Archive | December, 2012

“Curious Rituals”: behind the scenes of a speculative ethnographic project


Cell phone inserted in a helmet

Cell phone usage by a courier in Seoul, Korea.

Curious rituals” is a research project I’ve conducted last summer as a visiting researcher at the Art Center School of Design (Media Design Practice program) in Pasadena, CA. The aim was to (a) investigate the gestures and postures people do when using digital devices,  and (b) speculate about their near future. The project book can be found for free as a PDF and printed as a book on Lulu.
General interest

There’s a quote by Science-Fiction author William Gibson that I like a lot; it reflects what I am interested in.

I’m trying to make the moment accessible. I’m not even trying to explain the moment, I’m just trying to make the moment accessible.” (from a documentary film called No Maps for These Territories“).

The reason I find it fascinating is simply that there’s a great value in producing description and making social situations and people’s behavior intelligible. Although the field studies conducted in ethnographic research can (and do) help craft theoretical constructs or models, the accurate and detailed description of what happens before our eyes is also important. This descriptive dimension is probably of interest to me because I work in the design department of an art school. A descriptive understanding of reality may be sufficient enough to inspire or frame the work of practitioners (while theories may be a bit more difficult to be digested). This is a general starting point in my work, which does not necessarily means that it’s a-theoretical (this choice itself emerges out of my interest in Grounded Theory anyways).

Why this topic?

Over the last five years, I’ve worked on different projects related to digital technologies: gesture-based interface in video-games, remote-control as gaming devices, touch interfaces, the user experience of virtual reality goggles, etc. The investigation addressed various angles but I noticed a common thread in the results: the body language people develop when using digital devices such as cell phones, laptops, robots, game controllers, sensors or any interface that involved ICTs. I started compiling examples, mostly via pictures one can find in my Flickr stream. The intuition was that it would be intriguing to explore that domain, and understand the underlying issues related to such habits. The opportunity to spend two months at the Media Design Practice department at Art Center College of Design in California then came as relevant context to investigate this topic more thoroughly.

With the team (Kathy Myiake, Nancy Kwon and Walton Chiu), we chose to use the term “rituals” without the religious or solemn connotation, referring instead to a series of actions regularly and invariably followed by someone.Read More… “Curious Rituals”: behind the scenes of a speculative ethnographic project

Instagram Ethnography in Uganda – Notes on Notes


anxiao.headshot.headshoulders.200pxEditor’s Note:  At Ethnography Matters, we love featuring the new generation of ethnographers who are experimenting with innovative techniques.

An Xiao Mina @anxiaostudio is a researcher, design strategist, and artist. She moved to Uganda for a few months to conduct ethnographic fieldwork. Instead of just using a traditional field toolkit (audio recorder, camera, notebook, laptop), An Xiao also incorporated social media apps into her documentation practice. In her first guest post on Ethnography Matters, An Xiao shares with us her methods for using Instagram and Tumblr to live fieldnote

An Xiao plays a central role in leading the ethnographic documentation of global memes. Her most recent talk dissects the political nature of memes in China. She writes about design and people on Core 77.  She has a  beautiful piece on the close collaboration of artists and villagers to save a Chinese village from demolition in Design Observer. And follow her on Instagram (@anxiaostudio) and tumblr for live fieldnotes! 

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

___________________________________________________________

xinhuanateete

In October and part of November, I had the privilege to live and work in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and to spend additional time in nearby areas such as Masaka in Western Uganda and Oyam in Northern Uganda.  As I was traveling to explore technology use in urban and rural contexts around the country, I thought it would be a great opportunity to practice live fieldnotes on Tumblr and Instagram, a technique I picked up from Tricia Wang’s ethnographic practice.

kampalaoverhead (1)

I found that live fieldnotes came naturally to me.  I took photos with multiple cameras–a Canon SLR, a Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot, and of course my iPhone.  Thanks to Apple’s camera connection kit, I used my iPad to consolidate images, highlight my favorites, and then queue them up on Instagram.  Since I did not have regular internet access either via wifi or 3G, I would wait until I reached home to post them all.  The great convenience of Instagram is that it would then port the images directly to Tumblr and Flickr, where they would be tagged and sorted.Read More… Instagram Ethnography in Uganda – Notes on Notes

On Digital Ethnography: mapping as a mode of data discovery (2 of 4)


WendyHsu_pineconeEditor’s Note: Can ethnographers use software programs? Last month’s guest contributor, Wendy Hsu @WendyFHsu, says YES! In Part 1 of On Digital Ethnography, What do computers have to do with ethnography?, Wendy introduced her process of using computer programming software to collect quantitative data in her ethnographic research. She received a lot of great comments and suggestions from readers. 

Part 2 of of Wendy’s Digital Ethnography series focuses on the processing and interpreting part. In fascinating detail, Wendy discusses mapping as a mode of discovery. We learn how using a customized spatial “algorithm that balances point density and readability” can reveal patterns that inform the physical spread of musicians’ fans and friends globally. Geo-location data clarified her qualitative data. We are already in great anticipation for Part 3! 

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

_________________________________________________________

The Hsu-nami's Myspace friend distribution in Asia

Figure 0: The Hsu-nami’s Myspace friend distribution in Asia

In my last post, I introduced the idea of using webscraping for the purpose of acquiring relevant ethnographic data. In this second post, I will concentrate on the next step of the ethnographic process: data processing and interpreting. Remember The Hsu-nami, the band that I talked in the last post? The image above is a screenshot of their Myspace friend distribution, a map that I created for analyzing the geography of their community. This post is about the value of creating such maps.Read More… On Digital Ethnography: mapping as a mode of data discovery (2 of 4)

Innovation in Asthma Research: Using Ethnography to Study a Global Health Problem (2 of 3)


Editor’s Note: Global health research is not easy to coordinate. Publicly shared global health research is even more complex. That is why last month, Ethnography Matters was so excited to feature Erik Bigras‘s and Kim Fortun‘s innovative research methods for The Asthma Files, a project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where ethnographers gather and publicly share data about asthma. We believe their work signals to an important turn in policy oriented and public ethnography. 

In Erik’s and Kim’s first post, Innovation in Asthma Research: Using Ethnography to Study a Global Health Problem (1 of 3),  they focused on why The Asthma Files is necessary and introduced some of the technical logistics for creating a crowd-sourced qualitative data health gathering project. 

In this month’s Ethnozine, Erik and Kim’s second post details the exciting process of choosing the best data sharing platform for their project, Plone. We learn about how the Tehran Asthma Files was born out of a close collaboration with the  Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the University of California, Irvine. 

We look forward to their final post in this series that will discuss how other researchers from social scientists to epidemiologists and global health experts can participate in the research project and make use of the data. 

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

_________________________________________

spacestehran

Choosing the Right Platform

Collaborating with other disciplines (here, data science) allows us to better understand the ways in which scientific knowledge is able to cross particular boundaries.

Collaborating with other disciplines (here, data science) allows us to better understand the ways in which scientific knowledge is able to cross particular boundaries.

Our ethnographic experiments are made possible partly because of the choice of online platform that The Asthma Files uses. Choosing the right platform is anything but simple. Each platform has its own capabilities, and these don’t necessarily align with the goals of the project. For The Asthma Files, we’ve so far been through three different platforms. We eventually settled on Plone because it was the one most suited to our needs.

As we said in our previous post, one of the goals of The Asthma Files is to rethink the everyday work of ethnography. In order words, we’re trying to understand how digital environments can transform the everyday, mundane, things that ethnographers do. As such, one of our primary audiences is ourselves as ethnographers and researchers. For this purposes, we needed an online platform that would be more than a delivery mechanism. We needed something that would act as a fully developed workspace where we could share, store, and create material.Read More… Innovation in Asthma Research: Using Ethnography to Study a Global Health Problem (2 of 3)

Using online/offline methods: An ethnography of chip music and its scene


marilouEditor’s note: This week, Marilou Polymeropoulou, D.Phil student at the Oxford University Faculty of Music, talks about her work trying to understand creativity in chip music, a type of electronic music composed on retro videogame and computer consoles. For Marilou’s thesis entitled: “Limitation and Creativity in Chip Music: an Ethnographic Perspective”, she conducted online and offline ethnographic fieldwork among the transnational community of chip music for the last two years. The methodological focus of her work promotes an ethnomusicological perspective on creativity and assesses technology from a sociological viewpoint. Marilou developed a set of ethnomethodological tools to juxtapose and combine the online/offline binary which she talks about in her short post below. 

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

__________________________________________________

Desert Planet (FI) perform at Eindbaas 9 in Utrecht, NL (13/4/12)

Desert Planet (FI) perform at Eindbaas 9 in Utrecht, NL (13/4/12)

Chip music is a type of electronic music composed on retro videogame consoles and computers such as Commodore 64, Atari ST, Amiga and the Nintendo Gameboy but also on any computer that can simulate the retro consoles’ sound chip. “Chiptunes”, “8-bit”, “micromusic” and “fakebit” are some terms associated with chip music. The chipscene is a transnational community which emerged online in late ’90s but its historical background is rooted deep into the ‘80s subcultural community, the Demoscene. Why use retro machines to create music? This is not the easiest question to answer. In some respects, it is all about expanding the limitations of these machines. “Why not?”, is a response I often receive by my informants. “It’s fun!” others acclaim.

Setting up the gear at the Analog Attack event, London, UK (7/4/12)

Ethnography assisted me in finding a meaningful truth of chip music and of what it has to offer to the academic discourse of music studies. The question is however, how does one conduct and juxtapose multi-sited and online ethnography with a transnational group of people? I used a selection of ethnographic methods, which can be summed up in the following bullet points:

  • Snowballing. My story with the chipscene begun when I met Tonylight a chiptune artist who was visiting Athens, Greece for an event. Tonylight introduced me to Javier, a director who was working on a documentary about the chipscene: “Europe in 8 bits” (see video). And from then on I met several people that were somehow connected.
  • Lurking. I lurked online in 8bitcollective.org (servers are down for about a year now) and micromusic.net for enough time in order to learn the dynamics of the community online.
  • Participant observation. I followed Javier’s team in Europe and I experienced chip music in a different cultural setting – in Italy, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands and Germany. In addition, I attended virtually events which were broadcast online (e.g. Eindbaas 8 in Utrecht and the last Blip Festival in Tokyo) where users had the opportunity to interact via a chat room.
  • Interviews. This was the starting point of my ethnography. However, chip music is part of club culture and it was not always possible to interview people for a variety of reasons. While I was in the field, I attempted to record an interview at every opportunity. With some informants I found correspondence via e-mail or Facebook to be more efficient.

Read More… Using online/offline methods: An ethnography of chip music and its scene