Friday, April 29

Bye bye Iran, hello Tunisia!

Well, so much for the best laid plans... Apparently the Iranians put our visa applications in a drawer and forgot about them or something, so not just the warmongering Brit but even the Austrians had to abandon our trip - some might still go in 2 weeks, but not Andrea or I. We just consulted a last minute travel agent looking for anything Arabic, so now we're off to Tunisia next week, me for a week and Andrea for two. I'm disappointed about Iran after trying so hard to make it happen and getting so close, but we have to move on rather than dwell on the past. I've long harboured a desire to get to know the mother continent, and my only encounter so far has been a family day trip from Spain to Morocco many years ago, chaperoned by our student guide to his chosen merchants and gently fleeced - not what I had in mind! We'll see what insights this trip brings...

Thursday, April 28

Bethlehem Bloggers...

I've been reading their blog for some time now...and this is one of my favourite entries up until now. Here's a short description:

We are Palestinians and internationals who are living in the Bethlehem region (see Map), and who want to tell the world what it is like to be living in occupied territory, under an economic siege, encircled by a wall and military checkpoints: what it is like to live in a Palestinian Ghetto.

We invite you to come to see Bethlehem—to meet the people who live here and witness the occupied land of Palestine for yourselves. For those who cannot come, we provide you with this “weblog” so you can at least hear our stories: voices from the Bethlehem Ghetto.

I quite wonder how many people read this blog...

Wednesday, April 27

leaving for Iran soon...

On Saturday we're off to Iran for two weeks - if everything works out fine, that is. Peter still hasn't got a visa, no one actually does yet - but we'll hopefully sort that out by Friday...things seem to be a tiny bit complicated with iranian embassies. Whatever - I was wondering if there're any kind of bloggers I could meet in Teheran or all the other places we're planning to go to, like Qom, Isfahan, Yazd, Schiraz, Persepolis, Maschhad and Tus. Hey, and here a great page for everyone who's planning to go to iran too...might help a bit for clumsy people like me...

Johann Stockinger's Diss.

I was given this really big book the other day by one of my profs. He said I should be interested in it - and was right...and I guess Alexander should be too. So what is it? Well, I guess the best way to describe it goes like this:

"In der vorliegenden Arbeit wird [...] versucht eine hypermediale ethnologische Darstellungsweise als holistischen Ansatz einer ethnologischen Wissensrepärsentation zu entwickeln, der aus einem verflochtenen und iterativen Prozess aus Datenaufnahme, Datenanalyse, Darstellung, Publikation und Interaktion besteht. Besonderer Wert soll dabei auf eine zukünftige Weiterverwendbarkeit unter Einbindng fachspezifischer Metadaten und XML-basierten Auszeichnungssprachen gelegt werden."

In a nutshell: It's about Hypermedia-Ethnography, trying to work with Computers in all phases of anthropological research and especially focusing on XML. While I haven't found much on the web by the author himself, here's a project he worked on with some others.

Sunday, April 24

"Informing ourselves to death?"-snippet

I am reading an article by T.H.Eriksen, an anthropologist based in Oslo. This bit is really sweet and I want to share it with you:

In Milan Kundera’s beautiful novel La lenteur (Slowness),4 an unemployed
Czech entomologist is watching television in a hotel. Having grown up in a
society where information was portioned out with caution, carefully filtered
before it reached the masses, this man was accustomed to digesting information
critically, pondering its significance and relating it to a greater picture.
Catapulted into the multichanneled information maze of the West, he found it
impossible to make sense of what he saw on the screen. As soon as a topic had
begun to build up, it was stopped short and replaced by something else. (Postman
reports somewhere that the average attention span of Californian schoolchildren
is seven minutes. That is the time between commercial breaks on television.)
Kundera’s scientist speculates that Beethoven’s symphonies will be compressed
for efficiency, until one plays only the first eight bars of each movement –
ultimately, perhaps, playing just a single note. Kundera may not have been aware
of the fact that Paul Hindemith did something similar decades ago, in his
Christmas Cantata, which consists of a potpourri of familiar Christmas songs,
but only a few bars of each. Possibly intended as a celebration of modern
efficiency, or as an ironic comment, the Christmas Cantata assumes that much is
already familiar, and the listeners’ time is scarce anyway.">Here's the article.

no use going back to yesterday...

I was desperatley looking for this quotation from Lewis Carroll and couldn't find it - until I looked it up in project Gutenberg.
'Come, let's hear some of your adventures.'
'I could tell you my adventures--beginning from this morning,' said Alice a little timidly: 'but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.'

[notes: Introduction to "Media Worlds"]

as our schtuff-site isn't working well I'll post my notes here - it's gonna be a summary of an article by abu-lughod, larkin and ginsburg:

In their *introduction* to *"Media Worlds"* Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod and Larkin argue, that the anthropology of media is an important field of study, as the "ubiquity of media worldwide means, that anthropologists encounter it in the diverse places where we work." (p. 1)

They assume, that a clearcut topic or area of study exists already and also state that the methodologies are clear too. Inspite of that the discussion about what media anthropology really *is*, is still an ongoing one now. An interesting insight into the matter can be found at the easa-subsection for mediaanthroplogy, in a pdf-document here.

