Accepted paper:

Integrating the very large and the very small: digital anthropology, knowledge networks, and complex systems

Authors:

Lisa Jenny Krieg (University of Bonn)
Julia Poerting (University of Bonn)

Paper short abstract:

Data available through digital social media, such as Facebook, and Twitter, makes visible large networks of knowledge flows in which the ethnographic field is situated. Complexity theory is a promising approach to integrate the particular and ethnographic with large networks and global structures.

Paper long abstract:

Data available through digital social media, such as Facebook, and Twitter, makes visible large networks of knowledge flows in which the ethnographic field is situated. Complexity theory is a promising approach to integrate the particular and ethnographic with large networks and global structures. Complex systems, such as ecosystems, financial markets, neural systems, or social systems, are described as assemblages whose "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" (Byrne and Callaghan, 2014:4): the structure of a system shapes the behavior of its elements, and the behavior of the elements shapes the structure of the systems, creating emerging effects that cannot be described by simply adding up single actions (Hidalgo, 2015:2). Working with digital data from the Facebook page of a Pakistani organic farmer, and from Erowid, an online portal for knowledge and experience reports on (psychoactive) drugs, we attempted to integrate ethnographic knowledge with the analysis of very large digital data sets. Facebook-Page-Like networks with +5000 nodes, and +20.000 user-generated drug experience reports do not only show a larger horizon of a phenomenon encountered in ethnography, they also ask for a conceptualization. Conceptualizing the middle ground between the very large and the very small is a challenge. In this paper, we want to draw on our research on psychoactive substances and online knowledge; and on innovative farming practices in Pakistan and the use of social media, in order to discuss whether highly interconnected sites and actors, online and offline, can be conceptualized as complex systems.

panel P034
Ecosystem as concept, legacy, and (sustainable) futures