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Notes on the 8th digital ethnography reading (O’Dell & Willim 2013)

April 29, 2016 Nicholas Hansen
MA student
Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC)
RMIT University, Melbourne

See other posts under Digital ethnography reading group

Wednesday 09 March (12-1:30 @ B009-04-032).

O’Dell, T., & Willim, R. (2013). Transcription and the Senses. The Senses and Society, 8(3), 314-334.

Reading recommended by visiting PhD candidate, from University of Gothenburg, Elias Mellander.

This general discussion inspired many questions

Following this paper one of the authors went onto write about ‘multi targeted ethnography’. How do we shape the ethnography to send it in certain directions?  Is the cartoon part of the thinking process – the middle ground? What is the goal of transcription? This was unclear in the article. The article is about transcription as a result, not transcription as process. What was the history of transcription? Was it anthropological, before film and media studies? If we could record and just play back why do we transcribe? The transition from audio to page is a creative act.

Once you write you create relationship with the text. With text it is not diachronic you can jump forward and back. It is of value to go from audio to visual and use them together.

The ethnographers state can intrude on the interview, can be revisited and reinterpreted in the transcription process. How far are we analysing ourselves in the interview? How do you transcribe, to include the sensory and emotion?

Is there a dialogic process to show the interviewee the manner in which they are being portrayed? The power of anthropology is in the writing. Publishing with the participant, in his or her own language. It is ironic to be reading this in a traditional text?

The challenge to be in the moment to capture, edit and present our findings. What are you translating in the sensory element? E.g. specific gestures and what they mean, especially in for cultures where gestures are important to understand context.

Context vs. interpretation. Transferring meaning. A good transcription is about context and not spin. Field notes go on top of recorded notes – trying to make context. What does transcription do to let something travel?

Latour: you can’t bring the jungle into the lab, you have to take pieces, samples, you can allow the jungle to travel.

The transcription is the conversation into another materiality.

Challenging the monograph as the natural state of ethnography.

Conceptualisations of ethnography is problematic, a collection of methods of field observation (participatory observation) The monograph is the outcome.

Mead, Anthropological is about words, words and more words. Pink, early 2000’s to add to that. Multimedia presents so many more forms. Text was so important. We are always fighting with text.

Grounded Theory

Strauss. Grounded theory, Cathy Chalmers. Grounded Theorists create an abstraction.
Boellstorff – virtual ethnography.

Looking at field notes is important. But ethnography can be descriptive, with little or no theory. Ethnographic research does not require a stance toward theory.

Your material always points in multiple directions, there is always dialogical process, ethnography is messy, grounded theory is more sociological (Chicago School).

Transferring knowledge requires a big interpretation form the reader, put forward a proposition.

Swedish ethnologist, talk as about critical proximity, if I can get into this process e.g. gentrification, how can I make this better. Being the critical voice, applied anthropology, if we are scientists it may be problematic, referring to academia. But when students go outside, we cannot determine their ethics.

Anthropology and Cultural Studies

On the difference between Anthropology and Cultural Studies. There is a lot of navel gazing, have we addressed colonialism? Anthropology can bring the lived experience of people, rather than navel gazing.

Striving for open ended-ness and being surprised, rather than cultural studies people start with theory. These are stereotypes. The article brings up (again), what is ethnography?
What is digital and what is ethnography?

Ethnography looks for the messy middle. People with agendas get frustrated with the messy middle. People’s experiences are all different (around Australia). Ethnography is about finding that.

Recent Article: Eva Cox – the failures of Feminism.
Didn’t get the Marxist agenda she expected.

Bowers wanted to present the Anthropologists as neutral. Why do we call anthropology a science? What is the standard of science when we talk about anthropology? How do you define anthropology as a science?  Is it really science or not? Anthropology is messy, complex, lived experience, so can be be applicable to anything? Institutions want to make it useful is that part of the problem.

With ethnography can better decisions be made about life? It’s paradigmatic. Something resonates with you.

The article: This is talking about alternative renderings of the field to capture ephemeral fluidity. To help the reader see the patterns. Seeing patterns in the media space. How are those patterns emerging?

Transcriptions… how we use quotes in our text? They usually end up in a journalistic testimonial present. But using the quote what effect?


Remove the coloniser. Latour and multiplicity, make a distributed subjectivity. The irony of the post-colonial position (broadening) is a suicide of ethnography.

Erving Goffman – front stage, back stage. The market around how people promote their stories. Compares what people say in public.

Anthropology is commentary.

Dialogical process. The criticality comes form the dialogue.

The dynamic between the performative and the reality. Self-promotion is an interesting dialectic, it is performative, we are looking at what does that performative aspect mean and what is the difference between realities.

Entrepreneurs create compelling narratives. What compels people to do that? I am really motivated by the purpose.

Front and backstage

Getting beyond the performance. What we do all the time is perform. As an ethnographer, you need to dig (Erving Goffman) Dig front and back stage to understand what that means.

Annemarie Mol bases herself on Goffman. Uses enactment, argues the world is ontologically created in many ways. There is no back stage, there can be multiple facets of the same thing. What does the stage look at various times. What does the stage afford?

We don’t know where this conversation went, but that is the point.

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