They say that they "have attempted to use anthropology to push media stdies into new environments and examine diverse media practices that are only beginning to be mapped. (p. I) They think that media anthropology will be able to advance theory and method in both anthropology itself and nearby fields that are concerend with the study of media. What anthropolgy can contribute to the study of media is a global, comparative perspecitve. This also is one of their arguments: "the construction of media theory in the West [...] has established a cultural grid of media theory with the effect of bringing int visibility only certain types of media technologies and praciteces." (p. II) So in their book the'll try to show the diversity of media worldwide - or the diversity of the media world. Whatever.

As common concerns with media studies they see “how media enable or challenge the workings of power and the potential of activism; the enforcement of inequality and the sources of imagination; and the impact of technoliges on the production of individual and collective identities.” (p. III)

The next part of the article concentrates on the history of anthropologies concern with media. Important early authors like Raymond Williams Saadia's summarized an article of him here, Hortense Powdermaker, Margaret Mead, and Gregory Bateson are mentioned. The systematic engagement with “media as social practice” only started in the late 1980ies. Background to it’s development is a “relocation of geographic and theoretical focus” i.e. the development of anthropology at home. “These shifts […] catalyzed a critical rethinking of one of our most productive notions – culture – and the parameters of our key methodology: in-depth, intensive, and long-term ethnographic fieldwork. Increasingly, our theory and practice are unbounded, multisited, travelling, or “itinerant” […], a transformation that is particularly evident for those studying media. (p. IV)

Anthropologists, who now work in the field of media anthropology come from different backgrounds. Some of them worked in visual anthropology, others came to an interest in the area, as they realized the importance of media while doing fieldwork, also there seems to be an interesting track of discussion about how the “other” is represented in ethnographic films. Pierre Bourdieus (1993) work has been important for scholars with an interest in “the institutional sites” for the production of media. Another influence comes from Cultural Studies who also turned to ethnography as method – but the use of the term ethnography in Cultural Studies has been quite heavily criticised in our field.

“The work of Benedict Anderson (1991) and Jürgen Habermas (1989) have been central to those concerned with studying and theorizing the cultural effects of flows of people, ideas, and objects, flows crucially mediated by communication technologies.” (p. V) Especially important in this context are their concepts of “imagined communities” and “the public sphere”. Critics (Calhoun 1992; Fraser 1993;Robbins 1993) of Habermas’ work are shortly mentioned. Lacans’ notion of the imaginary (1967) gets also mentioned as something authors from various fields used to understand the construction of “national imaginaries” – “when media are harnessed by state and commercial interess as technologies of personhood.” (p. V) I wonder if there is a connection here to the “technologies of the self” (Foucault and Hutton 1998) – sth. David Brake also will go about to explore in his PhD, here’s his proposal. Appadurai (1991) and Daniel Miller’s (1992) work are mentioned in the context of anthropologys' longstanding interest in exchange. Here’s a post at a blog that hits a similar vein in the context of Open Source Software. And here’s another, more recent, one.

For a further overview on the available literature they point to Dickey 1998 and Spitulnik 1993.

[to be continued]


The last few days saw quite a bit of change in my little corner of the blogosphere. Chana , a belgian student, who's writing a thesis on weblogs has changed the focus of her research a bit and put her chapter index online for discussion. The new question reads as follows:

Blogging is a phenomenon on the rise in the world of the WWW; what is this new tool, and how can it affect the life and research of one student?

...sounds very interesting, but surely I'm havily biased.

Then there's John, who found me through my blog. He's an us-based anthopologist working on "urban life, racial and ethnic identity, and the ethnography of the middle classes in Brazil" but currently he is interested in online communities and software developers.

They've founded a group called the "Media Anthropology Research Circle", which meets neatly with our interests here in Vienna and also overlaps a lot with what the Media-Anthropology-Group of the European Association of Social Anthropologists is up to.

John has started two websites - one is anthroblogs were he's trying to convince anthropologists to blog (was about time someone did that!) and the other one is anthrowiki which " aims to be 1) an academic & anthropological analogue to the wikipedia, 2) a site for special collaborative anthropology projects."

"Both these sites are affiliated with Rob Borofsky's Public Anthropology
and conceived as a way broadening and reforming anthropology as a public and engaged discourse."

Reforming anthropology is sth. that is discussed here in Vienna too. One argument is that, if anthroplogists voices would be presented in the media that'd really "change the world". While I agree on part of that, with it comes also this assumption that "we know it better than everyone else", which can be quite problematic.

Anyway: I'm really, really curious about how all these projects develop and you can bet I'll keep an eye on it!

Friday, April 22

weblog wiki? schtuff?

Now, speaking to Jan, Lilia and now reading jill's post, her being very excited about a weblog-bibliography I wondered if it would make any sense to set up a collaborative wiki of sorts wich includes all the available research papers on weblogs. Wouldn't that save quite a lot of time and give a good overview? I've been experimenting with schtuff and jotspot and must say schtuff really works well - so: what do y'all think?

Wednesday, April 20

incorporated subversion �

Found that through OLDaily:

incorporated subversion � about: "The name ‘incorporated subversion’ comes from the late David Squires who coined it in his 1999 article ‘Educational Software and Learning: Subversive Use and Volatile Design‘ (.pdf) in which he argued that:

“Designers should consider designing for subversive use, recognising that users fit the use of ICT environments into contextually tuned ‘situated’ learning environments.”

I believe strongly that design in many contexts, be they educational, organisational or commercial, should be facilitative of freedom. Too often we hold back learners, customers and colleagues through unnecessary designed constraints when we could be encouraging expression and exploration through incorporating subversion."

