The Price of Knowledge, a Balancing Act Between New and Used Textbooks

TOPIC: #4 Money
TITLE: The price of knowledge, a Balancing Act Between New and Used Textbooks
Comparison of bookstore and online pricing:
Humboldt State University Bookstore. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sep 2011. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sep 2011.
Breakdown of textbook dollar image:
“Where the New Textbook Dollar Goes.” San Diego State University Bookstore. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sep 2011.
RELATION: Cultural Anthro (Robbins) p.62 (Capital Conversion- knowledge as a commodity); 70(Market externalization- real cost of used textbooks)
Each semester, I am confronted with a new list of expensive textbooks to purchase. Although recently I find most of them to be resources to hang onto and not sell back, I remember when it was a different scenario. For many of my general education classes, I ran into the issue of attempting to resell my books and being told that I could not; there was already another version being used for the upcoming semester. From my point of view this was annoying, inconvenient and disheartening; I was now stuck with books that were useless to me at the time (I was a dance major, and had no desire to reread books after I passed a course). Why did this keep occurring? What is the point of revising and discontinuing material (sometimes only switching the location of chapters, or adding a few footnotes)? In looking at this issue from another perspective, rather than the college student, I am beginning to grasp the rationale of the phenomena.

My first question is what is the need for the price excessiveness in textbooks (or education in general) to begin with? Knowledge is a commodity that really has no real monetary value; however humans find intrinsic worth in attaining it. This capital conversion (Robbins 62) comes in the form of the educational system and books; conveniently accessible conglomerations of knowledge individuals are willing to purchase. Due to the virtue humans attribute, those educated individuals are considered of high status, and are entrusted with the capability of conveying knowledge to the masses, through their work. But is the price of a textbook really a reflection of the worth of the individual author who produced it? Not exactly, there are many other individuals involved in the publishing and production of books that are also reflected in the price. (This analysis is actually more of the opposite of market externalities, as discussed in the Robbins Cultural Anthro text, because the cost of these “unseen” entities is reflected in the price). The San Diego State University bookstore website has an excellent example of the breakdown for each dollar spent on textbooks. (I realize the breakdown may be different for other institutions, but the same basic idea).

What is the point, as “starving college students” to provide to these companies and corporations who are making so much more than the author or bookstores? I myself have taken to the online used book services (for example, where I have been able to find my textbooks at a greater discount than a campus store. For example, I was able to find the Robbins Cultural Anthro textbook and Spradley’s Conformity and Conflict for a good amount less than in any bookstore (I could go into specific prices, in keeping with social mystification of money matters, and out of respect to the bookstore, I will keep the numbers to myself). When a book is resold through one of these sources, most of the price goes to the selling source, completely cutting out the author and publisher’s income. This is more of an example of market externalities, because the cost is not a reflection of the work that has gone into the book (I can generally find most of my textbooks for half off or more). While the money may have been an accurate reflection in the first new sale, it is now recirculating with no relation to any company. If this recirculation of used text becomes too constant (if everyone kept reusing the same version), it is a cost to the author, publishers and bookstores. Here we find the source of revisions; a tactic designed to render used books useless and force that income back into business. While it is completely beneficial to me as a student, to have more to spend on housing and tuition, there is now less value on the author to convey their knowledge.
Edit: 12/4/11
Trolling the internet for more anthropology blogs, and I came across this entry. It is about Open Access and E-publishing of books.
I like the questions posed:
“So if the books were cheaper, would they be disseminated and read more? Would more copies end up being distributed? Maybe! Should academics be concerned about the dissemination of their work? Is it okay for people to try and make money off your research at the expense of researchers having easy access to it?”
I think this is an interesting conundrum for social scientists to consider..

Hop on the bus or get left behind: An introductory analysis on the effects of social technology.

Ethnographic Sketch- Technology and Social Media

TITLE: Hop on the bus or get left behind: An introductory analysis on the effects of social technology.
SOURCE: Conversation with Humboldt County local on Public Bus, and Casual conversation with Daniel Cutrone in a van driving to archaeological site.

RELATION: Conformity and Conflict (Spradley) p. 81-82: Relating to benefits of communication technology, Cultural Anthro (Robbins) p. 64: Relating to Robert Putnam’s idea of erosion of social capital.

