Dr. J. A. English-Lueck| Applied Anthropological Futurist    


Madona and Child

Madona and Child
origin unknown

The 21st century lifestyle of Silicon Valley—saturated by information technologies, struggling to manifest civic life from deeply diverse identity communities—illustrates the social and cultural dilemmas of the near future.

It is difficult to separate my anthropology from my personal life.
I am surrounded by human beings who do such fascinating things.
So my life's stories and passions are intertwined with my craft.

Miriam thmb Riding the Cammel Eilene thmb



Diaspora—from the grapes to Greater China

Picture of J.A. English-Lueck
I like to linger at the boundaries. I was raised among the grapes of rural California. Immigrant farmers brought the vines, other immigrants tended them. Far from the physical border of the United States, I was nonetheless in the borderlands. Whether I am reflecting on the cultural outposts of my childhood neighbors or I am investigating the cultural reproduction of Silicon Valley in the Pacific Rim, frontiers intrigue me. My passions, intellectual and recreational, lead me to play with people who cross boundaries and create new culture. 

I read my first anthropology book at 12, Patterns of Culture, by Ruth Benedict. I thought it was the most amazing book I had ever read, but I believed I had to be more practical in my choice of career and that I could never be an anthropologist. My faculty at the California State University, Fresno Anthropology Department, and at the UC Santa Barbara Anthropology Department inspired me to forge ahead. I remained on the boundaries of archaeology and cultural anthropology, learning about the cultures of the world and digging in scenic Santa Barbara County, and elsewhere in California. Even today I zip over to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to enjoy its exhibits on the Chumash people, or travel to the American Southwest to explore its ancient cultures, such as the Anasazi

While at Santa Barbara I did research in Suriname and the Netherlands on the Kwinti maroons, tribal African-Americans who joyously mixed elements from many cultures and have steadfastly maintained their identity in the face of oppression. I have not been there in many years and I try to keep up with the changes there through sites like Surinam.net. I came back to the United States intrigued with cultures that borrow. On my own doorstep were folks who borrowed medical traditions from around the world. These holistic healers synthesized knowledge from European intellectuals, Native Americans and Asians. The use of Chinese traditional medicine by non-Chinese was particularly fascinating to me and set the stage for my work in China. 

After my doctorate I began to teach at the University of Puget Sound in the Spring and at CSU Fresno in the Fall. CSU Fresno had an innovative program, Man and the Natural Environment (MNE), that combined anthropology, biology, geology and environmental studies. Students and three faculty would spend more than six weeks camping in Utah, Nevada, Mexico and rural California. I would flintnap (chip stone tools) in the Owens Valley and discuss missionization and tourism in Baja California. Our topics would range from volcanoes and brine flies to the Paiutes and the activists of the Save Mono Lake Committee.

Teaching would never be the same for me. I also got used to life on the road, husband and baby daughter in tow. It was a big jump to the next road show. From 1988-1990 we moved the family to Chengdu, Southwestern China. Both Karl and I taught at the Foreign Language Training Institute of Chengdu University of Science and Technology, which is now part of Sichuan University

There we lived, making hilarious cultural mistakes such as paying foreign currency for peaches on our first day in the free market. We taught English language, academic and Western cultural skills, preparing us to appreciate the expat experience of Iron and Silk. We traveled in Western China, from the lands of the Han people to the Moslem frontier along the Silkroad.

In 1994 we returned to Asia, this time to Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a different kind of frontier, one in which Greater China intersected with the emerging global culture. Cantonese opera in small teahouses existed side by side with McDonald's (see Golden Arches East), wet markets with computer expos. 

That global frontier has brought me to a truly exotic place, Silicon Valley. Cultures from around the world, and certainly the Pacific Rim, intersect in the cubicles of this hotbed of technology. Along with Chuck Darrah and Jim Freeman, I am exploring this virtual borderland in the Silicon Valley Cultures Project. Our recent work explored the interconnection of community, family and workplace and was primarily sponsored by Alfred P. Sloan's Work, Workforce and Working Families projects and the National Science Foundation's Anthropology Program. Work with the Institute for the Future supports research on the impact of technology on daily life in the Silicon Valley and in Silicon places around the world.  This project has brought me to such places as the Taipei/Hsinchu corridor, Dublin and Christchurch, New Zealand's Silicon Plains.

My life is not all research. In this photo Miriam and I are standing in the traditional center of the world in Beijing. It is fitting because my husband Karl, my kids Miriam and Eilene, my extended family and fictive kin, a.k.a. friends, are central to me. 

Miriam spent the first few years of her life in MNE, a feral child raised by field professors, and in Asia. Armed with an anthropology degree from UC Berkeley, she is now a research manager at the Institute for the Future. While currently less migratory, the intrepid Eilene shows an insatiable curiosity, as demonstrated in her archaeological investigations at the Silicon Valley Chinese Festival. Eilene is now in high school and for fun is drumming and organizing her own interpretation of Hetalia, an historic role playing game.

Miriam, along with my good friends Eilene Cross, Pat and Barbara, share my interest in Hopi and Navajo weaving, knitting and textile art. Here is an ornament for the 1997 White House Christmas (designed by Miriam and I and stitched by Eilene Cross), using software found on the Needlework.com website and inspired by Navajo pictorial design. 

I can keep up with my profession and friends through the standard anthropological links, such as the Society for Applied Anthropology, the American Anthropological Association, the Hong Kong Anthropological Society, and Nicole's Anthro Page

I enjoy visual media—books and films. I have read aloud to my daughters, the entire works of JRR Tolkien, and a host of other books. I enjoy science fiction, especially cyberpunk and anthropological stories. Note especially Alt.cyberpunk FAQ , LeGuin's World and the site of Maria Doria Russell. Visits to the Nasa Photo Gallery and the Star Trek: Continuum satisfy a need for scientific exploration and good plain fun. The Contact organization meets annually to combine the talents of science fiction writers, anthropologists and other scientists to explore the theme of cross-species/cross-cultural contact. 

Mysteries, like science fiction, must capture the flavor of daily life to be successful. A visit to the On-line mystery network can bring me up to date. My tastes range from the novels of ancient Rome of Lindsey Davis to explorations of contemporary Seattle or Silicon Valley microcultures. If I can peruse the books while listening to music from Chinese Rock star Cui Jian or melodies from Sephardic medieval Spain (available through Harmonia Mundi), so much the better.  Thank you iTunes for feeding my musical addiction.

Online film resources abound. USC's UR-LIST taps into the world of ethnographic film, going beyond the commercial resources of the Internet Movie Database. I rely on the Internet Movie Database, however, to find the films of Sam Neill, particularly the New Zealand/Australian works, which allow me to vicariously visit the artistic visions of those cultures. Of course, PBS Online is a most fruitful source for ethnographically interesting video experiences. 

Museums are another essential visual/tactile media. We belong tothe Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Tech Museum of Innovation. Whenever we can we visit Arizona's Heard Museum, Seattle's Burke Museum, or of course, the Smithsonian.  When I teach at the University of Paris 12 in the Spring for a week each year, we somehow end up at the Louvre and the Musee du quai Branly. Similarly visits to the Yunnan Normal University, in China, lead me to visit the Kunming Museum.

I look forward to future adventures among the species. Return to this site from time to time for further trips into the virtual ethnography of Jan's life.