Just what I think. Great.
So the question is: who designs weblog-software? For whose purpose? With what picture of users in his/her mind?

Tuesday, April 19


There's this blogher-conference in July, start reading about it here.
They even have got volunteer blogerships
And Do-ocracy! Here's how it works:

How do you subvert the dominant hierarchy? You give up control. That's one of the things I want to do at BlogHer's July 30 conference. Here's how: Welcome to "The Room of Your Own" a part of BlogHer's conference run by, for and of women attending. Why? Because being audacious enough to suggest we hold this thing, doesn't mean I think I know what you want. So the room of your own is a testament to BlogHer's mission to community-based education and exposure.

Is there something you want to talk about at BlogHer's Conference '05? Do it! Do it here. Tell the community and they'll come. Or help! Starting in the comments section on this post right now [...]

Awesome. I just love the way they go about doing things.

Monday, April 18

what am I to do?

there's this conference and it's not any old conference, but the triple A. I really, really want to go there...badly. Why? Because of this:

"Parsing Culture: Cybersocial space and the making of group and individual identity"
National Association of Student Anthropologists Invited Session for the 104th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, 30 Nov-4 Dec 2005

[...] this panel seeks to explore the ways in which "traditional" or paradigmatic anthropological methods and theorizing can be fruitfully applied to these increasingly prevalent online writing and reading practices, as well as the ways in which the communities formed here can complicate traditional theorizing about culture and community.

As "cyberethnographers", how must we adapt anthropological paradigms in order to understand the self-representation practices of hyperliterate subjects? What are the limits of the anthropological gaze in its engagement with weblogging as practice? How can we encourage people to "think more anthropologically" about cyberspaces and weblogging? How do we construct our identity through the use of a variety of social media? [...]

It's just what I'm really interested in, and I'm wondering where to get the money from for the flight...

not so weird...

the other day I wrote a short post about Radhika Gajjala, now I found more from her: in this issue of Rhizomes.

Rhizomes Manifesto reads as follows:

Rhizomes promotes experimental work located outside current disciplines, work that has no proper location.

As our name suggests, works written in the spirit of Deleuzian approaches are welcomed but not required.

We are not interested in publishing texts that establish their authority merely by affirming what is already believed.

Instead, we encourage migrations into new conceptual territories resulting from unpredictable juxtapositions.

I admit: I'm a gatherer

I love gathering links, but I'm bad at sorting them. Nevertheless I try to be good at my delicious account and annotate properly. But sometimes - like now - it's just too hard not to blog about stuff (although there's a book waiting for a review and lots of other *important* stuff, that I should do). Ok, I'll stop ranting, here's what I wanted to say: Lots of interesting (note to self: must find another word for that!) conversations are going on: here Marco Kalz compares blogging to an ongoing conference:
Durch das Lesen von Weblogs bindet man sich selbst in eine Expertengemeinschaft ein, in der neue Themen mit einer Geschwindigkeit diskutiert, analysiert und auch wieder verworfen werden, die wahrscheinlich mit einer ständigen Konferenz vergleichbar ist.
Also, he says he thinks it's important to find a space for reflection with no Bloglines, Furl, ICQ or Skype:
Ich bin überzeugt davon, dass man jedoch nur produktiv eine wissenschaftliche Arbeit schreben kann, wenn man sich zumindest für eine Zeit mit seinem Material in ein "stilles Kämmerlein" zurückzieht. Kein Bloglines, kein Furl und am besten auch kein ICQ, Skype oder sonstige Kommunikationsanlässe.
sth, that reminds me of my earlier post about time management and research.

Then there's a discussion on the AOIR-List about information overflow. Leslie Regan Shade wrote a review of the book: "No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life"

So, for many of us, Menzies's latest book will be an urgent wake-up call to slow down, reflect on our family and work priorities, and talk among ourselves. It's often not until the infrastructure -- whether physical or emotional -- breaks down that we engage in inner contemplation and a renewal of community connections.
I think it's a topic that affects most bloggers I read, and sure does apply to myself too. I wonder if stopping to blog/skype/icq/etc. for a day a week, like mentioned in Jeff Youngs "When to Log Off"would solve that or change anything.

Lars Risan...

Jill is blogging from Oslo. There she listened to Lars Risan at the network seminar.
The topic reminds me a bit of Cultures open sources.

I guess I'll wait with commenting 'til she finishes the post. Sounds interesting anyway, what Lars is pointing at.

Sunday, April 17

mediaanthropology - first meeting - done!

so we had our first meeting and it was great. We decided on what we'll read until next time (mainly articles from The anthropology of media and Media Worlds). What I'm looking at now is if we'll use a wiki or a blog to work collaboratively online. I just found out about socialtext and signed up for it, but then I also discovered the costs! I wonder if jotspot will just do the same, or if we should just use a "normal" weblog or "normal" wiki. I'd love to hear suggestions, and also: as socialtext is building on opensource, is there no similar service that is free?

Thursday, April 14

studying up & down...

