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Interview: On COVID-19 & digital technologies in everyday life

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In May 2020, I was asked by the European Science-Media Hub of the European Parliament to participate in a short written interview about COVID-19 and digital technologies in everyday life. The interview can be found below and on the website of the European Science-Media Hub, where it is also part of the new Digital Humanities Series.
Comments are, as always, more than welcome.

Q: How do you evaluate the current push to “live” our personal lives with and through digital technologies?

As an anthropologist who has been exploring digital phenomena from a social and cultural perspective for more than 15 years, I wouldn’t describe the current situation as a “push” to a more digitized and digitalized life, but rather as an accelerated development, which includes social, technological and economic changes and transformations in all sectors of society (Thomas Hylland Eriksen nicely illustrates the aspect of accelerated change in relation to globalization in his book Overheating [2016]).

People have been living their lives with and through digital technologies long before the current health crisis – some more, some less. In 2006, when I started to conduct an ethnographic project about the appropriation and utilization of internet technologies in remote indigenous communities in north-western Ontario, Canada, I learned that due to the region’s geographical remoteness and people’s sociotechnical isolation, self-organized infrastructural connectivity and self-designed internet-based services and programs were well underway for some years. Local people were using all sorts of digital media and technologies to connect to each other, to create online presences and digital identities, and to access globally distributed information. Internet services, such as online learning and video conferencing, were – thanks to broadband connectivity – already embedded into local everyday life.

I notice similar tendencies in Europe today, where people have been forced to isolate and distance themselves due to COVID–19; not only from family and friends, but also from colleagues at work and school. E-learning, for example, has become part of the everyday learning experience. Which is probably not a big issue for students, who grew up with digital technologies and social media and are therefore used to computer-mediated communication and interaction, but certainly a challenge for institutions and teachers who are not yet that familiar with digital technologies in an educational context. In respect to digitality, I understand the current health crisis as a phenomenon that has been speeding things up. Our lives have become more digital; faster than expected, but not necessarily different than without the virus.

Q: More generally, what did you find in your project about the blending of our intimate space with the professional, the administrative, the cultural and the political spheres by means of digital technology?

Throughout my career, I have been involved in anthropological projects about the sociocultural consequences of digital media and technologies, which build on ethnographic fieldwork as the key methodological approach. Such an approach situates the researcher into the daily life of research participants over a considerable period of time. The intimate, the personal and the private are therefore central to the work of anthropologists and difficult to artificially separate from collective spheres of sociality. People have always brought their personal positions and individual interpretations – that are shaped by intimate experiences – into politics or the workplace, for instance. However, through digital and networked technologies, it is much easier today to identify, share and also manipulate private data and personalized information.

From an anthropological perspective, it is important to emphasize that there are cultural differences. Not all people share Euro-American conceptions of privacy or intimacy and therefore indicate different concerns over these matters in respect to digital life. While people in remote north-western Ontario, for example, were well aware that their very personal reflections, which they openly posted and shared in an online environment, can be potentially accessed globally, they were not concerned. They rather experienced this environment as a purely local space of expression for indigenous people only, not of any interest to outsiders (for more ethnographic examples in different cultural contexts, see, e.g. the results of Daniel Miller’s Why We Post project).

Due to the rise of social media monopoly, platform capitalism, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and current debates about COVID–19 tracing apps, digital privacy and surveillance are high on the public and political agenda, particularly in Europe. However, as anthropological evidence continues to show, related ideas and concepts are perceived and evaluated differently also because of cultural diversity.

Panel “Digital Ethnography: Revisiting Theoretical Concepts & Methodological Approaches”

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Panel “Digital Ethnography: Revisiting Theoretical Concepts & Methodological Approaches” @ Vienna Anthropology Days 2020 (VANDA2020, Sept. 28 – Oct. 1), convened by Philipp Budka & Monika Palmberger.
More details, including the paper abstracts, to be found at https://vanda.univie.ac.at/scientific-program/.

