Web based services, many of which are available on mobile devices, now mediate the experience of place, culture and heritage for tourists and even professional researchers.  Recommendation systems increasingly filter and optimize destination choice and perception, while social media platforms give tourists new ways to participate in the co-creation of narratives and histories about places.  This co-creation augments reality by making destinations more vivid, fanciful and immersive with rich overlays of information. Ubiquitous access to knowledge offers new opportunities for tourist “self-fashioning” by making it easier to learn about, evaluate, rate, and judge background histories and processes previously hidden from the tourist gaze. This dynamic landscape alters relationships between tourists and the objects of tourism, sometimes encouraging greater reflexiveness in understanding the staging of experiences. However, new power inequalities in online media impact the representation of people and places. Aggregation and data-mining algorithms relating to search and recommendation services tend shift power toward centralized providers (Google, Amazon). Such services derive from opaque processes, but are increasingly taken-for-granted starting points for understanding and experiencing places. These services extend beyond popular tourist media. They draw upon and help shape peer-review, impact assessments, and other aspects of professional scholarly communication. Thus, many communities, be they popular or academic, now discuss, experience, and understand “culture” via online social mechanisms (collaboration, review, and ranking) and machine services (data mining techniques and ranking algorithms). Taken together, the new media landscape of tourism offers a fascinating zone for anthropological inquiry.

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Casey O’Donnell

What would anthropological fieldwork look like if it were a (video)game? How would a (video)game ethnography make its argument or construct its narrative? New forms of writing offer promise and peril for the ethnographic text, writer, and informants. The “ethnographic game” is no exception. This paper and presentation take the game form as a potential aspect of the ethnographic text, and asks, “What can games do that a traditional text cannot?” It proposes that the (video)game can too be part of the ethnographic text. While anthropologists have extended their research endeavors into online and virtual realms, those forms have had little impact on the ethnographic text. This talk combines traditional ethnographic accounts of the fieldsite, game design documentation, the resulting ethnographic video game, and user game play narratives to inform partial answers to this question. Each “text” illuminates and simultaneously obscures aspects of the overarching ethnographic narrative, one that ultimately emerges through play and re-play. Drawing on three years of fieldwork with video game developers in the United States and India, this talk emphasizes the importance of a “grounded” approach to research and ethnographic form. The explicit engagement with design as shaping the resulting possibilities for collaboration, interpretation, and remixing encourages attentiveness to the construction of the ethnographic argument. The game form ultimately offers anthropologists new means to approach their objects of concern as well as new collaborative opportunities for readers and informants.

The digital database of the mundane is growing, and some researchers have created some interesting ways to dig in and mine the data.  The MIT Technology Review identified Sandy Pentland’s work on “reality mining” as one of the key emerging technologies of 2008.  The primary data for Pentland’s work comes from cell phone logs along with proximity data created through the use of embedded bluetooth sensors.   This data allowed him and his team to, “accurately model the social networks of about 100 MIT students and professors. They could also precisely predict where subjects would meet with members of their networks on any given day of the week.” The original peer-reviewed article (published in 2005!) is available here.

Kerim Friedman

In the eighties, experiments in collaborative ethnography used stylistic innovation to challenge the privileged gaze of the fieldworker. Today, changes in online publishing are challenging how we think about the ownership and control of texts even after they are published. While Derrida was correct to assert that iterability is a fundamental aspect of the written word, new technologies have served to facilitate the creation of a widespread culture of remixing which calls into question the very nature of academic authority. This paper will explore three models of online collaborative authorship with an eye to the potential risks and benefits of each for our discipline. First, looking at Wikipedia, I ask whether anthropologists trust the “wisdom of the crowd,” or is enthnocentric bias even harder to address when we relinquish authorial control? Second, exploring the reuse of images on Flickr, I ask whether we should allow the text, sound, and images we’ve collected in the field to be remixed in new and imaginative ways, or does our moral obligation to our informants require us to restrict how they are used? And third, I explore international blogs to ask if our online efforts merely replicate the existing hierarchical relationships between national anthropologies, or can we draw on lessons from existing global online communities to reshape the boundaries of our discipline? In answering these questions, specific attention will be paid to attempts by scholars to extend existing institutional, commercial and legal regimes to these new online fora.

