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Workshop on Digital Anthropology. How can we study digital infrastructures ethnographically?

A workshop with Hannah Knox, University College London and Maja Hojer Bruun, Aarhus University.

2021.10.22 | Maja Hojer Bruun

Date Thu 06 Jan
Time 09:00 16:00
Location Aarhus University, Jens Chr. Skous Vej 4, Building 1483, room 454 (Nobelparken)

During the last decade, the humanities and social sciences have taken an increasing interest in how digital infrastructures and algorithmic systems permeate more and more human activities and institutions, from finance to entertainment, government, health and environment. Digital infrastructures and algorithmic systems are often described as opaque and inscrutable, but they are also always part of the ongoing social life of users and developers, whether we are talking about social media, music recommender systems, self-tracking devices, health apps, food delivery platforms, digital urban infrastructures or the like. As such, they lend themselves to ethnographic scrutiny, calling for traditional and new fieldwork methods, sometimes in combination with digital methods.

While studies of digital technologies and infrastructures often require a transgression of disciplinary boundaries and an ensemble of different theories and methods, in this workshop we start from the vantage point of anthropological fieldwork. How can long-term, participatory fieldwork, oriented towards everyday, embodied experience and including a multiplicity of different voices and positions produce novel understandings and knowledge about ‘the digital’? And what does it mean – practically – to study the digital through ethnography? How can fieldwork be brought together with digital, quantitative, visual or sensory methods? How can we, at the same time, include the wider context of political economy and socio-cultural history of digital platforms and infrastructures? And how are (notions of) the field and fieldwork transformed during these methodological explorations?

Whether you are conducting webnographic fieldwork, combining on and offline participant observation, studying digital infrastructures, algorithmic or AI systems, or are using or developing your own digital methods or computational ethnography, all participants are invited to bring and share a piece of empirical material (objects, fieldnotes, screen dumps, maps or other visualisations, or something completely different). Rather than classic paper presentations, the workshop will have a format that allows us to ask questions and collectively reflect about what the empirical material in question means for an anthropology of the digital.

If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please send an abstract of 150-200 words to antech@edu.au.dk by 1st December. Notification of acceptance: 10th December.

The number of workshop participants will be limited to 10.

The workshop is part of the Experimental Ethnographic Methods workshop series. The workshops aim to generate novel thinking about, and experimentation with, creative qualitative research methods in uncertain times. Participants include ethnographers, artists, STS scholars and others interested in interdisciplinary collaborations.     

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