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The Centre for Anthropology aims to be the leading research hub which locates digital technologies in the rich context of human society and culture... full description


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The volume edited by Heather Horst and Daniel Miller is the manifesto for the Centre of Digital Anthropology and is the handbook for the Master... full description

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Programme Components

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The MSc in Digital Anthropology is based on the following components:

Core

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.

The 2012/13 seminar topics included:

  1. Introduction
  2. Bourdieu (1984) Distinction
  3. Strassler (2010) Refracted Visions
  4. Boellstorf (2010) Coming of Age in Second Life
  5. Practitioners Profile: Gell/Ingold
  6. Practitioners Profile: Appadurai/Taussig
  7. Reading Week
  8. Practitioners Profile: Latour/Forsythe
  9. Marxism, Benjamin & Foucault
  10. Structuralism and Poststructuralism
  11. Phenomenology

Alongside this course, Digital Anthropology students will take a second core course focused exclusively on developing an analytic framework and overview of Digital Anthropology.

The readings in the spring are largely built around Miller & Horst's Digital Anthropology (2012).

Digital Anthropology Core Seminar for 2012/13 included:

  1. The Digital and the Human
  2. Rethinking 'Digital' Anthropology
  3. Free Culture
  4. Digital Technologies and Indigenous People in the Congo Basin
  5. Approaches to Personal Communication
  6. Reading Week
  7. Geomedia
  8. Polymedia and Cultural Relativism
  9. Digital Anthropology in Design Anthropology
  10. New Media Technologies in Everyday Life
  11. Digital Politics and Political Engagement

Both courses are examined by a combination of a 2-3,000 word course work essay, a methodology practical, and a written examination at the end of the year.


Methods Training

Typically 16-18 sessions are convened within the Research Methods seminar over the academic year. These sessions are made available to all masters students, and while only six are usually compulsory for students in the Digital Anthropology programme they may attend as many as they wish. In 2011/12, the Research Methods seminar included the following sessions:

  • Participant observation
  • Investigating kinship and relatedness
  • Investigating space and place
  • Notes, categories, organisation
  • Ritual
  • Language and culture
  • Photography
  • Interviews
  • Historical sources
  • Ethnographic writing
  • Fieldnotes
  • Film
  • Questionnaires I & II (including sampling)
  • Internet research
  • Participatory Rural Appraisal I & II

Please note: this sequence is subject to change in 2012/13.


Digital Anthropology 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


The Digital & Visual Culture Lab

The Digital & Visual Culture Laboratory is a dedicated space within the Anthropology Department for practical instruction, project development, and experimentation in research methodology and digital media production. The Lab provides access to a wide variety of applications via UCL's WTS (Windows Terminal Service), including:

  • Atlas.ti and NUD-IST (qualitative analysis of textual and multimedia data)
  • ArcGIS (a GIS or geographical information system)
  • Dreamweaver 8 (web page/web site development environment)
  • Google Sketchup Pro (a computer-aided design or CAD package)
  • Nvivo (qualitative analysis of textual and multimedia data)
  • SPSS (statistical analysis)

We also employ a set of portable digital video fieldkits developed in-house for the rapid, flexible acquisition of qualitative video data in support of the practicals and student projects.


Seminar Series and Special Events:

Finally, during the both terms there will also be weekly Material, Visual, and Digital Culture public seminars with invited speakers on Mondays at 4.30-6.00 (usually followed afterwards by drinks in the department and dinner in a nearby inexpensive restaurant). The Digital Anthropology program also hosts a seminar on Anthropology in the Professional World in which practitioners are invited to present and discuss their work in industry and the media.

All students are required to attend both of these seminar series and will be given opportunities to meet and network with all speakers.


Dissertation

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.


Options

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.

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).

Anthropology of Art & Design

The course is aimed at those who wish to deepen their understanding the place of art and design in society. We will identify the performative, textured and material dimensions of artworks and products of design through cross-cultural case studies and explore the role of the material aesthetic in a world dominated increasingly by digital media and modalities of communication.

