Fieldwork is not what it used to be

The book has been on my desk for a while, waiting for the perfect reading motivation that is the reading group. I’m now a couple of chapters in… enough to be quite intrigued about the book’s aims. It takes on a very particular slice of academic work–paying a lot of attention to the professional ‘craft’ of fieldwork, as Marcus calls it. I’m about to start the empirical chapters, and I’m curious to read on:  To what extent are the implications of particular ways of developing this craft linked to the kinds of knowledge produced by ethnographers?

news from the fields

Things have been a bit quiet  on this blog, partly because of a newborn sibling (network realism). But this does not mean things have been quiet on the ground, in terms of ethnography at the VKS.

Smiljana has been busy scoping the field of digital humanities and is currently thinking about how to pursue observations of users who will be trying out some of the new tools that will be developed in Alfalab. She is considering video or desktop tracking mechanisms to do this. (Suggestions welcome!)

We have also been joined by Niels van Doorn, who is just completing a major project on gender, sexuality and embodiment as performed on internet platforms that feature user-generated content. He is preparing a new project on queer spaces at the intersections between digital and physical space. In this project, he will examine how people exercise their sexual citizenship through the creation of affective networks and spaces that are intertwined with new media technologies.

And Sarah de Rijcke gave a great presentation yesterday at a meeting to set up new fieldwork at the Rijksakademie. We came away from yesterday’s meeting with the feeling that this fieldwork was really going to be mutually beneficial and that the Rijksakademie staff was actually looking forward to having us around! Sarah will be starting there in November, right after she comes back from 4S, where we have a paper on the Network Realism project in a session organised by Catelijne Coopmans on “Data Riches: The Practices and Politics of Exploiting Digital Data Sets”.

My own fieldwork around practices using Flickr for the study of street art (part of the Network Realism project) has taken off in these past weeks. I’ve found some scholars of street art who are using Flickr (and other tools) at different points in their research, and many of them are willing to talk to me. I’ll be heading to Paris for some meetings with scholars at GRIS and to visit the street art exhibit Ne dans la rue, which itself has quite an impressive presence on Flickr.

Postdoc Opportunity at VKS

Applications are invited for three-month fellowships within the Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences (VKS) for Spring 2010. The fellowship is designed for junior scholars who have recently received their PhDs in order to provide the following:

  • experience of working within an interdisciplinary research group
  • an opportunity to prepare material for publication
  • the chance to develop new research ideas

Deadline for applications is 15 November 2009. Please find more information on the VKS website.

Reading Group Proposal

How about this new book from Cornell University Press on fieldwork? It has its own site, where some material from the book is made available. This is an edited volume, with a number of contributors who are well-known spokespeople of the American cultural anthropology scene–and several of whom have been involved in the anthropology in/of circulation statement a few months ago.

For this volume, perhaps we could all read the introduction and each pick one chapter we especially like to discuss? We will also experiment further in the coming sessions with ways of discussing/ approaching texts and issues.

Who would like to join? Lilia, are you up for this one? We’ll pick a date once we’re back from holidays.

Ethics of e-research at NCeSS

At a workshop on e-research organised by Nick Kankoswki in the framework of NCeSS 2009, we are presenting on the topic on ethics of e-research.ethicsworkshop.avatars This work is based on the experiences of the VKS in the past 3 years and on two workshops on ethics organised by the VKS in June 2008 and June 2009 (with KNAW). We have given our contribution a somewhat unusual form, putting forth our insights as a set of ‘frequently asked questions’. These FAQs can be found here. Reactions to these are very welcome, whether on the blog, face to face or via email.


A fresh set of reviews appeared this week on the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies,  including my review of Internet Inquiry, edited by Markhan and Baym. Besides that fact that I really like the book, one of my motivations for writing the review was a guilty conscience…

This review is a way of assuaging my guilt for repeated comments made to Adolfo during his visit about his explanations of his research as combining online and offline aspects.  What an odd starting point, I exclaimed, no one uses that language analytically anymore! Well, that’s just not true, witness the entire section of the book Internet Inquiry that is set up around that dichotomy. I’m not going to repeat here what the problem is with that framing (read the review!) but I would like, hereby, to dedicate the review to Adolfo Estalella, in pennance for my pig-headed underestimation of the persistence of on/offline talk.

Emotions, selves and fieldwork

For our next meeting, we will be reading Sharon Traweek’s paper Warning Signs, and Ellis ‘ book, Final Negotiations. See you on the afternoon of the 12th!


Starting reading on the train yesterday. Strange experience. After about ten pages, I was quite grossed out with the whole thing. She was stupid. He was repulsive. Was I allowed to feel this way? Could I stop reading on the basis of this? Somewhat vindictively, I was thinking that by putting these characters, their emotions and their relationship so much to the forefront of this book, this was also entitling me to react to them on that basis. I managed to make myself read/skim/read through the first part. Stopped that when I got to the part where she becomes an unpaid nurse to a chronically ill tyrant. And then skimmed the last part, where she talks about writing the various versions of the book. And I read enough of that to realise that, yes, indeed, the whole point was more or less to provoke an emotional reading.

Now, having slept on this, I am feeling somewhat less vindictively repulsed. I’m also rather in awe of (and quite curious about) what it must have been like to publish something like this in the American academic climate of the mid-nineties, at the height of data-rape hysteria on campuses and institutionalised political correctness.