While new media can foster participatory ethnography and enhance access, one also has to reflect on the implications of the Internet’s openness and availability. This was one of the lessons of a session at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association about new media and anthropology according to Inside Higher Education.
Kate Hennessy, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, described an online exhibit on the indigenous culture of the Doig River First Nation that she helped to develop for the Virtual Museum of Canada. It makes songs, photographs and video of the Dane-zaa people freely available to the general public, in what Hennessy described as “a form of repatriation” — the term for returning objects and artifacts to the cultures from which they came, although here the term was used in a virtual sense.
Over the course of several meetings with community elders, the team came to realize that, according to the Web site, “it is not appropriate to show Dane-zaa Dreamers’ drawings to a worldwide audience on the Internet. Even though the drum is central to this website, in order to ensure that the Dreamers drawings are treated properly and with respect, no images of Dreamers’ drawings or the drum that we describe here are shown.”
(T)he online exhibit project extended discussions about when the display of cultural heritage crosses the line into appropriation, and how giving communities access to digital tools can provide a means for self-representation.
For more news on the AAA meeting see Circumcision: “Harmful practice claim has been exaggerated” - AAA meeting part IV, “The insecure American needs help by anthropologists” - AAA-meeting part II, and Final report launched: AAA no longer opposes collaboration with CIA and the military - AAA meeting part I
Another example of anthropologists in product development: As a consequence of anthropological research, Xerox is developing a new kind of paper where the printed information simply disappears within about 16 hours, allowing the paper to be reused.
Why this? Xerox-anthropologist Brinda Dalal, an anthropologist at Xerox, found out that 21 percent of copier documents ed up in the recycling bin on the same day they are produced. In most offices, paper is used as a medium of display rather than storage. Paper is only only printed out or copied when needed for meetings, editing and annotating, or reading away from a computer. The result is, of course, an enormous quantity of waste paper and environmental problems.
Actually, the New York Times wrote about this self-erasable paper one year ago. They called anthropologist Brinda Dalal for “garbologist”. She told, she was surprised by the results: “Nobody looks at the ephemeral information going through people’s waste baskets.”
>> Publications by Brinda Dalal (several papers to download)
For Jews, not only food needs to be kosher, the New York Times explains in an interesting article about Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox.
There are even kosher mobile phones. You cannot send text messages with them, take photographs or connect to the Internet. More than 10,000 numbers for phone sex, dating services etc are blocked. Calls to other kosher phones are cheaper and on the Sabbath any call costs $2.44 a minute, a steep religious penalty. “You pay less and you’re playing by the rules. You’re using technology but in a way that maintains religious integrity.”
A whole economic system has evolved to meet their needs, as Tamar El-Or, an anthropologist at Hebrew University explains. She has studied ultra-Orthodox shopping patterns. “There are lines of cellphones and credit cards and Internet suppliers and software and DVDs and clothes and so many things produced or altered or koshered for them, because they have a certain organized power to get the producers to make what they want.”
We read about a bus company that has special routes for the ultra-Orthodox, so that men and women are segregated, sometimes in separate buses. There are shops where you can buy special clothing. Movies and television are forbidden by many rabbies - an exemption is made for children if the intentio is educational. So in a video and music store for the Ultra-Orthodox you can find a large stock of nature documentaries: “National Geographic videos are considered fine, so long, as that there is no human nudity or sexuality, or even sexuality from animals.”
As we learn in an article in Science-Spirit mobile use has always been allowed but “it has been difficult to find one that didn’t contain access to the Internet or feature instant messaging plans displaying ads for worldly goods and services.” So, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox rabbis responded by convincing companies to produce a no-frills mobile phone for their community.
The introduction of the kosher phone comes at a time of intense discussion about the community’s future and the practicality of remaining so separate from the rest of Israeli culture:
The Ultra-Orthodox constitute about ten percent of Israeli Jews, or about 600,000 people. (…) They live in their own neighborhoods, have their own school systems, and, as long as they remain in religious school, are exempt from the military service required of all other Israeli citizens (except the approximately 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs living in the state). Ultra-Orthodox families have an average of seven children and most of the men study religion rather than work, relying on stipends from the government. (…) But in recent years, driven by rising poverty, cuts in government stipends and their own expanding population, the ultra-Orthodox have slowly begun to increase their participation in the largely secular Israeli society.
I’ve found one article by anthropologist Tamar El-Or online:
The length of the slits and the spread of luxury: reconstructing the subordination of ultra-orthodox Jewish women through the patriarchy of men scholars (Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Nov, 1993)
See also Wikipedia on Orthodox Judaism
At home, robots are about to replace the role of the grandmother and in the industrial sector, robots are more popular than foreign laborers according to anthropologist Jennifer Robertson. Robertson is researching on the effects of robots on Japanese society.
At a seminar, Robertson spoke on the decreasing human birthrate and increasing humanoid robot population in Japan, the university newspaper The Daily Texan informs.
In the industrial sector, Japan prefers robots over foreign laborers “because machines do not enhance racial tensions by evoking wartime memories, as foreigners do", Robertson said (!)
But the country is according to the anthropologist more concerned with utilizing robots to help increase native births:
Because children require care at home, they can keep women from holding jobs. But in today’s society, many women need or want to hold professional positions. As mothers join the workforce, robots take over their household duties, thus increasing the workforce and the birthrate. (…) Robertson showed photos of cartoon-like machines with exaggerated features and colorful bodies. These were the robots such as Wakamaru, PaPeRo and Ri-man that babysit, tutor children and care for the elderly.
These robots transmit images to cell phones, thus allowing mothers to keep an eye on their children while away from the home. (…) Japanese children are obedient to their robotic caretakers, and the machines have replaced the role of the mother or grandmother in the home.
