EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P067)
The Digital Turn: New Directions in Media Anthropology [Media Anthropology Network]
Location
Date and Start Time [TBD] at [TBD]
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Philipp Budka (University of Vienna) email
  • Elisabetta Costa (University of Groningen) email
  • Sahana Udupa (Ludwig Maximilian University) email

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Short abstract

This panel recognizes the digital turn as a paradigm shift in the anthropological study of media, and aims to push further the ethnographic knowledge into the role that digital media play in people's everyday life and broader sociopolitical transformations.

Long abstract

The digital turn in media anthropology signals the growing importance of digital media technologies in contemporary sociocultural, political and economic processes. This panel recognizes the digital turn as a paradigm shift in the anthropological study of media, and aims to foreground three important streams of exploration that constitute new directions in the anthropology of media.

The rise of online vitriol against vulnerable communities has punctured euphoric pronouncements about digital media as a radical enabler of grassroots democracy. A significant aspect of digital extreme speech is gender based violence in digital environments. Beyond the specific instances of online violence, gendering media anthropology remains a crucial and broader area of intervention. Similarly, different forms of digital visualities have accentuated the materialities that constitute everyday digital experiences and their varied cultural ramifications. Charting the three directions as gendering digital media, materialities of digital visualities and online extreme speech, this panel aims to push further the ethnographic knowledge into the role that digital media play in people's everyday life and broader sociopolitical transformations.

We invite ethnographic and/or theoretical papers that focus either on

(1) the gendered dimension of digital practices and introduce innovative theoretical insights into the relationship between gender and the digital;

(2) extreme speech and online vitriol aimed at refugees, migrants, sexual minorities and other vulnerable communities, but online extreme speech as also a means for political contestation;

(3) material dimensions of digital visualities as constituting features of new ways of communication and interaction.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

What's New? Turns, Re-turns in Digitalization of Danish Right-wing Online Vitriol Language

Author: Peter Hervik (Aalborg University, Denmark) email
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Short abstract

Through ethnographic interviews with seasoned far-right online activists, who use extreme speech targeting "non-Western" refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, the paper argues that a neo-nationalism-neo-racism narrative drove people into extreme speech and not the new digital technology per se.

Long abstract

In digital and media anthropology, there is much talk about shifts, transformations, turns, and accelerated change brought about by digital media technologies - and rightly so. But what does it really mean from the perspective of persons who frequently write pieces for the traditional news as well as for social media platforms? More specifically, this paper focus on far right-wing activists, who use extreme speech targeting so-called "non-Western" refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. Through an analysis of ethnographic interviews with these activists whose writings and engagements extend beyond social media platforms such as Facebook, Tweeter, Instagram and others, I will argue that a neo-nationalism - neo-racism narrative is what leads people into activism and not the new technology per se. At the same time, I will argue that while anyone can access and check information anytime, the community building relies on blurred boundaries between fact and fiction and little critical assessment of sources or opposing views. In short, the community of the liked-minded relies more on ritual opposition than anything else.

Extreme speech: Online media cultures as a context for right-wing politics

Author: Sahana Udupa (Ludwig Maximilian University) email
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Short abstract

Examining key features of global digital media, this presentation argues that online media culture should be seen as a context for right-wing extreme speech, and not merely as a channel for the discourse produced outside of it.

Long abstract

Online extreme speech aimed at vulnerable communities is a crucial element in the recent rise of right-wing politics across the world, as it both reflects and provides the means for exclusionist nationalism and populist sentiments to become acceptable, normal and enjoyable. While resentment against global migration and neoliberal consensus is recognized as a key driver for right-wing populism in the global North, beneficiaries of globalization and economic growth are some of the key actors of online nationalism in countries like India, and in China, bottom up nationalism has a complex relation with state control but with growing reliance on online resources. It then raises the question on the mediation of global digital cultures beyond the diverse political-economic factors, and the need for critiquing new media as a sociotechnological dynamic inflected by the market that provides the resources, formats, and cultures of use to normalize online vitriol. Examining anonymity, gamification, fun, data mining, and generation of continuous mass feedback as new media features central to online vitriol, the presentation argues that online media culture should be seen as a context in itself, and not merely as a channel for the discourse produced outside of it.

Populist Masculine Domination in the Moments of Trump and Brexit: On the importance of Big <-> Thick Description

Author: Bryce Peake (University of Maryland) email
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Short abstract

This paper demonstrates the power of pairing data science and ethnography, which makes legible how Trump and Brexit broadcast news coverage and its social media ecology constitutes a battleground for the state's monopoly over white masculine domination.

