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Article: Anthropological perspectives on digital-visual practices

Article: Anthropological perspectives on digital-visual practices published on No Comments on Article: Anthropological perspectives on digital-visual practices

Budka, P. (2021). Kultur- und sozialanthropologische Perspektiven auf digital-visuelle Praktiken. Das Fallbeispiel einer indigenen Online-Umgebung im nordwestlichen Ontario, Kanada (Anthropological perspectives on digital-visual practices). In R. Breckner, K. Liebhart & M. Pohn-Lauggas (Eds.), Sozialwissenschaftliche Analysen von Bild- und Medienwelten (pp. 109-132). Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg.


In times of increasing digitalization, it is of particular interest for anthropology to understand how people in different societies integrate digital media and technologies, internet-based devices and services or software, and digital platforms, into their lives. The digital practices observed here are closely related to emergent forms of visual communication and representation, which need to be described and interpreted through ethnographic analysis, careful contextualization, and systematic comparison.

This paper discusses aspects of digital-visual culture through a case study of the online environment, operated exclusively for First Nations between 1998 and 2019 in the remote communities of Northwestern Ontario, Canada, by the Indigenous internet organization Keewaytinook Okimakanak Kuhkenah Network (KO-KNET).

The analytical framework is a practice theory approach linked to ethnographic fieldwork, historical contextualization, and cultural and diachronic comparison. The creation, distribution and sharing of digital images, collages and layouts for websites in can thus be described, analyzed and interpreted in relation to the phenomenon of hip hop and the associated fan art, as well as the digital biographies of users.

These digital-visual practices are closely connected to individual and collective forms of representation, as well as the maintenance of social relationships across larger distances, and thus also to the construction, negotiation and change of digital identity. They point not only to the global significance of visual communication, representation and culture, but also to the locally specific relationships that people maintain with online environments and digital platforms. Traces of digital decoloniality in an indigenous web-based environment Traces of digital decoloniality in an indigenous web-based environment published on No Comments on Traces of digital decoloniality in an indigenous web-based environment

This blog post is a shorter version of a paper presented at the Engaging with Web Archives (EWA20) conference in September 2020 (Book of Abstracts).
Budka, P. (2020). Traces of digital decoloniality in an indigenous web-based environment. Paper at Engaging with Web Archives (EWA20): “Opportunities, Challenges and Potentialities”, Online (hosted by Maynooth University), 21-22 September.

This blog post builds on selected results of an anthropological project that explored various indigenous engagements with digital media, technologies and infrastructures in Northwestern Ontario, Canada (e.g., Budka, 2015, 2019; Budka et al. 2009). The project was conducted in cooperation with the First Nations internet organization Keewaytinook Okimakanak Kuh-ke-nah Network (KO-KNET).

In this post I briefly reflect upon traces of “digital decoloniality”, a concept borrowed from Alexandra Deem (2019), by exploring selected aspects of the sociotechnical history of KO-KNET’s web-based environment and by discussing facets of a user’s digital biography.


KO-KNET Network, 2010, courtesy of KO-KNET

In 1994, the tribal council Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) established the Kuh-ke-nah Network (KO-KNET) to connect Canada’s indigenous people in Northwestern Ontario’s remote communities through and to the internet. At that time, a local telecommunication infrastructure was almost non-existent. KO-KNET started with a simple bulletin board system that developed into a community-controlled ICT infrastructure, which today includes landline and satellite broadband internet as well as internet-based mobile phone communication (e.g. Fiser & Clement, 2012).

Together with local, regional and national partners, KO-KNET developed different services: from e-health and an internet high school to different remote training programs. The most mundane of those services was the digital environment, which enabled First Nations people to create personal homepages within a cost- and commercial-free space on the web. was set up in 1998 exclusively for the First Nations people of Northwestern Ontario. By the early 2000s, a wide set of actors across Northwestern Ontario, a region with an overall indigenous population of about 45,000, had found a new home on this web-based platform. During its heyday, had more than 30,000 registered user accounts and about 25,000 active homepages.

With the advent and rise of commercial social media platforms, such as Facebook, user numbers began to drop. To reduce administrative and technical costs, KO-KNET decided to switch to WordPress as hosting platform in 2014. Since this required users to set up new websites, numbers continued to fall. In early 2019, there were only 2,900 homepages left and was shut down a couple of months later.

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