Alfred Gell 1998, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory
Alison Clark 2010, Design Anthropology
Svasek, M. 2007., Anthropology, Art and Cultural Production, Pluto Press
Morphy, H. and M. Perkins 2005, The Anthropology of Art, Blackwell
Pinney, C. and N. Thomas (eds) 2001, Beyond Aesthetics: Art and the Technology of Enchantment, Oxford: Berg
Bourdieu, P. 1996, The Rules of Art, Polity
Mason, Peter 2001, The Lives of Images, Reaktion Books

Anthropology and Photography

This course has three central purposes: to provide a historical introduction to the way in which anthropologists have used photography, to provide a grounding in photographic theory, and to encourage students to think how they might best use photography in their own anthropological projects. We will explore how photography was used both before and after the systematization of fieldwork as the central anthropological method, explore criticisms of photography's "externality", and look at recent ethnographies of "vernacular" photographic practices. The course is assessed by an essay and a portfolio.

Anthropology of Media & Consumption

This is a specialist course for postgraduate students only.

The intention of this course is to provide students with an introduction to a relatively new area of study and one that hopefully points some directions towards the future of material culture and anthropological studies. It will not attempt to provide comprehensive and `fair' coverage of the literature in the manner of a second year course. Instead the course will try to bridge the gap between taught courses and academic research work by using the term to pursue certain research ideas and show their value in exploring new areas. The structure of the course follows from this intention. The first part of the term is devoted to different ways we can consider the relationship between media and social relations, this includes an examination of social networking sites, of blogging and of cybersex as well as more traditional forms of media. The final week of this section examines a current research project that tries to assess the impact of new media on long distance parenting by Filipinos. The second part of the term looks at consumption starting with the background literature from various disciplines. It then examines the larger context for modern consumption in the study of capitalism and particular facets of capitalism such as the advertising industry. We then examine consumption in non-capitalist contexts, followed by a study of how people accumulate and divest themselves of goods. A week devoted to a theory of consumption is followed by its application to the study of the home and Christmas as a festival of the home. The course ends with a consideration of theories of value and objectification and the wider poltical and environmental consequences turning to the impact of the internet and mobile phone in the Caribbean.

Week 1 : Old Media
Media Production and Consumption Soap Opera

Week 2 : New Media (Caribbean)
Internet Studies and Mobile Phones

Week 3 : Media & Relationships
Relationships sex and cybersex

Week 4 : Media & Relationships 2
Facebook and social network sites; the Philippines and migration; parenting by New Media

Week 5: reading week

Week 6 : Migration and Media
Impact of media on transnational relationships

Week 7 : Approaches to Consumption
What is consumption, where does it lead? Disciplinary approaches to consumption

Week 8 : Advertising and Capitalism
Local and global consequences of consumption

Week 9: Home and Shopping
Consumtion in the private sphere including the domestic, shopping and the festival of Christmas

Week 10 : Theory: Objectification, Virtualism, and Value

Anthropology of the Built Environment

Buildings are good to think with. This course will explore anthropological approaches to the study of architectural forms. It will focus primarily on the significance of domestic space and public private boundaries, gender and body, the materiality of architectural forms and materials and the study of architectural representations. The course will be structured chronologically beginning with early anthropological encounters with built forms and the philosophical, historical and social context of these approaches up to the present day within anthropology.

Advanced Topics in Digital Culture

The course presents recent ethnographies of emerging digital practices and discuss the social contexts in which they are developing. Every week students will read a book which presents an ethnography of a digital phenomenon from hacking, to gaming to communication. Some of the areas we will cover are the use of digital channels in migration, the impact of ICT in the workplace, online virtual communities and gaming, new digital property forms and economies, and new processes of digitization. Key questions asked are: what is new and different about our engagement with digital technologies? Do digital technologies and practices alter or perpetuate continuities in social relationships, hierarchies and political structures? What does it mean to be off line in a digital age? What kinds of new subjectivities and publics do digital practices bring into being? All of this will be folded into a wider discussion about developing critical tools and methods to understand emergent digital worlds.

Documentary Film and the Anthropological Eye

Through the presentation of a range of ethnographic, documentary, fiction and ‘current affairs/news’ films (including historic material) we will explore the ways in which film can frame and convey ethnographic investigation. We will look at the basic possibilities and limitations of film for going beyond traditional written ethnography to communicate the significance, style and substance of other modes of life as well as considering film as a distinct means to explore social interaction through what you might describe as its ‘call to performance.’
Against the grain of current trends, rather than read films ‘intertextually,’ or as part of a closed world of ‘discourse’ we will endeavour, together, to discover the historical and social contexts in which filmic ethics and aesthetics have developed. It has become fashionable to lament a past when ethnographers were ‘orientalists.’ One of the dangers of such interpretive strategies is that they tend to glorify ourselves in a distorted mirror of ‘post modern otherness’. This course will encourage you to question such naïve (and patronising) approaches.

