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EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(IW003)

Digital anthropology

Location John Hume Lecture Theatre 2
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Daniel Miller (University College, London) email
Heather Horst (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) email
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Long Abstract

A key component of many peoples sense of crisis today is the impact of digital technologies that appears to constitute a loss of control over the world. For example, one theory of the recent financial crises is that too many financial instruments were set to automatically sell when shares reached a certain level so the crisis was an integral effect of digitisation itself. People's imagination of the digital seems to bifurcate as something that, on the one hand, lies at the keyboard at the tip of their fingers but at the same time appears as an abstraction from traditional analogue modes of representation. This bifurcation is often what makes the digital appear to be either the cause or the solution of impending crises. Often this imagination is fed from science fiction and images of humans losing control of the planet to the new technologies themselves.

This is perhaps the moment when anthropology has to choose how to respond to digital technologies. Whether to demonise them as a form of alienation, to romanticise them as open-source utopias or get to grips with the way they speedily become part of everyday life. To resist this bifurcation we need to link the study of ordinary people's consumption of social networking sites and Google Earth with an appreciation of deeper infrastructural developments such as the digitalisation of financial systems, geographical positioning systems and the impact upon both state and commerce. This is the task to which this workshop will be dedicated, beginning with an introduction by the co-conveners.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

A brief theory of digital anthropology

Authors: Daniel Miller (University College, London)  email
Heather Horst (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology)  email
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Long Abstract

Can one have a general theory of Digital Anthropology? What are the consequences of the digital for theory and ethnography? This introduction will provide an overview of digitisation as the simultaneous expansion of the abstract and the particular, and its consequences, through the lens of contemporary debates over open source, money and the rise of digital money, virtual worlds and ethnographic practice.

Digital sound technologies: the renegotiation of music production, consumption and collecting practices

Author: Andrew Bowsher (University of Oxford (alumni))  email
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Long Abstract

Today, commercial and consumer music worlds play substantial roles in safeguarding sounds and challenging institutional hegemony over preservation practices. Digitised sound technologies have been instrumental in this shift, but have been regarded both as a utilitarian innovation as well as an aural and tactile failure by both amateur and professional music archivists, as well as consumers and collectors in the music marketplace. This paper draws on fieldwork in the United States with music collectors and record labels to examine the democratisation and commodification of digital sound, archiving aesthetics and curatorial voices, and the resulting conflicts between digital technologies and analogue practices - the valorisation of materially substantive archives in the face of the digital-technology revolution. Examining the everyday conflicts between analogue and digital technologies as aural and tactile entities in the marketplace of music commodities and consumers' homes elicits new insights into our conception of a digital future for our archives.

Phreaker/hacker/troller as trickster

Author: E. Gabriella Coleman (NYU)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper I lay out the connection between the trickster (the mythical archetype) and the living, breathing practices of phreakers, hackers, and trollers. I will lay out some of the similarities based on some consistent features of tricksters, which will allow me to provide some instances of phreaking/hacking/trolling that can be considered in terms of trickery. At the moral and political heart of my talk lies the following question: For the most part the trickster is enshrined in myth and stories. What happens when we can locate tricksters in full-bodied, full-blooded groups of people who are actually engaging in all sorts of acts of trickery? This is culture not in the sense of art and myth but people and practice and this of course makes a difference. What happens when you are the recipient not of a story by an elder, but the recipient of tricker, an act of pranking or trolling? What are the implication when you can trace the reworking of boundaries enacted by acts of hacking?

Spimes as material culture: anthropological approaches to (and through) location-aware objects

Author: Lane DeNicola (University College London)  email
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Long Abstract

In 2004 author and design theorist Bruce Sterling used the term "spime" to refer to an emerging class of electronically-enhanced object whose closest existing prototype is perhaps represented by the Apple iPhone. Among their definining features: an awareness of their own location, perpetual network connectivity, and a virtual "instantiation" that parallels their material one. Advocates suggest that the proliferation of such capabilities into an expanding array of pedestrian objects could initiate profound changes in human-artefact relations. In this paper I tentatively adopt Sterling's concept and discuss its relevance not just as a subject for material culture, but as a tool for innovative anthropological inquiry. In helping to reframe our imagined relations with artefacts, I suggest that the nascent field of digital anthropology could build upon the spime and location-awareness as contributions to a deeper encounter with industrial production, material flows, and the crises of human-artefact relations.

Emerging futurities in Muslim southeast Asia: science fantasy, digital development and the urge for moral technology

Author: Bart Barendregt (Leiden University)  email
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Long Abstract

Thinking of the future is hardly possible without reference to the role of digital information technologies or the growing impact of knowledge industries. But how relevant are these concepts outside the Northern Hemisphere? Said to be on its way by 2020, Islamic Information Society posits an alternative to both Western ideas on the Global Village, as well as the hijacking of Islamic futures by radical conservatives. In this paper I examine how majority Muslim countries in Southeast Asia have increasingly become role models in Islam's quest for a digital future. I will do so by targeting the history of technological developments from the top down, and manifested in state run and commercial techno-nationalist projects, but also through competing claims to the future as portrayed in the current fusion of modern popular culture (pop music, fashion, gadgetry) with religion and futurist thinking.

