(P121)

Global cities: digital urbanisation in the 21st century (Commission on Urban Anthropology)

Location Convention Hall A
Date and Start Time 18 May, 2014 at 08:30

Convenors

Michael Fischer (University of Kent) email
Francine Barone (University of Kent) email
Sally Applin (University of Kent, Canterbury) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The landscape for Anthropological investigation is changing as digital social relations become a critical element in social networks of rural and urban people. Rather than a mono-cultural global village we see an increase in local heterogeneity, with individual fractions spanning a global venue.

Long Abstract

The landscape for Anthropological investigation is changing rapidly with the approaching ubiquity of digital communications, the social relations forged on these, and the material outcomes of distributed social networks and processes that emerge on a global stage. Digital relationships must not be viewed as a 'special' aspect of people's social lives, but as increasingly central in day to day life.

Late 20th Century thought anticipated a homogeneous global culture occupying a virtual global village. Instead, digital social relations increasingly are critical elements in the social networks of formerly locale based rural and urban populations. Rather than moving towards a mono-cultural global village, we find an increase in local heterogeneity, with individual fractions spanning a global venue. We are seeing great changes in the organisation and operation of urban and rural locales, whether we are considering people in the remote Pamir Corridor in Tajikistan, or Silicon Valley in the USA.

At the turn of the 21st century, the concepts of place and space are being revalued, and the relation of people to places and spaces is being reconsidered mainly within experiential and phenomenological approaches.  The connection of people with places acquires new meaning in the context of digital networks, where a sense of place is rapidly being displaced and altered by new technologies. These new technologies attribute increased significance and value to places through 'opening up' places to a world net-based audience and by enhancing the specific and unique character of each locale through provision of direct comparators.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Rambla 2.0: continuity and change in a Catalan city

Author: Francine Barone (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

The digital age has ushered in profound changes in urban environments. However, important continuities with the past remain. This paper contrasts traditional sociality with social media in Spain to highlight how attention to place and locality are essential for a digital anthropology of urban life.

Long Abstract

Seemingly detached from physical locales, the Internet, computers and mobile devices offer myriad opportunities for personal and social transformation. Twitter has been overzealously credited with enabling revolution; Facebook has become a household word; YouTube launches nobodies to stardom; and blogs provide soapboxes for any web denizens wishing to vent their frustrations or publish their thoughts.

Given the ubiquity and global reach of new media, it is not surprising that fears surrounding the potential eradication of traditional cultural forms are common and recurring in the digital age. However, in part, this paper suggests that any potentially transformative powers afforded to digital media are actually tied to the socio-cultural contexts of everyday, offline life within specific geographic locales rather than belonging to the technology itself. As such, digital spaces are best understood as local places contiguous with the urban geography.

Derived from 15 months of fieldwork in a Catalan city, the case study in this paper describes a daily social drama emblematic of Spanish culture known as the "paseo" or "passeig". This activity, which takes place on the Rambla - a public square in the city centre - is presently regarded by residents of all ages as threatened by modernity and therefore on the decline. But is it possible that this "endangered" cultural form has found new life online? By drawing parallels between the practice of interactive photo-blogging and the passeig, it becomes possible to obviate notions about the dangers of virtual spaces and, in turn, to situate new media practices as genuinely local.

Digital urbanisation and the dignity of older citizens

Author: Caroline Holland (The Open University)  email

Short Abstract

Studies of age and place have to date emphasised embodied relationships. This paper discusses the meaning of digital urbanisation for older people, in particular looking at implications for the dignity of older citizens with respect to social inclusion in digital and non-digital networks.

Long Abstract

20th and early 21st century depictions of ageing in place, particularly those based on experiential and phenomenological explorations, have relied heavily on the significance of domestic and neighbourhood connections. At global and national levels, the impact of ageing populations is primarily positioned in terms of economies and 'burdens of care'. Within this context older people's use of technologies has largely been studied to (a) understand the potential of assistive technologies/telehealth/telecare and (b) investigate older people's attitudes to using technologies. The salience of age, as distinct from other factors -wealth, education or culture - has been described in terms of physical and cognitive ageing, cohort effect, and the impact of individuals' lifetime exposure to technologies. Arguably, physical and cognitive disabilities can be ameliorated by design: but structural issues mean that emerging cohorts comfortable in digital spaces will not necessarily eliminate age as a barrier to inclusion in social networks. If digital relationships are increasingly central to daily life, what does this imply for the embodied nature of ageing in place and dignity and meaning in older people's lives? ICTs have the capacity both to liberate people from the constraints of bodily ageing, and to undermine dignity through age-averse or age-blind ontologies.

Based on research associated with Value Ageing, an EU-funded study of ICT and Ageing, and other recent studies, this paper discusses the meaning of digital urbanisation for older people, in particular looking at implications for the dignity of older citizens with respect to social inclusion in digital and non-digital networks.

The construction of an urban public sphere in the reconceptualization of social relations in post-reform China: a case study of Chinese volunteers at TEDtoChina

Author: Shijing Zhang (Indiana University Bloomington)  email

Short Abstract

Through a case study of a Chinese local volunteer group "TEDtoChina", this paper aims to examine the emergence of digital social relations among Chinese young professionals and its influence on the construction of a new urban public sphere.