Kimberly Christen

Anthropological collaboration has always wrestled with questions of access and accountability; new digital technologies have extended this conversation. Web 2.0 technologies allow people to create, remix, and distribute information (differently packaged), while also providing an archive for materials/knowledges on blogs, wikis, photo sharing platforms like Flickr and through social networking sites like Facebook. Together with the concomitant development of more diverse and flexible intellectual property licenses to encourage such sharing, these technologies provide anthropologists, with platforms for collaboration not just with those formerly known as our “informants,” or those still considered our colleagues, but also with the technologies themselves, the different publics we may reach beyond academics, and the industries that create the technology. Within these new scenarios for collaboration and exchange come questions (and anxieties) about the properness of sharing—what information can be shared? What should be shared? Will the IRB board approve this new mode of information gathering? In the constant movement between archiving (storing and making available) and amalgamation (remixing and distributing) comes the potential for a new way of thinking about collaboration, information, and access. In this presentation I use the production of an Indigenous digital archive to examine the emergence of that middle space between production and preservation that allows for new modes of anthropological collaboration. Specifically, I will focus on the production and articulation of a set of protocols (technological and cultural) for access to and the distribution of materials as the basis for extending collaboration and rethinking the debate over “open access.”

Michael Wesch

 

Throughout the world, people are increasingly uploading detailed information about their lives onto the web via tweets, tags, blogs, vlogs, photos, and videos. Even more is uploaded unintentionally, as much of what we do now leaves a digital trail. Emerging technologies such as RFID tags and 2D barcodes transform physical objects into hyperlinks, thereby promising to exponentially increase the amount of digital debris our movements leave behind. Meanwhile, emerging web standards such as XML, RSS, RDF, and GeoRSS are enabling this information to become both the form and content of a massive interactive database of the mundane: a nearly ubiquitous always-on, context-aware, semantic, social, and mobile network of information, people, and things. While such proclamations of radical change are now commonplace, the actual production of anthropological knowledge remains relatively unchanged. What happens to the way we do anthropology when we fully accept the implications of living digitally? In this presentation, I will suggest that the digital mediascape has created an untapped potential for a form of “digital archeology,” unearthing and sorting the masses of digital information being produced to see cultural patterns previously unrecognized. As an illustration, a digital “dig” of San Francisco will attempt to account for all of the digital data currently being produced in the city. Using Google Maps mashups and other data visualizations such as those produced by the Exploratorium’s Invisible Dynamics project, this presentation will explore the provocative notion that we may be able to create a new genre for ethnographic description and interpretation by writing small programs and APIs to organize, aggregate and represent cultural information.

New forms of online social media hold the potential to answer the clarion call for a new form of heteroglossic anthropology, yet anthropologists have been slow to embrace technologies that challenge traditional notions of authorship and knowledge production. Blogs, wikis, social networks, folksonomies, memediggers, and other online social media have become key features of an evolving knowledge landscape, fostering new forms of collaboration between anthropologists, informants, students, and the general public. These technologies do not offer a single model for mediating (or annihilating) the relationship between author and the consumer of anthropological knowledge, but rather create a fertile ground for experimenting with new forms of sharing, organizing, discussing, critiquing, creating, and remixing information. With new options come new challenges. The benefits of opening up scholarship to a wide range of voices must be balanced against moral obligations to protect our informants. The rapidity of online publishing must be squared with the painstaking demands of peer-review. The hopeful possibilities of an open democracy of online fora must be tempered by a recognition of technical, linguistic, and social barriers to participation. This session brings together anthropologists who are experimenting with these new forms to discuss ways in which the new media may be used to enhance inclusion, collaboration, and engagement, while recognizing that these positive potentials also regenerate and remix classic anthropological challenges of representation and knowledge production in new ways.

Kerim Friedman sets the stage for the session using case studies of Wikipedia, Flickr, and the international blogosphere to assess the risks and benefits of online collaborative authorship for anthropology, paying specific attention to the ways in which scholars “extend existing institutional, commercial and legal regimes to these new online fora.” Todd Harple follows with examples from his interdisciplinary team-based work with the Intel Digital Home Group, suggesting that new forms of collaboration will ultimately require us to rethink traditional notions of anthropological authority. Kimberly Christen models this, finding “the potential for a new way of thinking about collaboration, information, and access” through her work with the Warumungu community in Australia encoding indigenous protocols into a digital archive. While many anthropologists are reluctant to embrace these technologies, Eric Kansa points out that many communities now “discuss, experience, and understand ‘culture’ via online social mechanisms.” Kansa looks at how these mechanisms allow people to participate in the co-creation of narratives and histories about places. Our last two panelists suggest that there are also unexplored collaborative modes of ethnographic presentation. Casey O’Donnell explores the possibilities of a video-game ethnography, while Michael Wesch considers the poetics of data mashups that aggregate the masses of live data people continuously produce as they live their everyday lives.

A blog maintained by the panelists at https://remixinganthropology.wordpress.com will document the development of these papers in the months ahead and allow for discussion to continue online after the conference is over. The blog will also serve as a repository of digital media (documents, videos, games, etc.) related to the panel.