Showing posts with label digital anthropology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label digital anthropology. Show all posts

Monday, 30 August 2010

The NHS Direct helpline is dead. Long live NHS 111!

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11120853. A shame - NHSD provided a reason to think about Freidson’s "lay referral system" again, this time in connection with ICTs (Freidson 1988).


No, you’re not.

Freidson made the point that we need to think about the temporal trajectory of sickness. This meant considering seriously what happens before we opt for a consultation with a medical expert. He noted decisions about whether to access professional healthcare are conventionally first made in our immediate kin/community context, looking at both social relationships and cultural themes as factors.

If ICTs, now a “mundane reality” (Nettleton 2005) for many in seeking out health-related information and advice, have impacted that context then the lay referral system and its two components (the extent to which lay culture is congruent with professional health culture and the cohesiveness and extension of the lay referral structure) may have to be amended.

For example, has the effect of more information availability through dominant providers such as NHS Direct aligned lay health culture more closely with the knowledge base underpinning professional health culture (an especially relevant question for those identified by Freidson as not sharing in that culture, namely the 'lower classes')? Secondly, with the option of finding condition-specific social networks online, those identified as relying on a loose and truncated lay referral structure to help make decisions (identified by Freidson as the 'middle classes'), may find such structures extended, if not more cohesive.

Ultimately, how will digital ICTs interact with other factors, such as the Government's aim to encourage more healthcare to take place in home settings, to change the proportion of referrals to professional medics, if at all?

Friday, 11 December 2009

danah boyd interview

Interesting interview with digital anthropologist and social media expert danah boyd here today. I like the insight that kids are just as concerned with privacy as before (and as concerned as adults are). Privacy is linked to control and kids are only able to control spaces such as those online whilst adults have control over homes, which they see as the locus of privacy. Cue much confusion about whether kids actually value privacy any more.

danah boyd also deconstructs the uncritically accepted notion of 'digital native'. Children are no more natives than adults, it's just that the imperative to learn to use technology may be so much stronger when it has become an essential way to negotiate the conventional processes of growing up.

In short, plus ca change.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Digital anthropology vs digital ethnography

I was speaking to a commercial market researcher today and mentioned that I was studying digital anthropology. He understood this to mean the deployment of digital tools in conducting qualitative research such as ethnography. 


I outlined the difference between digital anthropology and ethnography, which I'm repeating here, to clarify that the focus of the MA (soon to be MSc) is the former.


There are two ways of interpreting digital ethnography. The first is that it is ethnography on digital subject matter (a la Mike Wesch at Kansas University) and the second is that it's using digital tools to conduct ethnography (a la Cardiff University's Hypermedia and Ethnography Group). They aren't exclusive: In the latter sense digital ethnography involves traditional ethnographic practices transposed into a digital medium, such as in-depth online interviewing and (participant) observation in virtual communities. It also covers the (immediate, remote and scalable) gathering of content-rich digital output from research samples to gain insights into behaviours (extending to digital audio/film diaries or field recordings by researchers). Finally, it presents new possibilities for the presentation and analysis of data (e.g. the potential of hypertext). The subject matter of this research may be digital (e.g. the study of the culture of YouTube) or not, which is why I prefer the second more inclusive interpretation.


Conversely, digital anthropology is about digital technology and the remarkable effect that it is having on social organisation and cultural practices in the same way that medical anthropology is a subfield of anthropology which examines how society is impacted by health issues. In connecting the theoretical with the empirical, anthropology is one of the best ways to understand the effect. 


So there you have it: Digital anthropology isn't digital ethnography but the latter may be particularly useful in helping us research and present issues arising in the areas covered by the former, considering that (some, not all) people are spending an increasing amount of time with digital devices and online and that it is in the empirical encounter with these people that gives grounding to our conclusions.


PS Here are some nice reflections on writing an ethnography on digital subject matter 
PPS I reserve the right to revisit the subject of definitions in the future...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Q: What is digital anthropology? A: Hype?