I was on a bus this past spring, departing from Humboldt State University and headed toward the hotel with my mother. I was fortunate to be able to converse with the local (not an HSU student) who I happened to be sitting next to. She complimented the bracelet I was wearing, and showed me hers, saying she wanted to alter it somehow. We brainstormed various additions and she told me about her life, her relationships, and health issues. She was ecstatic that someone who sat next to her on a bus could actually have a human conversation. When I brought up that I was going to be an anthropologist, we began to explore the idea of why I was the only one on this bus full of people who had taken the time to converse. Looking around the bus, most people were either sitting silently with headphones on, or looking down at their cellphone texting (or possibly playing games, it is hard to tell these days). Many were doing a combination, creating a bubble of their own world. Her story and opinion sparked my interest in exploring whether the expansion of social media and technology is more beneficial or detrimental to the communication of mankind.
This encounter originally directed me with the intention of focusing on the negative effects on society from the increase in technology, there are many benefits. In her essay Technology and Society: Anthropologists Investigate the Use of Communications Technology and Reach Surprising Conclusions (Conformity and Conflict chapter 9), Belle Mellor explores the many uses and benefits of technology. For example, she points out the ability to multitask, that “…there is only so much time you can spend talking.” She elaborates saying that messaging allows “…continuous [contact] during the day.” I agree that for those who maintain a busy schedule can really benefit from this technology, especially in situations where personal contact is irrelevant. Mellor also brings up a fantastic point, that increasing technology allows for greater communication across the globe. Many families and friends can easily keep in touch. She brings up a case of a Spanish girl living with her family in Switzerland, who is able to do homework with her aunt in Spain. This is accomplished for free, through the Skype video-internet service.
Although it is very advantageous to be able to reach others we care for, I do not think this increasing modernity is necessary. During my first field school, my instructor Daniel Cutrone brought up the point that there are wise minds who have a great knowledge to share are often unable to do so, due to the rapidly increasing dependence of the rest of the world on technology. This disconnects their ability to channel that information to future generations. Oral tradition is very important to many cultures, in some cases it is the only form of transmission through eras. In cutting off those elders, we are losing a shoulder to stand on. This leaves the future youth in the dark, or without common sense necessary to decipher the constant bombardment of information they do receive. The architecture of wisdom loses its foundation.
I have personally grown up in this digital revolution, and have experienced the how it was before everyone was expected to own a cell phone. I remember the days where I would collect call my mother from a payphone for a ride, or stay up late on the house phone talking to a friend. Now my cell feels almost like a leash, everyone can reach me at any time. It is convenient but not necessary; I got along fine before they were around. Regardless of my opinion, I do not feel I have the choice to abandon technology. I do know several people who have chosen not to conform, and they have spoken of feeling out of the loop. This displacement is further exacerbated with the utilization of online classes in universities. What was wrong with the traditional method? When I was able to speak with the girl on the bus, I felt a more human connection and a part of her stayed with me. Oral tradition creates a spark of emotion and memory that text cannot. Words on a screen, even if articulately written, are completely up to the reader’s interpretation.
Robert Putnam claims that social capital, or the network of reciprocal exchange between people, is declining. He attributes this mainly to electronic entertainment, especially television, but I see the same can be said about more recent technology. (Robbins p. 64) Although societal influences direct us toward utilization of communication technology, it is ultimately the choice of the individual. Information can be accumulated in more than one way.
Edit: 12/2/2011
Source: Watched this in Anthropology club, it is a little lengthy, but I think it gives a good summary of how some use technology
URL (in case the embed fails):

Actions Do Speak Louder…

TOPIC: #2 Relativism
TITLE: Actions do Speak Louder…
SOURCE: Casual discussion with a friend on Devon Mihesuah’s book American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities; What Would You Do?. ABC: Television; Spurlock, Morgan, Dir. Supersize Me. Kathbur Pictures, 2004. Film.
RELATION: Conformity and Conflict (Spradley) p. 40
Cultural Anthro (Robbins) pp. 8-10, 16, 25-26
Recent talk about relativism and the morality of anthropology has gotten me to thinking, if I were faced with a disagreeable situation, would I react how I feel is right or would I be inhibited by fear of the risks involved? Furthermore, how can one expect to be mentally prepared to speak up on matters such as these? I know for myself, while I would like to think I am capable of speaking up for another human being in my own backyard, I cannot say I would be so brave when faced with issues in another culture’s territory (page 16 in Robbin’s Cultural Anthro provides a list of anthropologists who lost their lives for having a different point of view.)
For example, in her essay Tricking and Tripping, Claire E. Sterk is faced with the issue that the prostitutes she has become close with are taking risking their health by not using condoms. Although she knows what is best for the girls, she relates to the pressures of their job, that using the condom may alter their pay or reputation with certain clients. It is all she can do to provide them with the information and supplies, and hope they take it. Although this example is not in another country, this culture has a different standard of what is acceptable.
To elaborate more on this subject, think of ABC’s hit television series “What Would You Do?” A show where cameras are hidden in to reveal what ordinary people would do when faced with controversial issues. When I watch this show, I can’t help but speculate on what I would do if faced with issues such as racism or abuse. Ideally I would want to speak up and help those in need, but I cannot know how I would really act until faced with the experience. It is easy to sit back and speculate on how you WOULD do things, but in practice it seems who we want to be is never who we are.
An experience I have with this situation is on the topic of racism. I have several friends who will make racist or stereotypical comments, but legitimize themselves because they have friends who are of that race. On one recent occasion, a friend of mine and I were discussing content from a book Native American Stereotypes and Realities by Devon Mihesuah. One of which is that “Native Americans were conquered because they were inferior.” He blatantly stated that this was true, and when I attempted to correct him by bringing up that one of the main causes was diseases brought over by Europeans, he stopped my reasoning by stating that he is “part Cherokee,” so he can joke around about things like that. Whether or not he is part Cherokee, I found his point of view to be naïve and insensitive.
On the subject of moral anthropology, the big question for me is what constitutes an act to be so immoral as to attempt to change it? Robbins brings up genital mutilation and cannibalism (both gruesomely brutal ideas to westerners) as examples, but does an act need to be so explicitly violent to warrant intrusion? Robbins describes the American fast food industry as a “text to be read” for American culture, providing examples of our economic and consumption patterns. I wish he had mentioned more about the negativity associated with this diet. In 2004, Morgan Spurlock changed the industry with his documentary “Supersize Me,” where he ate Mcdonalds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for one month. He almost couldn’t make it through the full 30 days, due to the decline he experienced in his health. Many people from other cultures, and even in our own country see this industry as not only slowly destroying America’s health, but doing so in a greatly immoral fashion (with copious amounts of advertising, and luring youth with popular toys). Is it time to step in and put an end to this practice as well?

Edit: 11/29/2011
SOURCE: Moore, Henrietta, and Todd Sanders, ed. Anthropology in Theory:Issues in Epistemology. Malden,Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
I have been doing research on Anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes and her concept of “militant anthropology.” Her idea is that of an “active, politically committed, morally engaging anthropology”(Moore and Sanders 506). She urges anthropologists to become involved against what may be seen as controversial issues, that “not to look, not to touch, not to record can be the hostile act, an act of indifference and of turning away” (Moore and Sanders 509).