What role does “digital” have within Anthropology? – Part I

This is a question that I asked fellow graduate students here in the Department of Anthropology at MSU. The impetus for asking my peers this question occurred as a result of last week’s meeting of CHI Fellows, whereby Donnie Sackey suggested that it would be useful to us to get a sense of how people define “digital.” What follows are some snippets of conversations that I found to be particularly informative about how people define “digital” and, in particular, the role and/or value that “digital” has within the discipline of anthropology:

“…digital resources have the ability to bring the “other” closer to us…”

“…people we study and work with are able to have access to the resources and information that we use as researchers…”

“…ability to access articles from basically anywhere and across all disciplines…”

What are the pros and cons of incorporating “digital” into your respective sub-discipline?

“…visual databases really help us understand a wider breadth of bone variation…”

“…not possible to see everything first-hand, so access to visual databases of skeletal collections help us become better practitioners…”

“…in forensic realms, we must be very careful with potentially identifying information…”

“…alternatively, people may gain a false sense of security in their abilities to recognize bone pathologies based on visual databases without ever physically seeing and touching the bone…”

“…increases access to information, data, and knowledge that was once only accessible to people within the academic culture…”

“…there is so much mis-information regarding marginalized groups; the concept of co-opting knowledge for anyone to use is not ok…”

“…fantastic in terms of disseminating information to a wider audience…”

“…increases efficiency and has potential to make data collection more systematic…”

“…makes things so accessible that the clear demarcation between empirically supported findings and expertise gets blurred with lay observations and notions about our disciplinary findings…”

What is the future of “digital” in anthropology?

“…there is still something powerful about putting things in print…presents as a certain level of authority…”

“…digital anthropology is a necessity; without it, we will be behind the 8 ball because this is a movement – it’s happening…”

“…digital representations of tradition pen-and-paper kinds of ethnographies will be very useful…visual representation of data that can be digitally manipulated…”

From the very basic questions that I asked my peers, I was able to draw some preliminary conclusions about how they situate “digital” within anthropology, and in so doing, they’ve defined “digital” by talking about what it does for them and their sub-discipline. The important themes that emerged from my mini-interviews (~5 minutes/person x 7 people) seem to be 1) access to data; 2) participation with larger audience; and 3) tools for new kinds of research. Most of the people I interviewed were concerned with “digital” in terms of perpetuating mis-information to the masses. Fellow anthropology graduate student and CHI Fellow – Taz Karim, will continue this discussion into part II where she will ask anthropology professors similar kinds of questions…

Original post can be viewed here.

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