Postgraduate Taught Programmes Officer
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The masters in digital anthropology met my professional and personal interest in understanding how life is being experienced by people at a time when digital technology appears to be changing the rules.
Nik Pollinger, London, PR person and digital anthropologist in progress
MSc Digital Anthropology
About the programme
The MSc in Digital Anthropology is a cutting-edge taught postgraduate programme that combines professional development and methods training with a solid grounding in anthropological theory and critical analysis. Based within the Material Culture section of the UCL Anthropology Department, the MSc is the first program to embed digital studies so deeply within anthropology. We locate the complex field of information and communication technologies, digital media and tools in a global, comparative context, using the rich tools of field-based methods and their commitment to long-term study and community.
Digital technologies have become ubiquitous. From mobile phones, personal computers, to public records keeping, voting, and surgical procedures. Increasingly every aspect of many peoples lives is experienced digitally. Museum displays migrate to the internet, family communication in the diaspora is dominated by new media, labour is intermingled with automated systems. More and more people are defined by their exclusion from these new digital worlds, even as they may provide the raw materials for these digital infrastructures. As well as studying the differential take-up of digital technologies, today's students need to become proficient with digital technologies as research and communication tools, to understand their histories and limitations. In the MSc students will be trained for further research and involvement in this emergent world through introduction to anthropological methods, to critical thinking from an anthropological perspective, and a specific engagement with key sites and practices in which people interact with digital technologies around the world.
This programme is suitable both for those with a prior degree in anthropology but also for those with degrees in other disciplines who wish to be trained in anthropological and related approaches to digital culture. In addition to our intensive practical and research methods and theory-based seminars, students will have the opportunity to network with practitioners through seminar series and workshops, to arrange internships, and develop their own intensive research projects.
The MSc in Digital Anthropology is based on the following components:
In term one Digital Anthropology students are required to take two core courses (comprising taught lectures and small group seminars). The first will be taken alongside students in Material and Visual Culture, and Culture, Materials and Design, which introduces them to a core analytic framework of understanding the importance of objects, materials, and materiality in social worlds.
This core seminar is typically convened 1.00-4.00 on Mondays.
Digital Anthropology students will take a second core course in the spring term focused exclusively on developing an analytic framework and overview of Digital Anthropology. The readings in the spring are largely built around Miller & Horst's textbook Digital Anthropology (2012).
Digital Anthropology Core Practical
In term two, all students take practical training module in digital anthropology (two hours a week) This will allow students to be guided through the different stages and tools needed to study digital practices. Working intensively on a single, common ethnographic project, students will be required to commit to a small fieldwork project and will be guided through a number of different methods on a weekly basis. Some training in software tools for presenting and visualizing research will also be given. In the past students have worked on the idea of “Digital London”, and on a comparison of digital technologies and practices in London home environments (example of practical project).
This term we have obtained a Grant for Teaching Innovation and in 2013/2014 we will be able to offer a series of high level workshops on new forms of data analysis. The workshops, which will be held by experts, will cover big data visualisation, web analytics, smart cities and citizen science
Over the year, Students take three optional courses, at least two of which are typically from among those taught by Material & Visual Culture staff. These courses are examined by one essay each of 2-3,000 words.
Sample courses available of relevance to Digital Anthropology students include:
- Anthropology of Art and Design
- Anthropology and Photography
- Anthropology of Media and Consumption
- Documentary film and the Anthropological Eye
- Advanced Topics in Digital Culture
Details are provided below on the most relevant options taught within the department. Additional options can be found online under their respective postgraduate programmes, and may also be available in other UCL departments (e.g. Information Studies) or other schools within the University of London system).Maximum 5 courses, no course description needed
Formal classes are not convened during term 3, but the research seminars typically continue and shortly after the first week of the term, the exam is administered. Following the exam, students typically complete their research and writing proposals and any preparations for fieldwork for their MSc dissertations. A 15,000 word dissertation to be submitted by September 15th of each yearnducting under the supervision of a member of the material and visual culture staff, on an agreed topic. This will count for 50% of the overall mark.
