Archive | February, 2013

Designing for Stories: Working with Homeless Youth in Boyle Heights


Editor’s Note: This post for the February ‘Openness Edition‘ comes from Jeff Hall, Elizabeth Gin and An Xiao Mina who discuss their project to facilitate personal storytelling by homeless youth from Jovenes, Inc. in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles. The team from the Media Design Practices/ Field Track program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California had so much success with the timeline structure that they’re packaging it for future use at Jovenes, Inc. and releasing it under a Creative Commons license so others can try it out in the field. This kind of repurposing of ethnographic tools is exactly the kind of sharing that we get excited about at EM and we encourage others to share their own tools and work processes in similar ways.

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jovenestimeline1

Photo by the authors. All rights reserved.

Ethnography has a lot to offer design, as evidenced by the growing field of design and design-related research informed by the methods and practices of anthropology.  Within this emerging interdisciplinary space, the design community and the anthropological community now have an opportunity to ask the question – “If anthropology has offered so much for design – what can design offer anthropology?”

We explored this question as part of our work with Jovenes, Inc., a center for homeless youth in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles.  Our goal was to provide an opportunity for youth to tell their personal stories and experiences. These stories would assist the organization in learning more about its constituency and support applications for additional funding to improve its programming and services. We worked in the vein of Participatory Action Research, by Alice McIntyre, taking a collaborative approach to the design and storytelling process, ensuring that both the youths’ untapped creative abilities and our expertise and research were consistently utilized throughout the experience.Read More… Designing for Stories: Working with Homeless Youth in Boyle Heights

Massively EPIC 2013! Your Contributions Wanted, March 9th!


Simon Roberts Editor’s Note: One of the reasons we started Ethnography Matters was to bring ethnography to a wider audience. Before Ethnography Matters, the founders of EPIC  @epiconference had a similar goal: to give ethnographers outside of academia a space to build community, to share best practices, and to educate the industry about the value of human driven research. EPIC has been, and continues to be, a critical space for ethnographers working in the industry. We are very excited to announce that Ethnography Matters and EPIC will be collaborating this year to bring you closer to the amazing organizers, papers, workshops, and conversations in the lead up to and after the conference. 

In a special guest contribution from co-organizer of EPIC13 (and EPIC12), Simon Roberts from ReD Associates tells us about the exciting things to expect from this year’s conference. He tells us about the massively radical decision to make EPIC13  a no theme year! No theme conferences are quite radical in the conference world, especially considering that EPIC has always had a theme since it started in 2005. This will be the first of many posts from the awesome organizing team behind EPIC13.

Simon Roberts @ideasbazaar is a well known anthropologist with a long history of working with a diverse group of clients. He is currently a consultant at ReD Associates, an innovation and strategy consultancy. In 2002 he founded Ideas Bazaar,  UK’s first ethnographic research company and in 2006 he moved to Intel to develop an R&D lab focused on ageing and healthcare. 

Check out past posts from guest bloggers! Join our email groups for ongoing conversations. Follow us on twitter and facebook

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To theme or not to theme
EPIC, the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, is “the premier international gathering on the current and future practice of ethnography in the business world.” That’s the headline, the formal statement of intent.

But to my mind, Bruce Sterling, in his keynote at EPIC 2011, put it well when he said that EPIC is a big tent. It’s a tent under which a diverse group of people gather each year – people with odd titles and jobs which they can’t explain to their mothers, and a shared belief in the importance of applying ethnographically derived knowledge to the world of business.

Under the big tent of EPIC each year come together an array of professional committed to putting people at the heart of business decision making. In this respect, we hope that EPIC 2013 in London will be no different. However, in 2013 we are making at least one change which may stretch that canvas a little more than in past years.

EPIC Calling
This year’s call for contributions (for Papers, Pecha Kuchas and Artifacts) has no theme.

Over the years organizers have framed the conference around meaty ideas and concepts and expected would-be authors or presenters to respond to that theme.Read More… Massively EPIC 2013! Your Contributions Wanted, March 9th!

YouTube “video tags” as an open survey tool


JSpyerEditor’s note:  In this post for February’s Openness Edition, Juliano Spyer (@jasper) explains how he created a video logging (vlogging) survey that took on a life of its own within the YouTube vlogging community, and discusses how his research instrument became valuable not only for the himself, the researcher, but for the researched community. Juliano has invited us to respond to his initial post and to experiment with this exciting new survey form. 

Juliano is a Brazilian ethnographer who is currently doing his PhD at University College London’s Anthropology Department where he is part of the Social Networking and Social Science Research Project.

