For the past fifteen years, Dr. Samuel G. Collins has been an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Towson University, as well as the current director of the Cultural Studies program. Though his own research and professional interests lie in the field of Anthropology, as an undergraduate student at Rice University, Dr. Collins majored in both Anthropology and Comparative Literature. The co-founder of Anthropology by the Wire, a multi-media research project for undergraduate students in Baltimore, Dr. Collins is also conducting research on information technologies, globalization, communication systems in the US, and culture in Korea. He is the ethnographer of All Tomorrow’s Cultures: Anthropological Engagements with the Future and Library Walls: The Library of Congress and the Contradictions of Information Society. Professor Collins is already in “hardcore production mode” along with a colleague to co-publish their upcoming book, Networked Anthropology.
1. Can you elaborate a bit on what your current research entails?
Well a couple things! At the moment, I’m doing stuff in Korea and the US. So, Korea: I’m really interested in the role of information and communication technologies in people’s lives and souls. That area is super, super connected. Long before people were texting and doing stuff on their iPhone, people in Korea were already completely glued to their technology…
For the US, I’ve been working on different stuff. I’ve done a lot of work on information technologies. In the last few years, I’ve been doing this big project in Baltimore, which is really the way people represent the city to themselves, or [to] their community or [to] each other, and then intervening in that process by helping them. You know, let’s do a video together—what do you want it to be? And we’ll put it up on YouTube. So we’ve been doing that and it’s been really interesting to kind of build up—to kind of re-define ethnography as a collaborative production, rather than having to find out what you do and then write about it, instead it’s like well what can we do together. So we’ve made little videos of people in South Baltimore, and we’re doing this special project with these high school students to clean up the neighborhood.
2. So is that the underlying concept of Networked Anthropology?
Yeah, exactly, it’s about helping people building those connections; in this case, to connect that neighborhood to some branches that they were interested in working with.
3. Speaking of connections, how do you feel like Literature and Anthropology connect on multiple platforms?
Time has [elapsed] since I was an undergraduate, and I feel that in the intervening years, that literature has become more anthropological, or rather, that English programs have become more anthropological. Because of course, we always knew these subjects were relevant to people’s lives, but the curriculum seems to be more about connecting writing and literature back to everyday life and helping communities, and a critique of urban inequality, but you know, making those connections. And that is pretty much the other side of what we’re doing as anthropologists. In many ways, we’ve never been as close. It’s something that I probably experienced as more disconnected as an undergraduate; maybe not so much anymore at all.
4. Did you tie those connections together yourself when you were in college?
Yeah, absolutely, and I did it with theory (laughs) because at that point, the tie between the two areas was post-structuralist theory, and I got really into that and was all about that,. You guys are all lucky that we’ve kind of moved on in the academic world from those days. But Post-structuralism is a theory of representation and of language and was a questioning of epistemology, so those things can be utilized in any discipline, but they were really picked up in Anthropology.
5. Do you write frequently? What do you enjoy writing, as far as things that are separate from your research?
I write all the time, and I have to write all the time, but I don’t really find it pleasurable, more like I’m compelled to write. I blog a lot, but you know nobody is making you do that, if you didn’t do that nothing bad would happen to you. There is no particular currency in academics, but I just sort of blog stuff because I have ideas and I want to get them down.
I’m one of the only people on the planet who is doing Anthropological Science Fiction Studies. I’ve published quite a bit on that, and I’ll still read science fiction. Right now, I’m working my way through this extremely rare Singaporean science fiction. Apparently, according to WorldCat, there are only three copies in the United States of that book, and I have one of them.
6. Was your analysis on anthropological science fiction your most recent publication?
No actually, I wrote on that a lot in my book, it was kind of about that [All Tomorrow’s Cultures], but my most recent publications have been articles from our Anthropology by the Wire project.
7. How do you feel that Towson is helping to foster more interdisciplinary approaches to learning?
I’m directing cultural studies. And that’s something that we’ve always been very clear on, is that yeah, we have requirements, but it’s mostly about people taking classes in different areas. I think that’s a bit strange, but why not do that? You can find some pretty cool things, and they all connect at some point, which is interesting, all of these people in different disciplines. At some level, there will be a moment in any class that you’re taking where you’re like, ‘I’ve already had that, and I’ve had that in the art class I took three years ago, or some other unexpected place.”