CFP: Technology, Scale, and Difference in Contemporary Anthropology

Friday, February 1, 2013 - 12:00am

Call for papers: Technology, Scale, and Difference in Contemporary Anthropology

15-17 May, 2013

University of California-Irvine (USA)

Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium)

Without idealizing, exaggerating, or demonizing them, it is certainly the case that information and communication technologies are transforming the world and its inhabitants. While these transformations are taking place with a rapidity that can make their ethnographic analysis seem impossible, the starting point of our conceptual framework is that it is not only feasible but imperative that we better understand the multiple and often-unexpected character of these transformations. In particular, the emergence of online and mobile technologies compels rethinking questions of globalization that were a major theme of anthropological inquiry in the 1990s. Work from that period focused primarily on mass media like television and movies, as well as the impact of political economic developments like just-in-time production and the global labor market. For this conference, we seek to explore how current online and mobile technologies can reconfigure anthropological inquiry in an era of planetary connection and transformed ontologies. What new theoretical frameworks are needed for understanding connection? How can these frameworks address other forms of spatial scaling—including locality, the nation-state, regionality (for instance, the European Union), and translocality? What ethnographic approaches can help address these issues and questions? How do these approaches reflect back on disciplinary norms and paradigms? As Mike Singleton has noted, the movement from local to global is not a quantitative change of scale narrowly considered, but a form of qualitative change that can move in multiple directions. This further suggests that the work of anthropology becomes an exercise in ontology rather than epistemology, opening questions about the worlding of the world rather than second- order interpretation or critique of it.

Questions of relocalization and reterritorialization are thus crucial to theorizing globalization, as has been emphasized since the 1990s—but one crucial contemporary difference involves the multilayered impact of contemporary online and mobile technologies, which create novel forms of life. What are the consequences of knowledge produced through engagements with these technologies for the relationship between ethnographer and interlocutor? From what positions do ethnographers speak today, given the place of online and mobile technologies as simultaneously subject of inquiry, modality of data collection, format for scholarly presentation, and location for personal interaction? How to practice the work of ethnography in the current context? With which tools? These “new” fields of ethnographic inquiry are being shaped by reconfigurations of presence and absence, given that relationships maintained via mobile and online technologies permit forms of intimacy and engagement without physical copresence. But, what about the outcasts of this system, intentional or otherwise?

These dynamics shape our interest in considering the relationship between globalization and new hegemonies in the context of mobile and online technologies. In particular, we seek a better understanding of tensions between connection and disconnection, not just globalization and retrenchments of locality figured in languages of authenticity, nature, and  the  real.  We must  consider  relationships  between  space  and  time  in  a heterogeneous manner and question any claims of a singular teleology culminating in a reinvention or “return back” to the local. What does this mean for the methodological and epistemological modalities of anthropology itself?

Lines of inquiry

In light of these various concerns, we open two lines of inquiry for the Singleton Chair 2013: one focusing on spatiotemporal transformations, and the second focusing on questions of difference.

Anthropology elsewhere: which recompositions of space-time?

Despite a range of challenges over the last forty years, the predominant narrative of anthropological inquiry remains quite common: an anthropologist goes elsewhere, far away, over there. He (sic) observes and collects a corpus of data to analyze back home, in his office. In discussion with his peers, he will elaborate, afterwards, some knowledge.

However, for some time now other forms of ethnographic engagement have troubled this cliché. This has included the work of anthropologists who are in various ways members of the communities under study. Challenges to dominant narratives of ethnographic work have also included new kinds of involvement with those studied, and thus new forms of the suspension of everyday life that fieldwork has entailed. The spatiotemporal and emotional interval of field research, the shared experience of ethnographer and interlocutors followed by the break which the cessation of fieldwork historically required, is reshaped when the possibility exists for researchers to remain in communication and even involvement with their fieldsites through online technologies. This inquiry also includes reassessment of the temporal breaks anthropologists and others have held dear as singularly explanatory -- the Enlightenment, say, or the postcolonial period. This also includes not just fieldsites at a physical distance from the “home” of the ethnographer, but cases where the fieldsite in question is itself online. These are all possibilities for the multiplication and reconfiguration of knowledge regarding the subjects of ethnographic inquiry. Therefore, how are we to practice anthropology in a way that recognizes and builds on the historical trajectories of the discipline while remaining cognizant of new subjects of inquiry and dynamics of power? How are classic methodologies to be adapted to these current contexts? How, for instance, to define the boundaries of inquiry in the context of online and mobile technologies that trouble classic ways of delimiting the field in terms of locality? How are we to develop arguments in light of an apparent excess of data in an age of continual circuits of information?

Anthropology, ontology, and difference

Difference, similitude, and otherness represent another cluster of topics that have been of interest to anthropological theory over the past few decades, but require reconsideration in light of online and mobile technologies. At the same time, new work in anthropology has reopened questions of ontology as a critical practice of questioning what the object is as well as the work of a knowing subject. Arguably, new technologies effect the same shift--from knowing to being, epistemology to ontology. The cultural dynamics of selfhood, community, and practice that form in the context of these technologies transform the encounter with “the other,” and indeed trouble the boundaries of similitude and difference upon which the self/other binarism is predicated. For instance, as interlocutors can access and produce in new ways discourses about themselves and their place in the world with the use of online and mobile technologies, they reshape the circulation and interpretation of ethnographic data about themselves, including forms of “paraethnographic” knowledge that can stand in a lateral relationship to anthropological work. In many cases, anthropologists thereby encounter in “the field” not just data but forms of interpretation that precede and even anticipate ethnographic analysis.

How do mobile and online technologies not just accelerate this state of affairs, but present novel possibilities? What are the ramifications of this for questions of ethics, validity, and the authenticity of knowledge itself? What are the forms of refusal, inaccessibility, and the “hacking” of culture that reveal the limits of such knowledges and new ontologies? Between affordance and re-appropriation, how do cultural logics and practices unfold? What are the implications of these dynamics for relations between researcher and researched, given notions of equality and peer relation that are themselves culturally situated? How, in the present moment, are ethnographers thus to take their place in the field, in scholarly debate, and in the public sphere?

Practical information

The working languages of the conference  are English and French.  There will be no simultaneous translation.

Details and deadlines:

Abstracts of a maximum length of 350 words (in English or French) must be sent to the e- mail address ( Please write ”SingletonChair2013” in the e-mail subject and your full name, affiliation and contact information in the e-mail text.

Submission of abstracts: 1 February 2013

Acceptance of abstracts: 15 February 201

Dates of conference: 15-16-17 May 2013

There’s no financial coverage of participants’ travel and accommodation. Participants are encouraged to look for the necessary means to cover the costs of their participation to the conference by themselves.

Scientific committee (University of California-Irvine, USA and Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium) : Tom Boellstorff (, Elisabeth Defreyne (, Marie Deridder (, Séverine Lagneaux (, Pierre-Joseph Laurent (pierre-, Elisabeth Mareels (, Bill Maurer (, Jacinthe Mazzocchetti (, Olivier Servais (, Lionel Simon (, Saskia Simon (, Anne-Marie Vuillemenot (anne-


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