Good Reads, Listens & Views from Q2 of 2019

I was fortunate to get to talk to the anthropologist Grant McCracken this month, and in preparation for our discussion, I read a couple of interviews with him. I really liked this sentiment, and think it connects so closely with my approach to social change work, and the role of learning and emergency:

What’s really good about both anthropology and ethnography is they’re so open-ended as an approach. The trick is to throw us into the deep end. If we have our wits about us we’ll think our way out, by gathering the data and finding the patterns. What anthropology does really well, and what I think is increasingly valuable, is not finding out what the answer is but what the question is, what the problem is.”

Grant McCracken

One of the things we love to do, and is a core part of our practice at Optimistic Anthropology, is connecting people to resources they might not (yet) be aware of that will help them think about and do the work of positive and equitable social change. In that spirit, we occasionally like to share some good reads, listens, views and more on the blog on topics like:

  • Building knowledge, learning processes, and cultures for positive and equitable social change

  • Optimistic anthropology in the field - examples of how people are telling the stories of cultures and how they developed (and/or continue to develop);

  •  Stories from the adjacent possible - the potential and serendipity created when you notice and connect the unlikely; and

  • Bits of inspiration, insight, and delight - because when the world and our problems seem tough, we’ll need a different type of mindset and energy to undo and remake them!

Here are some resources we’ve enjoyed in the second quarter of 2019. Let us know what you think about what we’ve shared and share your own in the comments below or by tweeting us with your #optimisticanthro. 

Building knowledge, learning processes, and cultures

Our work focuses on helping organizations and collaborations shape their knowledge, learning processes, and cultures to create a more equitable and positive future. Central to this work is our belief - based on what we’ve observed over nearly two decades - that what differentiates teams that make measurable impact have two qualities. First, teams that achieve impact build cultures of trust that recognize and value our humanity. Second, they focus on learning and sharing and using what they learn to improve their approaches continuously. Here are some interesting resources that we’ve been reading related to these topics.


We coined “Optimistic Anthropology” to reflect our belief that in order to shape a more positive and equitable future, we need to study how our institutions, systems, communities, cultures and their problems developed in the first place. There are many signifiers of culture - from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to the wide range of ways stories are communicated (though the written word is often privileged), and the art and architecture we create. Here are a few great examples of people practicing what we consider to be optimistic anthropology in the field (even if they wouldn’t call it that).


I’m a big believer in the power and importance of paying attention to the adjacent possible, the potential and serendipity created when you notice and connect the unlikely. Too often, people’s mindsets and sense of possibility are limited by what we’re exposed to. So, here are some stories we’ve valued learning about that have been pushing us to think a bit differently about the world.


Let us know what you think about these recommendations and share your own in the comments below or by tweeting us with your good reads, listens, and views. And check out our previous recs here!