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 adding up to 180 credits.
Our Core Course (2015-2016) stretches over two terms and is worth 45 credits (25% of the overall mark). Every other week we will meet in a small group seminar and work through core issues in Digital Anthropology. This includes weeks on Digital Identities, Cyborgs, Digital Work, Digital Property Forms, and Digital Images. These weeks introduce a core analytic framework underscoring the importance of global, comparative, and ethnographic perspectives on digital technologies.
This core seminar is typically convened 11.00-1.00 on Mondays.
Digital Anthropology Core Practical
All students take practical training modules, for which they meet for two hours every other week. This will allow students to be guided through the different stages and tools needed to study digital practices and work with digital technologies during ethnographic research. 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. 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 ([: ]).
Following the award of a UCL Grant for Teaching Innovation we also offer a series of high level workshops on new forms of data analysis. The workshops, which will be held by experts, will cover topics such as big data visualisation, web analytics, smart cities and citizen science.
The Core course is assessed through two 2500 word essays (the best mark counts for 33% of the Core) and a digital project, drawn from the practicals, which counts for 33%.
The core course is also evaluated through a 2 hour essay based exam, undertaken in May, which counts for 34% of the Core mark.
Over the year, Students take three optional courses (each counting for 15 credits, or 8.33% of the overall mark). These courses are examined by one essay each of 2-3,000 words.
Sample courses available of relevance to Digital Anthropology students include:
- The Anthropology of Social Media
- From Analog to Digital: Museums, Knowledge and Classification into the digital age
- Material and Visual Culture
- The Anthropology of Digital Infrastructures
- Anthropology of Art and Design
- Anthropology and Photography
- Anthropology of Media and Consumption
- Documentary film and the Anthropological Eye
- Ethnographic Filmmaking
Details are provided below on the most relevant options taught within the department.
There are also a number of other relevant courses in other departments which are open to Digital Anthropology Students subject to approval by the course tutors:
- Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities (Digital Humanities)
- Knowledge representation and semantic technologies (Digital Humanities)
- Affective Interaction (UCLIC)
- Understanding Useability and Use (UCLIC)
- Interfaces and Interactivity (UCLIC)
- Sociotechnical Systems: IT and the Future of Work (UCLIC)
- Smart Systems Theories (Bartlett)
- Geographic Informations Systems and Science (Bartlett)
Each student works closely with a dissertation supervisor in term 2 to develop their individual research projects which are then undertaken during term 3 and the summer and which culminates in a 15,000 word dissertation to be submitted by September 15th. This will count for 50% of the overall mark (90 credits).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 Materials Anthropology 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.
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.
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.
In addition to its importance for careers such as in 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, UCL Computer Sciences, UCL Information Studies, Microsoft Research Cambridge, Skype, Intel, British Museum, NESTA, NOKIA, the HOme Office and Inventi V.
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, UCL Digital Humanities and UCL Urban Laboratory.
Top career destinations for this degree
- Digital Strategist, Canopy Brand Group
- E-Learning Services Manager, UCL
- User Experience Researcher, Big Fish Games
- Social Media Analyst, Sitel
- Community Co-ordinator, The Open Knowledge Foundation
New media and technology companies are showing considerable interest in Digital Anthropology as a degree that qualifies students for positions in all fields of user interaction and research. In the last few years students graduating from the MSc have been recruited by the best international agencies doing research on users' digital practices. In the non-profit sector students have joined organisations involved in policymaking, open access and citizen journalism. The subject is also a good grounding for students who are interested in continuing to a variety of PhD programmes.
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.
Internships at inVentiv Health
UCL Digital Anthropology has been collaborating with inVentiv Health since March 2015 to offer an internship programme to it’s MSc students.
Working with inVentiv’s digital and innovation team based in central London, the internship provides an opportunity to apply digital anthropology thinking and approaches in a commercial setting, understanding the impact of digital technology on people’s health behaviours.
Beyond this, the internship offers participants exposure to a wide
range of business disciplines related to healthcare communications, including
advertising, PR, medical communications and management consultancy, working
with colleagues and clients across Europe and the US.
Quote from Mark, one of our 2014-15 MSc students:
"I was brought in to work on one 4-week social media listening project, investigating the “buzz” around a single medication, but when that project was put on hold, the digital team at InVentiv instead let me help them with various other projects that they were working on at the time. In addition to the original social listening project, which eventually was resumed by my third week, I was able to help by mapping patient journeys, investigating product competitors’ online presence in multiple markets and languages, and contributed to brainstorms with members of international teams. The experience of applying digital anthropology in the office rather than in a classroom was exciting, because it made me look at what I’ve learned in a new way, and apply lessons to situations I had not thought of before. The digital team at InVentiv is a small group of people within a large network of businesses, so I was able to experience nearly all aspects of what it means to work there, and as a masters student straight out of undergrad, the cooperation and teamwork within the team in every project really prepared me for my entry into the working world."