Check out other posts from the Openness Edition: Jenna Burrel’s ‘#GoOpenAccess for the Ethnography Matters Community‘ and Sarah Kendzior’s ‘On Legitimacy, Place and the Anthropology of the Internet‘.
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Think of a survey where the presence of the researcher is not required. Think of a questionnaire that is spontaneously answered and also recommended to others inside a network of friends and peers. Think of a situation where the research results do not go exclusively to the researcher, but remain within the researched community and operate as an archive of group knowledge. I have found that all this is possible through video tagging.

What are video tags?

Screen Shot of Juliano waving goodbye to viewers. 2013-02-20 at 3.13.03 PM

Screen Shot of Juliano waving goodbye to viewers. 2013-02-20 at 3.13.03 PM

In 2011, as I conducted an ethnographic study of YouTube beauty gurus, I learned that the vlogging community uses roughly two genres of videos: tutorials, which are step-by-step instructions on how to create a makeup look, and “video tags” or just “tags”, a more personal type of communication which consists of questionnaires created and circulated inside the community.

The term “tag”, here, has at least two meanings: tag as the topic or subject of the questionnaire and tag as the action of inviting (“tagging”) your friends at the end of the questionnaire so they can also answer the questions and bring more people to participate. Levels of participation begin with watching and commenting, then answering tags created by others, then creating original tags.

I won’t go into why users do what they do here. It is enough to say that video tags are a way for participants of a certain community of practice to socialize, to get to know more about the people they admire, as well as to forge new relationships. And for those who decide to respond to the tags, it is a way of becoming known by others in this “informal realm” (Winkler Reid 2010) where a person’s reputation corresponds to the number of subscribers that person’s channel has.Read More… YouTube “video tags” as an open survey tool

On Legitimacy, Place and the Anthropology of the Internet


sarahkendziorEditor’s note: In this thoughtful piece for February’s Openness Edition, Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) discusses the ways in which the internet has transformed the relationship between the writer and the people about whom he or she writes. Sarah has written extensively about open access to scholarly publications (‘one paper (she) uploaded to Academia.edu… helped Uzbek refugees find a safe haven abroad’, according to one interview). In this post, Sarah writes about a deeper question regarding the openness of the research process and the ways in which the internet has led to a leveling of the playing fields in a way that some anthropologists would rather ignore than confront. After all, when the “subaltern speaks” and anyone, not just anthropologists, can hear, who exactly is doing the exposing?

Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist and communications scholar who studies digital media and politics. Her home blog is at sarahkendzior.com

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

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In the hallway of my anthropology department there was a map of the world. The map was covered with photos of students in the field, their exact location pinpointed by an image on a string. Every year, the academic coordinator would send out a call to students for a representative photo to add to the map, and every year, I failed to respond.

During the bulk of my dissertation fieldwork, I lived in Missouri. The people I wrote about, Uzbek exiled political dissidents, lived all around the world — in Sweden, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, the United States, Turkey. Having fled a brutal crackdown following a massacre of civilians, they lived lives of constant upheaval, on the move and on the run. They thought less about where they were than they did about Uzbekistan, the one place they could not go. They spent most of their time online, talking to each other and talking to me. I could not go to Uzbekistan either, since my previous articles criticized its authoritarian regime.

birdamlik_computer

This picture shows the inside of the truck of the leader of the Birdamlik People’s Movement, an Uzbek opposition group. Birdamlik has branches in over a dozen countries (including Uzbekistan) but they are organized through the internet. The leader of the movement works in the US as a truck driver, and he calls this his “mobile office” — a communications center set up inside his 18-wheeler. The computer screen shows the Birdamlik website, which is banned in Uzbekistan. Pic by Sarah Kendzior (all rights reserved)

The online communities of exiled dissidents made for an interesting dissertation. But it posed a problem when it came to the department map. Should I mark every point on the map or none of them? Should I designate Uzbekistan somehow – a skull and crossbones, a circle with a slash? What was my “representative image” – an activist curled up with his laptop, updating his Facebook status? A blogger staring at Cyrillic on a screen? Me, alone at my desk, checking my email?

No one wants to see these things. No one wants to see visual documentation of their own online lives, much less the lives of others. It is the academic version of the tabloid reveal – “Uzbek dissidents – they’re just like us!” Such banality runs counter to anthropological advertising. The purpose of the department map was to show visitors that our research subjects are not just like us – but that we, for a time, could be just like them.

I was like the people I studied too, in that none of us have a place within the traditional conception of anthropological fieldwork. We were too much on the move, or we were not moving enough.Read More… On Legitimacy, Place and the Anthropology of the Internet

Infra/Extraordinary: From GoPros to vanity camera drones


The Infra/Extraordinary column is devoted to zooming in on intriguing objects and practices of the 21st Century. Adopting a design-ethnography perspective, we will question informal urban bricolage, weird cameras, curious gestures and wonder about their cultural implications.

