Researchers at the Centre for Digital Anthropology explore the diverse ways in which digital technologies are affecting human experience.
Through teaching, research and a dynamic series of regular events, we encourage a global perspective on the development, structures, and practices of digital technologies. Our researchers work in Trinidad, Peru, Vanuatu, Switzerland, France, Romania, Turkey, Middle East, Brazil, The UK, China, India, Italy and work on social networks, webcams, digital museum collections, big data, digital models, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, with automated work systems, and with mobile phones.
How does the current coronavirus pandemic affect people across the world? The ethnographic research project below aims to be a repository of documentation evidencing the experience of COVID-19, with a particular focus on the role of digital technologies in responding to the crisis. It is sourced from students, researchers, healthcare workers, and indeed anyone who wishes to participate.
Our work is organised under six core research themes.
- Smart Phones, Social Media and Everyday Life
Theme Lead: Daniel Miller
This research theme is based on using comparative ethnography to assess the consequences of new digital media. The initial project – Why We Post, resulted in eleven Open Access volumes published by UCL Press examining the way populations have transformed social media across nine fieldsites. Currently the ASSA (The Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing) project is investigating the smartphone, based on its use by older people and in relation to their health and welfare. Fieldsites include Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, China, East Jerusalem, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Uganda.
- ASSA The Anthropology of Smartphones, Smart Ageing and mHealth
- Why We Post: Global Social Media Impact Study
- Objects and Collections in a Digital Age
Theme Lead: Haidy Geismar
This theme covers research on museums, galleries and collections and the study of digital objects. Projects under this theme include Can you Wear a Digital Cloak, a collaboration with researchers in Massey University (Kura Puke and Stuart Foster) to experiment with the digitization of a Maori cloak in the UCL Ethnography Collections. The project has resulted in a number of presentations, exhibitions and publications as well as the first ever virtual marae, projecting Maori elders and customary authorities into UCL's Octagon Gallery. The theme also considers broader issues associated with the digitisation of collections as explored in Museum Object Lessons for the Digital Age which was published in 2018 with UCL press.
- Data and Society
Theme Lead: Tone Walford
This theme addresses the social implications of emerging data worlds. Research under this theme has explored the cultural bases of data and its organisation, as explored in a recent edited collection in the journal Cultural Anthropology where we asked 'Is there an ontology to the digital?'. Other projects include the creation of an online museum of data and investigations into the relationship between digital data and ethnography as explored in a Ethnography for a Data Saturated World, published in October 2018.
- Hannah Knox's website about her recent work on data: https://dataethnography.net/
- Infrastructures of Digital Life
Theme Lead: Hannah Knox
Research taking place within this theme considers the infrastructural dimensions of our digital lives. It explores how old and new technologies, from roads to algorithms, electricity infrastructures to climate models, shape human experiences of living in the world. Here our research explores both what kinds of things technologies are, and the social impacts that they bring about. Research in this theme is both historically and culturally comparative.
- A poem on electricity by Haidy Geismar
- Finding Photography. As part of the Andrew Mellon Foundation Funded Project Encounters on the Shop Floor (https://www.vam.ac.uk/research/projects/vari-encounters-on-the-shop-floor#outcomes), Haidy Geismar is working in collaboration with Pip Laurenson (Head of Collections Care Research, Tate to track and explore the networks of material and skill underpinning contemporary art photography. Fieldwork has been undertaken with conservators, artists and with photographic printers working in Fitzrovia to understand how skills migrate between photographic medium, how practices in photographic printing overcome or negotiate with obsolescence, and how digital work encompasses analogue skills (and vice versa). The project has been presented in many Florence and Chicago (https://vimeo.com/216498593) and has two forthcoming publications.
- It was Ours Anyway. An Energy Walk in Manchester organised by Hannah Knox
- Hacking the Future of Energy. An Energy Hack Lab organised by Hannah Knox
- Digital infrastructure course blog from 2016, 2017 and 2018.
- Design and Experiment
Theme Lead: Jerome Lewis
This theme brings together research projects that are using anthropology in the design of digital artefacts. This includes projects like the ExCites Citizen Science project which has developed research applications to use with non-literate communities in forest communities, collaborative design-research focused on rethinking digital energy infrastructures in the UK, and investigations into the place of data in office design.
- Digital Anthropology Methods Lab
Theme Lead: Hannah Knox
The Digital Anthropology Methods Lab is dedicated to exploring new methodological futures for digital anthropology. Projects include the Social Life of Methods a network of researchers looking into the way in which methods shape worlds, the Museum of Data, explorations into how to bring data into ethnography, new techniques in visual ethnography, ethnographic approaches to social media analysis and the bringing together of quantitative and qualitative methods in collaborative research in relation to data-driven issues such as climate change and vaccination. It also includes the UCL Multimedia Anthropology Lab, a group of students and staff exploring how to do anthropology 'beyond text'.
This theme also showcases the work of our MSc Students who have been creating digital ethnographies as part of the course. Examples of innovative digital ethnography projects that they have been creating can be viewed here:
- Digital Ethnographies of Home 2016
- Digital Ethnographies in London 2017
- Digital Ethnographies of Markets 2018