ETHNOGRAPHIC APPS/APPS AS ETHNOGRAPHY: EXPLORING POSSIBILITIES FOR A LOCATIVE, MULTIMEDIA AND COLLABORATIVE FUTURE

Friday, November 20, 2015: 1:45 PM-3:30 PM

712 (Colorado Convention Center)

We find it curious that anthropologists have paid relatively little attention to apps. Yes, there are certainly apps that help in our ethnographic research, as well as apps that have long been utilized by artists, folklorists, community activists and many others to encourage people to “read” and experience space and place in interesting (and even subversive) ways. But what about apps as part of our research, as, in other words, a form of ethnographic practice? Apps facilitate embodied ideologies, and they mark the exact point of interpellation where structure and symbol meet practice and bodily hexis. Apps show how institutions and other powerful agents are trying to structure the meaning of cities by combining mobile media and social media through organizing embodied narrative experiences. Even when apps reproduce already existing content, they do so by structuring experiences in ways that are illustrative of networked power: the city as a series of connections and disconnections that bring some spaces and meaning together while effectively cutting off vast parts of the city from urban practice. In other words, apps are technologies of inclusion and exclusion, and following their trail can tell us exactly how things like segregation work in an era of the actor network. And yet, apps also allow anthropologists unparalleled opportunities to organize our multimedia, ethnographic data. We’re used to working (and re-working) our notes, transcripts and recordings for written ethnographies, or editing (and re-editing) audio and visual recordings for ethnographic film, but what happens when we’ve got all of the above? Increasingly, anthropologists are leaving the field with a panoply of media: recordings, notes, photos, digital records, etc. Apps suggest one way of integrating this into ethnographically intended experiences for users. They take ethnographers to task for assuming that meaning “inheres” in objects or spaces—with a geo-located app of an urban neighborhood, meaning comes from the ethnographic practice of the user. Can the user interact with your site in a way that is consonant with your own conclusions? And if they don’t, isn’t that a problem for you to consider? This feedback is itself data—where people go, where they don’t go, what they saw and what they failed to see. If we dismiss this as ephemeral to our research, we’re missing the point: this is where the ethnography (literally) hits the road. Finally, apps suggest an ethnography that is collaborative, engaging, open and fluid: working with people to produce multiple media, prototyping apps with our interlocutors, testing apps with students, collecting data from usage, and then re-working what we’ve done to reflect our new understanding, all under the auspices of an open-source, open-access platform that people can utilize on (more and more) readily available hand-sets.

This session would be of particular interest to:
Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students

Organizers:  Samuel G Collins (Towson University, Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminal Justice) and Matthew S Durington (Towson University)

Chairs:  Matthew S Durington (Towson University)

Discussants:  Krista Harper (University of Massachusetts Amherst – Department of Anthropology)

1:45 PM
Anthropology Games: Teaching Game Design to Mobile App Prototyping
Matthew S Durington (Towson University)

2:00 PM
Informating Asthma: How Digital Health Technologies Emplace Illness and Care
Alison Kenner (Drexel University, Center for Science, Technology, and Society)

2:15 PM
Apps, Visual Practices and the Mediated Tourist Experience
Paolo Favero (University of Antwerp)

2:30 PM
To My Forever, Evernote
Casey K O’Donnell (Michigan State University)

2:45 PM
Choose Your Own City: Apps and Multimedia Anthropology in Seoul
Samuel G Collins (Towson University, Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminal Justice)

3:00 PM
Discussant
Krista Harper (University of Massachusetts Amherst – Department of Anthropology)

3:15 PM
Discussion

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