Long abstract

While media anthropologists have struggled with the scale and multimodality of news, the populist moments of Trump and Brexit have dictated the need for new approaches to the anthropology of journalism. This paper combines machine learning and ethnographic methods to map news coverage and its social life in network(ed) society. I argue that TV coverage of Trump and Brexit by a range of "mainstream" and "fringe" news marks a battlefield where political parties struggle over defining the relationship between masculinity and nationalism.

Rethinking women's agency and digital media in the Middle East

Author: Elisabetta Costa (University of Groningen) email
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Short abstract

This paper aims at re-thinking the concept of human agency to recognize the role that digital technologies play in the fulfillment of women's desires within patriarchal societies. The paper integrates two different scholarly traditions, the anthropology of the Middle East and digital anthropology.

Long abstract

This paper aims at re-thinking the concept of human agency to recognize the role that digital technologies play in the fulfillment of women's desires within patriarchal societies. The paper integrates two different scholarly traditions, the anthropology of the Middle East, which has extensively elaborated on women's agency, and digital anthropology, which has instead called the agency of subjects and objects into questions. It draws from a long-term ethnographic research on uses and consequences of social media on people's everyday life in Mardin, a medium-sized town in southeast Turkey. On social media, young women have created a heterotopic space (Foucault 1967; 1984) where they can fulfill wishes and desires that cannot be realized offline. Social media have become the place where they can meet friends and start new social relationships outside the control of family and neighborhood. Interactions on online private and semi-private spaces are ruled by social norms that are different from those regulating social life offline. A research participant noted, "Facebook in Mardin is used to break down barriers!" Yet, on the other hand, enactments of desires enabled by social media are socially legitimate because are hidden or private. The paper shows that agency-structure relationship is not a zero-sum game and that the enactment of agency does not lead to social change. The paper rather aims at developing further reflections on women's agency in digitally mediated worlds.

Gender, kinship and mediation in rural West Bengal, India

Author: Sirpa Tenhunen (University of Helsinki) email
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Short abstract

My paper explores gendered mobile phone use in rural India. Based on long-term fieldwork (2005-2013), I argue that the role of new media in social change depends on how the emerging media-saturated contexts of social interaction and communication relate to pre-existing contexts and social changes.

Long abstract

My paper contributes to the understanding of gender, mediation and social change by exploring mobile phone use in rural India. Based on long-term fieldwork (2005-2013) in rural West Bengal, I provide a nuanced picture of the contested nature of kinship and gender. I argue that the role of new media in social change depends on how the emerging media-saturated contexts of social interaction and communication relate to pre-existing contexts and social changes. By enabling new contexts for speech, phones create possibilities to voice critical ideas, which can challenge the power structure in the household. Both kinship relationships and women's rights discourses have encouraged and motivated mobile phone use, which, in turn, has helped transform relationships. Women's increasing access to a mobile phone influences the relationships between men and women, but—more crucially—it influences the kinship code of conduct and kinship hierarchies within families and between kin groups. Phones have helped introduce changes in women's relationships with each other: phones facilitate young wives to challenge their mother-in-law's authority and build closer relationships with their mothers after marriage. Unlike women's lengthy visits to their natal homes, which are regarded as a threat to women's work contribution in her in-law's house, greater communication by phone with one's natal relatives does not undermine their position in their in-laws' house. A woman's ability to use the mobile phone does not only signify her agency but also the position she has been able to carve for herself in her family.

An ethnography of young people`s gender negotiations in everyday digital (sexual) peer cultures

Author: Irene Arends (University of Amsterdam) email
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Short abstract

This paper proposal contributes to the exploration of the digital turn in anthropology by focusing on how young people in Chile give meaning to their gender and sexualities by using social media.

Long abstract

Young people have always searched -and found- ways to hang out with their peers (in streets, malls, clubs, bedrooms), and in doing so constitute their gender and sexual peer cultures. Nowadays, youth´s number one hangout spot is social media. It is here that the magnitude with which they constantly relate to each other, and thereby to gender notions in general, is strongly amplified.

As part of the digital turn in anthropology, I wish to contribute to this panel by discussing how social media are mediating gendered recognition when young people are posting, liking, tagging and commenting in digital cultures. Empirical data of my (digital and in-person) ethnographical research in Chile shows for example what the practice of making, posting and commenting on 'sexy selfies' can tell us about the constantly shifting boundaries of femininities and masculinities and how the meanings of gender is inflicted by sexuality, and vice versa. Moreover, I scrutinize how various gender enactments are newly incorporated into the masculine (e.g. showing affection, sensitivity and the body) and feminine (e.g. explicit sex talk and sharing male nudes) domains and what this does to inter- and cross gender relations.

