Last week Allegralaboratory.net celebrated the launch of its 3.0. version. This is also the first version in which I am in no way involved – a situation that is both poignant and appropriate: about two years ago I had to admit to myself that I had started to lose the passion for this project that for so long was an integral part of me.
This transition period has been both painful and awe-inspiring. Letting go has definitely been more difficult than I envisioned. Simultaneously it has been amazing to watch the website thrive, partly in familiar hands, partly in new ones.
As the separation of our ways is now finalized, I want to use this opportunity to go briefly down memory lane and recall how everything got started – as well as to thank everyone who has joined the ride over the past years.
Faithful to its experimental and creative nature, the origins of Allegra have never been something that we made a big fuzz over. In fact, there was earlier never even any record on the allegralaboratory.net website on how, or by whom, the website was initially created.
Over the years there have been numerous rumours floating around, some of them quite amusing. These include that Allegra was the creation of undergrad students at Manchester Anthropology – a rather wild tale since nobody who was initially involved with Allegra had any direct links there.
How such tales get started, who starts them and why are all fascinating questions in their own right. Yet from Allegra’s point of view they also communicate something else: their very existence testifies that we succeeded in what we aimed at!
I realize that this all sounds quite cryptic – so let me go back to the beginning.
The founding year of Allegra is commonly recognized as being 2013. Yet in fact everything started a year earlier, in the fall of 2012, when I commissioned a website from a friend of mine, Tomi Castrén, who had just launched a new website development company Esmes Digital with his associates.
Echoing my own area of speciality I intended the website to be specifically about legal anthropology. Realistically the idea I had for the website at that time was quite boring and remote from what Allegra has grown to be today – I just had the idea for something akin to a virtual notebook. A simple space where one could store interesting bits of scholarship, perhaps accompanied by some reflective notes.
Still the website needed a name. After considerable playing around I came up with the name ‘Allegra’. This was both a simple word play of ‘legal anthropology’ and also encompassed some of the qualities I hoped Allegra would one day capture – joyfulness, fun, whimsy and the sense of being on the go.
In early 2013 I got to know Julie Billaud. Via diverse discussions we learned that we shared visions for scholarly collaboration and communities, as well as what novel publication formats could be. We also shared an appreciation for creative visuals. Julie had both been involved in collaborative online projects before, and she had big visions for future ones. The most important for these was a sense of an interactive community, which became centrally engraved in our plans.
I asked if Julie would join me in developing the Allegra website. To my delight she agreed – and thus we became Allegra’s Director of Things (myself) and Director of Stuff (Julie). We agreed to split the financial investment for the website – at that moment a grand total of 1600 e (far less than what we actually should have paid Esmes Digital – thanks again Tomi!!). Further, we confirmed that the project would be managed by us 50/50.
Over the following 6 months we worked on the website, clarifying its concept and polishing all details. We also got in touch with scholars we knew and liked, hoping to thus create a budding community – not to mention gain legitimacy for the project.
This was no minor point as at the time both Julie and I were total ‘nobodies’, or more mildly, neither of us had exactly the kind of super star status that one would need to single-handedly get a project such as Allegra off the ground. Thus we knew that in terms of getting the project recognized and accepted we needed the credibility of a group – and of course our firm hope was that this group would also become a part of what Allegra encompassed.
As things would turn out, both of these hopes would be confirmed. Yet a lot had to happen before we got that far.
We finally went live with the website in the fall of 2013. From the start we published a rather impressive amount of things: a few event posts, fieldnotes, the occasional review – and also the occasional guest post. Indeed, it looked like a movement from the start.
Yet reality was different: for the first six months it really just was two lone individuals, undoubtedly slightly mad, who did everything between them. Substantive editing and language-editing of all content. Website layout and image search. Wrote most of the posts. Opened and managed social media channels, first Facebook, and soon also Twitter.
One of the greatest embodiments of the fabulous and highly unexpected triumph of Allegra surely is that nobody noticed this. Somehow from the start we managed to capture the spirit of a much bigger community, also when this was by no account reality.
The timing of Allegra’s launch certainly contributed to this. There were a few anthropology blogs around – most notably esteemed pioneer Savage Minds which has since transformed into Anthrodendum. Yet by all accounts it would be gross exaggeration to call the ‘anthroblogosphere’ as thriving back then. Simultaneously web design techniques and the social media were advancing in great leaps. What this meant was previously inaccessible options for sharing content via multiple online channels.
Before Allegra, there had also been few serious anthropology social media actors – the kind that engaged systematically with building an audience as well as creating an identifiable ‘voice’. Allegra embraced both, simultaneously extending the border of what was acceptable for a ‘serious’ anthropological actor, often also exceeding this border.
By the end of 2013, to our great surprise, Allegra started to be noticed. One surprising moment occurred at the APLA meeting in the 2013 AAA in Chicago when discussion turned to online publications and someone asked ‘what about the people running Allegra?’ Nobody knew that, in fact, those people were Julie Billaud and myself sitting in that very room – that is before we timidly raised our hands and told so.
Another turning moment was at the end of 2013 when we wrote the post ‘European Savages at the AAA’ – a post that ‘raised a few eyebrows’ as Savage Minds put things in their interview done soon thereafter.
All this attention was reciprocated in the website’s readership: in its first four months it had an unbelievable 25 000 page views. This is a truly extraordinary outcome particularly when one considers that this was for a website that addressed a tiny niche in one of the most conservative disciplines in existence, run by two nobodies that no one had heard of before.
