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Accepted Paper:

Embarrassed bodies. Participant observation in a TikTok ethnography  
Francesco Bachis (University of Cagliari)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing from ethnographic research on the self-representation of young migrants in Italy on TikTok, the paper aim to reflect on how participant observation in a social network can produce embarrassment due to the mismatch between the ethnographer's status and “fieldwork” activity.

Paper long abstract:

Sensory and Media Anthropology seems to share a common destiny. Despite an increased mediatization of the whole range of human activity, and while Media Anthropology is a significant and established sub-field of the discipline, new methodologies are struggling to expand as common practice for all anthropological fields. Likewise, regardless the Michael Hertzfeld’s provocation (2001: 242), sensory ethnography seems confined to an “anthropology of-”.

Drawing from ethnographic research on the self-representation of young migrants in Italy, the paper aims to reflect on the meaning of doing participant observation on the social network TikTok. Hence, the contribution reflects on how the embodiment of this practice may urge embarrassment in the researcher. Indeed, doing participant observation in social media requires spending time watching videos from your smartphone, during daily life (e.g., travels on public transport). Alongside, it is important to actively interact with TikTokers, that is to produce and comment on videos on daily basis. Thus, considering the predominance of adolescents and young women in TikTok, an effective ethnographic approach may lead to unease situations. The physical proximity of subjects who see the researcher watching TikTok videos within these spaces can produce embarrassment towards fellow colleagues, people who are next to them during daily life, and within the researcher himself. By showing that unease relates to the mismatch between the ethnographer's status (age, gender, social position, etc ) and “fieldwork” activity, the paper aims to reflect on how this research practice put the anthropologist “out of place” and produce embarrassment.

Panel P104
Sensory media anthropology, an introduction
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -