“Digital anthropology becomes a science”. Really?Thursday, July 29th, 2010 | Author: Salina Christmas
Yesterday, the participants of the EASA Media Anthropology Network email list, Medianthro, had a ‘lively’ discussion on an “interesting article in New Scientist about digital anthropology providing the sort of data that will allow it to become a science”.
One poster saw this table of content in this generic ‘journal’ template laid out by ScienceDirect (or the publisher, Reed Business Information), and thought the New Scientist is a proper journal. Seriously. Other posters went on to discuss the origin of the term “digital anthropology”. Lane, our tutor, pointed out that New Scientist article said nothing about “digital anthropology”, but Alan Patrick, the blogger who quoted Mark Buchanan’s article, wrote the headline “Digital Anthropology becomes a science”.
He also commented about “the heightened fascination with ‘anthropology’ and ‘ethnography’ as suffixes in commercial technology and marketing/communications circles”. Which prompted one poster to comment that “on Twitter, a lot of people identifying themselves in their bios as ‘digital anthropologists, ‘cyberAnthropologists’, ‘ethnographers, etc. although they have no academic training in social sciences… Some people think of anthropology as just involving observation of human behavior and using your own intuition to determine why people do what they do.”
Anthros, get over it
My response to John Postill, the moderator of the EASA Media Anthropology Network email list:
1. Why do anthropologists have this hang-up about ‘not being hard science’? Why this desire to align anthropology with physics, computer science, chemistry, biology and such? What advantage does anthropology have in gaining entry into the ‘hard science club’?
2. The New Scientist is not a journal, despite what this web interface shows you. The layout might be “journal’ in flavour, but it is a magazine. That is, it is “journalism”. Subbed, but not peer-reviewed. See that story about the breakthrough of the HIV vagina gel in the table of content? That is “news” and has been out in major life science trade rags. Not journal material.
3. What is known as digital anthropology has been done by digital practitioners from various fields, commercial ones included. Don’t diss the commercial lot, especially the Marketing and PR types, just yet – the digital marketers can tell you a good story about page bounces, backed up with stats.
4. Many trained ‘designers’ – digital, graphic, industry and otherwise – have a good grasp of visual anthropology. That branch of anthro is part of the arts polytechnic syllabus. Not only do they have the social science skills to identify who they are designing for, they actually can ‘make’ those aesthetic things. They are known as ‘creatives’.
5. If I want to be a ‘hard scientist’, I would have chosen to do an MSc in Web Science, or Web Design and Development – because that’s what I do for a living. My tutor would probably agree I excel at that better than at anthropology. I chose to do (digital) anthropology because I want anthropology to inform my art (or ’science’, if you think science is all about numbers and computation).
But you know what? Web development can be so DULL. Which is why I don’t want to do an MSc in that field. Can we not accept anthropology for what it is, interdisciplinary?
Anthropology is not hard science (pull your socks up, anthros). But that doesn’t make it useless.Categories: Anthropology, Culture Production, Design & Craft, Digital Anthropology, Technology, The Review | Tags: Anthropology