Some recent titles of MSc dissertations include:
- Azeez, Ola-Walé (2011) Towards Revolution 2.0: Digital Communications Media in Cairo Under the State of Emergency
- Cook, Chloe (2011) Computer Says No? An Exploration of Technological Breakdowns in Office Life
- Spyer, Juliano (2011) Making Up Art, Videos and Fame: The Creation of Social Order in the Informal Realm of YouTube Beauty Gurus Sreberny-
- Mohammadi, Leili (2010) Digitally Green: Vision and Visibility in Post-election Iran
- Wojnarowska, Anna (2011) Bodily Integrity and Technological Struggles: How Patients and Staff Cope With the Reality of the Hospital
Gabriella Coleman's Talk
Watch Gabriella Coleman delivering the "Anonymous and the Craftiness of Craft and the Trickiness of
Trickery" talk at UCL
Digital Anthropology co-hosts the Material, Visual and Digital Culture Research Seminar Series and the Anthropology in the Professional World Seminar Series.
Digital Anthropology MSc students and staff were involved in the preparation and hosting of EPIC in London in Septemebr 2013. For more information visit the EPIC conference webpage.
Current Course Tutors:
Buchli works on architecture, domesticity, the archaeology of the recent past, critical understandings of materiality and new technologies and the anthropology of sustainability and design. He also teaches on the UCL Urban Studies MSc and supervises on the Mphil/PhD programme at the Bartlett and serves on the Board of the Victoria and Albert/Royal College of Art MA History of Design Programme. He has conducted fieldwork in Russia, Britain and more recently in Kazakhstan, where he concluded research based on a neigbourhood ethnography in the new capitol of Astana, Kazakhstan, examining questions of materiality, architecture and urbanism in the post-socialist period. In addition, he is writing a new book Immateriality which examines the significance of material cultures that paradoxically attempt to deny their own physicality and another entitled The Anthropology of Architecture (Berg 2011). Currently he is starting new research in new materials and new technologies examining the rise of rapid manufacturing or 3-D printing. This research is part of a co-organised ESRC funded intiative entitled New Materials, New Technologies with Susanne Kuechler and Graeme Were in UCL Anthropology and Materials Sciences at Kings College London. In addition, he is a member of the Eco-Town Delivery Consortium: an industry based knowledge transfer initiative examining the development of carbon neutral living through which he is conducting a long term ethnographic project ‘Assembling the Carbon Neutral Subject’ and supervising research into the anthropology of ecologically sustainable development and design. More recently he has begun work as a member of the interdisciplinary Templeton Scholars Group on the origins of domesticity at the Neolithic site of Çatal Höyük in Turkey where he is examining long term culture change and processes of material iteration and innovation.
Areas: Melanesia, Polynesia, Australia, Africa (Mali, Madagascar)
Topics: exchanges, rituals, magic, food, aesthetics, materials, environment, heritage, innovation, methodology, history of theories.
Approaches: archaeology and ethno-archaeology, art history, Science and Technology Studies, Frankfurt School, non-linear theory, structuralism/post-structuralism, praxeology, ergonomy, cognition.
My main field research is in Oceania, and I did fieldwork in the Sepik area of Papua New Guinea. My doctoral thesis dealt with the cultivation and display of the Abelam’s long yams in Maprik area.
My research interests so far have focused on the study of the relationships between people and things through two related angles: techniques and arts, especially in the Pacific area (mainly Melanesia, Polynesia and Australia). This implies investigating knowledge, materials and skills as well as addressing dimensions such as rituals and aesthetics in relation to social dynamics and environment.
