By Allister Hill
Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC)
RMIT University, Melbourne
Due to scheduling clashes, this month we are running the first group Thursday 9 July 2015, 12-1:30pm, Room 9.3.5A/B [RMIT city campus, Melbourne]. Moving forward they will be run on the second Wednesday of each month, starting on 12 August 2015 (12-1:30pm). See also the meeting invite.
As this is the first session we’d like you to think about some of the following. What ethnography means to you and to your research? How does your understanding of ethnography shape your practices as a researchers / how do you expect it to, if you are just starting out now? Where is the digital located, for you, in relation to ethnographic practice?
This month’s reading is (see attached, NB if the link doesn’t work you may need to right click and open link in a new window).
Horst, H., Hjorth, L., & Tacchi, J. (2012). Rethinking ethnography: An introduction. Media International Australia, 12(145), 86-93.
With regard to the reading for this week, Rethinking ethnography, perhaps one or a few of the following matters could be considered and discussed with the group:
- What are the ways in which the article encourages the reader to ‘rethink’ ethnography and ethnographic practice? How does this rethinking facilitate understanding the world (in particular digital lives and media) in ‘useful and insightful ways’ and more?
- Nightingale (2012) ties the development of media ethnography to the cultural or ‘reflexive turn’ in anthropology. What does this ‘reflective turn’ refer to? Furthermore, in what ways could this have lead to improved ethnographic practice in media and cultural studies and the expansion of media anthropology?
- Do you agree with Small’s (2009) differentiation between the ways that sociologists and social/cultural anthropologists have used and approached ethnographic research? What are the ways that sociologists approach ethnography, that may differ from anthropologists, if they are more inclined to encounter questions as to the validity of their research based on ‘how many’ and ‘who’ are in their study?
- Explore the notion of ‘being in fieldwork’ as used, with a nod to studying virtual worlds, by Boellstorff et. al (2012) and how that compares to what anthropologists may have considered ‘participant observation’ in the past.
Educating ‘bilingual’ children in Spain and Denmark: childhood bilingualism as opportunity or constraint
by Kenn Nakata Steffensen
University College Cork/University of Tokyo
The word ‘bilingual’ has acquired vastly divergent politicised meanings in contemporary Spanish and Danish discourses on childhood education. In the former, it tends to denote competence in a foreign language, which is almost universally assumed to be English, while in the latter it refers to relative lack of competence in Danish. The two conceptions of ‘bilingualism’ as an opportunity or constraint are thus positive and negative, both in an evaluative and descriptive sense.
In Spain, ‘bilingualism’ is a desirable marker of success and upward social mobility, in Denmark it is an obstacle to the same. In both national discourses, language comes to stand for something else, namely class and ethnicity, as well as integration into (in the Spanish case) a transnational elite and (in the Danish case) the national community. In the Spanish context, ‘bilingualism’ is constituted as a personal and public good to be developed through the education of children and adolescents, hence the growth of ‘bilingual’ schools in recent years. In Denmark, childhood ‘bilingualism’ is seen as an ill to be eradicated through the education system.
The language that Spanish parents and politicians want their children to become ‘bilingual’ in is, above all, English. It represents global power, progress, modernity and recovery from imperial decline. Following the maxim ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’, Spain was historically defeated by English-speaking imperial powers and now seeks to join an ‘Anglobalising’, post-imperial, world order on its terms.
In Denmark, fluency in English is also – but to a much lesser degree – a marker of elite status which is widely distributed among the population and not associated with ‘bilingualism’. The mostly Middle Eastern, South Asian and African languages that pose the ‘bilingualism’ problem in Denmark are associated with backwardness, poverty and ignorance. With the strong historical link between ethnic nationalism and the Danish/Scandinavian welfare state model, failing to address the problem posed by ‘bilingualism’ threatens the survival of the state as a community of shared values embodied in a strongly monolingual conception of the nation.
In both cases, the supposed objectives are unlikely to be met and are not ultimately grounded on language and bilingualism as such. The different meanings ‘bilingualism’ has acquired in the two countries have their historical origins in the nature of their particular early-modern composite monarchical states, the rise and demise of their colonial empires, and their respective 20th century experiences of modernising authoritarianism and welfare capitalism.
This is the 20th of 42 posts in the ongoing Freedom technologists series.
By Sebastian Kubitschko
via Civic Media Project
Despite the longstanding equating of hacking as infused with political significance, the scope and style of hackers’ engagement with institutionalized politics remains poorly understood. Based on face-to-face interviews, participant observations and media analysis over three years (2011-2014), this case study of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC)—Europe’s largest and one of the world’s oldest hacker collectives—fills parts of this gap. It shows that hackers practice a wide range of insider and outsider tactics related to media technologies and infrastructures (MTI). The rationale is to examine hackers as actors that practice politics through, with and about MTI and by doing so to deepen the understanding of contemporary civic engagements. By considering the CCC as a civic organization that emphatically engages with democratic constellations it challenges common sense assumptions guiding understandings of the intersection of civic culture, technologies and institutionalized politics.
