After the field: unboxing digital methods and producing data in digital anthropology

Roundtable Call for Discussants

American Anthropological Association 2016
November 16-20
Minneapolis, MN

Please contact Nadia Elmrabet at elmrabet.nadia@gmail.com about participating in this roundtable.

Deadline April 12, 2016

After the field: unboxing digital methods and producing data in digital anthropology

Organizer: Nadia Elmrabet (University College London)

This “debriefing” roundtable session sets out to give a platform to share and discuss ethnographic methods, strategies, tactics, ways of studying digital practices and the question of data.

Whether it is through the prism of “big”, “thick”, “small”, “composite”, “rough”, “elusive”, “incomplete” data, the various ways in which we engage with the study of the digital is a buoyant arena where innovation is key. We invite people returning from the field – whether from academia or elsewhere – to come and debrief on “field-proofed” applied methods. From the identification, unearthing,  labeling, manipulation, production, re-use of users’ data to “guerilla”, ad hoc assemblage, “low tech”, automatized, computerized, algorithmic methods, how do we gather, produce, curate, make sense of one’s reality?

Are we witnessing a switch from “cyber”, “virtual” studies generating ethnographies in the screen to a more “embedded, embodied and everyday” (Hine, 2015) approach of digital phenomena? As the pervasive production and relation of people to an algorithmic, data-intensive environment continues to produce new objects and practices to study, how can we and how do we go about a process of “depunctualisation” (Latour) to understand what these data represent and how do people relate to them?

Do we need with urgency a more technical and specialized competence in the study of digital data? Is there a place for discovery, serendipity and “bricolage” in user research in the age of big data?

Other questions participants may address is the messiness of a “predictably unpredictable world” (this year’s AAA theme) in use of data in ethnography, the various rapports with truth and representativity at the core of concepts of data, or how we bridge gaps in knowledge and with informants through innovative use of technology before, during and after fieldwork.

Another point of interest in this debriefing discussion would be the ethics of data methods: the ethics procedure (diverse and sometimes institution-specific), the ethical assumptions and implications of ways in which we define data (for example, data as part of an individual’s body in the case of automatized medical data or using using public media productions on social media or forums)…

We invite abstracts of contributors having returned from the field or proposing a fresh outlook on digital methods, studying digital life, digital anthropology, and ethnography in diverse settings to join us. Please submit an abstract (250 words max.) to the panel organizers by April 12th to Nadia Elmrabet at elmrabet.nadia@gmail.com

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