EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Media futures: media anthropology of, for and through the notion of 'future' (Media Anthropology Network)

Location T-307
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Elisenda Ardèvol (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) email
Philipp Budka (University of Vienna) email
Debora Lanzeni (RMIT) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel examines the implications of a 'futures turn' and how might an anthropology of media (including design, content, materialities, spaces and practices) enable us to understand how futures are imagined, made, hoped for, contested and lived cross-culturally and in the present and recent past.

Long Abstract

A new wave of critical future-focused scholarship has recently emerged across the social sciences and humanities. This field of research, which encompasses anthropology (Collins 2007), has developed in design anthropology (Gunn and Donovan 2012), in the sociology of expectations (Brown and Michael 2003) and through anticipatory practices in geography (Anderson 2010). Media anthropology has intensively explored social change and cultural transformations (Postill, Ardevol and Tenhunen forthcoming), but little attention has been paid to how media are implicated in the ways futures are imagined, projected, predicted or contested.

Media, especially in its relationship with digital technologies, are nowadays at the core of most meaningful social transformations, creative and innovation processes. Digital media encompasses new models of social intervention, citizenship, public engagement and knowledge production based on collaboration and sharing, as well as new models of social control and surveillance (Coleman 2010). Which media futures are in dispute? Which futures are embedded in digital media content, design and practices? How are images of the future interwoven with media regarding space, materiality, the sensory, sociality and intimacy? How do media futures change over time and cross-culturally?

This panel proposes to examine the implications of a 'futures turn' in media anthropology. How might anthropology of media help us understand how futures are imagined, made, hoped for, and lived in present and recent past.

This Media Anthropology Network panel works in collaboration with the Anthropology at the edge of the future EASA Lab, proposed by Sarah Pink, Juan Salazar, Andrew Irving and Johannes Sjoberg.

Discussant: Juan Salazar (University of Western Sydney)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The 'future' in media technology innovation processes

Authors: Debora Lanzeni (RMIT)  email
Elisenda Ardèvol (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper we propose embrace ‘future’ as an analytical vector to unveil the complexity of the social forms surrounding processes of creating digital technologies in which media are involved in order to create new relations and connections from an anthropological perspective.

Long Abstract

Imagining and innovating for `future´ are the two guiding tropes in the development of digital media technologies. The media designed today are conceived for the future society, the innovation today is located in the everyday people's future. Current discussions about innovation in digital media technologies uphold a divergence between two models of creating, designing and production for this `future´. On one hand, open innovation model that pleads for a broad participation in the processes of making media technologies where common citizens could/should take part of the design production and turn innovation into a social practice. On the other, solution-oriented innovation model understands that processes of design have to be guided for social needs, user's wants and market demands but participation is handled by designers and developers. Both models identify designers and citizens as contrasting or complementary and innovation as a specific realm. These understandings bolster ideas of media technologies as split-of other social processes. Our ethnographic fieldwork among media technology designers in ` innovation labs´ in the European context poses some intriguing questions about understanding `innovation´, `media', `technologies´, `design´, `users´ and ` citizens´ and the importance of images of futures in broad social processes. Thus, we propose 'future' as an analytical vector to unveil the complexity of the social forms in which media are involved in order to create new relations and connections from an anthropological perspective.

Making a dent in the universe: the (un)intended futures of Internet business

Author: Zane Kripe (Leiden University)  email

Short Abstract

An exploration of the making of Internet businesses in Singapore and the types of futures that are materialized un/intentionally in the product making process.

Long Abstract

This paper takes a look at media futures from the perspective of production side, and explores the making of Internet businesses in Singapore. Based on an ethnographic study of web technology startups, this paper focuses on two forms of future which are crucial in the contemporary digital business industry - namely, open and empty futures (Adams and Groves, 2007). The open future is characteristic of progress thinking, while the empty future seems to underlie the working of capitalism. In the startup space, however, these abstract forms of future can be associated with particular practices. The open form of the future underlies the belief that an identified problem or need in 'the market' can be solved by a technological service and that it is upon the entrepreneurs to solve it. Meanwhile, the empty form of the future allows to rank different future possibilities of the product and choose the one that has the highest market 'potential'. This paper will explore how these two forms of future are closely intertwined in the process of making a digital media business and in what kind of intended and unintended materializations they resulted in Singapore during my research.

