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ANTH 4020 Explorations in Anthropology: Digital Anthropology

Instructor Contact:

Dr. Timothy Webmoor

Email: timothy.webmoor@colorado.edu

Instructor Bio:

I am an assistant professor adjunct in the Department of Anthropology. Previously I was co-director and a founder of the Stanford University Metamedia Lab and a research fellow in Science and Technology Studies (STS) at the Institute of Science, Innovation and Society at Oxford University. I taught a previous version of this web-based methods course at Oxford through the Paris-led Mapping Controversies (MACOSPOL) program.

About the Course:

The pervasive computerization of communication, community and culture challenges us to question what changes accompany such computerization and whether, for instance, it is poised to transform science, the arts and society as thoroughly as the printing press and engraving techniques changed image reproduction and literacy, electrification remade social organization and architectural design, or photographs altered art’s aura. Emerging technologies and platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, ‘cloud’ computing, Second Life or Instagram, among other web-based platforms for sociality, offer alternative modes of engagement and expression that are often argued to enhance connectivity, innovation, research and more. However, they also prompt reflection upon their current and future impacts broadly considered.

This course is form-fit as an online course. In previous incarnations, I’ve physically taught it in a computer lab. However, though it is not self-paced, I’ve found that students have a range of experience and familiarity with digital technologies and the Internet. For many of you, these platforms will be very familiar. For others, spending so much time online will be new. Therefore, it is ideal that each of you can spend the time that you need in front of the computer familiarizing yourself with the websites, platforms and tools we will be encountering together. That said, a point of the course is that each of you is typically spending more and more time online. Irrespective of your level of familiarity, we will be looking at these online resources in a new way. For example, we will be going deeper into privacy statements on Facebook, looking for long term editing trends on Wikipedia, analyzing tweet patterns on Twitter, and mapping how government agencies and organizations are connected through their web-presences. In short, we will be learning how to research our own culture which is more and more mediated by the Internet.

This course will be project based. Readings will engage with recent thought in Digital and Media Anthropology, Visual and Design Studies, and Science and Technology Studies that identify and theorize changes accompanying the computerization of culture. Being online means that we can be hands-on and research and apply what we are reading. These reflections from readings will merge with the student web-based projects that deploy new technologies for social analysis, creative expression and critical reflection. We will tinker with everyday technologies to understand their more profound implications. Among others, these may include: analyzing Wikipedia ‘dumps’ to disclose editing patterns; data-mining with Twitter’s API (application programming interface) to glean social movements (consider Twitter’s recent role in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt); establishing a course wiki to understand web-based, collective authorship; found personal blogs to consider ‘the presentation of self’ in the mediated world; look at Google search patterns that indicate real-world trends; map online networks to see how being ‘connected’ plays into politics, social controversies, and current affairs.

Objectives:

After the course students should understand how the Internet is increasingly an important tool for social science research. To achieve this, students will:

  1. Identify major Internet platforms and describe how they shape modes of sociality and communication.
  2. Apply concepts and techniques from readings to locate appropriate sources of information on the “backside” of the Internet.
  3. Assess developed methods for deriving information from the Internet, such as participant observation, data mining, and web-scraping, and judge their usefulness for social analysis.
  4. Evaluate the results of project-based research as they relate to issues of privacy, communication, collective activity and sociality.

Required Texts and Media:

All of the readings will be available as electronic documents or links online at the course website at: http://learn.colorado.edu. We will be reading several chapters from “Coming of Age in Second Life: An anthropologist explores the virtually human”. This book is also available at Reserves in CU’s Norlin Library. There will also be a weekly video lecture covering that week’s media examples and (if relevant) instructions on how to explore the media further.

Assessment:

Percentage Points
25% online chat participation (comprised of an ‘initial post and a ‘response post’ for each of 12 Discussion Threads, so 2 points possible each week plus an additional point for commentary on class mixed-media research project during Unit 13 (Note: only a response post when doing an overview for that week.) 25
20% assigned overview of readings and online media for two weeks Discussion Threads (2 X 10 = 20) 20
30% final web-based mixed-media research project 30
25% midterm exam (each question is worth a point, 1 X 25 = 25) 25
100% Total Possible Points for Course 100

 

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