Go Pro helmet in the Swiss Alps

Go Pro helmet in the Swiss Alps

The other day in the Swiss Alps, among the crowd of heavily-protected people skiing and snowboarding, I couldn’t help noticing a peculiar type of people: the ones with a camera attached to the top of their helmets. It’s hard to miss them as this apparatus gives them extra inches as well as an odd robomechanical look. For those unaware of this intriguing outfit, this device is a “GoPro“, a camera named after the brand of “wearable” camcorders one can add on different types of gear for sport/adventure video and photography. Common usage of GoPros range from surfboarding to bungee jumping, snowboarding or just driving your car in memorable places.

Contemplating such devices during my day skiing, I started noticing a certain amount of GoPro-enabled people around me each time I was in the line for a ski-lift, or at the outdoor restaurants (which left me wondering about the type of video the users might get when seated sipping their coffee). What does the recent surge in such devices indicate? What does it mean with regards to the evolution of photography?

A SUV with a GoPro cam attached on it, encountered in Monument Valley, UT.

In the last fifteen years, we have seen an exponential growth of digital photography. Compact cameras, SLRs and cameras available on cell phones have become ubiquitous and are used by increasing numbers of people. This situation has led to a wide range of practices, as shown by various studies in sociology or human-computer interaction. Wearable camcorders seem to be an extension of the tendency some people have to copiously document their activities on platforms such as Flickr, Instagram or social networks in general. But there’s an important difference here: the documentation is no longer discrete; it’s continuous, as long as there’s enough battery. To some extent, this documentation is delegated to a machine that is also no longer gripped by the users; it’s attached to our clothes or to specific gear such as an helmet or your skateboard.

Gordon Bell

Gordon Bell, Photography by Dan Tuffs.

For people interested in Human-Computer Interaction, this practice does not come out of the blue. Certain projects conducted by Microsoft in the last ten years have dealt with this already. Gordon Bell, principal researcher in the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Laboratory, is a long-time defender of what he calls “extreme lifelogging”, i.e. the exhaustive collection of data and content about one’s life in order to create a personal archive. This type of project also corresponds to existing products such as Vicon Revue or Memoto. And of course, readers of “As we may think” by Vannevar Bush in 1945 may find some similarities with the Memex project, a “device in which individuals would compress and store all of their books, records, and communications“.

Beyond tracing the genealogy of such an idea, what interests me here rather deals with the evolution of such practices. Talking with GoPro users and observing their use in my daily environment, I recently noticed a shift: the camera is sometimes pointed at the user(s). So, instead of filming the mountains, the ocean or the road, wearable cameras are also employed to collect footage about the people using it. Look for instance at this YouTube video called “GoPro Hero 2 rear view facing driver, Suzuki GSF 650N”:

Of course, cameras have always been used to shoot people, but what is relevant here is to see how users can do that on their own, without the help of friends or relatives. From an Actor-Network perspective, one might say that this function has been delegated to a non-human: the camera mounted on an arm attached to something close enough to frame the user. This situation is reflected in the design of the “arm” with plenty of what they call “mounting accessories” which are aimed at different contexts. There’s a whole ecosystem of artifacts and practices to observe here!

MeCamMeCam Finally, being interested in design and futures practices, I also can’t help being intrigued by the next logical move. Given this practice of filming one’s self and the recent surge in personal drones, we’re only a few steps away from what I’d call “Vanity drones”, flying robots that would film users and stream the data on social networks… But, wait a minute, I just stumbled across this MeCam, a $49 camera “designed to follow you around and stream live video to your smartphone, allowing you to upload videos to YouTube, Facebook, or other sites“.

Head-mounted cameras, necklace cams, vanity drones… all these artefacts highlight how digital photography evolved and how their design encapsulates assumptions about their use. One can see a trend towards the automation of data collection, which correspond to common practices on the Web and social media. To put it differently, these devices reveal the intricate relationships between their design and our information ecosystem.

February 2013: The Openness Edition


Heather FordThis month, we begin with a timely conversation on openness in the ethnographic research community, highlighting some of the many facets of this principle for ethnographers, especially those who study online communities. Jenna Burrell has also written a post that has attracted great feedback on open access journals for the ethnography research community so be sure to check that out if you’re interested in how to make your published work more accessible. 

For the next months’ themes, please see the calendar and contact us with your proposed post. We’d love to hear from you!