Digital dramas, online liminality and the state of creolization in Tanzania

Author: Paula Uimonen (Stockholm University)  email
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Long Abstract

"Quick question. sanaabagamoyo.com is expired - is it worth keeping it alive or are we 100% tasuba.ac.tz" (email May 2009). Using Turner's notion of social drama, this paper explores institutional transformations framing Internet development at TaSUBa, a national arts and culture institute in Tanzania. TaSUBa's change of web addresses is instructive of the institute's recent transformation into an executive agency, a process characterized by considerable ambiguity. In order to make sense of how neoliberal public sector reforms are responded to in this postsocialist context, I will explore the concept of liminality to explain the composition of what can be conceptualized as a state of creolization. The analysis builds on ethnographic engagements at TaSUBa from 2002 to 2009, combining digital, visual and sensory research methods.

Phones, foreigners, and the fluctuating digital divide in Southern Mozambique

Author: Julie Soleil Archambault (University of Oxford)  email
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Long Abstract

"I can't wait for the World Cup", explained a young Mozambican man during a recent phone conversation, "more tourists means more mobile phones and iPods for us". For many in Mozambique, crime is not a way of life but rather a tactic, amongst others, to address needs and desires unfulfilled by more conventional means. Mobile phones participate in this economy as coveted objects and as communication tools that, in turn, lubricate the circulation of consumer goods. Many phones initially make it to Southern Mozambique in the pockets of tourists before being inserted into the local pool of goods that petty crime stirs up further. In the city of Inhambane, most of the male youth I work with have spent some time in jail, almost all of them for petty theft, often involving mobile phones. In this paper, I draw on their experiences to unpack the notion of 'digital divide' and to tease out the role mobile phones and mobile phone communication play in the workings of petty crime in the region. By looking into the circulation of mobile phones, I hope to shed light on broader economic dynamics, while contributing to our understanding of the socio-economic impacts of new technologies.

Culture, conflict and translocal communication: mobile technology and politics in rural West Bengal, India

Author: Sirpa Tenhunen (University of Jyväskylä)  email
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Long Abstract

As media reports of political movements from various locations have shown, mobile technology can be a powerful political instrument. Howard Rheingold (2002) has famously argued that the new information technologies and especially mobile phones enable smart mobs. "Smart mob" is an evocative and yet problematic term in emphasizing the unruliness of protestors thus detracting attention from their patterns of action and meanings. This article seeks to understand the relationship between politics and mobile technology by examining how political activists in rural West Bengal, India use mobile phones for their daily political work. I illustrate how riots and protests relate to the increase in translocal communication enabled by phones. I also demonstrate how the political use of mobile technology for extra ordinary events is grounded in the social and political processes of ordinary everyday life and draws from the local understanding of politics by emphasizing certain aspects of it.

Migration and virtual community 2.0

Author: Lee Komito (University College Dublin)  email
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Long Abstract

Explorations of the impact of new technologies on community and social life often reflect a utopian or anti-utopian polarisation by framing new technologies either as inimical to community (especially when framed in terms of social capital) or as enabling a redefined community composed of 'networked individuals'. In the context of migration, transnational ethnic groups are manifest through email, discussion groups and web pages, and the utopian/anti-utopian duality revolves around technologies supporting long-term durable social relations versus fragile and instrumental relations subject to easy disruption, and whether technologically mediated social relations can support 'virtual communities'. Studies of social media practices of non-nationals living in Ireland suggests that information exchange and coordination of activities via these new media are enabling durable, non-local social groups that complement migrants' other social relations. This is not only transforming the migration process, but also illustrates the problems inherent in any utopian/anti-utopian duality.

Hope infrastructure: enacting expectations in bloggers' material practices

Author: Adolfo Estalella  email
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Long Abstract

Based on 18 months of fieldwork focused on the study of intensive bloggers in Spain this paper discusses how expectations are enacted in the everyday material practices of a group of individuals that expect to transform society (mass media, science and politics) through their blogging practice. Drawing on the concept of inscription (Latour, 1999) I describe how blogs and bloggers interactions are materially inscribed (in the form of statistics of visitors, for instance) in a massive way by blog technological infrastructures. I highlight how present facts are materialized in graphics of visitors and lists of incoming links and expectations of the future are materially enacted when exceptional facts take place (an unusual wave of visitors, v.g.). I then argue that the inscription of the present is the condition of possibility for the performance of future expectations through an infrastructure that take part in the everyday enacting of hope among bloggers.

Indigenizing digital technologies, imagining cultural futures: Ara Irititja reshapes new media in contemporary Australia

Author: Sabra Thorner (New York University)  email
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Long Abstract

Databases and digital archives are tools embedded with assumptions about the world. Drawing from dissertation fieldwork with Ara Irititja, an Aboriginal organization based in Adelaide, Australia, but with workstations throughout the remote Pitjantjatjara-Yankunyjatjara Lands, this paper examines how Indigenous ontologies reshape digital technologies.

Beginning 15 years ago with the digital repatriation of photographs, oral histories, and film recordings, Ara Irititja is undergoing a significant transition—from an object-based digital archive into a multimedia knowledge management system. New software (purpose-built, browser-based, cross-platform) will store and share knowledge using structures and strategies that reflect and enact Indigenous cultural protocols. Organizing principles are nonlinear; access is directed by a user's gender and seniority; and individuals/families can record stories in their own words and language directly into an easy-to-use interface.

Interrogating "the archive," the Internet, and the production of contemporary Indigeneities, this paper argues that traditional cultural knowledge and state-of-the-art digital technologies can be interanimated, as Indigenous people dare to imagine their own cultural futures.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.