Tag: ethnography

‘Dynamic Totalities’: Data Surveillance as a Paradigm

In the zeitgeist of academia, surveillance has clearly an ominous connotation. However, is surveillance not fundamentally a way of looking? More formally, a way of looking at totalities. Whatever is studied, observed, or measured is part of a definitive totality. A virus is part of a sample. Families are part of a community. Workers are part of the factory. A scientist is part of a laboratory. One reason we are cautious about speaking of totalities is because we are scared of being reductive. But what if we could dynamically measure parameters defining the totalities which concern us. What if we could define our totalities at will and observe phenomena within its boundaries, track phenomena flowing out of it, or ingressing it? If this sounds like an uncanny  ‘intelligent’ camera or rather a poetic job re-description of the individual in the CCTV room, then it is meant to be so. Data surveillance can offer perhaps a fresh paradigm for observation and analysis irrespective of the actual use of computers that enable it. (read more...)

Abu Dhabi Soundmarks: Building Community in the Midst of the Pandemic, One Voice at a Time

Editor’s note: This post is the fifth in our five-part series “COVID-19: Views from the Field.” Click here to read an introduction written by series organizer Rebekah Ciribassi. Editor’s note: Click the links throughout the article to experience the soundscape of Abu Dhabi under COVID-19 In March 2020, I arrived in Abu Dhabi from the island of Sardinia, Italy, to shelter in place with family members, here. As I recently documented elsewhere, after the lockdown was imposed in Italy, the soundscape of that place, and especially the culture of talking, physical contact and making face-to-face music, changed significantly. (read more...)

COVID-19: Views from the Field

COVID-19, or the vernacular “coronavirus,” hardly needs an introduction. By the time of this writing, there are over 1.2 million active cases spread across nearly every country worldwide. There is hardly an area of daily life that remains unchanged by the new and unfamiliar terms of coping and coexisting with a pandemic. Social relations are disrupted, mobilities once taken for granted are halted, forms of connectedness have suddenly become threatening. Social scientists have been quick to respond; our expertise enables us to contextualize novel, emergent events with theoretical insights from mundane life. Much of the focus has been on the indeterminacy of the present moment, and the uncertainties of pandemic life. Academics, of course, have not been immune to those interruptions and uncertainties. For ethnographers actively conducting fieldwork especially, the cutting off of social interaction forces a renegotiation of their place in “the field.” Some of us find ourselves sheltering (read more...)

Hetero-Comfortable Avatars

Content warning from author: This post will have instances of sexism, transphobia, and sexual violence. I noticed a masculine voice near me say: “wow Wow WOW!” I turned my body to see a couple of masculine avatars looking at me, or rather looking at my breasts. I said nothing, afraid I might be “found out” — that my voice wouldn’t quite match what the body of my avatar “should” have. As my avatar stood there, blinking in silence, one of the masculine avatars got closer and began to rub my body, taking particular interest in my breasts. I looked down and shared eye contact with him, and he said “Don’t worry. It’s ok, it’s VRChat. This is what happens. You won’t really feel anything anyway.” The others did the same. (read more...)

The Messiness of Ethnography

Leaving academia forced me to think more deeply and critically about ethnography than I ever had before. In academic cultural anthropology, my classes, research, and readings all revolved around ethnography. However, my peers and I shared a basic understanding about the purpose of ethnography, the method of ethnographic fieldwork, and its definitions. Talk about ethnography often went largely unsaid, because, as cultural anthropologists, it was just what we did. (read more...)

Happy Pride Month!

In support and solidarity with LGBTQIA+/Queer people around the world, we’re celebrating Pride Month with a collection of some of our most popular queer content from the blog. We take this moment to recognize the valuable contributions LGBTQIA+/Queer people make to our fields, our society, and our lives. Check out six of our favorites below! (read more...)

Clinical Data in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Ethnographic Engagements

By: Peter Taber, Nicholas Rattray, Lauren Penney, Megan McCullough and Samantha Gottlieb This post emerged from a 2018 Society for Applied Anthropology panel on anthropological engagements with health data in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Serving over 9 million enrollees with a current federal budget of USD68 billion, the VA is an important testing site for digital healthcare infrastructure, as it has been for several decades. The panel brought our VA research and quality improvement (QI) efforts targeting the electronic health record (EHR) and other digital infrastructure into dialog with existing work on the social lives of data and algorithms, as well as the broader concerns of medical anthropology and STS in an era of the “datafication of health” (Ruckenstein and Schüll 2017). Extracts from our conversation, presented below, are taken from a follow-up video call exploring these issues. (read more...)

The Surveillance Cyborg

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our ongoing series, “Queering Surveillance,” and was co-written with Alexander Wolff. Surveillance is an embodied experience, both being watched and watching. The sheer number of concert-goers recording Cher’s “Here We Go Again” concert this past year with their phones had them trade singing and dancing for an act of documentation. Whether the recordings are to remember the experience later, share the experience with others, or to simply document one’s presence in that space and at that time, recording the concert on one’s phone becomes an experience in its own right. They are present in the space, but their attention is about both what is happening in the here and now and the recording that filters the experience in the future. Their phones and recordings are central to their embodied experience, fused into one like a cyborg traveling across space and time in the moment. Add to this that countless concert-goers are recording the same concert from their individuated perspective, and thus the concert becomes infinite and virtual—of course, the way Cher was always meant it to be. (read more...)