Tag Archives: africa

The Chickens and Goats of Uganda’s Internet


anxiao.headshot.headshoulders.200px

An Xiao Mina

Editor’s Note: Memes means, unit of cultural transmission,” and that’s what designer and artist An Xiao Mina @anxiaostudio does in the Story to Action edition of Ethnography Matters. She moves from Ugandan chickens to Western Lolcat, from meme to meaning, deconstructing each meme with cultural analysis. The “action” in this case is a new model for internet culture analysis and a new project that An Xiao is launching in the coming months, the Civic Beat. Her analysis and project compliment the recent publication of Henry Jenkin’s, Sam Ford’s, and Joshua Green’s Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture.

An Xiao shared this story below at Microsoft’s annual Social Computing Symposium organized by Lily Cheng at NYU’s ITP

_____________________________________________________________________

In my first week in Uganda, I was scheduled to give a lecture at a local university, discussing memes and civic life in China. I used a modified version of a talk I’d given previously, tailored slightly for what little I knew about Uganda at the time. The talk and venue themselves were quite familiar—smart people sitting in a row, an air-conditioned room, a shiny projector. It looked like any lecture hall I’d spoken in.

Different humorous chicken and goat memes found on the Ugandan web. Images compiled by Samuel Kamugisha.

Different humorous chicken and goat memes found on the Ugandan web. Images compiled by Samuel Kamugisha.

But the story of getting there was another matter entirely. I decided to take a long route, which had me walking past some chickens in coops. The road was mostly paved, but sometimes I had to walk on a dirt road. And that particular day I didn’t see any goats, but every now and then they’d cross my path.

As I’ve spent more time in Uganda and explored both Kampala and the upcountry regions, I saw more and more of them: chickens, goats, cows, a few pigs, the occasional duck. In the urban areas of the US and China, I’d grown used to a different menagerie, consisting mainly of cats, dogs and squirrels. But as a majority agricultural society, Uganda and its capital are filled with livestock, and the animals waddle, meh, oink and cluck away like a scene from the Farmer in the Dell.

I hadn’t realized it at the time, but my physical journey to talk about social and political memes from China helped gave me some insight into Uganda’s meme culture, and global internet culture in general.

Read More… The Chickens and Goats of Uganda’s Internet

#GoOpenAccess for the Ethnography Matters Community


cadenas

In light of the tragic death of Aaron Swartz and the scrutiny it has placed on JSTOR in particular, the economics of research publications, and the ethics of keeping research publications behind paywalls, I thought there were a few more things to say about open access.

I’ve contemplated the idea for some time now about publishing from here on out only in open access journals. I already freely e-mail my own publications to anyone who requests a copy. And I just feel better (more virtuous?) when I publish a paper in an open access journal. I’ve published in both open and closed access journals. It could be a coincidence, but I’ve noticed that when I publish in open access journals, those publications tend to get more citations. That’s not proof, but it is a good sign that open access does a better job of getting your work in front of readers (which is obvious because such journals are available to the whole of the Internet, not just those who can get past a paywall). The reason I’ve published in ‘closed’ journals has to do with the pressures of being tenure-track. Some of the more prestigious journals are not open access. I’m looking at YOU Science, Technology and Human Values and New Media and Society. Anthropology journals in particular are notoriously out of step with the push towards open access (see the many posts over on Savage Minds, for example).

Read More… #GoOpenAccess for the Ethnography Matters Community

Why Wikipedia is no ‘proxy for culture’ (Part 1 of 3)


Culture close up Bomedical scientist, Nathan Reading on Flickr (CC BY)

Culture close-up by biomedical scientist, Nathan Reading on Flickr (CC BY)

Last month’s Wired magazine showed an infographic with a headline that read: ‘History’s most influential people, ranked by Wikipedia reach’ with a group of 20 men arranged in hierarchical order — from Jesus at number 1 to Stalin at number 20. Curious, I wondered how ‘influence’ and ‘Wikipedia reach’ was being decided. According to the article, ‘Rankings (were) based on parameters such as the number of language editions in which that person has a page, and the number of people known to speak those languages’. What really surprised me was not the particular arrangement of figures on this page but the conclusions that were being drawn from it.

According to the piece, César Hidalgo, head of the Media Lab’s Macro Connections group, who researched the data, made the following claims about the data gathered from Wikipedia:

a) “It shows you how the world perceives your own national culture.

b) “It’s a socio-cultural mirror.

c) “We use historical characters as proxies for culture.

And finally, perhaps most surprising is this final line in the story:

Using this quantitative approach, Hidalgo is now testing hypotheses such as whether cultural development is structured or random. “Can you have a Steve Jobs in a country that has not generated enough science or technology?” he wonders. “Ultimately we want to know how culture assembles itself.”

It is difficult to comment on the particular method used by this study because there is little more than the diagram and a few paragraphs of analysis, and the journalist may have misquoted him, but I wanted to draw attention to the statements being made because I think it represents the growing phenomenon of big data analysts using Wikipedia data to make assumptions about ‘culture’.Read More… Why Wikipedia is no ‘proxy for culture’ (Part 1 of 3)

Inside the World of Low-tech, Resource-constrained Creativity in China [Fieldnote Update]


A father-son team work together in a workshop modifying three-wheeled vehicles in Guizhou, China.