[I didn't write this text, Anne Beaulieu did, reference here]

Subjectivity framed via ‘access’

An important approach to objectivity in ethnography focuses on establishing a particular kind of subjectivity of the ethnographer, which establishes her as able to know and speak about her object. This subjectivity can be expressed in ethnographic writing using widespread conventions, such as the use of first-person reporting of experiences. Another widespread convention is that of the arrival story, which sets the place of the ethnographer, the reader and the other (see (Pratt 1987). The ethnographer is the one who has travelled to far away places, unlike the reader who is ‘here’. The ethnographer has witnessed, first hand, the life of the object of study, and has come back to write about it, unlike those who have been the object of the ethnography and have remained ‘there’. A special subject position is thus created for the ethnographer. Hine (Hine 2000) notes that these arrival stories can be found in ethnographies of Internet and points to various examples (Baym 1995; Correll 1995). The issue of access as something exclusively available to the ethnographer may be a fiction that is more difficult to maintain in the context of the internet, if only in the face of the hype that defines the Internet in terms of its universal, unbounded ‘accessibility’[1] (more on this below).

There are also a number of ways in which access is argued to be a truly different issue with regards to the relation of readers, ethnographers and those studied, when the object of study is not set up as remote and far away. When studying scientists and the Internet as I do (or in looking at other science and technology contexts), those being studied usually already have other means of expression in the (scholarly) world than only via the ethnographic report. That is to say that the ethnographer’s account is not the ‘only’ text representing people or activities. Scientists have publications, webpages and media interventions, which may be more accessible or even better known to the reader than the ethnographer’s portrayal. This ‘studying up’[2] can challenge the position of the ethnographer as sole conduit to the exotic. This can lead to games of ‘whodunit’, where the ethnography is read as a roman a cle and the (famous) scientists are identified in various portraits of informants. It can also lead to the ethnographer to a conundrum as to how to use these written texts. It can be difficult to reconcile the conventions of providing anonymity to informants as far as possible, the presence and importance of these texts in the setting, and the academic conventions of providing citations.

Furthermore, the access that readers may have, not only to the people involved, but also to some of the phenomena witnessed, may also be different in the context of the internet. For example, a quotation from a posting to a newsgroup in an article can be quite easily traced using search engines. Given these multiple ways in which ‘access’ may be realized when dealing with mediated objects, the ethnographer as sole and privileged witness may be more difficult to uphold as a subject position and authorial voice.

To summarize, there are two main kinds of strategies relating to this theme. One is human-centered, in which the strategy of objectification then becomes one of recovering intersubjectivity in spite of the internet, of finding the people behind the webpages, or the colourful characters in the MUD. This approach can be quite sensitive to issues of mediated communication, and the agnostic standpoint in these accounts can be productive of interesting insights into the possibility of an internet sociality. Another set of strategies tries to explore, invest and draw benefits from alternative modes of intersubjectivity that can be enacted in internet contexts. The common implication of these strategies of objectifications is therefore a problematisation of the subjects as well as objects of ethnographic knowledge, or of the relations between them.

[1] The effects of such discourse about the radicality of new icts (including the democratic and open character of the Internet and its ability to level differences in ‘access’) are detailed in Steve Woolgar’s ‘five rules of virtuality’ in Woolgar, S. (2002). Virtual Society? Technology, Cyberbole, Reality. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

[2] This term denotes studying the more powerful, rather than those who are down, in relation to the ethnographer. Nader, L. (1972). Up the Anthropologist—Perspectives Gained from Studying Up. Reinventing Anthropology. D. H. Hymes. New York, Pantheon Books: 284-311.

critique of Miller & Slaters' use of a website, supporting their Anne Beaulieu


[reference to the paper by Anne Beaulieu this paragraph is from]

Other non-paper based forms of publishing and communication have also been used by ethnographers Miller and Slater (Miller and Slater 2000). The ethnography which led to The Internet: an Ethnographic Approach, is linked to a website. This website aims to support the book: in its paper version, the table of contents and list of plates send readers to the website for illustrations, as does the back cover blurb: “An innovative tie-in with the book’s own website provides copious illustrations.” On this website,[1] one is indeed able to view a slide show of 6 home pages of websites. These are screenshots of websites (effectively, ‘photographs/snapshots of a single screen displaying one page of a website). These screenshots are shown as a ‘slide show’,[2] but are otherwise completely ‘frozen’ in terms of space and time and functionality. The pages cannot be stopped, or clicked upon, or accessed. They function as illustrations, but not as links or connections to a ‘live’ version of the web. This is a surprising decision (to me), given that the technological implementation is not difficult. This representation can be seen as the internet version of freezing one’s object in time, a move that has a long critique[3] in the disciplinary tradition from which Slater and Miller are working. Incidentally, when tracing one of the Miss Trinidad websites mentioned in the analysis, I was led to a soft-porn website. This highlights one of the advantages of using screenshots on a self-controlled website. This provides stability to the object of inquiry, and enables at least part of the object to be seen by readers subsequently, as it existed when visited by the ethnographers.[4]

The website does try to sustain an intersubjective mode in the ‘discussion areas’ that are related to the main page. The discussion areas are structured according to the main themes of the book. These contain a handful of interventions by people who present themselves as readers of the book and/or ethnographers. Also, in the preface of the book, the authors explicitly request that feedback be sent to them directly, via email, and provide their own email addresses, as granted by their institutions. The fact that the website and email addresses are hosted by the institution of one of the authors perhaps further suggests that the authors see their use of the website as scholarly, collegial academic activities, somewhat separate from the field or from formal publishing. These invitations seem directed at communicating with colleagues about the final representation, though perhaps less about the process (i.e. the site appeared shortly before publication, most activity was in the months immediately following the appearance of the book) or about the object. Here, the internet is both a site for intersubjectivity (communication with colleagues) and a site for ‘illustration’ of the internet, fulfilling functions that the book is considered unable to perform.