Following Mauss’s footsteps, my approaches combine Francophone anthropology of techniques (Leroi-Gourhan, Lemonnier), with Anglophone material culture studies, as well as archaeological and ethno-archaeological approaches. Other theoretical interests include the history of anthropology, notably the relationships between the different anthropological traditions, regarding the treatment of material culture and art.
Incoming book: Growing Artefacts, Displaying Relationships: Yams, Art and Technology amongst the Abelam of Papua New Guinea (Berghahn Books).
Based on my study of the decorated long yams of the Abelam in a contemporary Papua New Guinea village, my book asks the following question: “How does one make artefacts beautiful and powerful enough to act simultaneously as symbols, valuables and images?” Through the combination of anthropology of material culture, anthropology of art and anthropology of techniques, I unravel the process of making, decorating and displaying these long yams, and I show how this process merge agricultural techniques, social interactions, and cosmological knowledge. In the course of the book, after discussing the debated positions of techniques and arts within anthropological studies, I also address theoretical issues on agency of art, technology and determinism, as well as on exchanges, rituals and aesthetics.
Adam Drazin is an anthropologist who works on design and with designers. He obtained his PhD in anthropology at UCL in 2001, on the material culture of care in Romania. For the last three years, he has been lecturing in Ireland at Trinity College Dublin on themes including material culture, globalisation and migration, gender and the home.
Adam is running the new MA programme in Culture, Materials and Design. He aims to promote the broad spectrum of ways in which anthropology engages with design and materials, and explore how dialogues with institutions in the private and public sectors can advance anthropological understandings, particularly through the use of object-focussed design methodologies.
In the past, he has conducted postdoctoral research in Ireland on Irish-romanian homes and constructions of openness, and has worked as a design anthropologist with engineers and designers in companies including Intel and HP Labs. This latter work has included work on memory and remembering, the material culture of ageing, and the intersection of mobility and isolation in later life. He has also lectured in anthropology at NUI Maynooth and Dublin Business School; and has taught ethnographic methodologies to design students at the RCA in London, NCAD Dublin, and TU/e Eindhoven. He is an external examiner for the Glasgow School of Art’s BDes and MDes programmes, and has published in a number of journals and collections.
Haidy Geismar has a PhD in Anthropology and Material Culture from UCL (2003). She has long term fieldwork experience in both the South Pacific and within museums, in the Pacific, North America and Europe where she has worked both with South Pacific and with photography collections. She is particularly interest in the legal regimes and cultural frameworks through which culture is owned and has a book forthcoming from Duke University Press, which looks at the ways in which intellectual and cultural property regimes are articulated in the museums and cultural centres of Vanuatu and New Zealand. Recently she has been researching the digitization of cultural collections, the incorporation of indigenous protocols into museum databases and she is in the early stages of a book looking at new practices and forms of digital photography. Dr. Geismar is also founder and chief editor of the Material World blog and has worked extensively with digital tools to enhance teaching and research practices.
Hannah Knox is a Social Anthropologist and her research is
concerned with understanding processes of social and political transformation
through the ethnographic study of technical relations and expert practices. Over
the years her work has moved from a focus on struggles over knowledge and
expertise to incorporate the role that materials of different kinds play in
shaping techno-political relations. She has conducted research with new media
entrepreneurs and economic development practitioners in the UK, IT managers and
digital modellers in global corporations, and road construction and design
engineers in Peru. Most recently she has been studying the politics of energy
and climate change in a project that has been following the pursuit of carbon
reduction strategies by a network of scientists, activists and local authority
officers in Manchester, UK.
Hannah gained her PhD from the University of Manchester in 2003 and joins UCL from the ESRC Centre for Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) at the University of Manchester where she has worked since 2004. She is the co-editor of ‘Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion’ (2013), and a monograph resulting from her work on road construction in Peru is due to be published with Cornell University Press in 2015.
