About “Feeling Digital” Workshop
Yichen Rao (Principal investigator, website convener)
During the outbreak of COVID-19, everyday life has been modified in accordance with the protocols that every country has implemented. These modifications have posed ongoing challenges for fieldworkers, artists, and practice-based ethnographic researchers, while they have simultaneously produced opportunities for these researchers to reimagine fieldwork, ethnography, art, and research practices. These modifications were also embedded into different ways of relating to the mediated presence of self and other, the shifted meanings of territory and space, and the altered feelings of body and home.
The "Feeling Digital and Reimagining Fieldwork during COVID Time" Workshop (or the “Feeling Digital” Workshop) was born out of the need to critically ask about the increasingly murky boundaries between “actual” and “virtual”, “online” and “offline”, from an incarnated, situated, and phenomenological scope: why do we experience Zoom fatigue and how does it manifest itself? Why can’t we resist staring at our own faces reflected in our webcams? How do we perceive, experience, and live the post-COVID world through the altered bodily feelings and mediated senses of connection bound by digital devices?
We refined these critical questions into a core question: What does “feeling digital” mean? To answer this question, we designed four sets of “experiments” to perform “body-theaters” in groups, each aimed at addressing one particular facet of “feeling digital”. We recruited 23 participants from different disciplines, professions and institutions around the world to form five focus groups, each practicing, reflecting and discussing one of the four sets of experiments.
Within groups, participants connected these murky boundaries to ethnographic experiences as they interpreted the political implications of the altered bodily feelings and mediated senses of connections. They also delved into the potentiality of digital ethnography not as "online fieldwork" but as a broad system of inter-subjective connections that goes beyond its narrow empirical limit. The disciplinary framework in which this project is developed includes a cross between the studies of embodied knowledge, performance, and ethnography/anthropology. We understand the body not only as an epistemic object but as an epistemological agent that builds and generates knowledge from itself and about itself. The participants, as artists, performers, and researchers, produced the embodied records from their individual practices that could be materialized in a digital medium, reported and reflected on through a multimodal ethnographic diary.
The projects generated individually within each group were discussed in a two-day workshop (May 11th and 12th, 2021). Each group presented their materials, followed by discussions and commentaries by a chair and a discussant invited (the people invited are acknowledged in the introduction to each of the experiments). We also invited Prof. Jarrett Zigon to deliver a keynote speech on his recent research on the phenomenology of data ethics. After the two-day workshops, we invited Prof. Karen Waltorp and Dr. Ernst Karel to give us two masterclasses on multi-modal anthropology. Anna also gave everyone a "playground" training session on how to design and conduct artistic research.
We also acknowledge the generous supports from The Hong Kong Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (HKIHSS), HKU Anthropology Research Network and HKU Department of Sociology.
We set up this website as a digital curation of the materials produced by our participants during the workshop. Through these materials, we aimed to create group-based, multi-modal ethnographic research products that spoke creatively to the broad academic audience.
Here are some of the feedbacks from our discussants and chairs:
"This thought-provoking panel was comprised of a remarkable set of contributions, ostensibly organised around the themes of ‘solipsism’ and ‘presence’. Participants shared remarkably diverse original videos where they each ‘interviewed themselves’ through their webcam. However, especially striking was the fact that participants’ responses displayed not really a sense of solipsism, but rather one of connectiveness, exhibiting relationships with their cameras, their imagined audiences, and various versions of themselves. Taken together, these contributions represent a valuable set of reflections on the nature of ethnographic presence in the digitally-mediated pandemic era. "
-- Dr. Tom McDonald, The University of Hong Kong
"The opportunity to review the work of the participants and learn about their approaches to the issue of digital ethnography was an enriching experience for me. I feel that the participants managed to convey a sense of intimate connection through the material they presented, and the conversation that followed was full of insights. I am grateful for the opportunity to establish several contacts for future collaborations. "
-- Dr. Andrés David Aparicio Alonso, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
"In experiment 4, participants explored the idea of "virtual territories" that are co-constituted by socio-technical, economic, environmental, infrastructural and cultural constraints and possibilities. They (auto-)ethnographically investigated Wi-Fi connectivity in relation to temporal and spatial conditions by applying and adapting a diversity of theoretical concepts. Participants tested, for example, the Wi-Fi "behaviour" in their apartments by using video conferencing applications at different times of the day. They discussed the costs and physical constraints of connectivity by emphasizing the need for mobility and the feeling of "missing out" when not connected. And they critically reflected upon (changing) "habits" of their own internet use and how this connects to the emotional meaning of space and place. The "virtual territory" can thus also be understood as a "territory of desire" which is pushed by the "promise of connectivity". The contributions to this workshop experiment show that conceptual work, such as the critical rethinking of theoretical concepts, is key for (ethnographically) describing and exploring practices and processes related to internet connectivity"
-- Dr. Philipp Budka, University of Vienna
All comments and discussions are welcome! Please reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.