Indigenous futures and digital infrastructures: how First Nation communities connect themselves in Northwestern Ontario

Author: Philipp Budka (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

By introducing the case of KO-KNET, one of the world's leading indigenous internet initiatives, this paper analyses how social relationships have been established and maintained through digital infrastructures and how First Nations connect their futures to digital developments.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses digital technologies and infrastructures in the geographical and sociocultural contexts of indigenous Northwestern Ontario, Canada. By introducing the case of the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Kuhkenah Network (KO-KNET) it analyses (1) how internet infrastructures act as facilitators of social relationships and (2) how First Nations people imagine and make their digital futures.

Over the last 20 years, KO-KNET established itself as one the world's leading indigenous internet initiatives aiming to build communication infrastructures for (remote) indigenous communities. Today, these infrastructures facilitate land-line and satellite broadband internet as well as internet cell phone communication, constituting thus the backbone for all internet-related services and programs, from e-health to online learning and video-conferencing. Infrastructure, following Star (1999), also includes the social relationships people establish in the course of creating technical connections and networks. Studying infrastructure, therefore, means also studying aspects of human organization (e.g., Pinch 2009, Star 1999).

This study of KO-KNET is part of a digital media anthropology project that was conducted for five years, including ethnographic fieldwork in Northwestern Ontario and in online environments, and focuses on internet infrastructures and their future development to understand social relationships in a digital world, contributing thus to an anthropology of digital media technologies.

Future as aspiration: new media politics of aspiring 'New India'

Author: Sahana Udupa (Ludwig Maximilian University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores ‘aspiration’ as an important mediated modality of future, and an essential sign of a media-fed modern subject in liberalizing India. It examines how aspiration has paradoxically fuelled its presumed polar opposite – right-wing Hindu nationalism drawing on digital resources.

Long Abstract

In the last two decades, the rapid expansion of media in India has led to a surge of discourses around what is presented as 'legitimate aspiration' of the alert citizens of 'New India'. In the media discourses, the alert citizens demanding a new future are no longer 'mere victims of state neglect' but ready on their toes to bring the state to account. The discourse of aspiration has taken many forms, most prominently the vision to cleanse India from the stranglehold of corrupt politics, to usher an era of clean governance. This paper shows how the expansion of social media is crucial in fuelling the aspirations of a clean and prosperous 'New India' of the future - a discourse that originated not with the social media but the rapid growth of private print and television media in the mid-1990s. Exploring how the received discourse of aspiration has shaped political debates on social media, the paper turns a critical eye on one particular case - the growing salience of right-wing Hindu nationalism among the net savvy urban youth. The paper unravels the troubling puzzle on how the avowedly non-ideological discourse of aspiration supplied the performative resources for its presumed polar opposite - online Hindu nationalism. The paper reveals that this seemingly inadvertent consequence of mediated aspiration is deepened by the sense of empowerment felt by the net savvy Hindu youth who see digital infrastructure as a means to trump the dominance of organized media, dubbed as dubiously secular and a hindrance to the aspired future of a Hindu state.

Production criteria for images of the futures in alternative photojournalism

Author: Maya Van Leemput (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)  email

Short Abstract

In alternative professional photojournalism approaches the negotiation between industrial, socio-political and creative criteria is determining but the balance between these criteria is not the same as in traditional photojournalism, resulting in divergent futures content.

