ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

What is the future of the field-site? Multi-sited and digital fieldwork
Location Science Site/Maths CM105
Date and Start Time 04 July, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2


  • Tanja Ahlin (University of Amsterdam) email
  • Fangfang Li (University of Amsterdam / University of Barcelona) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Tanja Ahlin, Fangfang Li
Discussant Loretta Baldassar (University of Western Australia), Razvan Nicolescu (UCL)

Short Abstract

The panel explores the future of fieldwork in which single or multiple geographic sites are extended by practicing fieldwork over ICT. What possibilities do the ICTs offer for fieldwork among skilled ICT users, and what does that mean for the ways we think about doing fieldwork?

Long Abstract

This panel showcases creative ways in which anthropologists and other social scientists tackle distance, multiple sites and virtual realities that come into being by using information and communication technologies (ICTs). Conducting fieldwork has changed significantly since the early days of anthropology. From fieldwork on a single, rather limited site, such as a village on one of the islands of Samoa or Papua New Guinea, or cities such as Chicago, social scientists have moved on to work across multiple geographic sites. Ethnographers and the people they study can now even move rapidly and frequently between multiple countries and even continents. Additionally, some have turned online virtual worlds into field-sites. A number of questions arise about what happens to the field site when multiple geographic sites are combined with the digital world. For example, how do researchers decide on carrying out single/multi-sited, long-distant or digital/virtual ethnographies, if they all seem to suit their topic? What happens to the virtues of doing extensive fieldwork 'on site' if the site gets dispersed? If collecting data over ICTs, how can we maintain both the richness and depth of the data? Can data be gathered exclusively through ICTs, or is it still necessary to visit physical sites too, and for what reasons? If multiple sites are possible, how do researchers decide which ones they will visit? We invite contributions that consider these or similar questions about fieldwork in sites where people use ICTs or researchers use electronically generated spaces as their field-site.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Beyond local and global: working the field in the landscape of assisted suicide

Author: Marcos Freire de Andrade Neves  email

Short Abstract

Within the context of a research on assisted suicide, this paper concerns itself with designing the field beyond dichotomies such as local and global, online or offline, by designing a specific landscape.

Long Abstract

Defining what is "field" in anthropological research is a continuous task that is closely intertwined not only with the way one's topic is constructed, but also with the development of new technologies. From researches in well demarcated localities to the possibility of engaging in multi-sited ones, "field" has nonetheless remained closely associated with "site", implying that locations - be they digital or not - can be easily identifiable either globally or locally. However, through the process of defining where and what is the field in a research about transnational movements associated with assisted suicide, the task of easily defining it through indicating localities has proved to be innocuous: offering a site or sites as answer to the question "Where is the field?" is, in this context, incomplete and, more often than not, misleading. Instead, the field was defined as a landscape enacted by the cooperation and association of heterogenous elements, such as organizations and individuals, practices and knowledge, and not as something easily identifiable geographically or within the strict frame of political borders. A landscape that comprises digital and non digital spaces as parts of the same dynamics. Through this perspective, the aim is neither to ignore the importance of sites nor the possibilities laid out by digital spaces, but to transcend them in a way that shifts the focus of the research space towards the idea of landscape.

"Variously-sited fieldwork": ICT-supported ethnographic research among Indian transnational families

Author: Tanja Ahlin (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

I discuss the challenges of doing fieldwork among transnational families of nurses from India who have migrated abroad. Building on multi-sited and digital ethnography, I propose a concept of "variously-sited fieldwork" to explore how ICTs may transform the concept of the field-site.

Long Abstract

In my project I explore the use of everyday information and communication technologies (ICTs) in informal elderly care at a distance. I carried our extensive fieldwork among Indian transnational families. My study population included families of nurses who migrated abroad while their elderly parents remained in India. My first geographic site was Kerala, where I met both parents and some of the nurses. Additionally, I went to Oman as one of the many countries to which the nurses migrate. But then there was another 'site': the ICT-supported virtual space. I started carrying out participant observation by phone and webcam with nurses living in countries from the United States of America to the United Kingdom, the Maldives and Australia. In this paper, I use science and technology studies (STS) perspective to examine how fieldwork may become "variously-sited" through the use of different modes of transportation. First, airplanes, busses and other vehicles were used to physically visit two sites (India and Oman). Second, ICTs were used to virtually visit several other sites at various distances. How does this choice of different transportation technologies influence the way a field-site is understood? How are the spatial and non-spatial aspects of a field-site combined in such research? Finally, how do the different transportation technologies influence the way of relating between the researcher and her informants? These are some of the questions I will address in order to show how such "variously-sited" fieldwork builds on and differs from multi-sited and digital ethnography.

The digital and the physical: balancing data sources and considering the benefits of multi-sited research

Author: Elizabeth Hagestedt (University of Victoria)  email

Short Abstract

In digitally oriented research it is sometimes necessary to utilize a combination of online and on-the-ground fieldwork. What are the subjects that make this multi-sited approach beneficial? These issues will be considered through the example of research on CONAIE’s web-presence.