Odd that four weeks in we should still be asking this question, but as “pioneering guinea pigs” (the department’s words not mine) it stands to reason that we should be helping to define the field. If it is indeed an emergent field. Either way we have to decide about the area we plan to research soon so it’s important to work out the scope of legitimate enquiry...


This much we have decided. For ‘the digital’ to be a suitable subject for anthropological enquiry it must be amenable to ethnographic fieldwork and theorising (a continuity with anthropology’s past). Digital anthropology can’t privilege any people because all users constitute what e.g. the internet is and means by virtue of involvement with it everywhere (to an extent a break with much of anthropology’s past, where examinations of groups in fixed locations were common). Finally its output must be insights about what it is to be human, another continuity. 


Whilst I have some ideas already about research I’d like to do, it’s clear that its subject must be culturally significant. What makes ICT's (Information and Communication Technologies) anthropologically interesting according to Tenhunen in a 2008 edition of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute is: "their ability to influence sociality’s place based conditions of existence and forms." To that end he examines "how the appropriation of phones draws from culture and, conversely, contributes to changes in culture and society."

A tool I've enlisted to help fix an appropriate subject, (in other words mapping what's scheduled for mainstream adoption and when), is Gartner's 'Hype Cycle' graph (below), which has been tracking new technology on its trajectory of unrealistic expectations to mass adoption. That's not to say adoption by mainstream 'Western' culture is the key criterion - after all Tenhunen was looking at mobile phones in Indian villages where even a limited penetration was having a large effect. It's also not to say that peripheral phenomena aren't worth studying - for example there's been a lot of research into the practice of goldfarming which has generated an interesting real-world culture of its own, study of which throws light onto other human practices, even though goldfarming is ostensibly about virtual environments.


Ideas on a postcard! Or blog comment of course.



Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Getting under the skin of cultures

Week 1

Wow, I'll be lucky if I can manage a post a week, let alone turn this into a living an breathing blog given the quantity of commitments I and others are making on the course.

There are three 'core' elements every week. The first is a 3hr session on key topics/theory, the second a 2hr Lab session for hands on experience of certain digital technologies and the third a seminar given on the parent theme of material and visual culture, to which digital anthropology is positioned as belonging.

Those in the department doing PhD research which falls into the category of 'digital' are first and foremost social anthropologists so many of us are also keen to build a solid foundation in this, one of the disciplines which gave rise to material (and visual) culture itself. To that end we're going to all sorts of additional lectures, including those for anthropologists training in the hitherto real (commonly opposed to virtual, but I'll get to whether this is a meaningful distinction in a subsequent post) world anthropological research method of ethnography.

Today we did an interesting practical exercise which divided the group into two cultures, gave them each a routine to perform and then had the other half of the group try to observe and participate in order to understand what was going on (relayed as a one page 'ethnography'). Lots of valid points emerged about interpreting the (often initially incomprehensible) behaviours of others. The main lesson was that in depth ethnography allows you to already know the answers to the questions you end up posing because of your exposure to and engagement with the culture under study. Next session, ethics...

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Week minus 1

In her introduction the head of Department insists we can refer to ourselves as anthropologists. I’m not so sure because there’s a mountain of knowledge for those without a background in anthropology (the majority on this course) to absorb.
The key challenge is learning how to frame our investigations into areas such as human behaviour around new technologies with reference to over 100 years of thought in anthropology, at the same time drawing on even longer standing intellectual fields to provide context.
On the other hand I think the head of Department was right in stating that the diverse group of students on this course will each have something unique to contribute. They range in background from journalists to advertising and design professionals who recognise that digital technology has profoundly changed both the way these fields operate and how the public consumes their output.
These are just two of many implications of digital technology addressed by this course, which is designed to help us understand and explain them from a point of view that places (observed) human experience at its heart.