Tag Archives: Ethnography

PhD Scholarships (2) for Inhabiting Buildings: Embedding Sustainability into RMIT Culture

Digital Ethnography Research Centre, School of Media and Communication and the Centre for Urban Research (Beyond Behaviour Change research program), School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

The Inhabiting Buildings project adopts an innovative participatory research methodology to map and promote change in the RMIT community to improve sustainability. It focuses on everyday social practices within the built environment to understand how resources are consumed, what role buildings and technologies play in shaping these processes, and where opportunities exist for social, cultural and organisational change. 

Two PhD scholarships (projects 6 and 7) are available for humanities/social science students working under the supervision of A/Professor Tania Lewis and Dr Yolande Strengers as part of the RMIT Greener Government Buildings programme. More information can be found at www.rmit.edu.au/scholarships/ggb. Also see the project description below. Note the closing date for applications is 31 October 2013.

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Materiality Matters at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference

In October I attended the 13th annual Association of Internet Researchers conference (AoIR or IR13) which was held in Salford, England at the University of Salford in the heart of the new home of the BBC, Media City UK. As a conference, AoIR has always been at the cutting edge scholarship on internet research and digital cultures. This year, the presence of Conference Chair Lori Kendall – author of Hanging Out in a Virtual Pub, one of the very first ethnographies of online communities — significantly shaped conversation by productively highlighting issues of gender and the changing relationship between various dichotomies (real/virtual, online/offline) emerging in everyday practice.

While I was not able to attend all of the sessions (there were up to seven simultaneous tracks on October 19th and 20th!! See the programme), a few key themes emerged that are worth sharing with the Material World community. The first was the centrality of ‘materiality’ as a concept for understanding digital media and technology. From Mary L. Gray’s discussion gay youth in rural America and the politics of visibility to Larissa Hjorth’s metaphor of the caravan as a way to rethink and move away from domestication theory to Susanna Paasonen’s analytical paper focused upon defining the ‘object’ of study in internet studies in an age of networked technologies, there was a concerted effort to understand the relationship between the qualities, properties and affordances of new media as they emerge through use. Subsequent talks by Daniel Miller, Zizi Papacharissi and an impassioned talk by Theresa M. Senft further highlighted how materiality matters in current debates in Internet studies.

Throughout the conference it became evident that part of the reason why materiality is so consequential to researchers at AoIR  revolves around the fact that what we previously understood as ‘internet research’ is changing. The dilemma of the object of inquiry in Internet research is no longer only about whether to study “online” or “offline” (although there are still important arguments for taking these perspectives and positions – see the recently released book Ethnography and Virtual Worlds). Rather, the various sessions and papers focusing upon mobile phones, mobile media, locative media (e.g. Jason Farman’s Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media won the annual book prize), mobile internet, mobile markets, mobile apps and so on (over 200 mentions of “mobiles” in the conference program) highlighted how ‘the Internet’ and digital media generally have become intertwined in everyday practice. How we understand, move between and relate to the various apps on our phones, what significance the places that are created through mobile phones, webcams, social network sites or virtual worlds mean for our varied relationships and sense of being human, and how the platforms, apps, data plans, regulatory environments and so on we use to access our friends, colleagues and acquaintances mediate our publics and politics – these all demand attention to the materiality of the various objects, tools and relationships we develop and maintain.

As someone who sees their work embedded within material culture studies, the focus upon materiality was an unexpected but welcome addition to the study of internet and digital media at AoIR this year. Indeed, there is a growing sense of revitalisation and excitement around our understanding of materiality, immateriality and material culture across a range of disciplines. These include the emergence of Platform and Software Studies, conversations around infrastructure in Ubiquitous Computing by scholars such as Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell, media and digital anthropology (e.g. the AAS Conference entitled “Culture and Contest in a Material World”), Cultural Studies (CSAA’s forthcoming conference “Materialities: Economies, Empiricism and Things”), to name but a few recent events, books and conversations. What was quite clear at an interdisciplinary conference like AoIR, however,  was that the concept of ‘materiality’ in play embodied a diverse set of debates and histories from Actor Network Theory, Critical Studies, Material Culture Studies and elsewhere. These debates and histories, of course, define how we approach the study of materiality, what the relationship between materiality and immateriality might be for digital media and the internet (and whether this dichotomy, as Tom Boellstorff suggested in the plenary discussion at AoIR, should persist at all) and the consequences of focusing upon ‘materiality’ for our practice. One hopes such a conversation might begin here.

Note: Next year’s conference, chaired by Lynn Schofield Clark (who has done fabulous work on media, religion and families), will be held in Denver in October 2012.

3-year PhD Scholarship (Understanding Mobile and Social Media in the Pacific) – Deadline 31 October 2012

School of Media and Communication, RMIT University Australia

Application deadline: 31 October 2012

This three-year scholarship is for a PhD candidate will contribute to the fieldwork for an ethnographic study of mobile and social media in 1-2 Pacific countries. S/he will spend at least 12 months over the three years of candidature documenting, archiving and analysing mobile and social communication practices and infrastructure. As a discrete case study, but key component of the comparative study, the PhD candidate will participate in and contribute to a recently funded Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant “Mobilising Media for Sustainable Outcomes in the Pacific Region” (see below for project summary). They will also become a PhD Member of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre: www.digital-ethnography.net

Eligible candidates will have a BA, BA with Honours or MA/MSC in Communication, Anthropology, Sociology, Science and Technology Studies, Informatics, Media Studies or other related discipline. They must be willing to undertake ethnographic fieldwork in up to two countries in Melanesia, Micronesia or Polynesia with a focus upon online and mobile media. Ideal candidates will have linguistic expertise and/or be willing to learn the language(s) of their fieldwork site(s). International and Australian nationals are eligible to apply. The Scholarship, which covers tuition, fees, a small stipend and other research expenses, will begin in March 2013.