Session 1

Rebecca Carlson (Temple University / TMDU): Online with bioinformatic scientists in Tokyo: Doing digital ethnography in a pandemic

Simone Pfeifer (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz): Digital ethnography on, with, and through social media and messenger services: Ethical and methodological reflections from two different research projects

Monika Palmberger (University of Vienna): “New media of care”: Methodological reflections on digital diaries

Annika Richterich (University of Sussex): Critical making and digital ethnography

Franziska Weidle (Brandenburg University of Technology): Co-creating with software: Towards a computational correspondence in digital ethnography

Session 2

Cristiane Damasceno (UNC Greensboro): Innovative research methods for the disinformation age

Marie Hermanová (Czech Academy of Sciences): Too real is fake: Authenticity and digital intimacy between influencers and researchers

Christian Ritter (Tallinn University): Mediated relationships and remote ethnography: Following the rise and fall of travel influencers

Suzana Jovicic (University of Vienna): Neither here nor there: Smartphone in the ethnographic encounter

Libuše Veprek (LMU Munich): Bringing the subject into focus in large scale textual data analysis

Session 3

Maria Schreiber (University of Salzburg): #strokesurvivor: Studying a “hashtag public” on Instagram

Zoë Glatt (LSE): Becoming a YouTuber: (Auto)ethnographic explorations of the online video industry

Xiaowei Huang (Guangzhou College of Commerce): Second Life, ethnography and virtual culture

Philipp Budka (University of Vienna): Digital ethnography and web archives: The case of an indigenous web-based environment

Blog Post Series: Von der Cyberanthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie – Teil 4

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Diese Serie von Blogeinträgen beschreibt die Relevanz kultur- und sozialanthropologischer Zugänge in der Untersuchung digitaler Technik und Technologien, dargestellt anhand wissenschaftstheoretischer Aspekte in der Entwicklung der Forschungsfelder der “Cyberanthropologie” und der “Digitalen Anthropologie”. Kommentare und/oder Anmerkungen sind dezidiert erwünscht.
Die einzelnen Blogeinträge bauen, leicht verändert, auf einen Text, der 2019 im Sammelband Ritualisierung – Meditatisierung – Performance publiziert wurde:
Budka, P. (2019). Von der Cyber Anthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie. Über die Rolle der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie im Verstehen soziotechnischer Lebenswelten. In M. Luger, F. Graf & P. Budka (Eds.), Ritualisierung – Mediatisierung – Performance (pp. 163-188). Göttingen: V&R Unipress/Vienna University Press. https://doi.org/10.14220/9783737005142.163

Cyberanthropologie 2/2

Im deutschen Sprachraum war Manfred Kremser einer der ersten Kultur- und Sozialanthropologen, der sich ausführlich mit neuen digitalen Technologien und deren Bedeutung für Mensch, Gesellschaft und Kultur auseinander setzte.1 Ab 1996 bot er Lehrveranstaltungen zu ausgewählten cyberanthropologischen Themen am Institut für Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie (vormals Völkerkunde) der Universität Wien an. Dabei verstand er es geschickt, das neue Forschungsfeld der Cyberanthropologie mit Frage- und Problemstellungen zu verbinden, mit denen er sich bereits zuvor intensiv auseinander gesetzt hatte, besonders im Bereich der afrikanischen und afro-karibischen Religionen. So untersuchte Kremser beispielsweise, wie der soziokulturelle Raum des Cyberspace “Afrikanische Traditionelle Religionen” und “Afrikanische Diaspora Religionen” um eine zusätzliche Dimension, die Kremser (2003: 447) als “Afrikanische Digitale Diaspora Religionen” bezeichnet, erweitert.2 Historisch betrachtet, wurden afrikanische Religionen und deren Traditionen in der Diaspora laufend transformiert. Die “Afrikanische Digitale Diaspora” transformiert nun wiederum das bereits Transformierte auf neue Art und Weise (Kremser 2001a: 111). Diese “Cyber-Transformationen” implizieren einen fundamentalen Wandel von traditionellen und diasporischen Religionen (Kremser 2003: 448). Indigene religiöse Konzepte und Praktiken verlassen ihr lokales Territorium und werden durch global vernetzte digitale Technologien für viele Menschen weltweit verfügbar. Im Zuge dieses Globalisierungsprozesses werden afrikanische Kosmologien und Ritualsysteme in neue Formen von “Kultur” transformiert, an der ein Publikum global teilhaben kann (ebd.).

