Tag Archives: ethnography

What difference does a website make?

A website that presents the collection through gorgeous visuals is now considered a must for any self-respecting museum. Photographs of objects, of exhibitions and of the museum itself are increasingly frequent interfaces, linking museums, visitors, experts, collections. How are users engaged by these interfaces? Which skills and strategies are needed for this engagement? What are the consequences of visually mediated interfaces for users of digital knowledge in/about/from museums, archives, and other collections? These developments are discussed in terms of their consequences for how museums view their role in a recent article written with Sarah de Rijcke, Image as Interface: consequences for users of museum knowledge. It appears in a special issue of the journal Library Trends on ‘Involving Users in the Co-Construction of Digital Knowledge in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.’

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ethnography and networked images

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be taking part in a summer school at the Copenhagen Business School. Part of the great programme for this event is intense interaction around PhD student papers, and it’s a true pleasure to be reading these pieces, all fresh from the keyboard, with the loose ends and struggles still in there. It also makes clear how polished (and maybe even a little bit stale) a lot of the published material is–not surprising given how long it takes to get things in print.

My own contribution will be built around a series of vignettes, narratives about moments from the field, that will serve to discuss methodological sensibilities, decisions and processes. So far, the themes will be:

  • following the actors
  • authority in a network
  • symetry of people and things

And I want to come up with one more to stress ethical issues in practice.

In the course of preparing for this, I’ve come across some recent (and not so recent) material that could also be of interest but that didn’t make it to the reading list:

Rabinow, Marking Time (suggested by Ine Hoyweghen)

Kien, Global Technography

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Constructing the Flickr site (1)

The project Network Realism embraces four different sites. The sites contrast in the extent to which, at first sight, they are associated with easily discernable institutions. The physical presence of the Tropenmuseum and of the Rijksakademie lend a certain tangibility to those sites, making them seem more amenable to fieldwork. The buildings, the spaces these institutions occupy are an important ressources in constructing the site.  In other words, there is an obviousness (vanzelfsprekendheid) of the buildings that seems to extend to the ‘site’… and that seem to raise questions about the ‘where’ or ‘how ‘of the Flickr- and Funda-associated sites.

Yet, across the cases, we do our best to systematically formulate our sites as being “the practices associated with the web-based databases of Rijksakademie, Tropenmuseum, Flickr and Funda.” Though we are probably guilty of using ‘Tropenmuseum’ or ‘Funda’ as shorthands for what is quite a mouthful!

The point is that all these sites require constitution, and this involves:

  • having theoretical leanings that make certain starting points seem desirable or obvious
  • having practical constraints (whether physical, based on history with certain people, timing, etc) that make it more feasible to chose certain points of entry
  • recognizing that affinities that can be both intellectual and affective, which makes us more likely to engage with certain activities

In terms of these, there isn’t really a difference between sites. The import of physical space for constituting sites, however, derives from a long tradition of fieldwork.  This is why the concept of co-presence is so useful, because it helps to bypass the primacy of location as a way of constituting sites.

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After Visual Methods


Originally uploaded by Mediacciones Group

Looking back on the conference, we are both really pleased with the keynotes and papers we heard, the many new contacts we made, and with the exposure to the many versions of ‘visual methods’ that the conference afforded. Notably, much work involved ‘giving voice’ strategies (where researchers provide cameras to participants, and use the resulting images to empower or document). During our last visit to Leeds, when we visited an ethnography conference in March, we had heard an impressive presentation of research using similar approaches by Emanuela de Cecco.

We did find that our research was somewhat unusual at this conference in its combination of the visual as both method and object.  Interestingly, other work that focused on visual culture (i.e. Cox and Gomez Cruz) also addressed digital forms. Also came back thinking that one of the issues we need to pursue is how this category of ‘the visual’ is operating in our research.

What is the effect of this distinction between the visual as method and object? What could be gained by bringing them closer? One argument, which underlies our paper, is that more visual methods are likely to yield to better ethnographic work on visual culture. Our own paper from the conference,  on how to study a networked image, is now available here.

And in several research projects we heard about, it also seemed like more awareness of the visual ecology in which research was being done would have meant better use of digital methods and better insights. (What does it mean to give kids disposable cameras for a research project when they are in possession of camphones in their daily lives…) In other words, it would be valuable to consider the place of ‘researcher produced’ or ‘participant generated’ images  in relation to the visual culture of the research setting.


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