WhatsApp as technology of life (new paper)

Abstract

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.

Resumen

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.

TEXTO COMPLETO

“Trajectories: digital/visual data on the move” (new paper)

RVST_COVER_31-04.inddA 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

Raw Talent in the Making’: Imaginary journeys, authorship and the discourses of Expertise (new paper)

The paper ‘Raw Talent in the Making’: Imaginary journeys, authorship and the discourses of Expertise, co-written with Helen Thornham, was just published on Convergence: the journal of research into new media technologies. This paper is part of a Special Issue on Expertise and Engagement with/in Digital Media that we edited (along with Caroline Bassett).

This is the link to the journal’s version

This is the link to the preprint version

And this is the abstract:

In the digital age, it seems that participation has been conflated with literacy; content with engagement; novelty with innovation; and ubiquity with meaning (see for example, Thornham & McFarlane 2014, Gillespie 20010, Dean 2008, Livingstone 2009, van Dijck 2013) and encapsulated in terms such as ‘digital native’, ‘digital divide’, or ‘born digital’. In turn, these conflations have done something to technology, which is constructed as malleable, a supportive facilitator; and the user, who is constructed as active agent. Neither of these, account for mediations, or – crucial for us – the notion of the imaginary, which emerges in our research as so central to expertise. Drawing on ethnographic work carried out in Studio 12, a media production facility for young people with disadvantaged backgrounds in Leeds, UK, we propose that the concept of expertise emerges through a bigger array of social capital as well as traditional structures of power such as class, gender and race. Expertise is claimed, evidenced, and generated. For us, however, expertise emerged not only as elusive, but also because it was premised on a disjuncture between lived and everyday youth, and the promises of becoming in a future orientated (technological, imaginary and creative) landscape.

Ethnography and the Field in Media(ted) Studies: A Practice Theory Approach (new article)

I can’t help it, I’m extremely disappointed by the times and forms of academic publishing. I won’t complain about it but I want to point to the fact that a paper that we wrote two years ago has just see the light. What we do is a labour of love and I’m sure that what many colleagues in open access publications do is exactly the same. We’re all in the same boat and we have to fight together but we definitely have to improve as much as we can on our endeavors to create open but professional-standard scientific product that can cope with the fast-changing times of our objects and our ideas.

Anyway, the article is called Ethnography and the Field in Media(ted) Studies: A Practice Theory Approach (coauthored with Elisenda Ardèvol) and it’s published in a Special Number of the Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture: Media Ethnography: The Challenges of Breaking Disciplinary Boundaries. Here is the link to the full journal and here the abstract:

The aim of this article is to reflect upon the concept of field when doing ethnographies related to digital technologies of communication in everyday life. Following the example of ethnographic fieldwork carried out by one of the authors with a group of highly mediated photographers in Barcelona (Gómez Cruz, 2012), we reflect on the conceptualization of fieldwork in digital ethnographies and discuss how ‘Practice Theory’[1] could be useful as a basis for media and digital ethnographies.

Finally, I want to thank Andrea Medrado for her editing labour and her “religiously” patience with our constant mails about the publication.


[1] Although more than a single theory or group of theories, ‘Practice Theory’ stands as an approach to the study of the social. For an in-depth introduction see Warde (2005) and Reckwitz (2002).

“Performing photography practices in everyday life” (New article)

My paper: Performing photography practices in everyday life, written with Elisenda Ardèvol, has just been published in Photographies. It is a small paper that was presented at the Helsinki Photomedia Conference last year (2012). I want to thank Martin Lister for the invitation to submit it and to Sarah Kember for her wise comments and recommendations for the paper.

It is kind of strange that someone publish two papers in the consecutive numbers of the same journal but I’m honored and happy for that. Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents a number of examples from an ethnographic fieldwork with a group of amateur photographers in Barcelona. Based on Practice Theory approach, as a theoretical framework, the article stands as an example of the study of photography that moves away from a representational or semiotic approach towards a performative one. The examples described show how different practices enable and enhance mediations that are material, visual and digital at the same time and how these practices are performed by the group while they shape their collective identity.

La fotografía digital como una estética sociotécnica (texto completo)

Publicar no es fácil. Publicar material 100% original es todavía más difícil y, finalmente, publicar en una revista con una propuesta epistémico/teórica distinta a las habituales pues es prácticamente imposible. Sin embargo, me alegra mucho haber contribuido en el reciente número de la revista AISTHESIS del Instituto de Estética de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Aprovecho para agradecer la invitación de Valentina Montero y José Pablo Concha Lagos a sumarme al proyecto que estoy seguro resultará interesante para todas aquellas personas que reflexionan sobre la relación entre estética y tecnología.

En cuanto a mi texto, son pocas las ideas nuevas con respecto a las que planteo ya en mi libro pero que creo podrían ser el germen de una agenda de investigación para el futuro (pero que ya no me corresponde a mí porque poco a poco me alejo del tema de la fotografía). Aquí el abstract y aquí el enlace al texto completo.

Este texto presenta el esbozo de una agenda de investigación que se erige como continuación de un proyecto de redefinición  de la fotografía, desde la ciencia social, como un objeto de estudio más allá de su carácter representacional o semiótico. La propuesta se fundamenta en los hallazgos de un estudio sobre prácticas fotográficas que utilizó el método etnográfico. En la primera parte del texto se plantea el marco teórico, problematizando a la fotografía como representación y reformulándola desde su materialidad, uso y tecnologías. Es decir, para definirla como una red sociotécnica que se visibiliza en prácticas concretas. La segunda parte describe la relación entre la fotografía y el establecimiento de una propuesta estética a través de las prácticas que la constituyen, utilizando como ejemplo el caso de la llamada Iphoneografía. Finalmente se plantean algunas cuestiones de cara a una agenda futura de investigación.

Actualización:

Por cierto, si a alguien le interesa el tema del iPhone como caso de estudio, les recomiendo ampliamente el libro Studying Mobile Media Cultural Technologies, Mobile Communication, and the iPhone editado por Larissa Hjorth, Jean Burguess e Ingrid Richardson.

Some notes on “virtual ethnography” (text in Spanish and English)

The Barcelona Center for International Affairs has just published a monograph from a Training Seminar, we participated few months ago. Along with Elisenda Ardèvol, we wrote a small article titled: “Digital Technologies in the Process of Social Research: Theoretical and Methodological Reflections Through Digital Virtual Ethnography” and it´s available online.

Here it is in English

Aquí el texto en Español.