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.

Lying is done… Part Two

Part of the reading group discussion on lying, and specifically of  ‘ten lies of ethnography’, by Gary Fine, published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Peter Metcalf’s book took place last Friday in Amsterdam (Dina, Sarah and Anne). The discussion will continue here…

Metcalf’s book struck us all as a classic, a book to read and to reread, a book that would engage us in different ways at different times in our work. Not only is this book eminently well written, each of its sections is layered, bringing together a compelling narrative, an entry into debates in post-modern ethnography literature, as well as illustrating the links to be constructed between fieldwork and conceptual debates. This part of the discussion also led us to wonder: What is it about this book that makes it so ‘good to think with’, in dealing with issues of truth and epistemology?

We also found that issues of language and truth (How is writing a research plan lying?, asked Dina, or how can we think of  ‘truth as a language game’, as Sarah formulated it) were perhaps least explicitly dealt with in the book–though we did find ways to extrapolate from its contents as to how Metcalf might address such issues.

Another theme we discussed was the evolution of the relationship to the field, over the course of one’s career. We also wondered: At what point can one write such a book? When, and on what basis, can a scholar engage in this kind of writing?

The disappearing field was also striking in this account. How often do we hear that the pace of technological change is a particular challenge for ethnographers of contemporary culture? In the case of Borneo, ways of life are not standing still either, and this sense of urgency and fast-pace of internet researchers rather felt like a particular conceit, when reading Metcalfe’s descriptions of change.

We also briefly talked about Fine’s piece which considers ten ‘values’ that ethnographers are meant to enact, and related it to our discussion of Metcalfs’ book, in terms of the value of values.  Enacting such values might take a different form in different settings (ie what it means to be honest can vary…). We also debated the following: what is at stake in maintaining or breaching such values?

These are some highlights of the discussion, with the questions underlying the discussion foregrounded–looking forward to hearing from the all readers on these or other points.

Postdoc Researcher (f/m), (36-38 hours per week)

Project information: You will be responsible for the implementation of ethnographic and explorative research in the sub-project “Dissemination and exploration”. You will perform observations of the use of ICT in humanities research. In particular, you will identify problems that emerge as researchers renew their research practices with the aid of technology. You will explore and assess the current developments in digital humanities, also on the basis of the published literature. This exploration will regularly involve short visits to research centres in the Netherlands and abroad. Your work on this aspect of the project will be supported by an information expert, whose role will be to assess the technological merits of infrastructures. These observations and assessments will support the Alfalab project leader in the preparation of the second phase of Alphalab. Your research results will also support the dissemination of Alfalab’s outcomes among humanities scholars in the Netherlands. This work will result in a research report, which will form the basis of a follow-up grant application, and the basis for international scientific publications.

Job requirements: You have ample experience in ethnographic research and current knowledge of ict applications in the humanities, as demonstrated by a PhD in a relevant area (for example, Science and Technology Studies or Information Science). You show interest in humanities research. You are a good communicator, possess good writing skills, and are capable of building good cooperative relations with researchers from a variety of scientific traditions. You have an excellent command of English and Dutch.

Conditions of employment: This position involves a temporary appointment for a period of 1.5 years. In consultation, the job can be performed on a secondment basis (for instance from a university). The intended starting date is 1 May 2009.

More information will be available on the website of the VKS or on the website Academic Transfer.

Ethics of (e)research

one-day course for PhD students, post-doctoral and other researchers, organized by the Virtual Knowledge Studio in collaboration with the KNAW, and inspired by the June Plenary.

Date and location: Monday 15 June 2009, at the KNAW, Trippenhuis, Amsterdam.

In this one-day event, participants will have the opportunity to examine their own research practices from an ethical perspective and to learn about current approaches to research ethics.

The workshop will enable researchers to identify and analyze ethical issues that arise in the course of their own research, whether relating to empirical material and sources, to analysis or to publication and dissemination. They will also become familiar with a range of mechanisms that support ethical research practices (codes of conduct, consent forms, ethical audits, etc.). The workshop will contribute to the development of skills to deal with ethical dilemmas and increase researchers’ confidence in undertaking research in novel settings or using new tools.