[1] accessed 14 August 2003.

[2] Note the metaphorical appeals to other media, other representational technologies, to convey these practices.

[3] Among others. see Fabian, J. (1990). Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York, Columbia University Press.

[4] This is itself a complex issue for scholars of the internet. See Koehler, W. (2002). "Web page change and persistence - A four-year longitudinal study." JASIST 53(2): 162-171..

Anne Beaulieu on blogging


[reference] Another tool, the ‘blog’[1] has been used by a number of researchers to constitute various aspects of their ethnographies. The form has been flexibly used, for a range of purposes that traditionally were pursued in different media and which addressed clearly differentiated audiences. For example, two researchers who pursued different projects both found the uses of blogging multiplying:

“The weblogs were originally used as a way to keep our focus while online, serving as constant little reminders of the topics were supposed to write about. They soon developed beyond being digital ethnographer’s journals and into a hybrid between journal, academic publishing, storage space for links and site for academic discourse.“ (Mortensen and Walker 2002)

Their blogs served not only as an annotated set of bookmarks, but also served to document the research process, and demonstrate the way the ethnographer goes about “choosing the items that interest her or that are relevant to her chosen topic, commenting upon them, demonstrating connections between then and analysing them (250)(Mortensen and Walker 2002).” Blogs become a workspace for the ethnographer.

The blog also plays a specific dialogical role for one of the researchers:

“…Torill deliberately used her weblog as an introduction to explain the research to players of games—potential informants—and let them follow the development of the thesis itself. This eliminated some of the mystery and tension related to research, and has on several occasions made it easier to cooperate with online role players: the weblog establishes an accepted online presence which proves that the researcher is real to the digital space and not just a visitor with no knowledge. An [sic] personal online presence legitimates the online researcher much more efficiently than academic affiliation, flesh-world addresses or hone numbers. To skilled online players, it’s easier to fake flesh-world personae than to maintain a consistent long-term online presence.” (Mortensen and Walker 2002, page 2501)

Like many of the other accounts of objectification described in this article, the form of communication and the use of the technology are aligned to the cultural phenomena being investigated (the blog and the phenomena studied “live” in the same sphere). The internet best speaks for itself and is best addressed via the blog, which becomes the ideal instruments for knowing about it. Such alignments are formative moves in the production of knowledge about the internet as object. The researchers argue that the value of the blog is in the exposure, to arguably a wider public, of the process of doing research: the blog’s diversions, asides, and connections show the complexity, creativity and difficulty of the research process. Blogs both help these ethnographers create the object, and make visible the subjectivity of the researcher. The blog is therefore felt to be a context and a mode of communication, a hybrid tool for making, presenting and reflecting on the object that is furthermore exposed in a new way. The alignment of the field and of (some of) the ethnographic writing, however, challenges the practices of leaving the field as the beginning of writing up (Clifford, 1997). The blurring of this boundary may have consequences for ethnographic analysis as well as for field relations, as informants might stay close throughout, and as ‘leaving the field’ will either be reinvented (ending list memberships?) or else ethnography will develop a new mode, with a more ongoing character.

The informality of this mode of writing, researching and communicating has been the object of backlash in some academic circles (though none, as far as I could tell, were ethnographic), and some scholars have reported that their blogging activities were considered too ‘journalistic’ by their peers (Glenn 2003). These protests may be signs of changing values in the wake of novel forms of scientific communication.

[1] Blog is a contraction of ‘web log’, a newish genre of web page that is usually regularly updated, written in a very personal tone and containing many hyperlinks.

more of the same, but differnt this time:

[just trying to work differently with my blog here...this is not my text, but anne beaulieu- reference here!]

…seeking interaction

Hine’s work on the internet is an important case here (Hine 2000; Hine 2001). This groundbreaking ethnographic work is highly successful in addressing a number of issues in an ethnographic approach to the internet (the notion of site, face to face, interaction, authenticity). In making its object, it relies on a strong humanist notion of the subject as source of intersubjectivity. This investment is especially clear if one compares this work to the stance of cyborg anthropology, which seeks to challenge to human-centred project of anthropology (Downey and Dumit 1997). Hine, for example, does not investigate the search engine in this ethnography. Thus, while she too notes that the web is generally considered to be static, and therefore not interactive and not open to ethnography, she recovers/discovers intersubjectivity on the web by seeking non-institutional pages (as opposed to those produced by media outlets), and focusing on those produced by individuals. The assumption seems to be that these are more likely to lead to interaction with individuals. The ethnography is sustained by the dialogue between clearly interpelated individuals, and an ethnographer who attempts to make herself and her goals as clear as possible. Similarly, Heath and colleagues (Heath, Koch et al. 1999) interact with users, though somewhat more unexpectedly, not having set out to do so from the start, in the way Hine did. In their study of the Human Genome Project, these researchers also interact with a producer of a website, exchanging about their reading and her production of it. They further explicitly distance this approach to ethnographic knowledge from lurking, because of the latter’s lack of engagement with the “subject matter” (page 460)(Heath, Koch et al. 1999).” Like in more conventional fieldwork, knowledge comes from engagement and interaction, always both purposive and incidental.

