This category contains 6 posts

When Good Means Failing: Resisting Corporate Satisfaction Surveys

This morning before checking out of our hotel, I noticed a letter on the desk in the room. The letter, written by the local hotel’s General Manager, mentioned that we might be receiving a satisfaction survey from corporate Best Western by email within a few weeks. The letter encouraged us to be sure and be … Continue reading

Mystery Object #10: Brass Private Property Sign

Last week, while walking on the sidewalk up the street toward Market Square in Pittsburg, PA, I noticed a small brass plaque mounted in the brick sidewalk at the edge of the street at the corner of Forbes Ave and Delray Street. It simply said, PRIVATE PROPERTY. The brass and brick made the simple message—about the size of … Continue reading

The Facebook Database Must Be Fed

Most people around at the dawn of the public Internet might remember the brief period when important webpage addresses circulated by word of mouth, in emails among friends, and were even published in books. Back in 1994, for example, I remember buying a telephone book-sized tome hundreds of pages thick, packed with URLs broken down by type. I’d look in the … Continue reading

Tom Skype’s Sensitive Words: A Trove of Keywords for Contemporary China

In China, pretty much everyone knows that the Internet is heavily policed. The people know. The government knows the people know. The people know the government knows the people know. In fact, the “open secret” of the Great Firewall is surely an important part of the way censorship works in China. Precisely because people know … Continue reading

An Apple is an Apple, Except When It’s a Sign of Satan

As an anthropology professor who regularly teaches classes dealing with material culture and issues of representation, every semester we discuss the ways that humans ascribe meanings to objects—reading them in the terms of the preexisting cultural categories they bring with them. In the context of museums Eilean Hooper-Greenhill (2000) describes these groups as “interpretive communities.” I like … Continue reading

Mystery Object #5: Totem of Emergency Protection +1

Today while leaving campus, as I have each day for ten years, I noticed a new addition to the campus topography. Just at the south edge of campus, between two dorms, was a giant dark brown pole with a big blue light on top. Along the side of the pole, written in large letters was … Continue reading


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