Long Abstract

Photojournalism is suffering from 'Future Shock', all the symptoms are there. The accelerated rate of technological and socio-cultural change of the past decades has left many pundits in the realm of photojournalism disconnected and disorientated. Professionals are impressed by the changes that have occurred and confused about the way ahead. At the same time the prevailing insecurity is a perfect breeding ground for alternative professional approaches, found In numerous photo-collectives and cooperatives. This paper is based in part on two series of in-depth interviews held during the International Photojournalism Festival of Perpignan in 2010 and 2012.

Previous research (Van Leemput, 2001) has shown that to media-professionals, the future is no different than any other topic. Industrial, socio-policial and creative criteria are applied in the selection, creation, programation or publication of media-content on futures. This is reflected in the nature and the flow of images of the futures in traditional media-content.

Images of the futures represented by photographers functioning in alternative economic models and distribution modes today are not the same. This paper explores the differences in content produced in different contexts by zooming in on the criteria applied over the course of the production-proces of these images. The analysis zooms in on ideologies (of progress and catastrophe), concensus, conflict and change orientation and evaluates the variety of images of the futures proposed.

Van Leemput, M. Ph D Research Dissertation. Visions of the Future on Television in the mid-nineties in Britain. Content analysis and production study. University of Westminster, London, 2001.

Exploring algorithmic futures: mixing fieldwork, fragmented narratives, and critical code studies

Author: Annette Markham (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

Ethnographic methods for exploring digital culture can be combined creatively to embrace complexity. This paper examines the everyday experience, enactment, and framing of ‘control’ by juxtaposing narrative accounts from human and nonhuman actors, such as code, algorithms, and information flow.

Long Abstract

This paper begins with the assumption that algorithms function in powerful ways to mediate experience. Inspired by Haraway's theories on human and nonhuman relations and actor network theory, I explore how algorithms, code, information flow, selfhood and identity-for-others tangle in interesting and unexpected ways. This paper is part of an ongoing ethnographic and phenomenological study of algorithmic life. Part of the goal of this work is to how we can begin to talk about these technological/human relationships in ways that complicate and yet illustrate more clearly key performative elements of these relationships.

As a way of thinking through possibilities and challenges of an anthropology of media futures, this paper focuses on the concept, practices, and experience of control. What does 'control' mean in the 21st Century of networked sociality and digital information tangles? Starting with simple human-experienced moments in everyday life that might be described as having implications for 'control,' we follow the perceived or actual causal chain of actions and outcomes. I offer a series of representations, intended as figurations that can help us think through various working patterns of control, including beliefs about control, affective elements of control, enactments of control through specific code operations such as algorithms, making sense of perceived or actual loss of control, and consequences of maintaining an ambiguous stance toward the notion and operation of control within techno-cultural contexts. I believe this is a useful analytical move toward thinking about media anthropology through the notions of potential, paradox, and becoming.

Making digital futures: everyday designers and mediated homes

Author: Sarah Pink (Monash University )  email

Short Abstract

I explore how ordinary people, as everyday designers, improvise media(ted) futures. Drawing on research into energy and digital media in UK homes, I suggest how a design-ethnography approach understands the environment, temporality and experience of media through a future orientation.

Long Abstract

The notion of the smart home is an enduring concept in discourses about the future. Yet, academic research has critically deconstructed this concept to instead ask the question of how people actually live in their homes and how the future is imagined.

In this paper I develop an approach to media futures and homes that places at the centre of the analysis the improvisory creativity of ordinary people as they go about making and imagining their homes. I engage with the question of media futures through an ethnographic examination of how people, as everyday designers, improvise and discuss their own digital domestic futures. Here, seeing the future as part of the everyday in which we are always standing at the edge of the future in the present continuous I argue that ordinary people are ongoingly involved in negotiating, making and imagining their own media(ted) futures through improvisory uses of digital media in their homes. I examine how this happens in relation to the material, sensory, digital and infrastructural elements of everyday environments. I suggest how through this approach we might better understand how to co-design for media futures in the home.

In doing so I reflect on insights from ethnographic research into energy demand and digital media use in homes in the UK undertaken collaboratively with a team of ethnographers and design researchers at Loughborough University, UK.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.