Long Abstract

Even some digitally oriented topics cannot be completely investigated through online research, and on-the-ground fieldwork may sometimes be necessary to fill in gaps. When is digital research not sufficient? How can a balance be achieved between online and on-the-ground fieldwork? Whose voices are being sidelined when we focus exclusively on online data sources?

This paper will examine the limits of digital fieldwork through multi-sited research related to a completed MA and an ongoing PhD research project. La Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE) is a national organization representing a large number of indigenous peoples with a strong online presence based in Quito. With online communication, it is straightforward to understand the main message being promoted by an organization, but it is much more challenging, if not impossible, to gain insight into minority perspectives that may be excluded from official communications. CONAIE's website provides an example of this situation, with online messaging for the entire national organization being controlled in the capital. From this perspective, I will discuss the overarching issues of the relationship between these data sources, and the ways in which limits of my own digital data sources have influenced planning for my imminent on-the-ground fieldwork.

Relations between face-to-face ethnography and images from Google Street View: a research into crack cocaine users of the streets of São Paulo inner city

Authors: Heitor Frúgoli Junior (FFLCH/USP)  email
Bianca Barbosa Chizzolini  email

Short Abstract

We intend to discuss new analytical and methodological possibilities resulting from the combination of an ethnographic research on crack users of an area in São Paulo – known as ‘cracolândia’ [‘crackland’] and marked by many conflicts – and urban mapping data held by Google Street View.

Long Abstract

Our starting point was a fieldwork experience carried out by Anthropology of the City Study Group (GEAC-USP, members, accessible in

Afterwards, we have integrated into a new project (not yet finished), entitled "Platform São Paulo: city, space, memory", bringing together professors allocated to distinct Departments and Units of University of São Paulo (USP) - architecture and urbanism, anthropology, sociology, history and geography. This platform led us to establish a relationship between ethnographic texts, maps and images (from Google Street View, from 2010 to 2014) of the region of Luz neighborhood, at the central area of São Paulo, investigated space in the initial research.

This specific approach to the region allowed us to explore relationships among the following topics: I - uses and movements in the streets, linked to crack cocaine users circulation; II - processes of urban interventions, renovations and demolitions; III - attendance and popular practices of space, in longtime terms; IV - various government actions, with different intentions and scopes.

Our goal in this paper, in this sense, is to evaluate the possibilities and limits made possible by this specific relationship between ethnographic practice and use of Google maps and images. It concerns to a more detailed anthropological understanding of continuities and changes in spatial practices on the streets and sidewalks of this specific urban area, with challenging aspects about the urban landscapes that have continuously taken shape over there.

An exploration of the possibilities and the challenges of conducting multi-sited ethnography with highly mobile youth across Malaysia and Singapore

Author: Fangfang Li (University of Amsterdam / University of Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

This paper attempts to discuss the complexity of Chinese youth migratory trajectory across Malaysia and Singapore upon its encounter with social media. It aims to explain how multi-sited (or open-sited) ethnography has changed the meaning of "the field" to anthropologists.

Long Abstract

This paper aims to explore the possibilities and the challenges of using social media as a virtual ethnography method in forging empirical investigation with young rural-to-urban job seekers from Malaysia to Singapore. Ethnography, consisting of close observation and key informant interviewing, is a well-developed and the most widely accepted methodology to obtain cultural knowledge of the natives. Its significance to the discipline of anthropology and other social science is of no doubt. However, as that social media are increasingly central to contemporary everyday life, its intervention has dramatically changed the way we communicate and circulate information. Dwelling on the traditional face-to-face ethnography at single site can no longer fully address our scholarship inquiry in understanding the nature of human mobility.

In my presentation, I want to further this discussion by exploring the possibility and, more importantly, the challenges of using social media as an experimental virtual ethnography method and how it transforms the concept of what a field is to anthropologists. I want to discuss: in what situations is social media a particularly good method to use? What are the ethical issues we need to be concerned? How to judge and evaluate the validity of virtual data? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method and how it can be improved in future research? Based on my fieldwork starting from a remote setting in Peninsular Malaysia, this paper discusses the complexity of the Chinese youth migratory trajectory upon its encounter with ICTs.

Ethics of Internet ethnography

Author: Aleksi Hupli (University of Tampere)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is to reflectively evaluate and discuss Internet Research Ethics from an ethnographic standpoint. Recent online research concerning drug user experiences is used as a case study to reflect especially on the ethical issue of informed consent.

Long Abstract

In any scientific research involving human subjects the issue of ethics has to be thoroughly considered. Researchers have to conduct their studies in a manner that respects the autonomy and integrity of individuals involved. Online research ethics should follow much of the same general ethical principles as offline research when it comes to research with human subjects. Their application can however differ to some extent. I will provide reflections of some of the ethical concerns I have encountered in my own multisited ethnography that includes both online and offline field-sites. For instance during my observation at AD(H)D peer support groups I discovered that internet plays a major role in the lives of adults with AD(H)D in Finland. I discovered that the peer support groups had formed non-public Facebook groups where they discussed issues concerning their life with the diagnosis. I will particularily look at the ethical issue of informed consent in this research setting.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.