Archive | October, 2012

On Digital Ethnography, What do computers have to do with ethnography? (1 of 4)


Editor’s Note: While digital ethnography is an established field within ethnography, we don’t often hear of ethnographers building digital tools to conduct their fieldwork. Wendy Hsu wants to change that. In the first of her three-part guest post series, she shows how ethnographers can use software, and even build their own software, to explore online communities. By drawing on examples from her own research on independent rock musicians, she shares with us how she moved from being an ethnographer of purely physical domains to an ethnographer who built software programs to gather more relevant qualitative data. 

Wendy is currently a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center of Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College. She recently completed a Ph.D. in the Critical and Comparative Studies program in the McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation, an ethnography of Asian American independent rock musicians, deploys the methods of ethnomusicology and digital humanities to explore the complex interrelationships between popular music and geography in transnational contexts. She implemented methods of digital ethnography to map musicians’ social networks. She tweets at @wendyfhsu and blogs at beingwendyhsu.info. She also plays with the vintage Asian garage pop revivalist band Dzian!.

Check out past posts from guest bloggers. Here are some ideas for how you can contribute.

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When Tricia asked me to contribute a series on Ethnography Matters, I thought that I would take this opportunity to bring together the notes on digital ethnography that I have collected over the last couple of years. I would like to push the boundaries of computational usage in ethnographic processes a bit here. I really want to expand the definition of digital ethnography beyond the use of computers, tablets, and smart phones as devices to interact with online communities, or to capture, transfer, and store field media.

In this three-part series, I am going to discuss how working with computational tools could widen the scope of ethnographic work and deepen our practice. I will stay mostly within the domain of data gathering in this first post. In the second post, I will talk about the process of field data interpreting and visualizing; and the last post, I will focus on how the digital may transform ethnographic narrative and argumentation.

In this post, I’d like to foreground computational methodology in thinking about how we as ethnographers may deploy digital tools as we explore communities within and around digital infrastructures. I am particularly interested in how we use these tools to study communities that are digitally organized. How do we use and think about data ethnographically? How does one use computational tools to navigate in digital communities? What are the advantages of leveraging (small) data approaches in doing ethnographic work? While this post is focused on the study of digitally embedded communities, in my later posts, I will speak more broadly about how the digital may extend how we look at communities where face-to-face interactions are central.

Read More… On Digital Ethnography, What do computers have to do with ethnography? (1 of 4)

Innovation in Asthma Research: Using Ethnography to Study a Global Health Problem (1 of 3)


Editor’s Note: Ethnography can be used to inform important health and policy decisions. But there are few public case studies that illustrate the value of ethnography for this specific context. When we learned about The Asthma Files, a project where ethnographers were not only gathering data to better understand asthma but also openly sharing the data, we became very excited to feature their work.

The Asthma Files was first envisioned in 2006 by Kim and Mike Fortun, who wanted to address the contested space of asthma research. One of Kim’s graduate students, Erik Bigras, became involved in the project in 2009. Although Erik’s original dissertation topic was on game design, his research evolved to include the Asthma Files as one of his fieldsites. 

In the first post of their three-part series, Erik and Kim tell us about how they conceptualized The Asthma Files, why asthma deserves research attention from ethnographers, and how research data is shared on an open content management system.  

Kim Fortun, a cultural anthropologist, is a professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at RPI. Her book  Advocacy After Bhopal (Chicago, 2001) examines how different stakeholders understood and responded to the catastrophic chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India in 1984. She has also studied chronic, less obvious disasters linked to toxic chemicals.

Erik Bigras is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at  RPI. As a graduate student, his work focuses on the production of technical legibility and subject effects in the arenas of air climate science and environmental governance.

Check out past posts from guest bloggers. Here are some ideas for how you can contribute!

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The Asthma Files

An anthropological project to understand how different communities and societies respond to complex problems.

An interdisciplinary project to advance understanding of asthma and environmental public health.Read More… Innovation in Asthma Research: Using Ethnography to Study a Global Health Problem (1 of 3)

Ethnozine: October edition


Gabriella Coleman’sethnozine_october research on the enigmatic Anonymous network has provided unique insights and dispeled myths about the group. In a guest contribution this month, Coleman writes about tensions in her work and what it means to be implicated in “the dance between Anonymous and journalism.”

Our other guest contributor, Cisco’s Mike Gotta, writes about rethinking enterprise social networking (ESN) design processes and the value of qualitative research for building ESN systems.

