can i have an -ist please?

At the end of any press interview, i’m inevitably asked to label myself. What they really want is an easy -ist word. Y’know – computer scientIST, anthropologIST, biologIST, psychologIST, artIST… This part of the interview always makes me squirm more the most. I don’t have an ist and usually, i don’t want one but it’s really becoming a pain in the ass. I usually try to squeeze out of it by saying that i’m a PhD student in the School of Information at the University of California, but sometimes, that’s not enough.

I often sheepishly call myself an anthropologist which, when concerning MySpace would be mostly accurate given that i’m doing a full-on ethnography of it situated in anthropological theories but i’m also not really accepted by the anthropologists as one of them. Sometimes, i think that i should call myself a cultural theorist since that’s sorta right, but at the same time, i’m more of a cultural observer and documenter than a theorist. At least so far. And the observer part sounds so not professional. I’ve tried accepting informationist but that just sounds so wrong. While i love what information schools are trying to do, i don’t think of them as creating -ists. Of course, that’s true for most “schools” like law, education, business. Could you imagine being a businessist? Ugg.

So i want an -ist. Who wants to bestow me an -ist?

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56 thoughts on “can i have an -ist please?

  1. jr

    I’ve always been a fan of Sociopathologist, partly because you study viral memes and their influence in society, and partly because you can put undue emphasis on the first four syllables.

    Bonus points for grinning evilly afterwards.

  2. Quinn Norton

    i think cultural theorist does nicely. informa-xxx is an aweful bastard thing to do to a word, and information is too general anyhow. you are definitely doing more than observing, you form plenty of opinions, and theories, and sythesis the things you see into conclusions with broad implications. “observer,” to me, presumes to some pursuit of objective detechment that doesn’t seem to be your goal. i’m not sure how useful observers are anymore, anyway. i think maybe brewster is the last observer, and the second you start contextualizing what the machines are busy observing you’re either a theorist or an idiot.

    then again, i could be smoking crack.

  3. Carl Caputo

    Say you’re a social scientist. Social because, well “society,” groups, that sort of thing. And scientist because science denotes knowledge, from Latin scientia, from scire “know.” This, plus “-ist,” and you’re shiny! Etymology + apophenia = Shiny!

  4. museumfreak

    Bachir: Media ecologist would imply that d buys into a certain theoretical model which she may or may not buy into.

    information specialist
    social network analyst
    mobilist (ganked straight from the carnival of the mobilists)
    virtual anthropologist
    usability analyst
    neologist 😛

    sweet jesus, i’m tired.

  5. B

    Social computer scientist? Too long, but would explain why some of your friend are geeks—sorry: computer scientists.

    A digital economist

  6. morganya

    Information anthropologist (or information sociologist, depending on the context)? At least it ties in the I-School a little bit and separates you from the anthro department …

  7. jose�

    Generalist! since you are integrating at least anthropology, sociology and psychology insights, theories and methods…

    Oh this mania of putting labels onto people so that you can figure them out -and corral them in…

  8. joe

    Well, you won’t like it but what about:


    That describes what you do, but not your domain. I changed your wikipedia entry from “Anthropologist ”’danah boyd”’…” to “Research ”’danah boyd”’…”

  9. Mari

    Funny, I’ve always thought of you as a nonconformist. But if you’re looking for another -ist, I have to agree that digi-culturalist seems to cover it nicely.

  10. Paul

    How about just pist? We could use a few more of those, I think. Heaven knows we already have too many apathists …

  11. X-->

    You are an ideational informational genealogist on the both the large(macro) and popular scale at present; and your activity is “out of the bottle”!

    And the above “Media Ecologist” is right on cue too.

    And you’re kind of hermeneutical also but in no way a hermit given your status as an “electronic butterfly”! (Sting like a..)

    And, increasingly, a human dialectician.

    Perhaps a tad of “postie” and “trans” as redefinition and new perspective are always paramount.

  12. charles

    maybe cultural or digital phenomenologist? digital archaeologist, anthropolgist, oncologist, apologist? truthist? anti-bullshit artist?

  13. Ezra

    “[Something] Scholar” sounds pleasantly straightforward to me. Electronic Media Scholar?

  14. brendalynn

    “-ists” seem to exist to help people define themselves as part of a larger professional group and body of knowledge.

    “Web anthropologist” seems apt for what you do, but then begs the question: Do you feel you need acceptance by other anthropologists to call yourself one?

    Or maybe, is your field of study/profession unique enough to demand/deserve a phrase of explanation–you know, “an informaticist who studies Internet culture” or something–instead of an oversimplified -ist?

  15. redbeard

    Well you study how cultures work when facilitated by the technological means.

    I don’t know – I think either digital or technological anthropologist fits the bill nicely. But definitely the anthro part. And, perhaps given that you aren’t digging up bones and the like, “digital anthropologist” works best. It also sounds kinda hip to boot. Cultural theorist is just too wonky, for my money, and, from my experience, implies not working with real data and people, which you do.

    So, yeah. Digital anthropologist.

  16. doug

    well, according to the nyt, danah is a cultural anthropologist, at least that’s what they call her in their “Don’ t Talk to Invisible Strangers” article yesterday.

  17. malatron

    umm…so where did I read it? The NYTimes perhaps, on Thursday, in the Styles section? I don’t know, I forget. But the story was on MySpace and the danger it presents to teens. They quoted you, and called you a cultural anthropoligist, if I recall correctly.

    Here, i just went and found the article. Looks like my memeory was correct on all accounts.

  18. vanderwal


    I feel your pain with answering the question. I can never figure out how to answer that one myself. I found it does not distract journalists when you say, “look the sky is blue”. They still want an answer to that silly question.

  19. Annalee Newitz

    Another vote for social scientist if you must “ist.”

    When people ask me that question, I always go for the old “describe what I do” vs. “what I am.” So I’ll say, “I write about the intersection of technology and culture.” It works! They know how to say that on public radio, at least.

  20. Nico

    bewteen observer and theorist, you can use analyst. between new media and social trends, you can use digital culture. Digital culture(s) analyst.

  21. NoddingLilith

    Apophenist … I vote for making up words that denote internal desire and meaning …

  22. Gavin Bell

    I think you are a werewolf =)

    Actually, like Thomas Vanderwal, I struggle with what I am called, having laboured under creative technologist for a while, I now think a better term for what I do is product design.

    Social scientist probably is closest to what you are doing and of those anthropologist is maybe the most appropriate. You don’t need the web, media o technology prefix I think, people can work that bit out for themselves.

  23. Ben Werdmuller

    How about just “ist”? As in, German for “is”.

    If asked to pigeonhole myself, I like to say “interested” and leave it at that. It’s annoying that people feel the need to pigeonhole their contacts.

    That said, it’d be kind of interesting to create an experimental website where people do actually assign tags to their contacts. I think it’d be awful to have to read (presumably it would need to be anonymous), but at the same time interesting. Hmm, if I have a spare five minutes …

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