SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

Digitally dwelling: the challenges of digital ethnology and folklore and the methods to overcome them
Location VG 3.105
Date and Start Time 29 March, 2017 at 08:30
Sessions 2


  • Coppélie Cocq (Umeå University) email
  • Robert Glenn Howard (University of Wisconsin - Madison) email

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Short Abstract

Whether in a tent or in front of a screen, researchers of ethnology and folklore have long sought to inhabit the same spaces as those they seek to better understand. But what barriers present themselves to researchers seeking to "dwell" in a digital world?

Long Abstract

What does it mean to "dwell" in a digital community? Or inhabit a network location? Do we dwell together as we access different apps on the bus to work? Or do we dwell together in the synthetic spaces inside a virtual reality helmet? Participants in this panel will offer specific cases of challenges they faced dwelling in digital cultures and explore methodical fixes that attempt to address them.

The pace at which the manifold uses of the internet and of other digital and mobile technologies are constantly evolving means that the nature of the digital worlds we inhabit together are always changing. In this environment of constant change, the researcher is always being presented with new challenges to the perspectives, methods and tools they have used before. The omnipresence and intensification of the digital challenge our perceptions of localities, presence and encounters. As a consequence, methods for online research need to redefine concepts such as the "field" and fieldwork, participant observation, interaction, etc.

This panel will investigate methods in research on digital culture, digital practices and the impact and the implications of the digital in our lives by asking participants to present specific cases of problems they have faced in their digital research and the fixes they developed to address whether successful or not

We invite contributions approaching methods and methodologies in digital folklore and ethnology. Topics can include for example, but not only:

- Collection and fabrication of data

- Big and small data

- Ethics

- Ethnography

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Big looks at little data: the utility of computational approaches to online vernacular discourse about guns

Author: Robert Glenn Howard (University of Wisconsin - Madison)  email

Short Abstract

Researchers of ethnology and folklore are always challenged not to “cherry-pick” the specific examples they closely analyze. The huge volumes of vernacular expression available online makes the problem worse. A computational approach to this problem offers a surprising view of online gun-lovers.

Long Abstract

One challenge that has long been faced by researchers of ethnology and folklore is how to fairly pick the specific examples that we locate, contextualize, and closely analyze. Do we attempt to represent a whole community based only a few exemplary cases? Do we focus on the most active bearers of the traditions we are interested in? Or do we seek to find "average" actors to represent what some idealized "average" community member experiences?

In face-to-face ethnography, these decisions are often made for us by factors on the ground that we cannot control: whom we have time to talk to or who will talk to us for example. In many online contexts, however, incomprehensibly huge volumes of vernacular expression are often publicly available for us to examine. In those cases, how do we avoid "cherry-picking" the examples that are the most interesting to us or those that potentially best support our presuppositions?

In the case of research on online gun discourse, its important to consider specific communication events that seem to foster a disturbing paranoia and even potentially some sort of violence. Those communications, however, emerged associated with many others. Looking just at individual posts expressing fears of conspiracy or rumors of wars, we would miss the fact that we are dealing with a folk culture that at least allows and maybe even encourages reasonable discourse.

When memes collide: feminist and anti-feminist localizations of internet memes

Author: Andrew Peck (University of Wisconsin-Madison)  email

Short Abstract

Networked communication facilitates competing assertions of vernacular authority. This paper considers how social and technological forces influence the emergence of these localized digital practices as well as the challenges of dealing with image manipulation and trolling in digital ethnographic research.

Long Abstract

This paper argues that the fluid nature of networked communication facilitates the existence of ongoing, competing assertions of vernacular authority. Internet memes are especially attuned to circulating these multiple authorities due to its highly spreadable and customizable nature. Although we don't normally think of the singular "authority" as multiple or conflicting, the vernacular is inherently multiple, and, as such, creates the possibility for multiple authorities. Networks make it increasingly commonplace for competing notions of vernacular authority to not only develop but also to collide.

In these moments of collision, when expectations for vernacular practice and authority are breached, users respond to the vernacular with the vernacular. This paper looks at how one meme ("Who Needs Feminism?") varied as it was adopted by different web communities. As the meme circulated across both feminist and anti-feminist communities, users created local variations in order to reassert their vernacular authority and, in doing so, exert control over vernacular speech and identity. This paper engages with the social and technological forces that influence the emergence of these localized digital practices while also considering the challenges of dealing with deceit, image manipulation, and trolling in digital ethnographic research.