Such a workshop is especially timely because the ethical dimensions of research are receiving more attention from national and transnational funding agencies and professional associations for a number of reasons, including:

  • greater accountability of researchers
  • pressure from funders to increase scale and disciplinary breadth of research teams;
  • Ethical’ turn in social science and humanities, following the linguistic and cultural turns;
  • Rise of ethical approval committees, moving beyond the medical sciences into other disciplines;
  • Increased presence of new media in research and communication;
  • Increased availability of data arising from mundane social practices; Creation of new research infrastructures and tools

New technologies not only raise new ethical questions; they also bring into relief some very old ones regarding, for example, respect for the confidentiality of research participants. Similarly, greater internationalisation and interdisciplinarity also raise both new and old issues, as different national and disciplinary cultures have different traditions of both defining and dealing with research ethics. For example, universities in the US and Canada have a strong tradition of ethical review, with all research projects involving human subjects – regardless of discipline – being required to obtain institutional approval prior to research commencing.

In European countries, such procedures often only apply to medical and psychological research. The standards of medical research, about informed consent and doing no harm, are not always relevant in social sciences and humanities. Humanities and social sciences differ in their view of people not only from medical sciences but also from each other. For example, for humanities scholars, people producing (online) texts should best be regarded as authors, with the result that they should simply be cited as any other author. For a social scientist, the very same people may be regarded as ‘respondents’ and then issues of consent and confidentiality become more salient.

In the UK, recipients of research council funding are normally expected to deposit all data in a public archive; in the US and Canada, similar data would have to be destroyed after five years. The imposition of ethical review procedures may also have implications for what styles of research are favoured. Most formal review procedures require the production of research instruments as part of the process, instruments which may then need further approval if they are changed. This may work for research using positivistic research designs, but would be very cumbersome for more interpretative research designs which rely on the identification and pursuit of emergent phenomena. Clearly, as research becomes ever more international and interdisciplinary, all of these issues will become urgent. This one-day workshop will orient researchers to these discussions as well as develop their ability to deal with dilemmas faced in research.

Provisional timetable


Arrival & coffee


Introductions & ethics quiz


Brief lecture outlining history & practice of research ethics in the Netherlands




Discussion of research dilemmas




Discussion of sample US/Canadian-style ethical clearance form


Concluding remarks


Borrel followed by dinner

Work to be done in advance by participants:

Complete ethical clearance form and write one page about past or current dilemma.

Time and location: 10-18.30 (followed by dinner), Monday 15 June 2009, at the Trippenhuis, Kloveniersburgwal 29, Amsterdam. More travel information at

Registration: Please contact Anja de Haas ( to register. Deadline for registration is 8 May 2009.

Cost: €50, includes participation, course materials, lunch and breaks; or €75, also including dinner

Number of participants: maximum 16, to ensure a discussion-oriented format

Contact : Prof. S. Wyatt ( or Dr. A. Beaulieu (

That time of year again!

VKS Postdoctoral Fellowship Fall 2009 Applications are invited for three-month fellowships within the VKS, Fall 2009 in Amsterdam. Deadline for applications: 15 May 2009

More information on the VKS website.

“Lying is done with words and also with silence.” –Adrienne Rich

The March meeting of the ethnography reading group will deal with lying: the (sometimes necessary) constitution of false statements, deliberately presented as being true. Why and when do ethnographers fib? What do we do when we think the interlocutor prevaricates? And who can tell?

Two texts will provide the academic framing of this discussion. One is the text ‘ten lies of ethnography’, by Gary Fine, published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, but also posted on the web as the text of a keynote address to QUIG Interdisciplinary Qualitative Studies Conference in 1992.

Along with this piece, Peter Metcalf’s book will be grounds for discussing lying in ethnographic relationships and in the presentation of the ethnographer.

Along with writing culture?

One of the discussions at the working papers day last  year was sparked by the material provided by Marianne Franklin. Her submission sought to transfer her work on the constitution of fields from an conference performance, involving image, video, sound and talk, to a multi-media, hyperlinked text on a pdf support.

This discussion raised many issues: norms of communication, writing styles, linearity, modes of disciplining knowledge, and the rules we impose on ourselves and each other with regards to what counts as academic output.

This is an important topic, and one which might well be worth revisiting in the course of Collaboratory work. Formulating the issue(s) will be a challenge, since the vocabulary of scholarly work tends to emphasise text, writing and authorship… all elements we might seek to question or transcend or maybe even ignore. Yet, terms are needed to set the debate. I propose: ‘along with writing culture’ as a phrase to label these efforts at ‘doing things differently’.

There are several ways into this debate besides using new tools for mediation of our work–but that is definetely a part of it. A tip I received along these lines is a tool called Sophie, from the Annenberg School. Anyone heard of it or used it? And what are other trails to follow?

This post had been dormant since last June, but was revived partly through our discussion of Coming of Age, in which Boelstorff affirms that writing a book about an object like a virtual world is an important statement.