In this paper, we present a few ethnographic vignettes on the use of WhatsApp from a study in Mexico City. We suggest WhatsApp is a paradigmatic example of how a particular technology becomes an infrastructure to sustain, and therefore shape, a wide range of quotidian activities, from personal to economic, from spiritual to political. WhatsApp exemplifies what we call technologies of life, as such technologies mediate almost all aspects of social life. On this basis, we propose two interventions into the research agenda that go beyond data-centric approaches and focus on the lived-experiences of individuals, families, and communities.
En este artículo presentamos algunas viñetas etnográficas sobre el uso de WhatsApp en la Ciudad de México. Proponemos que WhatsApp es un ejemplo paradigmático de cómo una tecnología en particular se transforma en una infraestructura para sostener, y de esa forma, generar, un gran número de actividades cotidianas, de comunicación personal a intercambios económicos, de conexiones espirituales a prácticas políticas. WhatsApp ejemplifica lo que denominamos Tecnologías Vitales, tecnologías que median casi todos los aspectos de la vida social. Sobre esta base, proponemos dos intervenciones en la agenda de investigación proponiendo ir más allá de las aproximaciones centradas en datos y plataformas y enfocándose en las experiencias vividas por individuos, familias y comunidades.
This visual essay, along with the Black Screens photographic series upon which it is based, has two aims. On the one hand, it is intended as a visual exploration of the increasingly central role that mobile phones have in our everyday lives. In a time when digital technologies are ubiquitous in urban settings of developed countries, the images reflect, visually, on what this pervasiveness looks like. The other aim is to present suggestions of how methods borrowed and/or inspired by art and street photography could potentially expand the toolkit of ethnographic inquiry.
A collaboration with my colleague Shanti Sumartojo was published in Continuum. Journal of Media and Cultural Studies.
Following current literature on public and mobile screens, this paper discuses the relevance that screens have in our everyday lives by focusing on the combination of mobile and temporary screen-based practices in the digital mediation of a single public commemorative event. We present an ethnographic account of different screen practices at the Anzac Day dawn Service, an annual Australian commemorative ceremony on a public holiday, 25 April. By focusing our analysis in a single place for a limited time, we analyse how people relate to screens in different ways, from media reception to spatial organization to online connection. We suggest that screens form a fundamental element of the entanglement between public space and political narrative that needs further investigation because this relationship holds implications for both urban life and citizenship.
I have some free eprints, if you are interested, just ask.
When I started my job in Melbourne, I was very keen to pursue an idea I’ve had for long time: Could we think of street photography’s ethos as an ethnographic technique? I didn’t have a clear point to make (still don’t) but I was keen to playfully experiment combining my favorite photographic genre and my usual research method. My starting point was that both, street photography and ethnography, were interested in the ways people behave in everyday life. Both present interesting ethical challenges and, ultimately, both are connected to ways of seeing, imagining and thinking.
I tried a small “pilot project” in Japan that was unsuccessful and never saw the light (no pun intended). Now that I’m moving to Sydney and starting a new job, I thought I should give it another try, after all, I was really excited about the idea and I wanted to invest more time on it. This time, it is happening. I pitched the project outside academia and FujiFilm Australia came on board. They will be supporting the project and providing the equipment. During 2018 I will carry out a number of discrete “fieldworks” in different cities; thinking, photographing, talking and writing about street photography and ethnography. Building upon some recent scholarly work on photography as a visual method, and a growing interest on street photography, as a cultural form, and as a photographic “syntax”. But more importantly, inspired by “hybrid genres” such as the extraordinary Blind Spot of Teju Cole, in 2019 I will prepare a book with the experience.
To kickoff this cool project that is intended to be academic but that is also very personal, I put together a number of images in what could be considered a “teaser for the future”, or simply a “shared photographic album”. The printed version is insanely expensive as it’s always the case with self-publishing but I have a pdf version that I’m happy to distribute if anyone is interested.
This book interrogates how new digital-visual techniques and technologies are being used in emergent configurations of research and intervention. It discusses technological change and technological possibility; theoretical shifts toward processual paradigms; and a respectful ethics of responsibility. The contributors explore how new and evolving digital-visual technologies and techniques have been utilized in the development of research, and reflect on how such theory and practice might advance what is “knowable” in a world of smartphones, drones, and 360-degree cameras. Available here.
Led by Helen Thornham, we just published the paper Not just a number? NEETs, data and datalogical systems in Information, Communication & Society. Here is the link to the paper, and here is the abstract:
This paper draws on empirical research with NEET populations (16–24-year-olds not in education, employment or training) in the U.K. in order to engage with issues around identification, data and metrics produced through datalogical systems. Our aim is to bridge contemporary discourses around data, digital bureaucracy and datalogical systems with empirical material drawn from a long-term ethnographic project with NEET groups in Leeds, U.K. in order to highlight the way datalogical systems ideologically and politically shape people’s lives. We argue that NEET is a long-standing data category that does work and has resonance within wider datalogical systems. Secondly, that these systems are decision-making and far from benign. They have real impact on people’s lives – not just in a straightforwardly, but in obscure, complex and uneven ways which makes the potential for disruption or intervention increasingly problematic. Finally, these datalogical systems also implicate and are generated by us, even as we seek to critique them.
(From our “Refiguring Techniques in Digital-Visual Research” event last year)
A paper that I presented at a conference on Photography and Anthropology in 2014 was (finally) published today. It is somehow disappointing that the publishing process takes so long because I would probably approach the paper differently now. In any case, I think it could be useful to expand the discussion about mobile/visual/digital ethnographies. Here is the link to the text and here is the abstract:
This article presents an outline of the concept ‘Trajectory’. I propose to understand trajectory not only as a trace of movement in a path but also as a working concept to reflect on the possibilities of visual/digital data collection for ethnographic research on the move. Images, I argue, along with some digital affordances such as metadata and GPS, can be a powerful device for ethnographic enquiry and a useful tool for reflexivity if used by making sense of the randomness of everyday mobility. The concept of ‘Trajectory’ seeks to reflect on the relationship between four elements: mobility, visual data, digital methods and reflexivity, focusing on the use of the mobile phone as a tool to engage with these elements while reflecting on them. The concept of trajectories is intended to establish a dialogue with that of the flâneur in de Certeau’s and Benjamin’s work and with some current approaches to visual/digital ethnography, especially those related to movement and senses, art and ethnography and mobilities and locative media.
P.S. It was fun that the editors chose my images for the journal’s cover