Long Abstract

Taking the founding of a Chinese volunteer group—"TEDtoChina" as its point of departure, this study explores the emergence of a new urban public sphere at the convergence of global processes, local politics, grassroots efforts and the expansion of information and communication technologies. It investigates the reconceptualization of social relations and negotiation of communities and networks through deconstructing online and offline, real and imaged, and individual and collective. Given the web-based nature of TEDtoChina, almost all the communicative activities among volunteers are conducted through its online forum, which, as the paper will argue, helps foster a new form of digital social relations that breaks away from the traditional Chinese guanxi, and which helps shape a new urban landscape through global connections and carve out a new urban public space for free discussion, critical reflection, rational debate and organization of educational and advocative activities.

Invisible cities: dynamic adaptations in digital urban environments - new forms of social organisation through adaptive agency

Authors: Michael Fischer (University of Kent)  email
Maria Kokolaki (University of Kent at Canterbury)  email

Short Abstract

Cityscapes are emergent narratives connecting physical and constructed 'virtual' facets of cities. Information technology makes new narratives possible. This has consequences for individuals developing new adaptive strategies for transitions between culturally recognised phases of their life.

Long Abstract

Taking cityscapes as emergent narrative drivers for overcoming the limitations of space, time and physical senses, we seek to identify possible connections between cities and their physical and constructed, 'virtual', facets. Following Italo Calvino's view of invisible cities, we consider the volatile and transforming aspects of modern global cities as instantiated within the present environment of multiple crises and incessant transformation. Transformation of cities attributed to the enhanced role of information technology may be perceived negatively as a crisis in the public realm or positively as a strengthening of a new profile. New technologies and ubiquitous computing could be crucial in achieving integration and conviviality, especially for mega-cities in crisis.

Drivers of change include physical changes in locales and in the roles of locales within the city together with changes in the overall infrastructure and economic circumstances that emerge from urban formations. This has consequences for individuals who, in the course of 'normal' life, must develop new adaptive strategies as they enter and leave different culturally recognised phases of their life. Much of this will come through learning, either intergenerational or intragenerational learning as they incorporate adaptive strategies from others around them in similar circumstances. So, people try to make most of circumstances, through adaptive agency, a capacity to change the options available and to transform these to viable choices. Conceptualising the information or network society as a new social structure requires new theory for the adaptation of spatial forms and processes in the new situation.

In search of Japan bits: imagining and traveling across (cyber)space

Author: Ryoko Nishijima (UCLA)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the processes through which “imagined Japan” is discovered and transmitted outside the nation through the use of online media. I focus on tourists as the particular agents who participate in the circulation of these bits and pieces of Japan. I will look at online travel blogs and albums as one of the main platforms where certain memories of imagined Japan are archived, discovered and eventually transmitted towards other digital consumers as well as future travelers to Japan.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the processes through which “imagined Japan” is discovered and transmitted outside the nation through the use of online media. My interest in this topic arose from a trivial experience when Google suggested to auto-complete my search box with the phrase, “Japan is so weird,” simultaneously offering a variety of other options like "cool" and "perverted." How exactly had Japan become reconstructed in the cyberspace as a weird, cool, and perverted place? This episode underscores the enigmatic power new media may have over national imaginary.

The internet is an interesting locus to observe the interaction between individuals cultivating certain images of Japan, and the larger Google machine that facilitates transmissions of such images. If enough users upload fragments of weird-Japan media in the form of texts and images, it will eventually perpetuate within the search engine algorithm. This allows the phrase to emerge with a strange sense of authority, that Japan is indeed weird.

My research focuses on tourists as the particular agents who participate in the circulation of these bits and pieces of Japan. Tourism practice involves a hermetic process between pre-travel imagination and post-travel memory; tourists cultivate a certain fantasy about the destination, and it is precisely this predetermined imagination that they actively choose to consume and remember. I will look at online travel blogs and albums as one of the main platforms where certain memories of imagined Japan is archived, discovered and eventually transmitted towards other digital consumers as well as future travelers to Japan.

Forced compliance: how the city shapes the network that shapes the city

Authors: Sally Applin (University of Kent, Canterbury)  email
Michael Fischer (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

Many claim that the Internet is changing cities and cultural behavior. There is less understanding of how those cities shaped the Internet in the first place. This paper addresses the cultural and social practices that contribute to constant online engagement within daily city life.

Long Abstract

Previously, most people in the United States could exist and function in contemporary society without needing to own or operate a computer or go online. Many civic governments have had continual budget cuts and many businesses have tried to maximize profits. These fiscal constraints combined with the pervasiveness of computers in business have led to the notion that many computer processes for transactions can be offloaded to the citizen. In doing so, the citizen is now forced to spend more time online to complete these transactions as part of their daily life. The result of this Forced Compliance is combined with other factors as people now must spend more and more time online for government processes, order and return communications, and other prosumption type labor which impacts their participation in the local locale. We examine the outcome of this behavior and relate it to PolySocial Reality (PoSR), a structural model of multiplexed, multiple synchronous and asynchronous continual communication between humans/humans, humans/machines, and machines/machines.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.