or Social
Anthropology and Computing

Centre for Social Anthropology
and Computing (CSAC)

Foundation and Past Activities

The Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing was founded in 1985 by Prof. John Davis. The Centre was originally organised to focus computer-related activities within anthropology at a time when departmental organisation was more or less absent. Since that time anthropology has been organised into a formal budgetary entity, first BOSSSA, and most recently DOSSA. Initially CSAC was directly involved in teaching and training, as well as research. The teaching functions have been almost entirely incorporated into DOSSA, and instructional computing, with the exception of Lucy, the CSAC Unix server, is now funded from devolved equipment funds. The Department makes contributions to maintain Lucy, and has contributed some capitol expenditure.

CSAC has served the Department in a variety of ways. Computing in anthropology at Kent was first funded in 1984 by a Computer Board Teaching Initiative Grant which supplied equipment for students and staff for instructional purposes, basically an High Level Hardware Orion Unix host and some BBC micros used as terminals. At the same time the University Funding Council awarded a New Blood Lectureship in Social Anthropology and Computing.

CSAC initially formed around the idea of forming a group around similar to the model presented by the Quantitative Anthropology Laboratory (QAL) at Berkeley, but more focused on non-numerical applications of computing in anthropology. At that time there was a very limited role for computing in anthropology, and most of that based on various numerical methods which applied at best peripherally to main issues within anthropology.

The early external programme of CSAC included four 'Schools' in computing and anthropology for European staff and research students in Anthropology. The first two of these were funded by the ESRC, the third by the ODA (and which included some of their staff), and the fourth by the European Association of Social Anthropologists. CSAC staff had a major role in the organisation of computing interests in the American Anthropological Association Meetings in 1986-1990, co-organising with the QAL a series of sessions on the role of computing in anthropology. CSAC staff provided much of the content of these sessions, and in 1989 fielded five participants in a large two-unit session. Overall the sessions were of a very high quality, and the majority of the papers given were published in mainstream outlets. The CSAC/QAL coalition declared ourselves redundant in 1990, having achieved what we set out to do by demonstrating that computing could address anthropology in the mainstream. We are, however, still active in the AAA Meetings despite the significant personal financial contributions required to do so.

From the onset of CSAC we have been developing 'desktop' publishing. Initially this was through individual books written or edited by members of CSAC. We initiated both Routledge and Cambridge University Press, who, impressed by our turnaround on the drafts, awarded us the typesetting contracts which provided us with our first income. We initiated one of the first computer-based bulletin boards within the social sciences in the UK in 1986, hosted on our Unix server Lucy via JANET. A small development grant from the University resulted in CSAC Monographs, which aims to provide specialist low-volume material at reasonable prices. This has developed into a self-supporting enterprise.

Michael Fischer

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Updated 16 May 2002