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Accepted paper:

Digital mobs: Ethics of "engaging" right-wing politics

Author:

Sahana Udupa (LMU Munich)

Paper short abstract:

What kind of participant observation is possible when online right-wing trolls are the subject matter of media anthropology? This paper asks how anthropology, in its excavation of the normative, has to reconcile its own methodological ethics in times of digitally enabled right-wing politics.

Paper long abstract:

Engaged media anthropology implies a normative position that considers research interlocutors as partners—co-creators of knowledge, rather than research subjects—patronized, exploited and spoken for. The crisis of representation and subsequent shift towards reflexive anthropology have institutionalized, with laudable effect, the ethic of recognizing interlocutors and researchers as co-travelers in the journey of "being human" (Miller 2018). Such ethical standards undergirding "engaged media anthropology" become strained and even appear preposterous, when digital mobs who vandalize digital safety and dignity become the focus of research. How can we see trolls as co-travelers, let alone "partner" with them? What kind of participant observation is possible and legitimate in contexts where online right-wing trolls are the subject matter? Beginning with Miller and Horst's astute observation that anthropology is one of the few disciplines equipped to "immerse itself in the process by which digital culture becomes normative culture" (2013, p.30), this paper asks how anthropology, in its excavation of the normative, has to contend with the difficult challenge of reconciling its own methodological ethics in times of digitally enabled right-wing politics. It begins this inquiry by delving into three aspects of digital anthropological fieldwork on right-wing political cultures: lurking, lags and empathy.

panel P015
Engaged media anthropology in the digital age [Media Anthropology Network]