The new visual life of dialogue jokes in Internet memes

Author: Piret Voolaid (Estonian Literary Museum)  email

Short Abstract

One of the most viable subgenres of riddles are joking questions. The dynamics of the genre in social media shows a move towards illustrating/visualising. Paper analyses which conundrums are illustrated and how, what does visualisation add to the verbal riddles in aesthetic and emotional sense.

Long Abstract

One of the most viable subgenres of riddles are humorous joking questions or conundrums. In their short, dialogic form, they are well suited for expressing vernacular views. They are very often born and disseminated as newslore, being a reaction to daily (political or other) events. The dynamics of the genre in social media shows a move towards illustrating and visualising. A characteristic feature of these multimodal and -medial memetic representations is their literary, digital, folk visual quality.

In the presentation, I seek answers to the following questions:

- Which conundrums are illustrated and how?

- How often does inspiration come from the pre-digital period and in what way?

- What does visualisation add to the traditionally verbal joking questions in aesthetic and emotional sense (is the image merely an illustration to the text or do the verbal and the visual constitute a new whole?)

The material for the presentation is collected from the Estonian popular humour site This is open for all registered users who can post jokes, photos, videos, which have to be "their own intellectual creation". For a folklorist, this is anonymous folklore where the different layers of authorship are impossible to differentiate. The material is viewed to the backdrop of the database "Estonian riddles" (ca 25 000 texts;, Voolaid 2004)

This study was supported by the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research (IUT22-5), and by the European Regional Development Fund (CEES).

The need of a mixed methods approach to digital practices

Author: Stefan Gelfgren (Umeå university)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I argue for the benefits, or even the need, to apply a mixed method approach to researching digital practices in online environments. I propose a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods in order to deepen our analysis and understanding of cultural phenomena and practices.

Long Abstract

In this paper I will argue for the benefits, and even need, to apply a mixed method approach to researching digital practices in online environments. I would propose a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, which allows you to capture and interpret phenomena that are not detectable with a single method, and a single set of interpretive models. The results and interpretations that can be reached with one method might remain veiled when applying another one. By combining qualitative and quantitative methods, we can deepen our analysis and understanding of cultural phenomena and practices.

On Twitter, hashtags (#) can be used as a way to label and sort tweets. One way to read and analyze a specific discussion on Twitter is for instance to follow a hashtag, collect and code the tweets according to their content. But a close reading of data collected is difficult if a discussion contains thousands of tweets; in this case, it is not possible to examine the distribution of power in a network, for instance. For that a quantitative, computer supported, analysis is needed. When comparing the number of tweets sent, received, the re-tweets, etc., a pattern emerges that can question and complement a content-based analysis.

This approach will be illustrated in this paper, based on experiences from three studies with twitter data - all dealing with communicative patterns centered on specific twitter hashtags. In all three studies a quantitative approach reveals alternative patterns of communication and authority hidden in a qualitative reading of the twitter stream.

From written jottings to open data? Archiving ethnografic research data

Authors: Sabine Imeri (Humboldt-University Berlin)  email
Matthias Harbeck (UB der Humboldt-Universität)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the debate about open data and data management in the ethnologies, and approaches how data preservation and data sharing are mostly used by cultural anthropologists, and how their effects and consequences on ethnographic research are assessed.

Long Abstract

The transition from analog to digital not only required new virtual methods but also has had considerable effects on how cultural anthropologists conduct their work. Digital technologies are increasingly applied to all stages of a research lifecycle and furthermore of importance even when material is recorded and analyzed, lectures are given, and results are published: Due to growing digital research infrastructures, large quantities of digital storage space, and not least requirements provided by research funding programs long-term preservation of ethnographic research data and data sharing are up for discussion. Based on an investigation among German-speaking cultural anthropologists our talk points out the experiences researchers have made with data management, data publication and data sharing, and how opportunities, challenges and (ethical) problems of structured long-term archiving are assessed. Moreover it outlines what future appropriate handling of digital ethnographic research data could have, and what "openness" could mean in the ethnologies.

Showing the door: phraseology in internet discussions about refugees in Estonia

Authors: Liisi Laineste (Estonian Literary Museum)  email
Anneli Baran (Estonian Literary Museum)  email

Short Abstract

In Estonia, the 2015 refugee crisis was met with sharp reactions from the public, where the attackers used both direct insults as well as offensive rhetorics immersed with phraseology. This study sets out to describe and analyse the use of figurative language in offensive speech on the internet.

