From the Series: Being @CulAnth: Social Media as Academic Practice
With some 48,400 thousand followers, the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s (SCA) Twitter account @CulAnth is the world's largest anthropology social media account. Since 2010, the SCA has shared its content on Facebook and Twitter, channeling a large portion of its total readership from clicks on social media posts. By developing an engaged online presence, promoting anthropological ideas, and fostering online communities, @CulAnth has become one of the discipline’s largest megaphones: a central means through which anthropology gets out of the academy and into the public.
Because our work over the last 5+ years as the Social Media Team (SMT) for the SCA has been directed more by the accretion of practices than formalized rules, this series emerges from a desire to sift through our experiences and typify our ideas. While writing the essays in this series, Twitter began losing both stability and users, leaving the platform’s future unclear. However, rather than simply indicating the impermanence of social media, this instability underscores how social media work demands dexterity, flexibility, and receptivity to changing contexts. As popular platforms  become less stable and users and audiences shift to new platforms, we offer this series to reflect upon how academic work on social media can be a space from which to reimagine authorship, citation, and collaboration. In examining the work that turns media into tools, this series thinks through the skillset and sensibilities necessary in taking anthropology public, effectively reframing what counts as academic work.
Essays don’t read themselves. People need to know that the essays exist; they need to see how their ideas relate to necessary discussions.
Our work has shown us that “the public” is not just “everyone outside academia”—there is a plurality of publics, all of which have their own interests, and none of whom are institutionally obliged to care what anthropologists think. For this reason, an anthropology essay isn’t “public anthropology” simply because it doesn’t have jargon or because it’s Open Access. Essays don’t read themselves. People need to know that the essays exist; they need to see how its ideas relate to necessary discussions. The SMT, then, functions as a critical connective tissue between the “public anthropology” of the SCA and existing publics. By identifying trends in online discourse, locating publics, reading essays, synthesizing arguments, framing takeaways, and launching anthropological ideas in the world, we interest people in anthropology by making good ideas meaningful and relevant in the moment and to their lives. In leveraging social media as a tool to widen Anthropology’s presence, this series argues that social media doesn’t just draw attention to the discipline but rather invites publics to participate in anthropological ways of thinking.
Like much work for academic societies and journals, social media work is a form of invisibilized labor. By posting as “The Society for Cultural Anthropology,” our labor taking anthropological ideas public is often unattributed and anonymized. But rather than simply arguing this labor be made visible, in “Invisible Labor,” we argue from this invisibility to show how it offers an opportunity to rethink the role of academic societies and service, digital publishing in anthropology, and academic knowledge production and its futures, by pointing toward how social media labor encourages a more collaborative and less individualized vision for academic work.
Many of us on the SMT have received messages and emails from young scholars and academic societies seeking advice on how to establish a dynamic social media presence. To this end, we offer “An Unofficial Style Guide” that outlines the practices we have codified over the years in the hope that future iterations of our social media team and other academic social media teams have a map for online academia. Additionally, we offer a piece, “Handling Harassment, Negotiating Care,” that draws from an internal resource guide on how we arrive at strategies to handle harassment and “contentious” situations online.
Live-tweeting is a practice in which invisibilized practices of ethical citation happen in real time. While an academic panel or lecture might be a single, brief event, making a Twitter thread expands beyond that moment, incorporating uncited authors, inviting more capacious conversation, and producing an archive that, while not permanent, far outlasts the event. “Live Tweeting as Academic Practice” highlights that while live-tweeting can be both ephemeral and enduring, it also archives and amplifies, translates and mediates, turns a closed event into an open-ended structure, and offers “a new way to think about and engage in academic dialogue as intellectual process.”
Social media labor is perhaps most evident in our practices of citation. As social media handlers, we share the academic work of others, compile threads, and introduce conversations from our own archives. We intentionally make visible the work of marginalized authors, following the threads of ongoing discourses and amplifying the voices and resources as a means of re-working digital space, literatures, and canons. Through the analytic of citation, we describe in “Citational Politics” the pragmatics of citation and politicize citation in the context of the account to think about what citation looks like in practice for social media handlers.
Because little of our work has formalized rules or oversight, much of what became our standard practice was sedimented and codified over time through our discussions about how we handle online situations. As Social Media handlers, we’re required to respond to events as a Society and a discipline, and we use these moments in “Handling It” to think about our relationship as a team of early-career scholars and humans, as well as how we practice the form of anthropology and relationality we witness on #AnthroTwitter each time we log into the accounts.
Our social media work, with its emphasis on authorial collaboration and the cultivation of new publics, offers an opening through which to view a less individualized academy. Anthropologists have long pushed past the idea of the lone ethnographer, recognizing that research is created as much by research subjects and collaborators, mentors and editors, friends, and colleagues as it is by the so-called author themself. But this also occurs in social media practice, as users engage in acts of engagement, amplification, and acknowledgment. In Twitter’s earlier days, users manually retweeted another's post by pasting it and adding “RT” followed by the author’s handle. Alongside the retweet, people used (and still use, to some extent) “HT,” or a hat tip, to acknowledge other tweeters’ contributions to their post. The SCA has had a social media presence since the spring of 2010, but the people behind those accounts have been many. The size and shape of the SMT fluctuate, and even within each team, different handlers cycle on and off the accounts each week. Like the Ship of Theseus, generations of early career scholars have embodied an account that remains one @CulAnth. Each handler builds on the previous work of numerous others. If a Twitter account has a soul, we are all a part of it.
Thus, we write this series as the current configuration of the SMT, but we write in full acknowledgment that this series and what we do on the accounts is only possible because of everyone who has been a part of the SCA’s social media presence. Everyone who has engaged with the accounts online co-creates the ecology in which we move and shape public anthropology—something that has long been a part of the SMT’s project (Kenner 2014; LaFlamme et al. 2016).
Michal (Mischi) Ran
Jonah Rubin 
Neal Adolph Akatsuka, Grant Otsuki, Fayana Richards
Sam Grace, Ali Kenner, Lindsay Poirier, Jeremy Trombley
Kitana Ananda, Stacy Topouzova
Hilary Agro, Alex DeLaricheliere, Abigail Muscat, Jenny Shaw
Sevda Arslan, Leah Eades, Michelle Hagman, Atreyee Majumder, Joshua Zane Weiss
Breanna Escamilla, Adam Fleischmann, Ola Galal, Hannah Quinn, Lachlan Summers
Kristin Gupta, Jerika L. Heinze, Jessica Madison-Pískatá
Jimil Ataman, Sohini Chatterjee, Parag Jyoti Saikia
Our academic work is deeply collective, where we act according to our shared politics and ethics, but also the politics and ethics of #AnthroTwitter as an emergent community. Social media isn’t going away, despite the bell tolling for certain platforms. In sharing our collective experiences as the SMT, we use this Fieldsights series to frame social media as a space from which to reimagine authorship, citation, and collaboration, offering an analysis of Twitter and opening up new paths for understanding public anthropology.
1. While the Society for Cultural Anthropology is active on Facebook, changes to the platform have rendered it less interactive than Twitter, so this series focuses largely on our work on Twitter.
2. Special thanks to Dr. Jonah Rubin for helping us compile this list of previous social media handlers—if you were part of the SMT and your name isn’t here, please contact us!
Kenner, Ali. 2014. “Designing Digital Infrastructure: Four Considerations for Scholarly Publishing Projects.” Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 2: 264–87.
LaFlamme, Marcel, Ali Kenner, Darren Byler, and Jonah S. Rubin. 2016. “A Space of Play: The Past and Future of the Contributing Editors Program.” Member Voices, Fieldsights, July 19.