A father-son team work together in a workshop modifying three-wheeled vehicles in Guizhou, China.

imageEditor’s Note: When we started Ethnography Matters, we envisioned it to be a place where ethnographers could share updates from their fieldsites. Last month, An Xiao Mina shared her fieldnotes, Instagram Ethnography in Uganda – Notes on Notes. This month, Zach Hyman @SqInchAnthro shares his fieldnotes from his fieldsite in China.

Zach is based in Chongqing, China on a year long ethnographic dive into creative practices of vehicular design among resource-constrained users. After four months in the field, Zach shares with Ethnography Matters his first field update. 

His observations on low-tech vehicles are incredibly relevant for the current global shifts in automative production. China is now the largest car market. But many Western companies are discovering that simply transferring a car designed for Western users does not appeal to Asian users. Point in case GM’s Cadillac, a car built for American consumers fails to connect to Chinese consumers.  It’s no surprise to an audience of ethnographers  that cultural values inform design decisions, but companies like GM are having to learn the hard way.  

A deep understanding of workers’ current vehicle practices reveals new opportunities to develop vehicles that challenge the current domination of resource-intensive cars. One entrepreneur, Joel Jackson, created Mobius One in Kenya with local welders to overcome transport challenges. The result? A $6,000 low-tech car made for Africa. Like Joel, Zach’s research contributes to a growing group of designers and entrepreneurs who will create a new class of vehicles. 

Find Zach on Instagram @SquareInchAnthro and twitter @SqInchAnthro

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

___________________________________________________

I am presently based out of Chongqing, China, conducting research for a Fulbright grant on resource-constrained creativity surrounding mobility across China. So far, my work has me riding along with, living with, and working alongside urban and peri-urban vehicle users. I have been conducting ethnographic “deep dives” to better understand vehicles’ role in today’s (and tomorrow’s) China. To that end, I will be spending this year documenting and reflecting upon the patterns and practices of mobile creativity.

This is the first of many opportunities to share with a wider audience glimpses  into some of the aspects I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for my research. Enjoy this initial serving, stay tuned for future updates here on Ethnography Matters, and point yourself towards squareinchanthro.com for more of what you see below. Here’s more information more about the technique I’m practicing of using Instagram to write live fieldnotes similar to the ones below.

I_ UN/REACHABLE: In a talk at 2011’s Poptech Conference, Jan Chipchase identified the practice in Seoul of vehicle owners displaying their cellphone number on their vehicle so they may be notified if it must be moved. A similar practice can be found amongst 3-wheeled vehicle-owning fruit vendors who frequent Chongqing’s crowded wholesale fruit market – though this one has a slight twist.

Read More… Inside the World of Low-tech, Resource-constrained Creativity in China [Fieldnote Update]

A funny film poking fun of ethnography (makes a great teaching tool!)



badethnography has a shared a teaching gem: Walter Wippersberg‘s 1994 Film, Dunkles, Rätselhaftes Österreich Dark, Mysterious Austria.  I am now assigning , to all my students. If you teach qualitative methods, consider including this in your syllabus.

Produced for Austria’s SBS-TV, this films pokes fun at old-school ethnography from anthropologists and the National Geographic-esque like exposes on the exotic Africans and South American natives.

“A team of the All African Television network wanders into the darkest regions of the Eastern Alps. They observe the habits and rituals of the natives and make not one, but two ethnological major break-through discoveries.” IMDB

badethnography tell us that at

“At 5:40, we learn that the team has disproved the theory that Europeans are monogamous; starting at about 7:50, they describe the elaborate costumes and militaristic symbolism of clans of the Tyrol region of Austria; and at 15:00, there’s a great discussion of the curious obsession with “patently useless activities,” such as biking for no other purpose than biking itself.

Aside from the humorous commentary, it’s a great way of illustrating the sociological imagination,  which requires us to step out of our own culture and try to look at it through the eyes of an outsider — and, as C. Wright Mills put it, to recapture the ability to be astonished by what we normally take for granted.”

Often times ethnography can feel so heavy and serious –  power and culture ad naseum.

But what does power and culture look like? How do you explain exoticism, imperialism, and ethnocentrism? Dunkles, Rätselhaftes Österreich is a wonderful video to start those conversations because it’s silly! Part of why I love ethnography so much is that it is so fun and I think this video is a great reminder for ethnographers to laugh a bit at ourselves. In all of our musings over the practice and theory of ethnography, we’ve got to remember that we live in a wonderfully silly world and how lovely it is that we live in a period where we get to play all day in collecting knowledge of “man,” a la Foucault.

______

and btw – I don’t think I could ever visit the Alps of Austria without constantly thinking of this video.

UPDATE: Also check out Kitchen Stories, a Swedish film about an ethnographic study on kitchens. It’s a comedy. You can buy the DVD on amazon and watch 2 clips here. Thanks Leila Takayama for the tip!