Category Archives: Good Links

On Facebook, Death and Memorialisation

Over at the UCL Social Networking Sites and Social Sciences Project, Danny Miller writes about his research at a London hospice where he has been exploring the resonance of new media at the end of life:

Alongside my ethnographic research in The Glades I have now been working for over a year alongside The Hospice of St Francis. When I am in the UK I try to spend a day a week interviewing their patients who are mainly terminal cancer patients. I was delighted to hear this winter that the wonderful hospice director Dr Ros Taylor was awarded an MBE in this year’s honours list. My intention in working for the Hospice was a concern that a project of this size should also have an applied or welfare aspect where we could see the direct benefit. The initial work was simply an attempt to see how the hospice could benefit from new media. The report was published on my website, but once I was working with them I realised that in a way the hospice was the clearest example of what the whole team have endeavoured to demonstrate through this blog.

The hospice movement represents no kind of technical or medical advancement. It is entirely the product of a transformation in collective consciousness. Previously it was assumed that when people knew they were dying this was tantamount to a stage in merely their withdrawal from the world. We talk about ‘investing in our children’ as though there were long-term financial assets. The same logic would condemn the dying as of limited value. The Hospice movement was all about saying that knowing someone is terminal should be seen as an opportunity. It is no longer a medical issue, they will not be cured, instead we can concentrate on their quality of life and make this stage of life, since that is what it is, as enjoyable and fulfilling as it could be. Everything that Dr Taylor says and does demonstrates this, as does my colleague in this research Kimberley McLaughlin a senior manager of the hospice.

On reflection this is perhaps our single most important finding also as anthropologists of social media. People become fixated on the technological advances of new media. What each device can now be capable of – the latest app or smartphone or platform. These certainly feature throughout our work. But the vast majority of our blog posts are not about that. Instead they describe changes in the same collective consciousness: the social uses that people creatively imagine for these media as part of their lives.

The two issues come together in my observations of Facebook in relation to death and memorialisation. One of my early informants was a woman who felt that she wanted to use the experience of terminal cancer to help educate the wider world about her experience. A subject people tend to avoid but need to gain a better understanding of. I last saw her six days before she died and she was quite clear that using Facebook as almost a daily blog had enabled her to do just that. I am hoping (if I obtain the funding) to make a film based on her and other patients who have used Facebook in this manner.

I would be equally positive about the ways people have found to use Facebook in memorialisation and grief. Previously we have tended to use highly formal and religious institutionalised frames for dealing with death. As I argued in my book Tales From Facebook, this was out of synch with changes in our notion of the authenticity of the individual. Where once we took formal posed pictures, now we like to capture images that seem spontaneous, informal and thereby more ‘real’ to us. Similarly we needed a form of memorialisation that contained this element of personalisation and immediacy. People on Facebook can put both serious and jokey memories and do so at a time of their choosing. I find these sites poignant and effective. I don’t find other social media sites, such as Twitter or Instagram, as having the same potential, so I hope we retain this capacity of Facebook.

But the point is that the inventors of Facebook were certainly not thinking about its relationship to death or memorialisation. Rather, as in the case of the invention of the hospice movement, this reflects a change in our collective imagination in what we could potentially do in relation to death and grief. This is why we argue it is anthropology rather than more tech-driven studies of new media that are most suited to understanding what social media actually become. Most of these reports reflect not the technological potential, but the imaginative realisation of social media.




Access to Museum Worlds Virtual Issues

In celebration of the first ever Museum Week, Berghahn Journals is delighted to offer you free access to two special virtual issues. The first features a collection of articles from eleven of our journals spanning multiple disciplines which deliver scholarly and informed opinion on museum studies. Article topics include: Museums and Education, Museums and Memorials, and Museums and Society. The second virtual issue is a collection of exhibit reviews from our new journal, Museum Worlds: Advances in Research.

Access the virtual issue: Access exhibit reviews from Museum Worlds:

For more information about Museum Worlds, please visit our

With best wishes,
Berghahn Journals

More commentary on iconoclasm in Papua New Guinea

After a legal case to have the speaker of the PNG Parliment’s order to destroy several of the building’s carvings recognized as illegal failed, a group of academics has published a discussion paper entitled “Purging Parliament: A New christian Parliament in Papua New Guinea“.

The piece debates whether or not it is appropriate to understand the iconoclasm of the Speaker of the house in religious terms, or whether or not the event “signals deeper social transformations underway”.

My Street Film Project: Submissions Open for 2014

My Street’s annual competition is now open for submissions, with a deadline of May 19th.



My Street is a documentary film archive, focused on the UK, but expanding rapidly across Europe of short films produced by amateur, professional (and anything in-between) filmmakers. The project is resolutely local – all video and film must be pegged to a post code – but within that frame allows participants to speak to their locality in a multitude of different voices, styles, and genres.

Announcing Transactions: a Payments archive

Reblogged from the blog of the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion

Through 2013, the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion has funded over 125 researchers in 38 countries. Every year they come together at the University of California, Irvine to share their research questions and conclusions. They also bring with them more tangible lessons: an incredibly diverse assortment of artifacts that also help to tell the still-unfolding story of mobile money.

We did not anticipate becoming a museum. But one of the important side-effects of our large and still-growing research network has been the accumulation of stuff: state and local currencies in multiple denominations, promotional material from mobile money deployments, and artifacts of everyday monetary practice, from cell phone sleeves to piggy banks. We have been fortunate to receive many of these as gifts from our researchers, and early on we realized the treasures that had begun to gather in our offices. We began a partnership with the British Museum to receive many of these artifacts for its own collection of modern money paraphernalia, and as we have documented before, many of these objects can now be seen in the Citi Modern Money Gallery.

