The downside of having a full-time PhD course load is never having the time to write about the things you want. This project, Twitch Plays Pokemon, is anthropologically fascinating. I wish I had more time to write about it. But, as I do not, I will just let PBS Idea Channel tell you about it for me. If you have the time to write about this really interesting project, please post a link in the comments. I would love to read it. (And someone please discuss how “democracy mode” is still pretty much anarchy!)
I read Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern and Reassembling the Social last week for class. Here is what it got me thinking about.
Computer programming, although commonly thought of as involving mathematics, logic, and science, is in practice a creative process for making digital reproductions of non-digital entities and the practices that involve them. Over time, programming paradigms have shifted dramatically in the way that objects, actors and practices have been conceptualized and constructed in code. I was surprised to find striking similarities this week between Latour’s descriptions of the social sciences’ engagement with these concepts and the two most widespread programming paradigms, structured programming and object-oriented programming. (more…)
This April you will find me at Theorizing the Web in Brooklyn (April 25-26). Drop me a line if you will be there; We can meet up or come see me present on the Curators of Sweden and Digital Anthropology.
Tweeting Sweden: Complicating Anthropology through the Analysis of the World’s Most Democratic Twitter Account
After completing my masters in anthropology, I spent six years working as a web developer, weaving together ethnographic methods and insights into the design and development of websites. In the Fall of 2013, I returned to my academic roots and began coursework for a PhD in anthropology to explore, in greater depth, the relationship between humans and the Internet. However, my experiences in the field have often grated against two common theoretical trends in the anthropological literature.
First, I have found the academe to be infatuated with the user and dismissive of the Internet’s designers, developers and creatives, except when those creators fit neatly into categories of traditional anthropological interest, such as the open source and free software movement (Kelty 2008, Coleman 2013, Karanovic 2008, 2012, 2010). By extracting the user bit of the digital and failing to contextualize user experience amid the greater web of connections in and among digital technology, digital anthropologists have failed to heed the important lesson put forth by Eric Wolf (1982) in Europe and the People Without History: “…the world of humankind constitutes a manifold, a totality of interconnected processes, and inquiries that disassemble this totality into bits and then fail to reassemble it falsify reality” (3).
Second, the concepts of online and offline have taken on a privileged position within digital anthropology. I have found through work with diverse users this distinction to be of little importance to most users and technology professionals and that the actual experience of Internet involves many states of being and experience that have little connection to the simplistic binary of online and offline. The entanglement of the online-offline concepts — including virtual-actual, online-onground (Cool 2012), and other similar reimaged and renamed online-offline distinctions — within anthropology seem rooted in three problematic areas in the development of digital anthropology: establishing academic validity (Miller and Horst 2012:18), making disciplinary or specialist boundaries (Boellstorff 2012:35, 45), and the establishment of methodological best practices (Boellstorff 2012:34, Cool 2012:24).
The Curators of Sweden project began in 2011 when two official governmental agencies, the Swedish Institute and VisitSweden, gave a Swedish citizen full and seemingly unfettered control of the official Twitter account of the Swedish government. Every week since then, a new Swedish citizen has been given access to write as @Sweden, to curate Swedishness for the Internet. Through the example of the Curators of Sweden project, I will explore the dangers of ignoring the relationship between designers, developers, and creatives and their users by exploring the subtle dialog between creators, participants, and users across platforms, media, personal communication, and documentation that has shaped the project and its users’ experiences. I will also problematicize the online and offline concepts as analytical tools by extending the analytic scope of this “online” project beyond its online-ness to more fruitful engagements with history, politics, business, and technology. I will contextualize the project into the history of Swedish Modernism and Swedish nation branding that shaped the creators’ choices in design, development, and platforms.
The culture concept — which overtime has been contrasted, combined, and entangled with the related concepts of society, personality, identity, symbolism and practice — weaves together the history and core philosophical and methodological debates of anthropology as a discipline. Yet, today the concept that lies at the center of what anthropology is and does is fragmented and contested, as anthropologists have taken on the challenges put forth by postmodernity to cope with contradiction, borderlessness, constant flux, and the impacts of anthropological and historical biases, such as sexism, orientalism, and othering. This has left some anthropologists reaching back to science to find stability and others plunging into a realm of interpretation and description, while a new generation of anthropologists formed within this milieu must find space to make a discipline, whose central subject is disputed, both relevant and professional.