Intersubjectivity is also an important theme in efforts by some ethnographers to produce a new kind of representation of ethnographic knowledge. These explorations of multi-media ethnography are somewhat different from the other texts considered here, because they mainly challenge the writing tradition of ethnography, rather than the practices of research. In other words, they are part of what Gupta and Ferguson (Gupta and Ferguson 1997) call the literary turn, taking ethnography from ‘thick description’ to ‘writing culture’. This distinction between objectification and representation is a fuzzy one however, and these novels practices in ethnography may come closer in the future, or might not seem so different in a different analytic framework than the one used here. Thus, while these efforts to produce new ethnographies were not explored in detail for this article, it seems worthwhile to mention at least one example of such projects. As part of a project on hypermedia and ethnography at Cardiff University[1], Mason and Dicks try to make room for the reader in the ethnography as representation. They propose a hypertext as conduit for their work: ethnographic hypermedia environment (EHE). The aim is to problematise the ethnographic object by showing some of the construction of the ethnographic representation, and by enabling the reader to navigate through various ethnographic materials. This project also aims to take seriously critiques of authorship and representations in ethnography, by enabling the reader to navigate her own way through (and restructure to some extent) the materials presented in the ethnographic account. Because such projects invest in the ethnographic values of interaction and co-construction, I include this project here under the theme of intersubjectivity.

CFP: MASN - Connecting Europe - Transcending Borders"

Hope this link works, it's a Call for Papers for an anthropology- students-conference here in Vienna.
If not - just go to their yahoogroup and join.

lurking, professionally? :-)

being naughty again: here's part of a paper by Anne Beaulieu:

Technology: Totalising the Field

In studying the Internet, technology is invested with the ability of achieving something like mechanical objectivity (Daston and Galison 1992), where technology makes it possible for the subject to be removed from the observing context, or at least from some aspects of ethnographic work. Indeed, the idea of the lurker[1] as beneficial or even ideal position for the ethnographer comes up frequently. The ideal of the unobtrusive observer has been heralded in relation to various internet contexts (MOOs, newsgroups). In stronger or weaker version, the position of the lurker has been celebrated for (finally) enabling the gathering of material at the ethnographic level (at the level of specific interactions) without the intrusiveness of the tape recorder or the disturbing physical presence of the observer:

“The Internet does greatly facilitate ‘casing the scene’ prior to creating a strategy for entering into active participation. It is much easier to lurk on the Internet in most cases than to unobtrusively hang out in an Amazon village (Thomsen, Straubhaar et al. 1998, online).”

The technologically mediated setting is one in which ethnographers can be, without revealing themselves as individuals.

Pacagnella argues that in doing research on the Internet, ethnographers can benefit from greater availability and accessibility of unobtrusive techniques:

“It is well known, how, in social sciences as well as in other fields, the phenomena being studied are modified by the very act of observing them.”(Paccagnella 1997, online)

Again, the technological mediation serves as protective barrier between the object and the researcher as subject. Lurking is also presented as protecting the ethnographer from being too awkward and bumbling, and as a (normative) first step in becoming a full-fledged participant (Baym 2000).

The internet as a setting offers ‘peculiar advantages’, namely

“In many cases observations can be carried out even without informing the people being studied. While this obviously urges us to take into consideration new ethical issues…at the same time it reduces the dangers of distorting data and behaviours by the presence of the researcher. “ (Paccagnella 1997, online)

Pacagnella writes from a sociological perspective, where social scientific tendencies to the positivistic may be stronger than in anthropological circles. Another, perhaps more ethnographically-inspired, line of argument for the value of the invisible non-participant observer focuses on the fact that ‘the lurker’ is a socially acceptable position in the setting:

…. an alternative ethical measure would be one in which we concentrate on methods that seem in tune with the world in which we exist rather than seeking to satisfy a set of abstract and possibly theoretically inapplicable ethical codes. Non participation observation is a common occurrence in chat rooms (hence the typical cry, "why isn't anyone talking?"). It fits the local environment better than interviewing or any other method. Perhaps if we adopt local measures of valid action it is the most justified method. (Leaning 1998, online)

Schaap, who studied a MUD intensively for two years, also notes that much of his material was collected by lurking (Schaap 2002). Like Leaning, he also argues that the behaviour is a common one in the MUD environment, and that it provides the ethnographer with the possibility of unobtrusively observing. While I have no reason to doubt that the behaviour is found in the field, the subject position of the ethnographer probably doesn’t quite map on to that of a player—what of the differences in the intentions, motivations, and consequences of lurking? This tension is well illustrated by the experience of researchers who have tried to come out as ethnographers, having lurked for most of their research. Some have found that the setting may not be so accepting of this position (see (Bromseth 2002); the instrumental stance and consequences of ethnographic lurking are problematic to participants, in a way that other forms of ‘lurking’ may not be.

Claims about the possibility of an ideal observer insist on the desirability of placing the ethnographer at one end of the participant observer continuum (Leaning 1998; Paollilo, 1999), to whom all is accessible, without needing to enact a subject position. The relation proposed by mechanical objectivity, may be fragile, however, when the object talks back to an identified subject.

Avoiding interaction may also have consequences for the material gathered by the ethnographer. Several ethnographers (Mason 1996; Leaning 1998; Heath, Koch et al. 1999; Hine 2000) note that the ethnographer may miss out on part of the phenomena, which may not be visible on the ‘observable’, ‘public’ list or on the webpage. Mason illustrates this point with the example that when posting messages to a list, one discovers that off-list responses are also sent out (Mason 1996). Hine insists on the value of participating for checking interpretations, and on the intrinsic usefulness of learning by trying to participate (Hine 2000). These arguments emphasise the value of interaction as part of the ethnographic approach.