Long Abstract

In Estonia, the 2015 refugee crisis was met with sharp reactions from the public, most of which can be seen as insulting to the targets. But it is not always that the attackers choose to use the most logical solution - direct insult. Almost equally often we can encounter offensive rhetorics immersed with phraseology and/or humour based on sayings. This study sets out to describe and analyse the use of phraseology in offensive speech on the internet, sometimes dubbed hate speech, to give an account of its patterns of usage, with the recent migration crisis as a case in point.

The material for this study comes from the internet comments and posts following the 2015/2016 New Year's Eve programme Tujurikkuja ('Mood Spoiler') gathered from Estonian online media shortly after the programme was aired. The focus of this presentation will be on the nature, more specifically the rhetoric devices of public reverberation and vernacular expressive mechanisms following the parody. The study draws conclusions from the diachronic analysis of the humorous text itself, the internet comments discussing the show and the journalists' reaction to the controversial video in order to describe the role of phraseology in the diverse discursive realisations, effects, and functions of othering via humour. The results suggest that investigating the phraseology of humorous texts and their public reception offers a good entry point into the practices of othering between and within ethnic and/or social groups and the role of phraseology in them.

Doing research in spaces of social and emotional dwelling online: methods, conflicts, opportunities

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

Short Abstract

Building upon extensive participant observation in the everyday life of online gamers this paper aims to discuss the methodological opportunities and conflicts of researching communication processes in online spaces of social and emotional dwelling.

Long Abstract

My paper builds upon my participant observation in online multiplayer games, which focussed on emotional experiences enacted through playful virtual violence. I spent about 1200 hours in the online audio-communication channels (Teamspeak; Skype) of power gamers. Here, gamers are mostly talking about the gaming processes while playing, but also (and at the same time) they are ‚hanging out' with their friends and talk about other topics, make jokes, watch videos on YouTube together, etc. As they form an important part of their everyday life, these audio channels become spaces of social and emotional dwelling for the gamers. Unlike in offline spaces of dwelling, however, the everyday practices in these audio channels are bound the online presence of the actors through their voice and the actions they can perform through their avatars. In dialogue with existing approaches used in the ethnography of video games and virtual worlds (e.g. the works of Boellstorff, Nardi, Taylor, and others) and considerations in digital anthropology (e.g. Miller and Horst 2012) and digital ethnography (e.g. Pink et. al. 2016) I will ask for the methodological opportunities and conflicts emerging from this kind of ethnographic resource. On the one hand it limits the analysis to online presence alone and makes bodily communication processes invisible. On the other hand it lets the researcher adjust to the actors ways of ‚being-in-the-world' when dwelling online, also opening up an emotional space in which sensitive topics (such as the pleasures of violence) can be discussed openly.

Online indigenous communities and indigenous communities online

Author: Coppélie Cocq (Umeå University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will discuss how Indigenous research can approach the concepts and phenomena of "connectiveness", "sharing" and "networking" in a Sámi context. Further, it will examine the implications of this approach in terms of methods and ethics.

Long Abstract

Many Indigenous groups have been early adopters of modern information and communication technologies, as a response to a need for connecting over broad areas and to get organized, or as a mode of exploring new channels for making their voices heard in a new media landscape.

Although early analysis of digital communication tended to over-emphasize online networking as a means for strangers to connect based on shared interests, the perception of online communities as separate from the offline world have rapidly been nuanced.

In the case of Indigenous communities, and more particularly Sámi groups in for example my own research, it is not valid to approach the online community as something that goes beyond geographical, cultural and sometimes social boundaries. The overlap between offline and online communities reaches such an extent that what emerges online cannot even be approached as "digital" or "virtual" communities. The challenge is how to grasp the entanglement of online and offline ways and means to connect and build networks.

This paper will discuss how Indigenous research can approach the concepts and phenomena of "connectiveness", "sharing" and "networking" in a Sámi context. In terms of methods, this approach implies a certain adaptation of the ethnographer's toolbox. In term of ethical considerations, Indigenous methodologies and digital media ethics need to be combined and incorporated in order to guarantee an ethically valid, appropriate and responsible mode of conduct.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.