Practical Ethnographic and Documentary Filmmaking (Lab-Based)

The course will train students in the practical and creative skills of video and digital technology to represent and document social and ethnographic research to a broadcast standard. For anthropology students there will be a requirement to complete a film theory or film history course as well (ANTHGS17 or ANTHGC19). Each student will be assessed on the quality of a 10-15 minute short documentary to be devised, shot and edited during the course by each student. This course will entail a lab fee for UCL students of £1,000 on top of any fee for a Masters degree to cover the staff costs of putting on this course. Students will have full access to the UCL Anthropology Audio Visual lab with 11 Final Cut Pro enabled Macs as well as cameras for the duration of the course. Students and others from outside UCL may take this course, for an unsubsidised rate of £1,300. Students who bring their own cameras will be reimbursed £180.

Social Construction of Landscape

This interdisciplinary courses cross-cuts the boundaries of anthropology, archaeology, history and human geography to examine the relationships between landscape and the construction of social identities in the present and the past. Topics include: landscapes, biographies and identities; social values and contested landscapes, concepts of nature and culture, phenomenological approaches to experiencing landscapes, ways of walking, urban landscapes and globalization, landscape gardens and ordinary domestic gardens, the landscapes of Stonehenge. Assessment involves a written project individually chosen by students in consultation with the course tutor. This may involve the use of film and other digital technologies.

Transforming and Creating the World

This seminar series will approach two interrelated topics: the first is the question of technology within anthropology and other social sciences. The second will consider objects as “processes-made-things”, that is, objects as the coalescence of what we call “practices”, “techniques”. Technology is always about more than material production, but can in fact recruit and produce ontologies and meta-physics. Through this perspective, we hope to investigate how an anthropology of techniques (disentangled from its colonial and determinist past) contributes to our understanding of the relations between material culture, environment and sociality. Our exploration might take us through a series of examples ranging from indigenous gardening systems to modern transport technology, and from carving or cooking to rituals and magical operations, as well as digital technology. Complementing contemporary approaches of material culture, and issues of heritage, environment, development and technical innovation, these anthropological analyses of techniques show how to link body, mind and materiality through the course of choices, strategies, and actions on materials.

Risk, Power and Uncertainty

This course sets out to explore risk, power and uncertainty. Why so? Because, increasingly, late modern settings come to be specified and evaluated in terms of the hazards, risks and uncertainties they appear to generate: more so, perhaps, than the inequities, oppressions and alienations that formerly characterised the social analysis of modern malaise. The extent of this shift; the reasons for it; the place of power in its operation; its socio-cultural (and indeed, cosmological) implications are all matters of controversy that need to be rigorously examined. The course begins with a brief survey of pre-modern notions of fate, destiny and magical protection; moves onto consider key contributions in the anthropology of risk (Douglas); assesses the applicability of the concept of 'chaos' in socio-cultural anthropology; and concludes with a critical examination of the sociology of 'the risk society' (Beck) and associated ideas. The second part of the course tackles a series of special issues chosen from areas of science, environment, medicine, politics, marginality, material culture, art, finance, gambling and extreme play. It is intended that the course will link together social, biological and material cultural trends in contemporary anthropology.

Religious Symbolism

This course aims to familiarise the student with the major anthropological approaches to religion. Different topics will be studied week by week and will include belief, magic and science, possession/shamanism, religious experience and reflexivity, the Protestant ethic, new religions, syncretism and fundamentalism. A solid background knowledge of social anthropology will be assumed.

Anthropology of Nationalism, Ethnicity and Race

This course focuses on theories and practices of ethnicity, race and nationalism. The reading material is divided between theoretical work on these issues and a variety of ethnographic examples. Though most of the readings are contemporary, historical sources will be used as well. The course will combine lectures, seminar discussion, student presentations, and a few relevant films. Attendance at all sessions is a requirement.

Please note: not every course is available in every year.