All these positive developments soon translated into great news for the actual team that Allegra was fast becoming. At the end of 2013 Judith Beyer agreed to join Allegra as the reviews editor. Her contribution would turn out to be integral, as we only expected: the reviews section added a layer of scholarly seriousness to Allegra which helped cement – once and for all – its whimsical tenor in the most serious and relevant ongoing discussions.
Simultaneously the reviews sector undoubtedly has done a great service to anthropological scholarship more generally: it has offered new publications welcomed prompt reviews when the pace of most academic journals has been much slower.
In spring 2014 yet another crucial members joined the team: Ninnu Koskenalho agreed to become Allegra’s Manager of Things and Stuff. Her contribution was central as she finalized the aesthetic layout of posts that since became one of Allegra’s trademarks. One of my personal early favorites was the layout she did for the post I wrote on the basis of my discussion with Carole McGranahan – which in general is also one of my all-time favorite things that I wrote for Allegra.
I can safely say that there is no other context, inside or outside anthropology, where one could have written and published something like this!
Ninnu was followed in this role by Andrea Klein (I think in early 2015), someone Julie and I knew already from 2013. Andrea, in sum, became so indispensable for Allegra that there is absolutely no way that the website could have remained operational without her!
Ninnu, on the other hand, went on to create the fabulous Finnish-language AntroBlogi together with Suvi Jaakkola launched in 2015. I had the tremendous honour to act as its other editor-in-chief in 2015 and 2016 (together with Timo Kallinen) and thus follow the amazing work of the team that Ninnu and Suvi assembled – which today continues to thrive.
Differing from Allegra Lab, AntroBlogi has set a non-scholarly popular audience as its target. It has been remarkable in its success to reach this elusive demographic: it reaches up to tens of thousands of people through its social media channels with individual posts, engaging further in such experiments as videos, event live tweeting and the production of anthropological educational material.
This success belongs entirely to the AntroBlogi team – yet I take pleasure in knowing that Allegra’s spirit lives also in AntroBlogi via Ninnu and other team members who have at some point joined the production of Allegralaboratory.net.
To return to the path of Allegralaboratory.net, in 2014 we were pleased to welcome Antonio De Lauri into the team. Antonio went onto write some of Allegra’s most read posts including the 30 Essential Books in Anthropology – which received also criticism – and Bourgeois Knowledge.
Antonio has since created a virtual empire of his own with the launch of the journal and blog Public Anthropologist. With Antonio we were pleased to welcome Luigi Achille to the team, as well as a growing number of guest editors and recurring authors including Heath Cabot, Fiona Murphey, Madeleine Reeves and many more.
By this time it was undenied that Allegra had become a movement: by end of 2014 its number of page views had approached a 100 000. It was also evident that the original website had outlived its utility: it was both too static and lacked a true visual identity that would do Allegra’s whimsical spirit justice.
Thus in autumn 2014 we started to plan toward the re-launching of the website. The new design was commissioned from a graphic design company Michel&Michel with lead designer Lydie Billaud. Julie took the primary responsibility in the website relaunch, ably assisted by Andrea Klein. The new website was launched in spring of 2015 in the seminar we were pleased to hold at the Finnish Institute of Berlin (thanks Laura Hirvi!).
Faithful to our earlier arrangement, Julie and myself paid also for the redesigned website – the total cost of which was 6500e – in our 50/50 arrangement.
Importantly, despite these financial contributions, we remained determined in our utopian thinking: nobody owned the website or the Allegra concept as they instead were our contribution to the scholarly community.
In practical terms this meant that the website was run by Allegra Lab Association which had been created in spring 2014 – again by Julie Billaud and myself. In the coming years we took terms acting as the Association’s chair, vice chair and treasurer together with Judith Beyer.
Both Allegra Lab Association and Allegra Lab Hki Association have been founded in Finland. Also all fiscal and administrative responsibilities have been filled according to Finnish legal requirements, with accounts handled by professional accountants. Allegra Lab Hki Assocation has been active since 2015 in diverse kinds of art-science projects as well as online scholarly publications.
By 2016 – in the incredibly short time spand of three years -Allegralaboratory.net had become known throughout the anthropological community. We heard increasing comments that it was the blog that anthropologists in particular were following. We were receiving submissions for posts, and welcomed increasing numbers of guest editors. Today the number of authors at the website is reaching 500 and the number of texts of diverse genres approaching a thousand.
Also a new core editorial team was forming. Felix Girke joined the team officially, having been ‘in the loop’ more or less since 2014. Jon Schubert came onboard in 2017, soon followed by Agathe Mora. Liina Mustonen took over responsibilities for reviews. Greg Feldman also joined the new board while many faithful Allies stayed, among them Sarita Fay who continued to do language editing, increasingly becoming also a substantive editor(full editorial collective here).
And so many undergrads helped with the ‘production line’, both as interns at Allegra Lab Hki and as volunteers. Warm thanks to Allegra Lab Hki interns Tiina-Maaria Laiho, Sini Suomela, Laura Kippola and Sara Jurvakka! Thanks to Gennady Kurushin for his fabulous technical support!
As final part of this transfer, Allegra Lab is today administered by the association PIR located in Switzerland, chaired by Julie Billaud and co-chaired by Alessandro Chidichimo.
Indeed, letting go has not been entirely easy. Yet it has been necessary. Allegra is and has always been a free spirit, and she should never start to feel like a burden on anyone.
Thank you for everything Allies (also those whose names I forget) – Allegralaboratory.net will forever remain one of my most cherished experiences and accomplishments. I will follow your future steps with considerable excitement!
Chin chin Allegralaboratory.net 3.0!
Featured image is original logo of Allegra Lab designed by Julie Billaud in 2013.