ANTHROPOLOGY OF ICT: CELLULAR INTERNET, SOCIAL MEDIA, MOBILE MONEY, DECENTRALIZED ARCHITECTURE, BIG DATA

Thursday, November 19, 2015: 4:00 PM-5:45 PM
102 (Colorado Convention Center)
This panel contextualizes contemporary Information and Communications Technology (ICT) within complex power topographies and explores how people creatively invent, adopt, adapt and resist ICT in various contexts. Academics are increasingly fascinated by the rapid global proliferation of ICT, even within impoverished and marginalized communities. Smartphones and cellular internet offer new forms of communication, association and exchange. Social networking platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp enable people to maintain far-flung, transnationally-dispersed networks of family and friends. Mobile money platforms like M-Pesa bring financial services to the “unbanked.” Decentralized platforms, protocols and processes like cryptocurrency, onion routing, mesh networking, and crowd funding enable novel forms of collective expression, collaboration, problem solving and subterfuge that are poised to disrupt existing industries, power structures and even families. [PARAGRAPH] Many policymakers and pundits enthusiastically depict ICT as inherently egalitarian, enlightening and emancipatory: Twitter will bring democracy, Wikipedia will dispel ignorance, WhatsApp will jumpstart entrepreneurialism and the “deep/dark web” will make everyone a potential whistleblower. Against this backdrop of cyber-optimism, more perspicacious social scientists have noticed that existing inequalities often resurface as digital divides and that powerful corporate and state interests permeate cyberspace. Space-compressing digital communications technologies may, paradoxically, lead to increased social distance within local communities and families. Online socialization generates “big data” that is lucratively mined in the service of state-sponsored espionage, targeted corporate advertising and even political engineering.
This panel will bring attendees up to speed with emerging technologies in the contemporary ICT ecosystem: how they work, why they are sociologically relevant, and their utility for anthropological research. Ethnographic case studies from around the world will illustrate the multitudinous ways that ICT is reinvented in various places. Presenters will examine questions including: whether decentralized and anonymizing technologies are potentially destabilizing to state and corporate power formations; how online social networks mesh with in-the-flesh social formations; how innovation and infrastructure deployment often recapitulate race and gender divides; how internet corporations and mobile network operators are increasingly influential in shaping everyday human interaction; and how ethnographic data from YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, Facebook timelines and online forums can be productively and ethically obtained and analyzed. The session will conclude with a reflection on the importance of anthropological engagement with emerging network technologies, followed by a period of open discussion.

This session would be of particular interest to:
Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students

Organizers:  William J Suk (Syracuse University)
Chairs:  Deborah Pellow (Syracuse University)
Discussants:  Robert D Albro (American University)

4:00 PM Cyberinfrastructure, Start-up Culture, and the Right to the City Shannon M Jackson (University of Missouri Kansas City)

4:15 PM Zvirikufaya Ku Diaspora 2.0: Zimbabweans Debating Migration with a Viral Internet Meme William J Suk (Syracuse University)

4:30 PM Hard Knowledge, Soft Data: Gendered Discourses in Cultural Conceptualization of Digital Data Yuliya Grinberg (Columbia University)

4:45 PM Mobile Money and the Navigation of Risk and Mobility in Kenya Dillon Mahoney (University of South Florida)

5:00 PM Crypto-Activism: Hackers’ Resistance to Digital Mass Surveillance David Bozzini (Graduate Center CUNY)

5:15 PM Discussant Robert D Albro (American University)

5:30 PM Discussion
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