“Robots are expected to be in the 21st century what automobiles were in the 20th century,” Jenny Robertson said in an earlier article in The Michigan Daily. For more information on robots in Japan, see also two BBC-stories Japan’s rise of the robots and Japanese scientists have unveiled the most human-looking robot yet - a “female” android
Bella Ellwood-Clayton is sexual anthropologist. As we read in the Washington Post, Bella Ellwood-Clayton has studied texting and dating in the Philippines. On her website you can download the texts Desire and loathing in the cyber Philippines and Unfailthful: Enchantment and disenchantment through mobile use, some of her weekly sex and relationship columns and some poems and short stories.
You can even watch some videos and follow her on her fieldwork in Sumatra, researching beauty as a cultural notion.
It all started when anthropologist Andreas Lloyd (University of Copenhagen) was browsing on the Internet looking for a new laptop computer and ended up installing the free Windows alternative Linux. Two years later, he finished his master thesis “A system that works for me” - an anthropological analysis of computer hackers’ shared use and development of the Ubuntu Linux system.
The thesis is a study of the Internet Gift Economy. Linux is developped by computer geeks saround the world, collaborating over the Internet, building a computer operating system in their spare time, which can be downloaded, installed, used and modified completely for free. It is among the biggest and most complex engineering projects ever conceived and built:
Based on more than 2 years of daily use of the Ubuntu Linux system and 6 months of online and in-person fieldwork among the developers working to develop and maintain it, this thesis examines the individual and collaborative day-to-day practices of these developers as they relate to the computer operating system that is the result of their labour.
A group of Spanish computer scientists measured the size of a Linux system similar to Ubuntu, and found that it contained around 230 million lines of source code. When they translated this into the effort spent on writing this code using a standard software industry cost estimate model, they found that it would correspond to almost 60.000 man-years of work (Amor-Iglesias et. al. 2005). By comparison, it took an estimated 3.500 man-years to build the Empire State Building in New York, and 10.000 man-years to build the Panama Canal. This immense effort makes modern operating systems such as Ubuntu among the biggest and most complex engineering projects ever conceived and built.
So the anthropologist was curious to learn more about how the hackers collaborate to build such an intricate system, and to learn why they were doing all of this work just to give it away for free.
How do you do fieldwork among hackers around the world? He explains:
I joined the Ubuntu on-line community on the same terms as the Ubuntu hackers, contributing to and using the same system, sharing their experiences with the system, and meeting them in-person on the same terms as they do at the conferences at which they gather, experiencing the same social and technical means and limitations through which they develop the system.
In order to do participant observation in this on-line space, I began contributing to the system by writing the system help and documentation, rather than the system itself due to my lack of technical understanding. In this way, I could take part in shaping Ubuntu alongside other community members while slowly developing a feel for the everyday exchanges and work in the community.
His thesis is by the way neither dedicated to any girl friend nor his parents:
In the true digital spirit of this work, I dedicate this thesis to Rosinante, the laptop on which I first experienced the Ubuntu system, and which was my faithful companion during my fieldwork and the writing of this thesis, only to bow out a week before tsafe for so long.
(Links updated 11.1.17)
Their language is nearly dead. Maybe a new website can revitalize Kahtnuht’ana Qenaga: The Kenai Peoples Language in Alaska? For more than two years, the two anthropologists Alan Boraas and Michael Christian have taken pictures, navigated through HTML and digitized old audio recordings of Native writer Peter Kalifornsky in order to present vocabulary, grammar, stories and place names in an interactive Web site that went live last month, the Peninsula Clarion reports.
“I hope people of all ages go to it and gain insights into both the language and the culture,” Boraas says. This project is the latest in the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s endeavor to revitalize their Native language. Finding people who actively speak the Dena’ina language is one of the most difficult parts of revitalizing it. The credit for much of the Dena’ina revitalization goes to James Kari, who spent 30 years working on a dictionary.
Culture Matters points to “exciting” working papers by the Information Society Research Group about the social and economic benefits of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in low-income communities in Jamaica, India, South Africa and Ghana: “These working papers strongly re-enforce the benefits of an ethnographic approach for the wider world".
One of the most convincing papers is according to Culture Matters written by Daniel Miller and Heather: Horst juxtaposes conventional ICT policy making in Jamaica with ethnographic findings and uncovers that the assumptions concerning internet use held by the government as well as international NGOs diverge hugely from the realities.
Culture Matters juxtapose some of the current policies with Miller’s and Horst’s recommendations:
- Instead of more computers in secondary schools invest in post-educational training for young adults
- Instead of investing into expensive high-end computers invest in low-price computers without gaming facilities
- Instead of creating their own content at high costs, a lot of money can be saved by creating portals which identify useful and high-quality web resources
- Instead of investing in community computers, offer Internet access via individual mobile phones
Also fascinating according to the blog: the reports from Ghana by Don Slater and Janet Kwami:
Again, ethnography unveiled a huge gap between policy assumptions and actual usage. On the one hand there is the widespread belief amongst governments and NGOs that the Internet is a tool of development through information distribution.
Yet all Internet users in the Accra slum studied used the internet only for chat with foreigners (as well as some diasporic family members and friends). “There was exceptionally low awareness of even the existence of websites”. In internet cafes everybody is chatting with unknown foreigners, largely in the North but also in Asia, with a view of accumulating actual and symbolic goods (either on IM (Yahoo or MSN) or in Yahoo chat rooms).
Internet access, although widespread and popular in Accra, is not cheap - one hour costs much more than the average kid’s lunch money – but many teenagers come several times a week, for several hours, solely to chat with foreigners.