In seiner Forschung arbeitete Kremser (z.B. 2001a, 2001b, 2003) die Besonderheiten dieser Transformationsprozesse heraus. Die Genese digitaler afrikanischer Diaspora-Religionen ermöglicht es beispielsweise, die Ähnlichkeiten zwischen afrikanischer Spiritualität und grundlegenden Prinzipien des Cyberspace zu erkennen. So spielen etwa binäre Codesysteme sowohl in der Computertechnik als auch bei Ifá-Orakel in der Religion der Yoruba (vor allem im westlichen Nigeria) eine entscheidende Rolle (Kremser 2001b; siehe auch Eglash 1999: 86ff.; Eglash/Bleecker 2001: 357ff.). Digitale afrikanische Religionen bilden neue Kontexte für etablierte Konzepte und Praktiken und ermöglichen so deren Neuinterpretation und das Erleben neuer religiöser Dimensionen. Viele religiöse PraktikerInnen sind, nach Kremser (1998: 141ff.), nun in unterschiedlichen sozialen Feldern engagiert: etwa als PriesterInnen in lokalen Gemeinschaften, als LehrerInnen und spirituelle FührerInnen bei internationalen Workshops und Diaspora-Treffen sowie als ComputerspezialistInnen und religiöse UnternehmerInnen in globalen Online-Gemeinschaften der digitalen Diaspora. Um diese Felder auf methodischer Ebene zu berücksichtigen, schlägt Kremser (ebd.: 135ff.) vor, das “klassische” Konzept ethnographischer Feldforschung zur “Felder-Forschung” zu erweitern, in der sich EthnographInnen mit unterschiedlichen soziokulturellen Feldern befassen, die sich auch in den digitalen Raum erstrecken, sich überlappen und ergänzen (siehe auch Marcus 1998).

Continue reading Blog Post Series: Von der Cyberanthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie – Teil 4

Blog Post Series: Von der Cyberanthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie – Teil 4

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Diese Serie von Blogeinträgen beschreibt die Relevanz kultur- und sozialanthropologischer Zugänge in der Untersuchung digitaler Technik und Technologien, dargestellt anhand wissenschaftstheoretischer Aspekte in der Entwicklung der Forschungsfelder der “Cyberanthropologie” und der “Digitalen Anthropologie”. Kommentare und/oder Anmerkungen sind dezidiert erwünscht.
Die einzelnen Blogeinträge bauen, leicht verändert, auf einen Text, der 2019 im Sammelband Ritualisierung – Meditatisierung – Performance publiziert wurde:
Budka, P. (2019). Von der Cyber Anthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie. Über die Rolle der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie im Verstehen soziotechnischer Lebenswelten. In M. Luger, F. Graf & P. Budka (Eds.), Ritualisierung – Mediatisierung – Performance (pp. 163-188). Göttingen: V&R Unipress/Vienna University Press. https://doi.org/10.14220/9783737005142.163

Cyberanthropologie 1/2

Internet Café, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Philipp Budka

Die Bezeichnung “Cyberanthropologie” lehnt sich an Wortschöpfungen wie “Cyberspace”, “Cyberkultur” und “Cyberpunk” an, die vor allem der Science-Fiction-Literatur und damit der Populärkultur entstammen (Knorr 2011; Tomas 1991). Der Begriff “Cyberspace” beispielsweise wurde das erste Mal vom Science-Fiction-Autor William Gibson in der Kurzgeschichte Burning Chrome (1982) verwendet und beschreibt einen computergenerierten Raum kollektiver Halluzination (siehe auch Gibson 1984). Das Präfix “Cyber” hat eine längere Geschichte und wurde durch den Mathematiker Norbert Wiener Ende der 1940er Jahre popularisiert. Er verwendete den Begriff “Kybernetik” (“Cybernetics”), um einen interdisziplinären Wissenschaftskomplex zu beschreiben, der sich mit Steuerung und Regelung in informationellen, mechanischen oder natürlichen Systemen befasst (Wiener 1948). In ihrer grundlegenden Form versteht Wiener Kybernetik als eine Theorie von Informationen, Signalen oder Nachrichten, die das Ziel verfolgt, ein Verfahren zur Informationsgenerierung und -organisation zu entwickeln, um etwa Mensch-Maschine-Kommunikation zu ermöglichen (Axel 2006: 359; siehe auch Knorr 2011: 31ff.; Matzker 1998: 157ff.).