I conclude that some developments prompted by social media use (e.g. the appeal for a freer youth sexuality) suggest broader sociocultural transformations, yet I also argue that the deeper interpretations and/or consequences of the gendered youth practices on social media continue to feed off gender inequalities, showing the flexibility of patriarchy to continuously adapt itself to new situations and circumstances.

The Material Dimension of Digital Visuality: Anthropological Possibilities, Challenges and Futures

Author: Philipp Budka (University of Vienna) email
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Short abstract

This paper discusses from an anthropological perspective the material dimension of digital visuality as a contemporary phenomenon and as a constituting feature of new patterns of visual communication and culture.

Long abstract

With the advent of digital media technologies, internet-based devices and services, mobile computing as well as software applications and digital platforms new opportunities and challenges have come to the forefront in the anthropological study of media. For media anthropology and related fields, such as digital and visual anthropology, it is of particular interest how people engage with digital media and technologies. How digital devices and tools are integrated and embedded in everyday life. And how they are entangled with different social practices and cultural processes.

Digital media technologies and mobile networked devices, such as smart phones, have become ubiquitous means of visual production, communication and representation. Moreover, digital platforms and social media services, such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, are utilized to share and consume visual artefacts. Constituting and changing thus communicative practices and visual culture alike.

This paper focuses on the material dimension of digital visuality as a contemporary digital phenomenon. By critically reviewing selected ethnographic studies, it discusses how material culture as conceptual approach contributes to the analysis of digital visuality. How does the conceptualisation of digital and visual technology as material culture contribute to the exploration and understanding of contemporary and emerging sociocultural practices and processes? What are the challenges and limitations of such an approach? And what does this tell us about possible futures of the anthropology of digital visuality and digital visual culture?

Matters of Similarity: Affordances of Digital Visualities

Author: Christoph Bareither (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) email
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Short abstract

A particular potential of digital media is that they afford practices based on the similarity between physical entities and their computer-mediated representations. Using the example of Emojis, the paper elaborates this argument and shows how affordances of digital visualities unfold in practice.

Long abstract

The concept of affordances is widely used in studies of digital media "to account for the ways that technological artefacts or platforms privilege, open up, or constrain particular actions and social practices." (McVeigh-Schultz / Baym 2015) So far, however, there is a lack of theoretical discussions which consider the concept's analytical potential for an analysis of digital media in contrast to non-digital media. By bringing affordance theories together with Tom Boellstorff's proposal of an "indexical theory" (2012) for digital anthropology and Philip Brey's discussion of the "digital" as related to both the "physical" and "virtual" (2015), I introduce a particular approach to the ethnographic study of visual practices enacted through digital media. From this perspective, particular functions of digital media afford virtual practices based on the similarity between actual physical entities (objects, bodies, spaces or processes) and their visual computer-mediated representations. The empirical example to demonstrate this will be the use of emojis in the context of sharing digital pictures made at heritage sites in Berlin. I will draw on the notion of similarity to discuss how, in this case, the "material dimensions of digital visualities" (CfP, point 3) provide particular affordances for virtual practices. Using an emoji means enacting the similarity between a material entity (e.g. a smiling face) and its visual representation (the symbol/icon of a smiling face) in order to do emotion (Scheer 2016). Thus, emojis are a telling example for how affordances of digital visualities unfold in practice.

Digital visualities disrupted - Local photographers in Aleppo and the shifting infrastructures of war

Author: Nina Grønlykke Mollerup (University of Copenhagen) email
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Short abstract

This paper interrogates the importance of digital media technologies for local, non- or semi-professional photographers in Aleppo and their ability to disseminate their work, focusing on the time when the city was under rebel-control.

Long abstract

Images from the war in Syria have been spread extensively across the globe, including by news corporations. However, for several years these corporations have refrained from sending staffed photographers to Syria because of the immense danger and have thus depended on local photographers for visual documentation. These local photographers have developed their skills and networks due to the need for visual documentation and their desire to inform the world about atrocities, aided only by limited training and occasionally equipment provided by international NGOs. This paper builds on anthropological literature on media and conflict and understands digital media as co-constitutive of conflicts (Postill, Budka and Bräuchler forthcoming). The paper is based on interviews with local photographers from Aleppo and NGO workers as well as digital, image-focused ethnography. It interrogates the importance of digital media technologies for local, non- or semi-professional photographers in Aleppo and their ability to disseminate their work, focusing on the time when the city was under rebel-control. When the regime regained control of Aleppo in the end of 2016, photographers had to physically carry harddrives with visual documentation out of the city, highlighting the intersections of political control and (lack of) digital access. That is, in the everyday life of photographers in war, materialities of the digital is pushed to the fore because access to digital infrastructures is dependent on the shifting physical control of the city, proximity to political borders and availability of devices.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.