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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.

Core courses

Our Core Course 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 13.00-16.00 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.

Here are some examples of previous practical projects:

Laura Parraga Gonzalez's project [EMBED LINK http://technologyinahouse.blogspot.de/]

Luke Evison's project [EMBED LINK http://intertwinedhomesproject.neocities.org/]

Lousi Evans' project: EMBED LINK [ https://quantifiedhome.wordpress.com/]

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.

Optional Courses

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)

Dissertation

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

Research seminars

Students are invited to be part of a dynamic, contemporary research environment. Weekly seminars over Terms 1 and 2 present the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research into material, visual and digital culture. In 2016, speakers included Joe Dumit (UC Davis), Adrian Mackenzie (University of Lancaster) and Shireen Walton (University of Oxford).

Digital Anthropology co-hosts the Material, Visual and Digital Culture Research Seminar Series and the Anthropology in the Professional World Seminar Series.

Gabriella Coleman's Talk

Watch Gabriella Coleman delivering the "Anonymous and the Craftiness of Craft and the Trickiness of Trickery" talk at UCL

Other activities

There are a number of Reading and Research Groups (RRGs) that students are encouraged to join, on topics as diverse as the anthropology of statistics to human-animal relations. Here is a list of RRGs.

Digital Anthropology MSc students and staff were involved in the preparation and hosting of EPIC in London in September 2013.

MSc student Freddy MacKee revised his dissertation for publication in Social Media + Society: "Social Media in Gay London: Tinder as an Alternative to Hook-Up Apps".


The Digital Anthropology MSc is taught primarily by five members of staff, who together represent the diverse and broad field of digital anthropology. Members of staff from across the UCL Anthropology Department, and from other departments including the Department of Computer Science and Digital Humanities also teach courses and sessions.

Core Staff:

Haidy Geismar 

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

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.


Daniel Miller

Daniel Miller has carried out several research projects on digital 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.

Most recently, Daniel 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 Why We Post project website and blog for further details.

See Prof. Miller's discussion of his Tales from Facebook (on YouTube and Vimeo).


Shireen Walton

Shireen Walton's research focuses on popular digital photography and visual and digital culture in Iran and globally. Before joining the anthropology department at UCL she worked at the Centre of Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford on a research project entitled: Immigration Narratives in the British Press (2016). She also co-facilitated the Oxford Digital Ethnography Group (OxDEG); a hub and seminar series co-established in 2013 with colleagues at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Oxford Internet Institute to develop cross-disciplinary conversations about ethnography in a digital age. More recently she has been developing a digital-ethnographic research project about photography, digital culture and collective memory. This study looks at a specific community from the oil city of Abadan in southwest Iran, who fled to other parts of the country and abroad during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and who are reconnecting online via social media, photography, and digital platforms. More broadly, she is continuing to explore the ongoing transformation of photography – its materialities and networked socialites – in the digital age, along with the role of digital technologies in everyday life.


Antonia Walford

Antonia Walford's research explores the effects of the exponential growth of digital data on social and cultural imaginaries and practices. Her doctoral fieldwork was with climate scientists and technicians in the Brazilian Amazon, and traced out the complex relationship between the contested material practices of scientific digitisation of the Amazon forest, and the social and political effects of the circulation of this data within both the local and the wider scientific knowledge economies. She is revising her thesis into a monograph, provisionally entitled The Nature of Data, the Culture of Data: the digital worlds of climate change science.

Antonia is currently investigating new forms of data politics that underpin current efforts in international observational science to measure, archive and manage the entire Earth - Big Data science. She is interested in how notions such as the ‘person’, ’environment’, ‘politics’ and ‘ownership’ are being mutually reconfigured to fit the shifting contours and liminal dimensions of these informational landscapes -  traversing the gaps between the expert and the civic, the neo-liberal and the grass-roots, the natural and the artificial, and the emancipatory and the neo-colonial. She is also interested in trans-disciplinarity, and has been conducting collaborative work with a colleague from UCL Physics, looking at new forms of relation between the natural and social sciences.

Key Information

Programme starts

September 2017

Location: London, Bloomsbury

Careers

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, the 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.
  • Researcher, River Research
  • Principal Lecturer and Course Director, University of the Arts, London
  • Assistant Print Analyst, GroupM
  • Graduate Worker, Dare
Employability

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.

Careers data is taken from the ‘Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education’ survey undertaken by HESA looking at the destinations of UK and EU students in the 2012–2014 graduating cohorts six months after graduation.

Degree last modified on 6 January 2017 at 11:58 by UCL Publications & Marketing Services. Please contact us for content updates.

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.

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."