Die Arbeit der Kybernetiker trug maßgeblich dazu bei, dass Themen wie Kommunikation sowie soziotechnische Beziehungen und Systeme in den Mittelpunkt anthropologischer Projekte rückten (z. B. Axel 2006; Boyer 2010). Gregory Bateson (2000) beispielsweise war besonders an den kommunikativen Beziehungen zwischen Organismen – menschlichen und nicht-menschlichen – und deren Umwelt interessiert. Kybernetik, so hoffte er, könnte entscheidend zum Verständnis komplexer Systeme, von Mensch-Nicht-Mensch-Interaktionen und letztlich auch des menschlichen Geistes selbst beitragen. Während die Kybernetik als interdisziplinäres Projekt in den 1980er Jahren an Schwung verlor, wurde die Suche nach Antworten auf komplexe Problemstellungen in Zusammenhang mit zunehmend technologisierten Systemen sowie Mensch-Nicht-Mensch-Kommunikation und -Interaktion in der Anthropologie fortgesetzt. Mitte der 1990er Jahre ließen sich drei größere cyberanthropologische Forschungsprojekte identifizieren, die einerseits miteinander verknüpft waren, andererseits ihren Fokus aber auf unterschiedliche Phänomenbereiche legten (Escobar 1994: 215ff.):

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Blog Post Series: Von der Cyberanthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie – Teil 3

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Diese Serie von Blogeinträgen beschreibt die Relevanz kultur- und sozialanthropologischer Zugänge in der Untersuchung digitaler Technik und Technologien, dargestellt anhand wissenschaftstheoretischer Aspekte in der Entwicklung der Forschungsfelder der “Cyberanthropologie” und der “Digitalen Anthropologie”. Kommentare und/oder Anmerkungen sind dezidiert erwünscht.
Die einzelnen Blogeinträge bauen, leicht verändert, auf einen Text, der 2019 im Sammelband Ritualisierung – Meditatisierung – Performance publiziert wurde:
Budka, P. (2019). Von der Cyber Anthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie. Über die Rolle der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie im Verstehen soziotechnischer Lebenswelten. In M. Luger, F. Graf & P. Budka (Eds.), Ritualisierung – Mediatisierung – Performance (pp. 163-188). Göttingen: V&R Unipress/Vienna University Press. https://doi.org/10.14220/9783737005142.163

Von der Cyberanthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie – Eine Einleitung

Während in den Anfängen der anthropologischen Analyse von neuen digitalen Informations-, Kommunikations- und Medientechnologien noch von “Cyberanthropologie” bzw. “Cyberanthropology” (z.B. Budka/Kremser 2004; Knorr 2011) gesprochen wurde, werden diese Begriffe zunehmend von der Bezeichnung “Digitale Anthropologie” (z. B. Horst/Miller 2012) abgelöst.1 Obwohl sich die Bezeichnungen dieses Forschungsfeldes im Laufe der Jahre und unter Einfluss unterschiedlicher wissenschaftlicher Disziplinen sowie gesellschaftlicher und (populär)kultureller Trends änderten, blieben die Forschungsthemen und -schwerpunkte ähnlich: die soziokulturellen Implikationen und Bedeutungen neuer, digitaler Technologien. Dabei befassen sich AnthropologInnen oftmals mit den Verbindungen zwischen digitalen Technologien, Medien oder Kommunikationsformen einerseits und soziokulturellen Phänomenbereichen andererseits, die traditionell intensiv in der Disziplin bearbeitet werden, wie gesellschaftliche Beziehungen und Organisationsformen, kulturell unterschiedliche Formen der Kommunikation und Identitätskonstruktion, Ritualdynamiken und religiöse Prozesse oder ökonomische Praktiken (z. B. Budka/Kremser 2004; Horst/Miller 2012; Schröder/Voell 2002; Whitehead/Wesch 2012b).

Internet Café, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Philipp Budka

Das soziotechnische Phänomen, das die anthropologische Forschung zu digitalen Medientechnologien entscheidend vorantrieb, ist das Internet.2 Daniel Miller und Don Slater (2000: 14), die eine der ersten ethnographischen Studien über das Internet durchführten, betonen bereits hier, dass das Internet kein ausschließlich technisches, technologisches oder infrastrukturelles Phänomen sei, sondern auch ein soziokulturelles: Es ermöglicht Kommunikation, soziale Interaktion und kulturelle Repräsentation und ist nicht zuletzt deshalb Gegenstand anthropologischer Forschung (siehe auch Hart 2004). Das Internet und das World Wide Web (WWW)3 versprachen eine ganze Reihe von Dingen: unmittelbare globale Kommunikation, vernetztes Organisieren von Information und neue Formen von Politik, Ökonomie und Sozialität.

