I'm just getting involved in the field and so I am really curious what others (perhaps other with more experience) think what digital anthropology is?
How would you define digital anthropology?
Is it merely applying new technologies to old techniques or does it represent a paradigm shift?
What are some recent ethnographic examples of digital anthropology in action?
Who are some of the leading theorists?
Dan, Thanks for getting this going. I am not sure going for definition is the best place to start. I made the same point in the Economic Anthropology discussion group. I prefer to start from questions and then it is not certain that the answers would come best from carving out a subfield of anthropology. The question I asked myself was What is it about us and our times that future generations will be most interested in? And this being the height of the dotcom boom 90s, my answer was "the digital revolution in communications". I still think it is true. This whole platform would have been unimaginable five years ago. I think that anthropology will find its true metier by engaging with the social and technical possibilities unfolding now.
If we are going to embrace the term 'digital anthropology', we need to examine the meaning of the digital-analog pair.
And I would say another strategic issue of some importance is whether to examine the properties of cyber-worlds conceived of sui generis or to focus on how online and offline worlds interact.
If we're talking about how human cultures are affected by the rise of digital technologies and networks, then I reckon Mike Wesch of Kansas University has got to qualify as one of the leading practitioners.
Here's his 'anthropolical introduction to YouTube' - well worth a look:
Keith talks about the therm 'digital anthropology' and suggests to examine the meanings of digital/analog.
I would like to ask Dan and others to comment about why to choose "Digital Anthropology" and not Cyberanthropology as the term to label a new field within the anthropological arena.
Part of the issue with what to call 'cyberanthropology', 'digital anthropology' is not so much a definitional one as to do with the ethos of a single anthropology, or at least a past ethos of such.
The first generation of digital/cyber anthropologists began in the 1960s with such folks as Kundstadter in 1963, Randolph & Coult and Hammel & Gilbert 1965, Hymes 1965 and Nick Colby in 1966. There was no wide spread communications capabilities inherent in computers at the time, so they were content to create miniaturised artificial slices of cultures and societies and to use computers to identify primary and secondary patterns in cultural documents. They saw computers as revolutionary for anthropology, but not as defining a kind of anthropology.
The second generation stemmed from the 1970s, in part as a response to greater accessibility of computing, the advent of microcomputers and communication facilities and the emergence of online communities in the mid 1970s. First folks such as Hammel and Dyke, and a bit later Agar, Dow, Gohegan, Ottenheimer Zackary, Sailer and myself. I first joined and studied an online community in 1975, developed software to support seriation of massive archaeological collections, social simulations (e.g. with live people mixed with virtual ones), and wrote probably the first and last Anthropology MA thesis in Fortran in 1979 relating social, cultural and biological data from Henry Selby's Mazaltepec then decade-long project in Oaxaca. As with the previous generation there was no vision of a different anthropology, only an improved one.
When John Davis and I set up the programme at Kent in 1985 years we were very specific in defining the programme with respect to 'ordinary' anthropology. We did not want to create a ghetto for 'computational' anthropology. We settled on Anthropology and Computing. Even that turned out to require a lot of explanation.
I continue to argue for this approach. Computers are a means to radically expand the kinds of information we can deal with and problems we can address and conceptual tools to address these with, but these are all familiar information and familiar problems within the discipline; they were simply not addressable before. Computer and Internet Communications Technologies expanded the possibilities for the formation of social relationships and interactions, but these are still social relationships and interactions. So I am happy to continue the motif 'anthropology of' virtual communities, digital media or communications, but unhappy with virtual anthropology, digital anthropology etc. although this appears to be the way things are going. And at this juncture I can live with this.
But I will close with the thought that perhaps one of the reasons digital anthropology (or whatever) is hard to define, is that we are trying to define the wrong thing; as a domain rather than what we are really interested in; the implications for the discipline in particular and the world in general.