In 2013, inspired by this incipient collection, IMTFI research assistants formed a new partnership with the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing (also at UC Irvine), as well as a range of other institutions (from the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge to the Khipu Database Project at Harvard University), to launch a new website and online collaborative collection. Called TRANSACTIONS: A Payments Archive, this collection brings together artifacts from partner collections and written commentaries from independent contributors to spark a conversation about the material cultures and histories of payment and debt.

You can read more about the TRANSACTIONS archive in Anthropology News:
How might attention to such objects, their contexts and uses illuminate the longue durée history of forms of payment and transactional record-keeping and reframe understandings of the materiality of debt and money? And how might we reassemble a material history of money, debt, payments, and transactional records across their often-disconnected institutional contexts? […] Transactions is our attempt to constitute a collaborative framework to address these questions.TRANSACTIONS needs your help!

We invite public participation in this collaborative endeavor in two ways:

1) Submit images of transactions artifacts of your own (or those you have come across in research) to our Collaborative Archive, along with a short explanation detailing their who, what, when, and where. Visit our site and click the “Contribute” button to learn more.

2) We welcome commentaries of 500-1500 words that offer more in-depth reflections on transactions artifacts, either those we have selected from our partner collections or those you have found in your own research. We have already hosting commentaries and other reflections from scholars such as Jane Guyer, Joe Deville, Alexandre Roig and Waldemar Cubilla, Lana Swartz, and Carlyn James.

Feel free to contact us at

Things in Cambridge

The Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) has convened an interdisciplinary research seminar entitled “Things: Material Cultures 1500 – 1900. The brief of the research group is here:

With the dawning of modernity came the age of ‘stuff.’ Public production, collection, display and consumption of objects grew in influence, popularity, and scale. The form, function, and use of objects, ranging from scientific and musical instruments to weaponry and furnishings were influenced by distinct  and changing features of the period. Knowledge was not divided into strict disciplines. In fact, practice across what we now see as academic boundaries was essential to material creation. This seminar series uses an approach based on objects to encourage us to consider the unity of ideas of this period, to emphasise the lived human experience of technology and art, and the global dimension of material culture. It does this by inviting pairs of speakers, often from different institutional backgrounds, to speak to a particular kind of ‘thing’ or a theme that unites disparate ‘things’. Previous ‘Things’ seminars have concentrated on the early modern period generally and the long eighteenth century in particular; this year we have taken the step into the nineteenth century, the era that brought us the mass production of ‘things’. Our aim continues to be to look at the interdisciplinary thinking through which material culture was conceived, and to consider the question of what a ‘thing’ is, with the ultimate goal of gaining new perspectives on the period 1500-1900 through its artefacts.

Here is Simon Schaffer talking about “things” from one of their Mellon conferences:

And here is Edmund de Waal presenting his thoughts on pottery, shadows and archives related to a recent commission for Cambridge University.

The CRASSH website is a rich resource of past talks, many of which are videoed and archived here.

Global Things

Chris Rumford and Alistair Brisbourne, Royal Holloway, University of London

We would like to draw your attention to a new research project entitled ‘Global Things’.

In outline, the project seeks to identify a number of ‘global things’ and explore what makes them global, what this can tell us about the cultural dynamics of globalization, and the relation of individuals and society to that process. The initial seven ‘global things’ chosen are: the rubber duck, the V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes mask, the jumpsuit, aviator sunglasses, the sixties, the keffiyeh and the piggy bank. We are also open to original ideas for other things. What makes the study distinctive is that each global thing will be explored from a variety of perspectives such that their globality is not taken for granted. For the project to be a success we require contributors to tell us of their perceptions or experiences of the things being investigated.  It is important that we incorporate a range of perspectives into our account of what makes the rubber duck or the piggy bank, for example, a ‘global thing’. A full account of the project’s aims and objectives can be found on the webpage.

We are particularly interested to make contact with PhD students, interested in the field of cultural globalization broadly, who are willing to participate in the online project and perhaps also take part in a workshop provisionally scheduled for April 2014. 


Interested parties should contact Professor Chris Rumford (Royal Holloway, University of London) or Alistair Brisbourne (Research assistant, Royal Holloway, University of London) in order to discuss how they can best contribute to the project.


The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family History of and through Objects

By Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center)

After knowing about the book for a couple of years, I finally found the time to read The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), Edmund de Waal’s evocative exploration of his material patrimoine. The book traces its author’s geographical, archival, and emotional wanderings though the past century and a half and across the globe as he pieces together the story of his family, largely through its accumulated—and then mostly alienated—collections. Where objects are no longer extant, de Waal reconstructs their once-presence from lists, ledgers, account books, registries, catalogues, photographs, letters, memoirs, and novels.

Continue reading

Seashell Sounds

At Cabinet Magazine, Stefan Hellmreich


Antique Japanese horagi (conch shell trumpet). Photo: samuraiantiqueworld

“puts an ear to popular science and poetry, following a history that has, first, shells singing, speaking, sighing, and echoing distant oceanic and communal pasts, and next, shells reflecting back the personal and present moment, and, then, as we approach today, delivering sounds imagined deep inside, rather than outside, human bodies. At stake are changing models of the relation between hearing, the world, and the self, with the avowedly mystical and communal gradually replaced by the secular, scientific, and individual—though, with the arrival of the blood-in-the-ears interpretation, infused anew with an element of the mythical.”