The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography

A great collection of writing on ethnographic methods is being gathered by the capable hands and minds of Larissa Hjorth, Heather Horst, Anne Galloway & Genevieve Bell.

In a section entitled ‘Debating Digital Ethnography’, I’ll have the pleasure of putting forth a contribution on computational ethnography.

Title: Computational thinking and new modes of ethnography.

Abstract: Ethnographic methods in the context of digital tools and networked relations have been adapted in fascinating ways. In this contribution, I will analyse how computationalisation as a framework (Hayles, 2012) shapes some of the adaptations of ethnographic methods. Using ‘tropes’ as a way of analysing ethnographic accounts, the relation to the ethnographic object, to other ethnographers and to the readers of ethnographic inquiry will be analysed. Computational ethnography is contrasted to other ethnographic approaches that have been crafted in the past decades, such as virtual ethnography and mediated ethnography. Issues around common computational ethnography practices, such as capture, automation, sensing and scraping are analysed.

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Coming soon…Networked neuroscience: brain scans and visual knowing at the intersection of atlases and databases

Our chapter in Representations in Scientific Practice Revisited discusses the development of authoritative collections of brain scans known as “brain atlases”, focusing in particular on how such scans are constituted as authoritative visual objects. Three dimensions are identified: first, brain scans are parts of suites of networked technologies rather than stand-alone outputs; second, they are specified by means of a “database logic” that makes particular neurological features visible within a register of possibilities; and third, they serve as interfaces that open up a range of possibilities rather than stand in as fixed representations. By tracing how the very concept of the
authoritative image has been transformed, the chapter shows how visual knowing takes shape in
research practices and situates it in the digital and networked settings of contemporary science.

Doing and thinking!

A new publication with a long history! Learning in a Landscape: Simulation-building as Reflexive Intervention–the title says it all. After sending in this article to a few possible outlets, it seemed we might never get out of the binary reactions that wouldn’t give room the particular combination of building and reflecting going on in this article. We would receive feedback along the lines of  ‘get the long-winded talk about how hard it was and tell what you did’ (generally from simulation-builders) or else we would be taken to task for investing in simulation as a social science tool and for not choosing a role and sticking to it (from STS reviewers).

It was also a pretty difficult article to write, in terms of actually aligning words and finding the right constructions to maintain some coherence in the piece while also doing justice to the different standpoints and phases, and hammering out a ‘voice’ that could do all this. So after more rejections than seemed fair (did you know that your manuscript can be accepted by reviewers but then vetoed by an editor?!!!), we published a version of this piece on Arxiv. ‘We’ being the wonderful Andrea Scharnhorst and Matt Ratto and me.

This combination of doing and thinking was at the very heart of the Virtual Knowledge Studio, so it’s especially meaningful that it has finally been accepted in this great special issue. And this of course brings new hope for further interaction through this piece of writing. Thanks for reading!

PhD Defense in Sweden

photoIt was a real pleasure to serve as opponent at the defense of Veronica Johansson of the University of Boras, Sweden. We had a great discussion about ethnographic methods and about the concept of critical literacy. And as always, it was wonderful to see everyone rejoice at the new Dr’s great accomplishment.

The full work entitled ‘A time and place for everything: social visualisation tools and critical literacies’ and a summary can be found here.

“Learning in a landscape” sees the light!

Sometimes, by the time an article appears, the only affective reaction it evokes is something along the lines of ‘that old thing’… But this one has been in the making for so long, that it now feels like I’ve run into a long-lost friend!

So if you’re interested in simulations and visualisations, here is something to check out!

Going into the field, ethically…

Adolfo Estalella‘s recently completed PhD dissertation gave rise to a series of interactions that were ethically laden. Similarly, my recent fieldwork in a women’s studies group in a university in the Netherlands meant rethinking some of my assumptions about the proper way of going, being and leaving the field. Thinking through these issues together, we realised that some of the difficulties and our attempts at working through them could also be important for other scholars.  On the basis of these experiences and of our discussions about them, we wrote an article called Rethinking Research Ethics for Mediated Settings. It will be published in a special issue of Information, Communication and Society, edited by Annamaria Carusi.

We adress questions like: What does it mean to anonymise digital and networked data? Who has the power to do this? What are we really trying to achieve through anonymisation? And what kind of accountability can we formulate and enact when working in mediated settings?

In considering these questions, we also characterize mediated settings in terms of contiguity and traceability–two features that that challenge many of our traditional assumptions about what it means to go into the field, ethically.

What difference does a website make?

A website that presents the collection through gorgeous visuals is now considered a must for any self-respecting museum.  Photographs of objects, of exhibitions and of the museum itself are increasingly common interfaces, linking museums, visitors, experts, collections.

How are users engaged by these interfaces? Which skills and strategies are needed for this engagement? What are the consequences of visually mediated interfaces for users of digital knowledge in/about/from museums, archives, and other collections? These developments are discussed in terms of their consequences for how museums view their role, in a recent article written with Sarah de Rijcke, Image as Interface: consequences for users of museum knowledge. It appears in a special issue of the journal Library Trends on ‘Involving Users in the Co-Construction of Digital Knowledge in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.’