Welcome to this new phase of The Memory Bank. The site administrators are Keith Hart and Justin Shaffner. You can write to either or both of us at any time. We would love to hear from you.

Since its beginning almost a decade ago, TMB has been my personal blog with some limited opportunities for members’ participation. We wanted to shift the focus in a more collective and interactive direction. So in May 2009 we moved The Memory Bank from WordPress to Drupal, with the aim of widening its scope. But soon afterwards we helped to form the Open Anthropology Cooperative, an initiative that acquired almost 1500 members from around the world in its first two months. This supplanted our ambitions to develop this site as a means of social interaction; and as a result we have now moved back to WordPress.

So The Memory Bank will remain a place for me to post personal writings and videos. We hope that those of you who have suffered the disruption of a double change in software will rejoin and that all members, old and new, will feel to comment on anything posted here. ‘Keith Hart’ has some basic information about me including an interview and a couple of kind speeches. ‘The permanent pages are divided into ‘The book‘, a near to final version of my book on money, published in 2000-1; ‘Papers‘ which are mostly academic in nature; and ‘Miscellany‘, a collection of journalism, poems, stories, film reviews and the like. Perhaps we will incorporate Twitter and social bookmarking more directly into our exchanges at some stage.

Banks are slower-moving deposits of fast-moving flows, whether of water, information or money. This website is my Memory Bank, but it is meant to reach out to a public of those who partly share my aims. The two great human memory banks are language and money which are converging into a single network of digital communications in our time. My own research focus is on money, development and on the economy more generally which, as an anthropologist, I approach from every angle that the economists don’t. The idea of a ‘New Commonwealth’ refers principally to the aspiration to make money serve the purposes of economic democracy more fully than it does at present; but beyond that to the urgent need for humanity to make a world society fit for all of us. Developments of the last 5 years or so have vastly expanded the opportunities for social interaction through the internet. We hope and expect that TMB could become a source of new communities participating in this expansion. We will soon be posting a new mission statement and encourage you to help shape this mission through your commentary and suggestions.

We face an extraordinary moment in history when the old structures are palpably failing. The formation of a global civil society, even government, is an urgent task for the 21st century. Anthropology has a distinguished past, but it has an even greater role to play in future, not necessarily as an academic discipline, but perhaps as an interdisiciplinary project: to discover what we need to know about humanity as a whole if we would make a better world. We believe that such a project depends on making full use of the emerging social and technical synthesis made possible by the digital revolution in communications.

To me, who was born in the second world war and mastered Latin, Greek and Algebra as a teenager, to have a toehold in the digital revolution at all is a bloody miracle. I could not have got to this stage without the enthusiastic and dedicated help of young friends who volunteered for the task of getting me here. Patrick Verdon helped me to launch Prickly Pear Press and the amateur anthropological association in the mid 90s. Then, when I left Cambridge for Paris in 1997, he helped me to become more self-sufficient in computing. I published The Memory Bank: money in an unequal world in 2000 (the US edition in the next year). Arron Bleasdale designed a website of the same name (1.0) to help me publicize this book and my work. Patrick provided the logistical support through his company, Kan Design (which was then taken over). I met Shekhar Krishnan in Mumbai and he took sole responsibility for managing the website for six years, 2002-8. It went through two more changes, from a collective website with 200 members operating in Plone (2.0) to a WordPress blog (3.0) similar to this one. Justin Shaffner assumed the mantle of my helper in September 2008 and Version 5.0 is the result. I can’t express my gratitude to these four stalwarts. Recently I have been putting up more multimedia stuff, much of it the work of Ricardo Leizaola (aka arepatv). I owe a lot to ‘Santxo’ too.

The Memory Bank is also a practical site for testing the absurdities of copyright in an age of exploding communications. I believe — and have written in various places here about it — that the struggle over intellectual property is the principal class conflict of global capitalism today. Academics, who might have been in the forefront of challenges to the privatization of the cultural commons by corporations, have tended to allow themselves to be cowed by bureaucracy within their university strongholds. Someone like me, who has one foot in the academy and the other in the marketplace, has to tread gingerly through the minefield that is copyright. I have generally adopted a strategy of “mice in the basement”, meaning that we can get away with a lot as long as we don’t poke our heads upstairs by making serious money from our efforts. I routinely flout pieces of paper I sign with publishers in order to get my stuff out in this form.

So far I have not been called on this, but if I am, I would probably make a political point of the conflict. I hold that, according to common law, I own copyright in my writing and that this cannot be alienated from me. In any case, I see no contradiction between publishing the same (or similar) thing in several places at once, since print and online publications are usually complementary to and reinforce each other. I see little point in being directly confrontational about this, preferring to exploit gaps in communication and fudge the issue rather than to enforce a binary decision. But I am prepared to escalate, if pushed and the occasion is right. For now I would rather take my chances in the long queue of untried copyright court cases than allow myself to be intimidated without a fight. In this I am temperamentally more of a criminal than an activist.


Durban,  August 2009

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