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With the Smartphone as Field Assistant: Designing, Making, and Testing EthnoAlly, a Multimodal Tool for Conducting Serendipitous Ethnography in a Multisensory World

Favero, Paolo S. H. ; Theunissen, Eva

American Anthropologist, March 2018, Vol.120(1), pp.163-167 [Rivista Peer Reviewed]

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  • Titolo:
    With the Smartphone as Field Assistant: Designing, Making, and Testing EthnoAlly, a Multimodal Tool for Conducting Serendipitous Ethnography in a Multisensory World
  • Autore: Favero, Paolo S. H. ; Theunissen, Eva
  • Descrizione: Probably for the first time in history, researchers are faced with audiences and research participants who have access to the same means of representation as they do and who often also share the same set of technological skills. Gone are the days when the “wild natives” opened their eyes in awe in front of the “magical powers” of the (white and male) scientists’ filmmaking and photographing apparatuses. Digital technologies are entering the lives of anthropologists in the field and elsewhere, morphing the ways in which they conduct fieldwork—that is, “how they record, process, analyse and communicate their findings” (Tratner and Sanjek 2015, ix). Smartphones have indeed contributed to this shift. For those of us living in wired societies, they have become an integral part of our everyday routines, affecting our experiences of events, locales, relationships, and bearings (Collins et al. 2017; Lapenta 2011; Pink and Hjorth 2012; Tacchi, Kitner, and Crawford 2012). Moreover, as digital and mobile technologies are increasingly embedded on(to) the body, we are today also witnessing an increased entanglement between material bodies and mobile digital technologies (Favero 2016; Ibrahim 2015; Rettberg 2014). What are the implications of this for our ways of conducting fieldwork? Smartphones are obviously pushing further the implosion of the boundaries between fieldwork and everyday life, home and away, which have characterized the recent history of anthropology (see Clifford 1983; Hannerz 2003; Marcus 1995). In parallel to the fields moving closer to our homes, the smartphone has made possible what we call “serendipitous ethnographies,” or the capture of significant quantities of material even in the most unexpected, mundane moments. As tools for representation are moving closer to our bodies, so is fieldwork crawling closer to our private, everyday lives. This essay taps into this terrain, exploring the connection between mobile digital technologies and fieldwork from the point of view of a digital tool. This tool, called EthnoAlly,1 consists of a smartphone application (producing GPS‐tagged multimodal material) and an online platform (for archiving, organizing, and analyzing such material) that was created in order to exploit the new possibilities materialized by smartphones and digital technologies at large. A tool for making and organizing multimodal fieldnotes, EthnoAlly is at once a personal assistant for ethnographers in their exploration of people and places, and a participatory tool researchers can use with their interlocutors. The smartphone application belonging to EthnoAlly can be uploaded onto the mobile device of a research participant and, functioning as an extension of the ethnographer, provide material in the shape of images, text notes, sound files, and metadata (geolocative and temporal data) to the EthnoAlly online platform. Designed by one of the authors of this essay, and tested by the second author, EthnoAlly responds critically to a world that is digitizing itself at an increasing rate (importantly, also beyond the capitalist West) and, moreover, to the shift imposed by “new images” (Mitchell 1994). Further inspired by phenomenological approaches to the lived world, the tool has developed into a multimodal technology capable of grasping the situated, layered, and multisensory character of human experience.
  • Fa parte di: American Anthropologist, March 2018, Vol.120(1), pp.163-167
  • Soggetti: Smartphones ; Ethnography ; Fieldwork ; Research Methodology ; Anthropology ; Wireless Communications ; Software ; Technology ; Cultural Anthropology ; Ethnography ; Field Study ; Fieldwork ; Multimodal Communication ; Mobile Phones ; Interpersonal Communication
  • Identificativo: ISSN: 0002-7294 ; E-ISSN: 1548-1433 ; DOI: 10.1111/aman.12999

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