Initial expressions of interest should be sent to Dr. Heather Horst at heather.horst@rmit.edu.au

Please note that all applicants will need to apply for and be accepted to the PhD program in Media and Communication at RMIT University. The Application deadline is 31 October 2012. Application details can be found here.

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Call for Papers, Essays and Other Contributions: Anthropology, Ethnography and Artistic Practices

Chamada para artigos, ensaios (audio-)visuais e outros
Prazo final: 01 de Dezembro de 2012

Este dossiê temático dos Cadernos de Arte e Antropologia (CadernosAA) – “Antropologia, etnografia e práticas artísticas” – procurará contribuir para a reflexão em torno da relação entre arte, etnografia e antropologia a partir de trabalhos de investigadores e artistas posicionados em diferentes contextos.

This thematic dossier of the Journal of Art and Anthropology (CadernosAA) – “Anthropology, ethnography and artistic practices” – seek to contribute to the debate on the relationship between art, ethnography and anthropology from the work of researchers and artists placed in different contexts.

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Review: Harnessing Fortune

Empson, Rebecca, 2011. Harnessing Fortune: Personhood, Memory and Place in Mongolia. Oxford University Press.
Daniel Miller, UCL
One of the issues in teaching material culture studies under the auspices of an anthropology department is explaining what is, at least in my case, a very conservative attitude to ethnography. I have always insisted that my PhD students understand and undertake what could be called classic ethnographic research as the basis for their PhD. The research must be based on working with a specified group of people for at least a year, being as much engaged with their every day activities as possible. In my case I have always insisted that even in the digital field this had to be as much an off line as on line experience. But to persuade people of this it helps if one has to hand exemplary ethnographies that really do demonstrate the `added value’ of sustained ethnographic study. There are of course classic studies, of which my bedrock has always been Munn’s Fame of Gawa but one also wants to see current exemplifications that tackle the often far more dynamic situations of the contemporary world.
Rebecca Empson’s 2011 monograph Harnessing Fortune works a treat for these purposes. Empson was a student of Caroline Humphrey at Cambridge, who has consistently produced key papers in material culture studies throughout her career. As with Humphrey, Empson also works with the Buriad (Buryat) peoples of Mongolia. If Annette Weiner described her work in terms of “Keeping while Giving”, Empson is more focused on Keeping while Separating. The economy of herding requires considerable mobility of various kinds and separation both cyclical and developmental is essential in the region. But these populations have complex means for retaining certain elements of persons, horses and other features that are moving on, thereby securing the element of fortune that was associated with their initial presence and possession. The study is thereby able also to show how accumulation and indeed possession operate alongside the fluidity of mobility.
The monograph has a broad range of concerns including the sense in which people are retained within other’s bodies as in rebirth, and the hidden dimensions of relatedness that revolve around shamanistic practice. For scholars specifically interested in material culture chapters two to five are the most valuable. Chapter five, for example, has a fascinating discussion of mirrors as revelations of that which otherwise cannot be seen, and chapter two provides much of the analysis of the retention of fortune using retained material forms. But the heart of these more material aspects of this book is found in chapter three. This is concerned firstly with the household chest but most especially with the photographs, both those displayed on the outside of these chests and also in albums within. Careful attention to every aspect, from the juxtaposition of montage, to the formality of pose, to the ethnographic sense of when and in front of who photos are either displayed or hidden all become part of the analysis of how material forms and images are able to constitute and retain relationships even when person of property is otherwise absent and separated.
Showing how photographs stand in the stead of, but also greatly extend the role of genealogies, many of which were previously destroyed for political reasons, has been very helpful to me in trying to think of how to work with the change from older genres of photos to the visual aspects of Facebook which is something I want to work on more in the future. In each of these iterations one can see how other networks of relatedness move beyond but also appropriate ideas of obligation that derive from kin relationships. In an Appendix she provides the illustrations and more detailed analysis of seven households. In her final chapter there is dramatic shift to the issue of arson, which reminds us that there are still more devastating loss of presence in the world beyond wiping out ones online presence.
As well as the dense ethnography, Empson also clearly places her material in relation to theorists such as Gell and Strathern, helpfully concentrating on the differences between the implications of her study and previous discussions of agency and relatedness. The book is the product of several fieldtrips conducted both for PhD and later Post-Doctoral research and has that aura of confident knowledge of her ethnographic context that comes with this intensity and longevity of fieldwork. The writing is unpretentious and effectively engages readers with the empathetic experience of that fieldwork. As with most good monographs the end result is not grand theory, but a clear sense that the particular material cosmologies of these people demonstrate possible ways of using material and social relatedness that were not captured by our prior theoretical discussions which now have to be re-thought and nuanced in the light of this new evidence. Which is exactly what a good ethnographic monograph should do.

Sensate: a journal for experiments in critical media practice

Sensate is a peer-reviewed, graduate-student-run journal for experiments in critical media practice. It aims to create, present, and critique innovative projects in the arts, humanities, and sciences and to build on the groundswell of pioneering activities in the digital humanities, scholarly publishing, and innovative media practice to provide a forum for scholarly and artistic experiments not conducive to the printed page. Exploring new ways to archive, curate, and organize academic multimedia scholarship, Sensate invites submissions of scholarship and art whose work is not conducive to the printed page.

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