Howard Rheingold (2000: xviii), beispielsweise, betonte die Tragweite des “Cyberspace” für politische Freiheit und die Veränderung des “realen Lebens” durch die Etablierung “virtueller Gemeinschaften”. In der Untersuchung dieser neuen Vergemeinschaftungsformen befassten sich die ersten sozialwissenschaftlichen InternetforscherInnen zunächst mit deren (kommunikativen) Strukturen und ihrer (soziologischen) Entwicklung (z. B. Jones 1995; Smith/Kollock 1999). In der Folge verschob sich der Forschungsfokus auf den (sozialen) Netzwerkcharakter von Gesellschaften und Gemeinschaften, der sich, zumindest nach Meinung einiger SoziologInnen, im Internetzeitalter verstärkt und sogar konstituierend für das digital vernetzte Individuum ist (z. B. Castells 2000; Rainie/Wellman 2012).

Continue reading Blog Post Series: Von der Cyberanthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie – Teil 3

Digital and Online Ethnography – A Selection of Resources

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Below you find a selection of resources on digital and online ethnography – with a slight focus on anthropological research – compiled by Philipp Budka.
To add and share your resources and/or references, please use this collaborative document.

Literature:

Baym, N. (2010). Personal connections in the digital age. Cambridge: Polity.

Bell, D., & Kennedy, B. M. (Eds.). (2000) The Cybercultures Reader. London: Routledge.

Boellstorff, T. (2016). For whom the ontology turns: Theorizing the digital real. Current Anthropology, 57(4), 387–407. https://doi.org/10.1086/687362

Boellstorff, T. (2013). Digital anthropology. In Oxford Bibliographies. https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199766567/obo-9780199766567-0087.xml

Boellstorff, T. (2008). Coming of age in Second Life: An anthropologist explores the virtually human. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Boellstorff, et al. (2012). Ethnography and virtual worlds: A handbook of method. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bräuchler, B. (2013). Cyberidentities at war: The Moluccan conflict on the Internet. New York: Berghahn Books.

Buchanan, E. A. (2004). Readings in virtual research ethics: Issues and controversies. Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub.

Budka, P. (2018). [Review of the book Digital environments: Ethnographic perspectives across global online and offline spaces, by U. U. Frömming, S. Köhn, S. Fox & M. Terry]. Anthropos, 113(1), 303-304. http://www.philbu.net/blog/review-digital-environments-ethnographic-perspectives-across-global-online-and-offline-spaces/

Budka, P. (2015). [Review of the book Cyberidentities at war: The Moluccan conflict on the Internet, by B. Bräuchler]. American Anthropologist, 117(1), 179-180. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.12197 http://www.philbu.net/blog/review-cyberidentities-at-war-the-moluccan-conflict-on-the-internet/

Budka, P., & Kremser, M. (2004). CyberAnthropology – anthropology of cyberculture. In S. Khittel, B. Plankensteiner & M. Six-Hohenbalken (Eds.), Contemporary issues in socio-cultural anthropology: Perspectives and research activities from Austria (pp. 213-226). Vienna: Loecker Verlag.
http://www.philbu.net/budka_kremser_cyberanthro.pdf

Coleman, G. E. (2010). Ethnographic approaches to digital media. Annual Review of Anthropology 39(1), 487-505. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.012809.104945

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Publications: E-learning & blended learning in anthropology & the social sciences

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Here a collection of publications that discuss the development and utilization of e-learning and blended learning tools and models for sociocultural anthropology and the social sciences. These publications are the result of different projects conducted at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology as well as the Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Vienna.

Budka, P., Schallert, C., & Mader, E. (2011). Interactive technology enhanced learning for social science students. In M. E. Auer & M. Huba (Eds.), Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL2011) (pp. 274-278), CD-ROM. Piscataway, NJ: IEEE. Abstract & Text.