Considering transformations of civic engagement and politics, hackers might not necessarily be the first actors that come to mind. “Hackers” is often used as a catchall phrase to describe almost any computer-related crime and tend to be portrayed as anti-social, possibly dangerous individuals, who attack systems, invade privacy and even threaten national security (Coleman 2012). Governments’ and mainstream media’s obsession with the activities of particular groups—most prominently Anonymous and WikiLeaks—further reinforce this labeling.
Founded in 1981 in Germany and with a membership figure of around 4500 the CCC stands in stark contrast to such stereotyping and criminalization. The Club is a heterogeneous collection of multi-socialized and multi-determined citizens that bring together knowledge, experience and skills related to the functioning and political consequences of MTI.
For over three decades its members have been engaging in the area of conflict between technological and social developments.
While the Club’s organizational structure is based on decentralized local groups, prominent spokespersons and long-term members ensure that the collective communicates its political aims (more or less) coherently beyond the circle of like-minded people. Accordingly the CCC acts as an organized civic collective or what can be referred to as a civil society organization. Ever since its establishment the Club does not only practice so-called hacktivism (Jordan and Taylor 1998), but in fact engages in a plurality of political activities by acting through, with and about MTI (Kubitschko, 2015). In more concrete terms the tree attributes indicate the following practices.
First, the hackers are acting through MTI. This denotes that similar to most political organizations nowadays (Rucht 2013, 249-268), the Club’s internal modes of organization and coordination starkly rely on mediated communication amongst its members. At the same time the CCC acts through MTI by utilizing contemporary technologies in creative, explorative, playful or subversive ways. By reverse engineering a suspicious hard drive in October 2011, for example, the organization discovered that German government agencies were illegally using surveillance software.
Second, the CCC critically engages with MTI by sustaining alternative communication infrastructures like The Onion Router (Tor)—client software enhancing online anonymity by directing Internet traffic through a global volunteer network of servers. In addition the CCC is running one of the most used Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) servers worldwide – an open technology, which powers a wide range of applications including instant messaging, multi-party chat, voice and video calls. It is important to note that “alternative” in this context should not be treated synonymously with “autonomy.” As Chris Kelty puts it, “independence from power is not absolute; it is provisional and structured in response to the historically constituted layering of power and control within the infrastructures of computing and communication” (Kelty 2008, 9).
Third, CCC members are acting about MTI by articulating their knowledge, skills and experiences. On one hand, this is achieved by communicating to the general public via social and mainstream media channels. On the other, the Club has increasingly direct interactions with relevant actors like judges and legislators. Given the growing relevance of media environments for political constellations mainstream media continue to be exceptionally significant for actors to publicly voice their concerns (Couldry 2012). Over recent years both the amount of media coverage as well as the frequency of access by CCC members to mainstream media has increased drastically. Besides writing articles and maintaining blogs for quality outlets CCC members are regular interview partner to various well-established media and act as sources to numerous news media. In 2013 alone, the Club’s spokesperson had 8973 requests by media representatives via email. Parallel to these media related practices, interactions with institutionalized politics continue to grow in quantity and quality. Over the past decade, the CCC has been requested as an official expert by the German constitutional court on five occasions—among others, related to the use of computerized voting machines. At the same time, the Club is advising all major political parties in Germany and two CCC members took part in the German parliament’s committee on “Internet and Digital Society.”
Acting with, through and about MTI are interlocking arrangements that enable the CCC not only to question and supervise technological developments, but also to practice both ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive’ modes of engagement Cohen and Arato 1992, 548-563). On one hand, their engagements are directed inward to civil society by supporting emancipatory practices related to communicative infrastructures. On the other, their activities are directed outward to institutionalized politics. By doing so, the Chaos Computer Club politicizes issues that otherwise might be understood as solely technological and are part of defining the predominant conception of what is understood as political.
Back to Freedom technologists series…
Cohen, Jean, and Andrew Arato. 1992. Civil Society and Political Theory. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Coleman, Gabriella. 2012. Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Couldry, Nick. 2012. Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Jordan, Tim, and Paul Taylor. 1998. “A Sociology of Hackers.” The Sociological Review 46 (4): 757–780.
Kelty, Christopher. 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Kubitschko, Sebastian. Forthcoming. 2015. “Hackers’ Media Practices.” Convergence 21 (3).
Rosanvallon, Pierre. 2008. Counter-Democracy: Politics in an Age of Distrust. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Rucht, Dieter. 2013. “Protest Movements and Their Media Usages.” In Mediation and Protest Movements, edited by Bart Cammaerts, Alice Mattoni and Patrick McCurdy, 249–268. Bristol, UK: Intellect.