[1] A lurker is someone who is part of an activity on the internet, but without making explicit/overt contributions to it. For example, reading a newsgroup, without posting messages to it is considered lurking.

Wednesday, April 13

what the heck?

Have you ever heard about the iraqiblogger-tech-support? It's a website "dedicated to help Iraqis [financially], blogging from within Iraq". Well I hadn't and I was quite surprised when I found out about it (while reading afghan warriors blog). A bit concerning is this post here.

And sth. else: Iraqi mistress. I just must convince some of my anthropologist-friends to study the iraqi weblogsphere!

thick participation, anyone?

I had it all there, this lovely post about Lilia, Jan and Alex...and then I made the big mistake: used blogger to post it, well I'm still doing it, anyway: it just vanished somewhere into internet-limbo.

The upshot was:
Lilia needs help/ideas on thick participation (term by Spittler), which - as I just found out - is derived from Geertz' thick description. Alexander Knorrs page will definitely get lots more visitors (which is great 'cause he's into interesting stuff!), and Jan might be my second supervisor as well as holding a talk at my Uni. We had a great evening yesterday.

So what do I know about "thick participation"? Well that's what I could find on the net:

Der Terminus "Dichte Teilnahme" wurde von dem Ethnologen Gerd Spittler – in
Anlehnung an Clifford Geertz' Terminus der "Dichten Beschreibung" – geprägt. Er fokussiert den Aspekt der zeitintensiven Teilhabe, des Miterlebens und einer wenig vorstrukturierten, kontinuierlichen Kommunikation. Dies ermöglicht die Erfassung nonverbaler Aspekte religiöser Erfahrungen und Botschaften. [source]

More information here:
2001 Teilnehmende Beobachtung als Dichte Teilnahme, in : Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 126 (1), S. 1-25

Also found an interview with Gerd Spittler, where the term's mentioned.

Virtual Ethnography Revisited

Warning: this is not some text I wrote,
but it's by Christine Hine, the original is here.
[just trying to use my blog again for summary and work on a talk on virtual ethnography and blogs I'll give on Saturday]

Virtual Ethnography Revisited

Christine Hine

Department of Sociology

University of Surrey

Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7XH, UK

Paper summary prepared for session on Online Research Methods, Research Methods Festival, Oxford, July 1st 2004

In this presentation I will outline the main components of the approach that I call virtual ethnography, talk about some ways in which this approach can be used as a component in a broad range of social research projects and describe some practical steps that researchers can take for effective research engagement.

The idea of virtual ethnography was to find a way of taking seriously, as a sociological phenomenon, the kinds of things people did on the Internet. At the same time, the challenge was not to assume that simply by looking at what happened online we could get the full picture of why it might be socially significant or meaningful. The principles that evolved from my initial virtual ethnography of a media event were:

1. We can use ethnography to investigate the ways in which use of the Internet becomes socially meaningful.

2. Interactive media such as the Internet can be understood as both culture and cultural artefact.

3. The ethnography of mediated interaction often asks researchers to be mobile both virtually and physically.

4. Instead of going to particular field sites, virtual ethnography follows field connections.

5. Boundaries, especially between the “virtual” and the “real”, are not to be taken-for-granted.

6. Virtual ethnography is a process of intermittent engagement, rather than long term immersion.

7. Virtual ethnography is necessarily partial. Our accounts can be based on strategic relevance to particular research questions rather than faithful representations of objective realities.

8. Intensive engagement with mediated interaction adds an important reflexive dimension to ethnography.

9. This is ethnography of, in and through the virtual – we learn about the Internet by immersing ourselves in it and conducting our ethnography using it, as well as talking with people about it, watching them use it and seeing it manifest in other social settings.

10. Virtual ethnography is, ultimately, an adaptive ethnography which sets out to suit itself to the conditions in which it finds itself.

The broader context of these principles is an interest in ethnography as a way of understanding social life as lived and experienced. In ethnography, we can use our sensitivity about how amenable [means: accessable A.H.] settings are to particular research approaches as a way of learning about those settings. Making a choice about appropriate communication media is a way of exploring the varying textures of social life as enacted through different media. This means that I do not think of virtual ethnography as confined to projects that want to understand the use of the Internet as their primary goal. As the Internet becomes more and more embedded into everyday life, social research will have to come to terms with it in order to achieve its goals of effectively researching and portraying everyday life. If the people you study move some aspects of their life onto the Internet, then so must you.

In recent research I have been exploring uses of information and communications technologies in contemporary scientific research, in particular the discipline of biological taxonomy or systematics. Some particular thoughts that arise from this research are:

The importance of developing appropriate researcher presence. In a context where the people you are researching have their own web sites, you need one too. [sidenote: yes, very true and sometimes sad that some people haven’t discovered that yet.] It is becoming routine for potential interviewees contacted by email to check out researchers – if you do not offer a link to your home page, then they may well use Google to look for you. Not having online presence can create suspicion, and also mean that you miss out on a chance to deepen discussion of your research.

The limitations of covert ethnography – negotiating consent is about more than just ethical duty. It is easy to do covert research in many kinds of Internet setting. Particularly prominent are mailing lists and newsgroups, where researchers can collect data without telling anyone what they are doing. The ethics of this practice are hotly debated. I have found that contacting people to ask for permission to quote their words is much more than simply a chore undertaken to satisfy ethical demands. It can be a very valuable route to an enhanced research experience. Making the kind of direct contact that asking permission requires means that you learn more about the contexts in which the words we see online are produced and consumed.

