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Anthropological videoconference

March 8, 2009

A few days ago I had a new experience: videoconferencing. For about an hour on Wednesday evening (UK time)  I had a videoconference chat with Mark Pedelty (School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota) and 18 of his postgraduate students – nine MAs and nine PhDs. They were in Minneapolis, I was in Sheffield, and they asked me some very incisive questions about my ethnography Media and Nation Building: How the Iban Became Malaysian (Berghahn, 2006). The questions were about the making of the book, the experience of doing fieldwork in Sarawak, my own positioning within the ethnographic account, the seemingly downplayed question of religion (the Iban are mostly Christians in a polity ruled by Muslims), new media technologies in Sarawak, and quite a few more besides.

I was very impressed with how the questions were formulated and put to me, as they showed that my interlocutors had read the book carefully and thought about the process that went into its writing. I am not too sure how coherently I responded to their numerous questions, though; many were questions that I had never been asked before,  plus there was a technical glitch and they could see me but I couldn’t see them!  At any rate, the experience makes me want to use this technology for future academic collaborations. It strikes me as a very effective and inexpensive way of conversing with students and colleagues who are geographically distant, and I thank Mark and his students for introducing me to it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Don Jacobson permalink
    March 10, 2009 5:44 pm

    Hi John–

    I am the Minnesotat grad student who asked about religion. I just wanted to post an assurance that your responses were very well received indeed and we enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the author of a work that we had been discussing for a couple of weeks.

    Mark forwarded to all of us a link to the Iban blog. And I must say it’s a little bit on the thrilling side (am I being too dramatic?) to see this blog and to hear (read?) the voice of the Dayaks in Technicolor on the Internet.

  2. March 12, 2009 12:30 am

    Hi Don, many thanks for popping in. I’m glad to hear that I didn’t too badly after all.

    Re: Iban blogging, like academic blogging, it all seems to be happening now (2008-9) but at very different speeds. I always find myself slogging (slow blogging) by comparison to activists and journalists and, er, bloggers.

  3. March 25, 2009 8:59 pm

    Thanks for posting this , also to Don for the follow up comment. I am an Open University grad student and believe that video conferences (did you use Skype?) should be made much more use of, and I hope that shared experiences such as yours, made available on blogs etc. may help getting the message across to those in charge. There is a lot of presentational work, preparation and a certain amount of technical skills involved – all transferable to other fields and areas too, which in turn should be picked up by career services/advisers.

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