The University of Toronto Anthropology program has been interested in Peeps Magazine since we introduced ourselves to them with our Kickstarter campaign last June. When the issue finally dropped in November, the program kindly offered up the services of Drs. Leslie Carlin and Simon Coleman to provide us with some constructive feedback and their thoughts.
A Review of Peeps
Fast food, convenient food, the darling invention of the mid-twentieth century, served the purpose of freeing many people, those generally called ‘women’, from the time-consuming need to wrestle fresh, raw ingredients into edible form for themselves and their families. Then along came the twenty-first century and the joy of slow food, of carefully crafted, beautifully presented meals, rose from the ashes, or rather from the rays of the microwave. Women, and men too, returned to farmers’ markets, organic butchers, and architectural kitchens to relish cuisine.
Peeps is a new, carefully-crafted, beautifully-presented journal of anthropology promoting slow journalism in an aesthetically pleasing form. Physically, the magazine is lovely to behold and to hold: thick, velvety paper stock; a layout attractive to the eye, the photographs, mainly portraits, are matte, not glossy, and deserve attention equally with the words. While the subject matter is anthropology, anyone who likes to read would be pulled to flick through the pages, at least of this, the first issue. The editors are asking the question “Can academic output be stylish as well as thoughtful?” If Peeps has anything to do with it, the answer is certainly yes. This is designer anthropology. The contrast between this volume and the current issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly that recently landed in our mailbox could not be much greater within the arena of the academic periodical. We mean no slight to MAQ, and very much look forward to perusing its pages, but it is clear that it does not aim to capture the attention of the woman on the street. Peeps does.
This first issue, appropriately, takes as its theme the relationship between people and technology. The articles include such titles as ‘How to bank in Kimbe’ and ‘Tech in Cuba’; many of them spend time and ink contemplating the nature and meaning of anthropology, explaining it to anthropologists, but also to the rest of the world. It is primarily a print version of a growing trend seen in social online media—from which Peeps, no Luddite, does not shy away, having a Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram presence—toward a popularization or democratization of anthropology: serious, but for all to consume, appreciate, and sometimes to help produce. This comes at a price, of course (US$22 per issue), but sponsorship by businesses, mainly media and design firms whose names and logos appear on full pages in the middle of the volume, must help to defray the full expense.
The thing is, it works. The thoughtful font on pleasant paper, along with the friendly, quirky name, give Peeps a weirdly retro authenticity. The format of the articles is also as much reader-friendly journalism as it is academic research. Instead of an abstract, each article is accompanied by a blurb, a ‘striking extract of the text’. The articles are short in length for ethnographic monographs, but long for news items; the style, in this issue at least, retains a semi-academic tone, a sort of accent of ivory tower, though the intent to engage lay readers is apparent. The photos, mainly portraits of people ranging in age from eighteen to thirty: it’s hipster anthropology. Saying so is not to dismiss its virtues, in fact, far from it: Peeps is perhaps a hopeful sign of the vital nature of our discipline and of its potential to grow and change with the times. As we write, the BBC is in the midst of presenting an engaging radio series [’From Savage to Self’] on the history of anthropology. Had the Beeb but known of its existence, perhaps Peeps could have featured in the final episode, representing one sprouting branch of anthropology’s future. The open question is whether Peeps will find an audience willing to meet its slow-paced, on-paper offerings.
Full disclosure: this review is being written by a pair of medium-to-old fogeys. We ourselves are often happy to partake of the slow food movement, but we also note—confess, perhaps—that on our way home from writing this review at Starbucks, we stopped at Popeye’s to pick up some fried chicken for dinner.
Leslie Carlin is Research Associate at University of Toronto, an anthropologist specializing in medical anthropology (health and society; diagnostic imaging and clinical care; osteoporosis and fracture risk) and nutritional anthropology (vitamin A deficiency; perspectives on weight management; co-editor of the Berghahn Books series *Food, Nutrition, and Culture*).
Simon Coleman is a British anthropologist who serves as a Chancellor Jackman Chaired Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. He has taught at Durham University and Sussex University, as well. He has also served as the editor of The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. He has published studies of Charismatic Christianity and Prosperity theology, particularly focusing on the Word of Faith movement in Europe. Coleman attended Cambridge University, where he received a PhD.