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Science, Technology and Society Revisited: What is Happening to Anthropology and Ethnography? Marietta Baba.

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Presentation on theme: "Science, Technology and Society Revisited: What is Happening to Anthropology and Ethnography? Marietta Baba."— Presentation transcript:

1 Science, Technology and Society Revisited: What is Happening to Anthropology and Ethnography? Marietta Baba

2 Science, Technology and Society Revisited: What’s Happening to Anthropology and Ethnography Marietta L. Baba

3 19 th Century Anthropology  Anthropology was a 19 th century project focused on human and cultural evolution  Anthropological texts and ethnographic practices were distinct  Anthropologists drew upon the ethnographic writings of other professionals

4 Ethnographic Tradition in Anthropology: Bronislaw Malinowski  Long term observation and participation in the field  Detailed recording and description of micro- processes of everyday life  Interpretation of the point of view of people being observed  Production of a monograph offering a holistic account of their practices

5 The Rise of Academic Anthropology:  Ethnography became part of anthropology as positivist social science grew in academia  Anthropology arose as a unified intellectual endeavor that combined empiricism and theory  Scientific legitimacy of anthropology validated British claims of economic development in its African colonies

6 American Anthropology  “Four fields” united by question: What is the nature of humanity?  The “most scientific of the humanities and most humanistic of the sciences”  Materialist vs. mentalist theories diverge (1960s)

7 Interpretive Theory of Culture:  Metaphor of culture as text – Clifford Geertz  Culture could be “read” for meaning by the observer  The observed also interprets the culture  The anthropologist works from interpretations of the observers  Led to critical reflections on ethnographic practices

8 Postmodernism  A set of critical and rhetorical practices that tend to destabilize epistemological certainty  Called into question some of anthropology’s most fundamental conceptual architectures  Loosened the bonds entwining anthropology and ethnography

9 Colonial Critique  Anthropology does not acknowledge the history of global inequality that has produced the subject of ethnography  Anthropology distances itself from history by “essentializing” selected traits of observer and observed

10 Crisis of Representation  Ethnography embeds a dyadic relationship with a less powerful person who is a co-producer of knowledge but receives no recognition or voice  Ethnography also embeds an unacknowledged relationship with a reader  On what grounds does the anthropologist assume authority for representing the Other?

11 Crisis of Representation  The most public form of such criticism was Derek Freeman’s re-study of Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa  Freeman charged Mead with misrepresenting Samoan society based on her youth, lack of access to key members, and romanticizing naiveté  Devastating criticism for anthropologists at the time

12 Ontological Status of Culture  An “essentialized” unchanging and integral set of traits ascribed to the subject became suspect  Anthropologists were caught in a dilemma of “salvaging” such traits in societies that their own countries might be trying to “develop”  Anthropologists could no longer represent “cultures” as pristine isolates with integrated features in an equilibrium state

13 Anthropology as Cultural Critique  Anthropology had lost its raison d'être  Public no longer fascinated with exotic cultures and weren’t sure they mattered  A new vision for anthropology:  Cultural critique -- social criticism of the contemporary with a cross-cultural twist

14 Anthropology as Cultural Critique  Two potential pathways to cultural critique:  1) de-familiarization by epistemological critique  2) de-familiarization by cross-cultural juxtaposition  Unfortunately, no one had as yet accomplished either of these feats

15 Enter Foucault  Foucault introduced to American anthropology by Paul Rabinow  Foucault’s method of analysis and language have been widely adopted  Responds to Marcus and Fischer

16 The Foucault Phenomenon  Foucault’s brand of “problematization”  Second order observation  Analytics elevated over theory  Flexible and contingent methods

17 Foucault’s Language and Vision  Biopower  Power/knowledge  Governmentality  A post-theoretical vision of social science  Boutique-like exposition and critique of singularities

18 Anthropology and Ethnography: Quo Vadis?  Ethnographically- informed design  Techno-ethnography in corporate branding  Data analytics or (“Big Data”)  Ethnography  Anthropology

19 Diaspora and the Institutional Anthropologies  Laura Nader: “Study Up”  Diaspora and the “Institutional Anthropologies”  Anthropology at Xerox PARC  Work Practice and Technology Group

20 Ethnographic Practice and Participatory Design  Participatory design practices at PARC gained through collaboration with Scandinavians  Collaboration with civil engineers on site developed prototypes through cooperative design-in-use

21 Ethnographically Informed Design  Ethnography is a resource for the design industry  Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference – EPIC  Critical reflection is an aspect of this practice

22 Ethnography-Branded Firms  Rise of branding and the ethnography- branded firm  Brand distinctions based upon techno- ethnography  Fast technology keeps brand fresh  Cut out the “middle man” observer

23 Techno-ethnography  Re-naming ethnography in terms of technology  Connect self-aware consumers directly to client without “bias of outside observer”  Consumers monitor, organize and assess their own thoughts

24 Why Eliminate the Observer?  Firms reify a vision of social relations based on technology, progress and innovation  Commodification of ethnography  “Problematization” of technology as an object of inquiry

25 National Science Foundation: SBE 2020 Initiative  Call for papers on future of social sciences  252 “white papers”  Topic extraction sbe_2020_  Predicting data intensive research

26 Data Analytics or “Big Data”  Increasing volume and detail of digital information  Health care, retail, manufacturing, personal location, public sector EU  Aggregate, analyze, interpret (includes access, sensitivity)

27 Electronic Health Records  Analyzing large data sets to identify patterns and trends could reduce costs  To what extent are cultural assumptions encoded in these data?  Potential role for anthropology

28 Literature on EMR/EHR  Ethnographers are well represented in the emerging literature  There is a scarcity of anthropologists  Foucault’s concept of power/knowledge should be taken seriously

29 Science, Technology and Society Revisited: What’s Happening to Anthropology and Ethnography?


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