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On Saturday the 12th of January, almost a month ago, I woke to news of Aaron Swartz’s death the previous day. In the days that followed, I experienced the mixed emotions that accompany such horrific moments: sadness for him and the pain he must have gone through in struggling with depression and anxiety, anger at those who had waged an exaggerated legal campaign against him, uncertainty as I posted about his death on Facebook and felt like I was trying to claim some part of him and his story, and finally resolution that I needed to clarify my own policy on open access.

I had worked passionately for open access in my previous life, helping educational institutions and foundations design open access policy, pushing for open government data and railing against those who didn’t ‘get’ why closing access to publicly-funded information was outdated and unsustainable. But nearing the end of my work with Creative Commons and its international offshoot, iCommons, I became jaded by the internal politics of the open content movement, and embarrassed by my previous zealousness. I started to realize that open access was definitely not revolutionising access to education in the majority of the world, and that the passion that myself and others had felt about pushing forward the openness agenda was becoming sinister as any criticism was met with aggressive denial, as definitions of openness became ever narrower and technologically defined, and as we seemed to get further and further from the goals that we started with.

books

Image by Torley on Flickr. CC BY SA

In the wake of Aaron’s death, and the renewed calls by the open access community for academics to take a stand, I felt that I needed to resolve these feelings and to define my own perspective on the issue. Thinking about the openness of your research can be like going down a rabbit hole because if you’re attempting maximum accessibility for all people at all times, any open access policy looks incomplete. Open access definitions tend to be restricted to a particular medium (digital, online) and a particular definition of free (free of charge and free from most copyright licensing conditions) (see Peter Suber’s great introduction to open access here).Read More… February 2013: The Openness Edition

2013 Themes


calendar1Starting February 2013, Ethnography Matters is starting a thematic monthly enquiry led by each of our team members. Be sure to contact us if you’re interested in contributing to any of these editions!

February 2013 edited by Heather Ford: The Openness Edition

March 2013 edited by Tricia Wang: “Stories to insights to action!” The role of narrative in ethnographic practice

April 2013 edited by Nicolas Nova: Ethnomining: Combining qualitative and quantitative data

May 2013 edited by Jenna Burrell: How to talk to companies and organisations about ethnographic fieldwork

June 2013 edited by Rachelle Annechino: Pseudonyms and pseudonymity

Photo by Joe Lanman CC BY on Flickr

Ethnography of Trolling: Workarounds, Discipline-Jumping & Ethical Pitfalls (2 of 3)


whitney phillips december 2012Editor’s note: While ethnographers sometimes encounter resistance from their research subjects, it’s not everyday that these subjects threaten to harm or otherwise humiliate the researcher. In her second guest post,Whitney Phillips @wphillips49  tells us how she responded to threats from the community she was studying. Whitney also shares with us how she adjusted her everyday life to her research, how she handled professors’ concerns, and how her analysis evolved over time.  

Whitney also reflects on earlier criticisms of her work, giving us an intimate sense of how she negotiated her position within her fieldwork. 

 Her second post is a fantastic follow up to her riveting post from last month about her ethnographic work on an anonymous community, internet trolls.

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

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As promised in my last post, this post will discuss my role as a participant observer in the 2008-2012 troll space. It was weird, I hinted, which really is the only way to describe it. Because space is limited, I’m going to focus on three points of overlapping weirdness, namely troll blindness, real and perceived apologia, and ethnographic vampirism. There are other stories I could tell, and other points of weirdness I could discuss, but these are moments that taught me the most, for better and for worse.

sagan trollsss

It’s Just a Death Threat, Don’t Worry About It

For the first few years of my research project, I kept the lowest public profile possible. I had published a short thought piece on trolls’ relationship to 2009’s Obama/Joker poster, but otherwise was conducting my research in stealth mode. My friends knew what I was working on, sort of, and whenever I could I angled seminar papers towards my dissertation project (an especially neat trick in the Piers Plowman class I took during my third year of coursework). So my work wasn’t top secret, but it wasn’t something you could easily find just by Googling my name — which was exactly how I wanted it.

This changed after I started working on Facebook memorial page trolling (RIP trolling for short), which could run the gamut from harassing so-called “grief tourists,” people who post condolence messages onto the Facebook RIP pages of dead strangers, all the way to attacking the friends and family of murdered teenagers. By 2010, and spurred by that year’s series of gay teen suicides (the coverage of which trolls were more than happy to exploit), memorial page trolling was shaping into a pretty major news story. Because my University of Oregon student bio had recently been updated to include information about my research on the subject, media outlets began reaching out. I did one newspaper interview, which lead to another, which resulted in my name and information being posted onto 4chan’s /b/ board, one of the internet’s most notorious trolling hotspots (my article on /b/ can be found here).Read More… Ethnography of Trolling: Workarounds, Discipline-Jumping & Ethical Pitfalls (2 of 3)