Massively Multiplayer Online Anthropology

March 19, 2008

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.

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2 Responses to “Massively Multiplayer Online Anthropology”

  1. John Postill Says:

    Hi Kerim

    what became of this paper?

    thanks

    John

  2. kerim Says:

    Well our session was approved, so now I have to write it!


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