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Küchler is currently working on a new manuscript, which develops the theoretical implications of her past ethnographic research into the making of sculpture and the cognitive work of images. The Material Mind takes insights into the nature of innovation, won during long-term and collaborative research on the take up and transformation of cloth in the Pacific, to the context of the development of ‘mindware’ in laboratories. The manuscript offers a critical review of the existing theorisation of the aesthetics of the material [Materialästhetik] and sets out a new vision for the study of sculptural art and design, which takes into account the interface between the material and the cognitive as symptomatic of knowledge economies. Geographical: South Pacific; Papua New Guinea, New Ireland; Polynesia, the Cook Islands. And laboratories. September 2005-July2006: Invited Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin: The library research conducted during the year of residency concerned the evolving technology and fabrics supporting wearable computing and investigated its implications for the theory and methodology of material culture and anthropology. ‘Smart’ clothes and ambient intelligence provoke questions of how notions of mind and of life inform and are informed by prototyping, where it is the functionality of collections of artefacts which supports systemic relations between artefacts, and where a sociality with objects is mediated by such inter-artefactual relations. The initial work on the manuscript also concerned itself with a critique of current work on innovation, directing attention to the need for anthropological research to be conducted on the social history of the prototype in order to develop new methodologies and theories capable of handling emerging futures.
2011-2012: Developing geographic information systems for non-literate users. ESRI (the leading GIS manufacturers in the world - products include ArcInfo and ArcGIS) have committed $150,000 to bring me to work with their prototype laboratory in California on developing a stand alone GIS application for use by non-literate users - focusing on hunter-gatherers in the Congo Basin involved in ‘extreme’ citizen science. 2011-2012: Monitoring poaching and illegal hunting. Developing mapping software for non-literate hunter-gatherers to identify and map illegal hunting activities. With First Peoples Worldwide, Wildlife Conservation Society, Helveta Ltd. and Congolaise Industriel de Bois. US$20,000 2005- Ongoing: Extreme Citizen Science. Making tools and developing methodologies for scientifically valid data collection to be done by non-literate people. Together with Helveta, a UK firm specialising in traceability and monitoring software, I designed prize-winning icon-driven mapping software for palm-top GPS units to enable non-literate hunter-gatherers to map key resources they want to protect from damage by loggers. The system is now being used in Cameroon, Central African Republic and Nigeria and will soon be used in Gabon. Interest has been expressed for work in Ethiopia and Indonesia.
Miller has carried several research projects on the media which have resulted in publications including The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach (with D. Slater) Berg: Oxford 2000 and The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication (with H Horst) Berg: Oxford 2006, Tales from Facebook Polity 2011, and with Dr. M Madianou of Cambridge University Migration and New Media: transnationalism and polymedia (Routledge Sept 2011). He is currently working on the impact of social networking and webcam on transnational relationships and within Trinidad.
Beginning in 2012 he will lead a team of researchers (funded via a £2.1 million ERC grant) in a major cross-cultural study of social networking spanning seven countries and five years. See the UCL-hosted project website and blog for further details.
In addition to its importance for careers such as media, design and museums, digital technology is also integral to development, theoretical and applied anthropology. Companies and Institutions collaborating with the MSc are: British Telecom,
Department of Computer Sciences UCL, Department of Information Studies, UCL, Microsoft Research Cambridge, Skype, Intel, British Museum and NOKIA.
The programme is also developing relationships with: Cultural Informatics Research Centre for the Arts and Humanities (CIRCAh), Slade Centre for Electronic Media in Fine Art, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Centre for Museums, Heritage and Cultural Studies, UCL Interaction Centre and UCL Urban Laboratory.
Find out more about London graduates' careers by visiting the Careers Group (University of London) website:
As well as developing critical academic skills in anthropological engagement with digital technologies and cultures the practical components of the course allow students to develop skills useful to careers in industry, market research, and other digital research environments. Students have gone on to work in design consultancy, digital agencies, and corporate research environments. Many students also go on to further graduate work, at UCL, and elsewhere.
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