The importance of participating in and understanding a communication ecology. It is a mistake to think that particular technologies or communications media necessarily map on to socially meaningful research questions. Instead of setting out to research a particular medium it is often helpful to learn something about the various choices of medium available to the people who are at the heart of the research project, and aim to participate in appropriate ways within that existing ecology.

Links to resources

Association of Internet Researchers – includes link to the Association’s ethical guidelines, giving questions that researchers should address before designing research using data collected via the Internet

Virtual Methods - site based on ESRC seminar series, containing archive of presentations with thematic index, list of useful resources, and advice on good practice in virtual methods.

Tuesday, April 12

all weird and wonderful...

that's my conclusion after flicking through a few pages by and with Cyberdiva.
Oh yes, Fay Ginsburg - that's what I actually was looking for, when I found Cyberdiva. Well, an article by Fay Ginsburg (David B. Kriser Professor of Anthropology at New York University) is here.

Monday, April 11

what would you read/do if you had the time?

At I found a Book Review of the Anthroplogy of Media & Media Worlds. I've got the former, standing on my shelf, sometimes flicking through it, but haven't read it thoroughly. On friday this week though I'll meet a few fellow student to start a focus group for the anthropology of media. We've been discussing possible areas of interest and our imagination of what funny/crazy/intersting stuff we could do (like producing a CD, discuss articles, publish online, write a collaborative wiki etc.). So what are your ideas concering this? Any must-read texts that are a bit "out of the box"? Anything we should definitely not miss?

Sunday, April 10

time management & research...

I've been reading a nice little book on time managment recently. One paragraph in there refers to bears as examples, and one of the examples points at claiming/planning enough time for a new project to develop/ripen.
Schaffen Sie sich zeitliche Schutzräume, "Zeithöhlen", in denen Sie nicht von dringenden Aufgaben gehetzt werden, sondern einmal mit innerer Ruhe über ihre Zukunft nachdenknen können. [translates roughly as: "create protected time-pockets "time-cavities" in which you're not hounded by urgent tasks but can think about your future peacefully"]

So this got me thinking about a project I've been watching recently, that is Alexander Knorr's blog and webpage. He's got all his fieldnotes online, the whole writing process happens online etc.

He describes this as follows:
The project is 'open research' in several dimensions. My website and weblog simultaneously serve multiple purposes: they are my notebook, writing desk and multimedia online filing system, they maintain world/webwide communication about the ongoing project with fellow scientists, they present my project to a wider public, and -- above all -- both constitute a part of the communication and interaction with the members of "my cyberian tribe". Website and weblog accompanying the project constitute a fusion between spheres, which normally are well seperated in anthropological research: field-data, informal scientific discussion, public-relations work, and a part of the field itself. This diverse groups have access to the same dynamic and interactive material, which contains some risks: What appears perfectly sound to e.g. a game-modder may seem awkward to a scientist and vice versa. My reputation in the modding-community as well as in the scientific community may be at stake -- a fellow-modder jokingly already named me "teh intellectuale" (int. missp. for "THE Intellectual").

I wonder how this shapes his research, how he's influenced by it - and also how he's seen by other scholars doing stuff like that. I can't hide it: I'm fascinated, but also I wonder if we don't really need these "time-pockets" at all...

going native in cyberspace

It's just come up several times in the last few days that people experience me as a geek.
Help! I don't wanna be a geek! Maybe it's just me going native, but it's weird to experience it too. To see others who can't relate to my experience. The question is really: how native shall an anthropologist be and how deep shall one delve into another "culture"?

Something else is the validity of my research. Do anthropologists still only do research about people in third world countries? Why is that kind of research more justified than any other? Don't we have to understand ourselves better to be able to understand "the other"?

Saturday, April 9

discussion of research design

Last thursday I discussed my research design at uni. It was an interesting and heated discussion, which made quite a difference to me in my approach. Also I'm still thinking about it, so more about changes later.

Just now I spoke to a friend about the same topic. We really got into deep discussion - especially about the possibility of online-research, or virtual ethnography. She argued, that it is very important to at least the meet people, that I do my research about. Stuff like non-verbal communication, the context people live in, their friends, way of life, social status,... is only visible this way - which is of course very true. So the problem is that one can write about anything in a blog, and it doesn't have to be true. I (and this is now her example) could be given the sack and actually write about my promotion. This reminds me of someone making up a blogger, a young girl who then died of leukemia - but actually never existed. (Any hints who this was and what happened?)

So why do people really blog? Is it, that they haven't got any friends? Is this their way of forming social contacts? Is this the sign of an ever lonlier world? What happenes when people meet online, form relations online? What's the context bloggers live in?

The whole thing boils down to the difference between what people say and what people do, really, I guess. And I know Christine Hine also writes about it, somewhere. Just have to find out where.
Another question that was brought up in our discussion is writing across cultural boundaries. What happens when people communicate across cultural differences? Does it make a difference at all?

And finally: What happens if the outcome of my research is, that blogs are just the way of scientific writing, of scientific discourse? What happenes to the scientist from the south? What if she's only got internet access once a week? And what if she's really an expert in a field of heated debate, but just can't contribute?

This question is a rather political one, I think. Do I promote anything with my research, and if so: what?

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