This Week in Ethnography: All Tomorrow’s Cultures: Tagging Anthropology

This Week in Ethnography, I have thought about Public Anthropology. Samuel Gerald Collins of All Tomorrow’s Cultures posted a great piece on the subject this week entitled Tagging Anthropology.  Public Anthropology is not a new subject by any means.  A Google search on the subject will show over 600,000 results and limiting your search to Savage Minds will still give you more than a week’s worth of reading.  In fact, this subject is so mature that the The 9th Annual Public Anthropology Conference is just around the corner (not the first or second, but the 9th!)  [Incidentally, 300 word abstract submissions for this conference are due by Monday, August 27, 2012.]  To get a feel for this conference view or read last year’s keynote by Max Forte here:

Beyond Public Anthropology: Approaching Zero

What I like about Collin’s post is that he demands that we define “public”.  Whereas much of this sort or work is on ANTHROPOLOGY with “public” as an afterthought, Collins wants us to seriously consider PUBLIC.  What is the public? Who makes up the public?

…Is anthropology the same?  In the era of “public anthropology,” isn’t the idea to reach a “public”?  But what is this “public”?   Despite lots of lip service and theoretical interest in expanding the audience for anthropological research, anthropologists seem to have little more than a vague sense of the public that might exist outside of the immediate academic context.   This question becomes more urgent with the advent of web 2.0 social networking.   When we’re blogging or putting something up on Youtube, it seems obvious that we’re making our work “public,” but that public is not synonymous with the “public” of television news or major newspapers. via All Tomorrow’s Cultures: Tagging Anthropology.

Collins’ concludes with a call for us all to put some ethnographic effort into the PUBLIC part of the equation.

…a public anthropology in the age of networked media needs to create its public while it’s doing anthropology, a consciously forged interpretive community. via All Tomorrow’s Cultures: Tagging Anthropology.




This Week in Ethnography: Writing Live Fieldnotes With Social Media: Towards a More Open Ethnography | Ethnography Matters

This Week in Ethnography, the big news was Mitt Romney “using” the word culture but that news is already very well described by Jason Antrosio.

So I found another hidden gem that came out this week: a great post on “Writing Live Fieldnotes“.  It describes a technique that could solve a challenge I am facing in a research project where I will be tracking the behavior of a group of high school students. My challenge is to generate solid data on their entire lives without actually following them (minors) off campus.

TECHNOLOGY: I’ve used diary techniques elsewhere but I fear high school students will be less reliable than the college students I have studied earlier.  In the post below, Tricia Wang describes a technique that got me thinking about a solution to my problem.  Technologically I’m considering purchasing a number of Ipod touches, distributing them to the subjects, training them in some basic observation and self reporting techniques and seeing what happens.

METHOD: Shirley Brice Heath was is the first person I ever heard use the phrase guerrilla ethnography at a talk she gave at the U. Penn Ethnography in Education Conference in the mid 1990s.  Basically, she took a group of high school students and trained them to extend her observations at a high school.

What I am thinking of doing is have my subjects, read Tricia Wang’s post and follow her lead.  I’ve added the first few lines of her post her, but I urge you to read the entire thing.  There is real knowledge there!

Writing Live Fieldnotes With Social Media: Towards a More Open Ethnography

I just returned from fieldwork in China. I’m excited to share a new way I’ve been writing ethnographic fieldnotes, called live fieldnoting. I spoke about live fieldnoting in a recent interview with Fast Company that also featured a slideshow of my live fieldnotes. I want to elaborate on the process in this post.

At one point in time, all ethnographers wrote their notes down with a physical pen and paper. But with mobiles, laptops, iPads, and digital pens, not all ethnographers write their fieldnotes. Some type their fieldnotes. Or some do both. With all these options, I have struggled to come up with the perfect fieldnote system.

I have experimented with the Livescribe Pen, regular old notebook, and a laptop. The Livescribe digital pen didn’t work for me because it’s really uncomfortable to use after a half hour of writing and its dependency on digital paper makes it inflexible for fieldwork outside of the US and longterm extended fieldwork (my review of the pen on The notebook seems like the most practical solution. But I can’t seem to find the “perfect” notebook. Do I use a really small one that fits in my pocket? A medium size one that allows me to write more? If it’s too big then it looks like a “notebook.” And what should this notebook look like? Does a black moleskin look too nice for my fieldsite? Does it look too official? Does my notebook allow me to fit in with teens? But the notebook with bears and hearts that I use around teens doesn’t work for my meetings with government officials. And in the end no matter what kind of notebook I use, I still have to type all my notes to Evernote. So using a laptop is inevitable as all notes eventually end up there and are cleaned up there.

But the problem with a digital pen, notebook, and laptop is that they are all extra things that have to be carried with you or they add extra steps to the process. If I forget to charge the Livescribe or if it runs out of batteries, then I would have to remember to pack a backup notebook and pen. If I was in an area where I couldn’t get electricity, then I couldn’t charge my laptop or pen. If I’m in situation where I can’t take out a notebook because it would distract from the situation or it would be too cumbersome, then I would have to memorize everything.

I still haven’t found the perfect fieldnote system, but I wanted to experiment with a new process that I call, “live fieldnoting.”

via Writing Live Fieldnotes With Social Media: Towards a More Open Ethnography | Ethnography Matters.

This Week in Ethnography: Second Digital Ethnography Week _ Trento 17-21 sept. 2012

There is not much to report in “This Week in Ethnography”, a segment I am inventing as a means of reporting on the global pulse of this most important subject.  The one item that jumped out of my feeds at me was that I missed the application deadline (of July 22, 2012) for the:

Second Digital Ethnography Week _ Trento 17-21 sept. 2012

The second “Digital Ethnography Week” (DEW), an intensive week focused on the study of digital methods and digital ethnographic approaches. The DEW is intended for Ph.D. students and researchers interested in developing advanced methodological skills to account for the digital in contemporary social life.
As their website reports, this looks like a great opportunity for aspiring digital ethnographers.
Ethnography and Journalism
Be warned: The Data Journalism School in Rome is involved in this effort.  I know the conflation of ethnography and journalism is shocking to some. During my graduate training, I recall one of the senior faculty members of my anthropology program criticizing a students’ work by referring to it as “journalism”.  The context for this event was a thesis draft presentation based on ethnographic fieldwork in a doctoral colloquium.  I believe the Professor’s intention was to imply that the student was “only out for a story” and had “little theoretical or methodological reasoning” for how they had generated the data they were reporting on.
The irony of this situation was that this was a program in applied anthropology.  In any event, let us not “throw the baby out with the bath water” or in this case, throw good data or solid technique out with the researcher using it.  Data Journalism is a fantastic means of getting at reality.  For example, check out the following TED talk by David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization and try to tell me that this “journalist” is “only out for the story”.