Budka, P., & Schallert, C. (2009). Transforming learning infrastructures in the social sciences through flexible and interactive technology-enhanced learning. Learning Inquiry, 3(3), 131-142. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11519-009-0045-9

Budka, P., Mader, E., Anderl, E., & Stockinger, J. (2008). Strategies for networked learning in social science education. In J. Luca & E. R. Weippl (Eds.), Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2008: World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (pp. 618-622). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

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Seminar: Digital Technologies as Material Culture 2020

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In this MA seminar at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna, we explore digital media technologies from an anthropological/ethnographic perspective in the context of material culture.
More info

This course gives an overview about material culture as a conceptual and practical approach to understand digital technologies. In doing so, it focuses on the everyday incorporation and utilization of digital technologies.

Mobile networked digital media technologies, such as smart phones, as well as social media platforms and services, such as Facebook or Instagram, have become important (visual) communication and (re)presentation tools. For social and cultural anthropology it is of particular interest how these digital devices and technologies are integrated and embedded into everyday life, by considering changing sociocultural, political and economic contexts. This course focuses in particular on the material aspects of digital technologies and how they are utilized on a day-to-day basis. Questions about the relevance of a material culture approach for (the understanding of) technology appropriation – on a theoretical and practical level – as well as questions about (culturally) different usage practices are discussed. How does the understanding and conceptualization of digital technology as material culture contribute to the exploration and analyses of contemporary and emerging sociocultural practices and processes in increasingly digital societies?

By working on different online case studies, students get a comparative overview about material culture in a digital context.

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Book: Theorising Media and Conflict

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Budka, P., & Bräuchler, B. (Eds.). (2020). Theorising media and conflict. Anthropology of Media. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Theorising Media and Conflict brings together anthropologists as well as media and communication scholars to collectively address the elusive and complex relationship between media and conflict. Through epistemological and methodological reflections and the analyses of various case studies from around the globe, this volume provides evidence for the co-constitutiveness of media and conflict and contributes to their consolidation as a distinct area of scholarship. Practitioners, policymakers, students and scholars who wish to understand the lived realities and dynamics of contemporary conflicts will find this book invaluable.

This is the second “Theorising media and …” book in Berghahn’s Anthropology of Media series. The aim of the series is to place media anthropology at the forefront of theoretical advances in both anthropology and media and communication studies.

Table of Contents

Preface
Philipp Budka

PART I: KEY DEBATES
Introduction. Anthropological Perspectives on Theorising Media and Conflict
Birgit Bräuchler and Philipp Budka
Chapter 1. Transforming Media and Conflict Research
Nicole Stremlau

PART II: WITNESSING CONFLICT
Chapter 2. Just a ‘Stupid Reflex’? Digital Witnessing of the Charlie Hebdo Attacks and the Mediation of Conflict
Johanna Sumiala, Minttu Tikka and Katja Valaskivi
Chapter 3. The Ambivalent Aesthetics and Perception of Mobile Phone Videos: A (De-)Escalating Factor for the Syrian Conflict
Mareike Meis

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Presentation: MyKnet.org: The cultural history & social life of an indigenous web-based environment

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Budka, P. (2019). MyKnet.org: The cultural history and social life of an indigenous web-based environment. Paper at “The Web That Was: Archives, Traces, Reflections” Conference (RESAW19), Amsterdam, Netherlands: University of Amsterdam, 21 June. Presentation (PDF)

Ethnographic Vignette

In the summer of 2006, during my first field trip to Northwestern Ontario, I visited the Frenchman’s Head community of Lac Seul First Nation which is one of the region’s few non-remote indigenous communities that can be reached by car and by boat. In the Band Office, the community’s largest administrative building, I was introduced to 16 year old Candice, a well known MyKnet.org user. She told me that she did set up her first MyKnet.org page a couple of years ago to stay in touch with friends and family and to let people know about her life. To communicate with friends and family members, she added a c-box to her homepage where people could leave messages.

As I found out later, almost everyone in the Band Office had a MyKnet.org homepage. Even though some didn’t know how to work with their websites. They needed the help of young, web-savvy colleagues, friends and family members. Candice introduced me to an older lady who told me that she had to register for a new MyKnet.org page only two weeks ago because her original page was registered under her now divorced husband’s name. And since she didn’t want to be constantly reminded of this, she needed a new homepage. KO-KNET, the First Nations internet organization that has been managing the MyKnet.org homepage service, only approves registrations with real, locally known, First Nation names that are then displayed in the URL of the page.