Heather Ford addresses the value of qualitative research in another context in her reflections on a WikiSym conference dominated by quantitative analyses of English language Wikipedia.

And Jenna Burrell discusses the challenges of keeping up with fieldwork from afar in her post on read-along ethnography, in which she examines the possibilities and limitations of understanding a distant fieldsite through a collaborator’s notes and images.

NOTES

NEXT MONTH

Would you like to be our next guest contributor? Ethnography Matters is your space. you can feature a project/paper/book/syllabus, provide a fieldwork update, or share your thoughts. Here are some more ideas for how you can participate. We’d love to hear from you. Email us at ethnographymatters[at]gmail!

#ethnobookclub launches the first book: Death Without Weeping


Jenna’s post on ethnographic monographs inspired us to start an ethnography reading group. (You can join our Ethnographic Monograph group on Mendeley here.)

For our first experiment in reading together, we’ve picked Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, by Nancy Scheper-Hughes.

Death Without Weeping is based on Scheper-Hughes’ fieldwork in a rural village in Northeastern Brazil in the 1980s, and her decades of contact with the community there.  The book centers on maternal love in a context where scarcity and child death are the norm. Along the way, Scheper-Hughes explores conflicts between academic reflection and activism, and what it means to be an ethnographer:

The ethnographer, like the artist, is engaged in a special kind of vision quest through which a specific interpretation of the human condition, an entire sensibility, is forged. Our medium, our canvas, is “the field,” a place both proximate and intimate (because we have lived some part of our lives there) as well as forever distant and unknowably “other” (because our own destinies lie elsewhere). In the act of “writing culture,” what emerges is always a highly subjective, partial, and fragmentary — but also deeply felt and personal — record of human lives based on eyewitness and testimony. The act of witnessing is what lends our work its moral (at times its almost theological) character. So-called participant observation has a way of drawing the ethnographer into spaces of human life where she or he might really prefer not to go at all and once there doesn’t know how to go about getting out except through writing, which draws others there as well, making them party to the act of witnessing.

It’s gorgeous. Go get it! We would love to hear what you think of it. You can share your thoughts, your favorite quotes, your blog posts, etc. on twitter with the hashtag #ethnobookclub, or send us an email at ethnographymatters[at]gmail.  We’re still experimenting with formats, but our current plan is to post thoughts on the book every week or so starting in November.

Anonymous and I [guest contributor]


Editor’s Note: Anonymous may still be a mysterious network, but there is one researcher who has helped the world better understand their activities, Gabriella Coleman. In this month’s guest post, Gabriella discusses how her research on Anonymous changed the way she conducted fieldwork: she moved from being a traditional anthropologist to a more public anthropologist.

Her post brings up issues that are central to the founding of Ethnography Matters – how to be an ethnographer today. Increasingly, ethnographers are engaging with the media either as commentators, pundits, or experts. By opening up our work to the public, we make it more accessible and immediate, but how does public engagement change the work we do? Especially when the engagement becomes a mode of access for data.

Gabriella’s intro to her post on Limn highlights the tensions she has experienced as her fieldwork with Anonymous has evolved over time. Is her work more about Anonymous or journalism? Or perhaps it is about something else? Share your thoughts in the comments.

With such a controversial topic, many institutions may shy away from hosting Gabriella. But not McGill University, where she holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy in the Art History and Communication Studies Department. Trained as an anthropologist, her work examines the ethics of online collaboration/institutions as well as the role of the law and digital media in sustaining various forms of political activism. She’s writing a new book on Anonymous and digital activism. Follow her on twitter @biellacoleman.

Gabriella’s first book is coming out next month, Coding Freedom: The Aesthetics and the Ethics of Hacking. You can pre-order it on Amazon!  In the meantime, Gabriella’ sresearch publications and non-academic writing will keep up busy until the book arrives. 

Check out past posts from guest bloggers. Ethnography Matters is always lining up guest contributors.  Send us an email!

–Tricia 

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When I first dove into the ethnographic study of Anonymous—the global protest movement known best for its digital protests tactics—I  never thought my project would also become one on journalists and hence the media.  But after about the 40th interview, it became pretty evident that this was a central part of my larger project and my ethnographic experience.

To have to be public about your work, while you are doing that work is no easy task; in fact it went against everything I was used to as anthropologist, which was to delve and burrow as deep as I could into a topic/world, and come out the tunnel on the other side, about a year later, ready to start conveying some insight and arguments.Read More… Anonymous and I [guest contributor]