ETHNOGRAPHIC ENGAGEMENTS WITH DIGITAL ALTERITY I

Thursday, November 19, 2015: 4:00 PM-5:45 PM
Capital Ballroom 1 (Hyatt Regency)
As digital technologies become ever more ubiquitous as artefacts and infrastructures via which human relations are conducted, this panel explores an approach to digital relations that asks not whether the digital is virtual or real, but just what kind of reality the digital is. Rather than taming digital technologies by incorporating them into standard anthropological accounts of either technology design or technology use, we approach the digital real as a specific space of alterity with rich implications for anthropological theory. From the sensory infrastructures which feed data streams that are analysed by algorithms, to the distributed networks of programmers and players that make gaming environments, digital technologies do not simply provide representations of an external world, but participate in the organisation of relations through which new worlds are brought into being. Moving beyond a dialectic of human/technology or virtual/real, this panel aims to both explore the epistemological dynamics by which such separations and boundaries are reproduced, and to push towards an approach to digital technologies that allows for the relational specificity of a variety of digital forms (e.g. computer models, social media platforms, digital devices, and online games) to be interrogated as active and often unfamiliar(/Other) participants in human social worlds. Looking to the disruptive, unsettling, or transformative effects of digital technologies, this panel aims to explore how they raise new questions about the role of difference, identity, simulation, fakery, newness, automation, unpredictability, invisibility, authenticity and agency for anthropological accounts of social relations. To explore these ideas, we invite papers from a wide range of ethnographic settings to address such issues as the semiotics of algorithms, the phenomenology of number, the materiality of digital infrastructure, the relational extensions of networks and the ontological cuts that such technologies effect. In drawing attention to ontology, we are interested in the question of how digital technologies not only perform and produce the boundaries of the ‘real’ as we know it, but are also active in defining new, strange spaces beyond those boundaries; and what implications this might have for reframing what we might call a ‘digital’ form of anthropology.

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

Organizers:  Antonia Caitlin Walford (It University of Copenhagen and University College London) and Hannah C Knox (University College London)
Chairs:  Hannah C Knox (University College London)
Discussants:  Tom Boellstorff (University of California, Irvine)

4:00 PM Digital Comparisons: Real Nature, Authentic Culture and Anthropological Alterity  Antonia Caitlin Walford (Open University and University College London)

4:45 PM Computational Thinking As an Ontological Programme?

Christopher Gad (IT University of Copenhagen) and Rachel Douglas-Jones (IT-University of Copenhagen)

5:00 PM The Counter-Politics of Open Source Hardware Hannah C Knox (University College London)

5:15 PM Discussant Tom Boellstorff (University of California, Irvine)

5:30 PM Discussion
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