Candice helped her setting up the page, finding and applying the right layout and updating the content. As she told me later, she was regularly reminding other employees at the office to keep their respective homepages up to date. She also told me that she has started to use other, commercial website providers, such as Piczo (2002-2012). They were easier to use than MyKnet.org and provided more web space and technical features and possibilities.

Seminar: Media Activism

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For the MA Program “Visual and Media Anthropology” at the Free University Berlin, I am organizing a newly developed seminar on media activism.

Course Description

Activism with/in/through media can be broadly understood as forms of technology mediated activism that intend to spark, create and/or support social and political change. So change (and therefore continuity) is at the heart of media activism, as, for instance, Kidd and Rodriguez (2009: 1) note: “Grassroots media have grown from a set of small and isolated experiments to a complex of networks of participatory communications that are integral to local, national, and transnational projects of social change”. Since media activism is related to a diversity of phenomena – such as power relationships, conflict or globalization – as well as to questions about the conception of time and space, organizational structures, collective identities and different forms of sociality, it has become a broad, interdisciplinary research field. This course gives an overview of media activism from a predominantly anthropological and ethnographic perspective.

When engaging with media activism, a variety of contexts, theoretical conceptualizations and methodological approaches have to be considered. In this course, students learn about these aspects by reviewing relevant literature and by discussing different forms and examples of media activism and related questions, issues and problems:

  • How can we contextualize media activism and related practices in anthropology?
  • What historical developments can we identify? And what does this tell us about contemporary activist processes and practices?
  • What is the role of (sociocultural and technological) change, politics, power, globalization and (de)colonization in an anthropological engagement with media activism?
  • How can we ethnographically describe and analyze media activist processes and practices? What are the possibilities and challenges?
  • How can we understand media activism in digital times and in the age of social media? What has changed?
  • What does it mean to interpret and conceptualize media activism as (a form or a part of) cultural activism?

Reference

Kidd, D., & Rodriguez, C. (2009). Introduction. In C. Rodriguez, D. Kidd, & L. Stein (Eds.), Making our media: Global initiatives toward a democratic public sphere, Volume 1: Creating new communication spaces (pp. 1-22). New York: Hampton Press.

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Book Chapter: Indigenous Media Technologies in “The Digital Age”

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Budka, P. (2019). Indigenous media technologies in “the digital age”: Cultural articulation, digital practices, and sociopolitical concepts. In S. S. Yu & M. D. Matsaganis (Eds.), Ethnic media in the digital age (pp. 162-172). New York: Routledge.

Introduction
Indigenous engagements with digital media technologies have been analyzed from different angles and by discussing a variety of issues, from technology access and literacy, to language, culture, and politics (e.g., Dyson, Grant, & Hendriks, 2016; Dyson, Hendriks, & Grant, 2007; Landzelius, 2006a). By drawing on a literature review and on an ethnographic case study, I am providing an anthropological perspective on the relationship between indigenous people and digital media technologies that focuses on digital practices related to the mediation of culture and the formation of (cultural) identity. Within this mediation process, cultural elements of the dominant, non-indigenous societies are recombined with elements from indigenous cultures. “Indigenized” media technologies promote thus an open and dynamic understanding of culture in “the digital age.” But when it comes to characterizing and understanding non-Western media phenomena and processes, terms such as “the digital age” or “the network society” have their conceptual weaknesses. These concepts are inherently ethnocentric, that is, Euro-American centered, implying an evolutionary world view that tends to ignore culturally different ascriptions of meaning to digital realities. I am following here Ginsburg (2008), who states that these concepts are rather reinforcing the imaginary of “the other,” existing in “a time not contemporary with our own” (p. 291). Thus, this chapter presents an anthropologically informed approach to the relationship between media technologies, culture, and politics that advocates the significance of non-Western perspectives and realities in conceptualizing and understanding the diversity of digital life.

Digitale Anthropologie

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Dieser Text wurde 2017 für den Blog der Universität Wien geschrieben; für eine überarbeitete und erweiterte Version des Textes siehe
Budka, P. 2019. Von der Cyber Anthropologie zur Digitalen Anthropologie. Über die Rolle der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie im Verstehen soziotechnischer Lebenswelten. In: Luger, M., Graf, F. & Budka, P. (Hg.), Ritualisierung – Mediatisierung – Performance. Göttingen: V&R Unipress/Vienna University Press, 163-188.