The 12th century Anglo-Norman word culture was derived from the Latin word cultura, meaning the cultivation of land (Beldo 2010:144, OED Online n.d.). As colleges and universities spread through Europe in the 16th century, culture came to mean the cultivation of people through education (OED Online n.d.). The culture concept came to mean a quality of the upper class that indicated refinement in taste, judgement and intellect through the 18th century leading up to the Industrial Revolution (Beldo 2010:145). European contact with other peoples through the rise of imperialism produced the need to discuss a collective customs of a people (OED Online n.d.). In the 19th century, French philosophers used the term civilisation to encompass the religion, economy, politics, morals and technology that distinguished the West from contemporary “primitive” cultures (Kuper 1999:30). After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the German word kultur was positioned in opposition to the French concept of civilisation (31). While civilisation was conceptualized as transnational, German kultur was expressed as the nationalistic and individual achievement through the cultivation of intellectual, religious and artistic pursuits (31). In 1871, Edward Burnett Tylor used elements of both civilisation and kultur, to create the first formal anthropological definition of culture: “Culture or Civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (1). Tylor’s definition — one of the most widely cited definitions of culture in anthropology — became the seed for anthropological deliberation for the next century. (more…)
This is the presentation I gave at the 2013 American Anthropological Association meeting in Chicago. Turn up on your speakers or headphones because audio is included. Enjoy!
I have gotten a lot of traffic over the years from people searching for what to wear to conferences, particular anthropology conferences. So, I decided to post my AAA Conference wardrobe for this year. I hope it helps!
From my experience, conference goers wear a wide range of clothes from suits to blue jeans. However, my advice is to dress professionally but comfortably. You never know who you might meet at a conference and first impressions mean a lot, especially when you only get to talk to someone for a few minutes. I suggest wearing clothes that would be acceptable for a business casual environment.
That said, conferences can be long days in cities that require a lot of walking. So, be sure to wear something comfortable (especially your shoes). And, if you are going to the AAA conference this year in Chicago, dress warm; it is going to be cold!
Being a Curious Potential: Collaborating With Muslims On Ethnography and Conversion
Angela Kristin VandenBroek (Binghamton University, State University of New York)
Friday, November 22, 2013: 11:15 AM-11:30 AM (more…)
Generalists and Specialists
During my History of Anthropological Thought course (with Dr. Thomas Wilson & Dr. Mike Little) last Thursday, a student asked, “Will there be another Boas?” We had been discussing Boas, Kroeber and some of their contemporaries and how holistic they were during their careers. These holistic scholars shaped the path of anthropology in a way that transected every sub-field (cultural, physical, archaeology and linguistics). Through the discussion we attributed this to their brilliance and charisma, but also because they were generalists with a hand in every pot in the kitchen. We discussed the possibility of a new generalist who could shape the future of the discipline and we agreed that being a generalist in the Boasian sense today was neither possible nor particularly desirable. (more…)
This semester I am taking a course in Digital Anthropology Dr. Josh Reno. We each have to lead discussion and write a short paper on one of the readings. Below is my short paper on one of this week’s readings.
2012. Rethinking Digital Anthropology, in Digital Anthropology. Pp. 39-60.
In “Rethinking Digital Anthropology,” Tom Boellstorff (2012) tackles the complex issue of refining the study of digital anthropology by clearly defining a core theory of the virtual to build upon and an essential method for ethnographic analysis of the virtual. Boellstorff begins by arguing that recent work within digital anthropology that questions the validity or “sharpness” of the online and offline distinction is flawed (35). The virtual, or online, distinction from the actual, or offline, is not blurred and should not be erased (45). Instead, he argues that the virtual and the actual are culturally organized and created and their meaning depends upon the “context of social interaction” (46) and thus the concept of virtual should be understood as an index (46-48). It should be strongly tied to social context (48). Boellstorff bolster’s this argument by presenting the virtual as a space or place that cannot be collapsed into the space or the actual (45). He provides the example of Facebook users in Trinidad, “forms of expression and relationship can take place on Facebook, but the space of Facebook and the space of Trinidad do not thereby collapse into each other” (45). From his fieldwork in Second Life, he draws on the distinction of place in virtual worlds, such as the places of Sims Online, There.com and Second Life and the landscapes of each virtual world, to demonstrate the realness of the virtual as a distinct place (44). Boellstorff concludes that the collapse of the virtual and the actual within anthropological literature fails to reflect his view of the empirical evidence of digital study: “indexical relationships link the online and offline through similitude and difference” (51). (more…)