ritual, for example) while asking few questions beyond it.



Dirty lenses

Posted in future, research, Uncategorized by thenextwavefutures on 18 October, 2016


Gillian Tett had a column (may need registration) in this weekend’s Financial Times in which she reflected on trying to find a bar in upstate New York to watch one of the Presidential debates. It turned out the bars weren’t keen, and not just because there was a big football game on at the same time. The barmen observed that showing the   debate would cause unnecessar rancour between their customers.

She is a good reporter, and once she’d got over her surprise that others were less interested in the debate than she was, she reflected on the experience using her training as an anthropologist.

[O]ur biases are important. And that, in turn, suggests we could all benefit by looking at a concept that I first learnt about when I was studying anthropology: the “dirty lens” problem.

This “dirty lens” tag refers to the idea that when scientists peer at an object through a microscope, their view can be distorted by a clouded lens. In a laboratory, smudges and smears can usually be wiped away with a cloth. But in the social sciences, the “lens” is our mind, ears and eyes, and it is harder to spot and remove our mental smudges. There is no cloth.

There are, however, some exercises you can do to clean the lens.

In anthropology classes at university, we were urged to do four things. First, to take the obvious (but oft-forgotten) step of recognising that our lenses are dirty. Second, to consciously note our biases. Third, to attempt to offset these biases by trying to see the world from different perspectives; we must listen and look without preconception. Last but not least, to remember that our personal lens will never be perfectly clean, even if we take the first three steps. We must be humble and remember the limits of knowledge.

There are some obvious lessons here for futurists as well.

Thinking about long waves

Posted in future, long waves, research by thenextwavefutures on 5 May, 2015

James Dator. Source: Trends FM

It’s fairly clear, if you spend any time doing futures work, that there are some recurring patterns that seem to evolve over one or two generations, or more. As part of a personal research project, I have started re-reading these “long wave” theories to try to understand their similarities and differences, and I’ll be blogging about my reading as I go.

An obvious starting point in this journey is Jim Dator’s long survey of the area, “From Tsunamis to Long Waves and Back”, drawn from the archive of the journal Futures, and published over two articles in Futures in 1999. The essay – recombined – can be found here.

Here I’m just going to pull out some extracts that seem to shape the landscape.


Britain’s random drugs policy

Posted in blindspot, crime, politics, research, science by thenextwavefutures on 8 May, 2008

The decision by the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to reclassify cannabis as a Category B drug, despite the opposing views of her expert advisers, has reminded me of the chaotic state of Britain’s drugs policy. It is an area where policy has remained completely immune to evidence – as one ‘killer chart’ demonstrates.


Commercialising childhood

Posted in advertising, affluence, business, children, consumers, emerging issues, research, social by thenextwavefutures on 2 December, 2007

The average British child sees at least 10,000 commercials a year, many unsupervised – according to David Piachaud of the London School of Economics. The result is increased family conflict and greater pressure on poorer families. Piachaud says the case for greater regulation or legislation to protect children from exploitation is strong. The research is summarised in the latest edition of the ESRC magazine The Edge (and in pdf here).


A brief history of information

Posted in digital, research, technology, trends, web 2.0 by thenextwavefutures on 10 November, 2007

I was alerted to this fine short video by Michael Wesch on You Tube which captures the changes in how we find, store, and share information. (Thanks to IFTF).


UK – an immobile society

Posted in education, equality, poverty, reports, research, social, trends by thenextwavefutures on 20 October, 2007

It would be nice to be able to say something positive about this. But in the space of less than a week, there have been three separate reports which in their own ways have each emphasised how sharp – and how stuck – the differences are between between poor and richer in the UK.


Women – promoted faster, paid less

Posted in business, data, equality, gender, organisational, research, trends, work by thenextwavefutures on 6 September, 2007

The latest annual management survey from the Chartered Management Institute (summarised here) puts some hard data behind the current state of UK gender inequality at work. It’s not good and it seems to be getting worse.


UK’s mini-baby boom

Posted in children, research, social, trends by thenextwavefutures on 9 June, 2007


It looks more like a trend than a blip: the Office of National Statistics reports that fertility rates in 2006 in England and Wales were at their highest for 26 years. The reason is that older mothers, and women born outside of the UK, are having more children.


Childhood more depressing than it used to be

Posted in children, health, research, social, trends by thenextwavefutures on 5 June, 2007

Only depressing news coming out from the Children’s Society’s “Good Childhood Inquiry” – and I mean that fairly literally.