Die Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie ist längst nicht mehr nur die Wissenschaft von „einfachen“, außereuropäischen Gesellschaften und Kulturen. Seit Jahrzehnten forscht die Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie kulturvergleichend zu komplexen Prozessen, Entwicklungen und Veränderungen in allen menschlichen Gesellschaften und Kulturen. Da war es nur eine Frage der Zeit bis die ersten Kultur- und SozialanthropologInnen begannen sich auch mit digitalen Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien (IKT), wie dem Internet, Smartphones oder Sozialen Medien, auseinander zu setzen. Die Wiener Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie war dabei – zumindest im deutschen Sprachraum – unter den ersten, die sich mit den Verbindungen und Zusammenhängen zwischen digitalen Medientechnologien und soziokulturellen Phänomenbereichen aus spezifisch anthropologischer/ethnologischer Perspektive befassten.

In diesem Blogbeitrag gehe ich der Frage nach, welche Rolle die Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie in der Untersuchung und in weiterer Folge im Verstehen digitaler Medientechnologien spielt. Andere Aspekte der Digitalisierung dieser Disziplin – wie z.B. computerunterstützte Forschungsprojekte und -methoden, neue Publikationsmöglichkeiten durch Open Access, neue Wege der Präsentation und Kommunikation von Forschung mittels Blogs oder Sozialer Medien sowie neue Methoden und Strategien für Lernen und Lehre – kann ich hier nicht näher diskutieren.

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Paper: The anthropology of digital visuality

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Budka, P. (2018). The anthropology of digital visuality: Notes on comparison, context and relationality. Paper at Vienna Anthropology Days 2018 (VANDA2018), Vienna, Austria: University of Vienna, 20 September.

Sociocultural anthropology provides theoretical approaches and concepts to comparatively study local life-worlds, to contextualize cultural meaning, and to (re)consider human/non-human and socio-technical relations that have been emerging with digital media technologies (e.g. Horst & Miller 2012, Moore 2012, Whitehead & Wesch 2012). Ethnography and ethnographic fieldwork, as methodological tools, allow for investigating digital practices and processes by considering the above aspects (Pink et al. 2016). For anthropology it is of particular interest how people engage on a day-to-day basis with digital media and technologies, internet-based devices and services, mobile computing as well as software applications and digital platforms.

In this paper, I discuss, from an anthropological perspective and through brief ethnographic examples, digital visuality as a contemporary phenomenon that constitutes emerging patterns of visual communication and culture. In addition, I am briefly discussing digital visuality as a concept to approach and investigate the visual in digital times.

Digital media technologies and mobile networked devices, such as smart phones, have become ubiquitous means of visual production, communication and representation (e.g. Gómez Cruz et al. 2017). Moreover, digital platforms and social media services, such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, are utilized to share and consume visual artefacts. Constituting and changing thus communicative practices and visual culture alike. Consequently, these transformation processes provide new challenges and possibilities for the anthropological and ethnographic study of the visual (e.g. Pink 2011).

Digital visuality

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E-Seminar: The digital turn: New directions in media anthropology

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Udupa, S., Costa, E., & Budka, P. (2018) The digital turn: New directions in media anthropology.
Discussion Paper for the Follow-Up E-Seminar on the EASA Media Anthropology Network Panel “The Digital Turn” at the 15th European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) Biennial Conference, Stockholm, Sweden, 14-17 August 2018.

63rd EASA Media Anthropology Network E-Seminar: 16-30 October 2018, via the network’s Mailing List.

With the advent of digital media technologies, internet-based devices and services, mobile computing as well as software applications and digital platforms new opportunities and challenges have come to the forefront in the anthropological study of media. For media anthropology and related fields, such as digital and visual anthropology, it is of particular interest how people engage with digital media and technologies; how digital devices and tools are integrated and embedded in everyday life; and how they are entangled with different social practices and cultural processes. The digital turn in media anthropology signals the growing importance of digital media technologies in contemporary sociocultural, political and economic processes. This panel suggested that the digital turn could be seen a paradigm shift in the anthropological study of media, and foregrounded three important streams of exploration that might indicate new directions in the anthropology of media.

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