Anthropology as BIG DATA: Making the Case for Ethnography as a Critical Dimension in Digital Media and Technology Studies

11/13/2012 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Anthropology as BIG DATA:
Making the Case for Ethnography as a Critical Dimension
in Digital Media and Technology Studies
Mary L. Gray, Indiana University

Tuesday, 13 November 2012
12:00 to 13:30
BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt 

Mary L. Gray is Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research New England and Associate Professor of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. Her work focuses on how people use digital and social media in everyday ways to shape their social identities and create spaces for themselves. Her book, "Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America" (2009) examined how youth in rural parts of the United States fashioned 'queer' senses of gender and sexual identity and the role that media--particularly internet access--played in their lives and political work. Her current research includes work on ethnographically-informed social media research, compliance cyberinfrastructures in universities and their impact on emerging media research, online labour, and the importance of location and place in the context of mobile technologies.
Drawing on examples from her past and current research, Mary Gray will talk about both responding to recent provocations as well as the role of "big data" in human communication research and technology studies. She outlines the value of anthropology, as a particular kind of "big data," that warrants more attention. She will argue for paying attention to different kinds of data (from the statistically to the ethnographically significant), more collaborative approaches to how researchers arrive at what they (think they) know, and critical analysis of the cultural assumptions embedded in the data we collect. By moving from the "snapshot" of quantitative work to the "time-lapse photography" of ethnography, she shows how researchers, who aspire to build technologies for human communication, must imagine "big data" as an on-going process of modeling, triangulation, and critique.  Researchers must be as invested in pushing open new terrain for questions as they are in finding answers about what technologies mean to people in their everyday lives.
Organized by Digital Society in Context - New Media Research Workshop
Co-sponsored by the Center for Race & Gender