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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing Blog


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


Anthropology & COVID-19 Responses

Rather than responding individually, could anthropologists make a more effective contribution to an immediate crisis by working collaboratively and comparatively? Might this have more impact than if everyone just posts individual research and views?

This is a proposal to group together 20 or 30 anthropologists, staff or PhD students, who would use their ongoing contacts with their research participants to help keep the world informed about different local circumstances and responses, from which others could then learn.

It would be based on fortnightly reports that could be published immediately as an online archive and would also provide material for short comparative pieces/blogs, or any other format you prefer,  designed for the media or other forms of dissemination.

We propose an initial six research periods, each lasting a fortnight. During this period, those involved would just spend as much time as they wish investigating the agreed topic.

This project is decentralised and open-access, and we would archive the results here at UCL, but individual participants can also archive these on their respective websites if they wish. We will write blog pieces and reports based on this information.

Our main goals are as follows:

1) A kind of citizen science where we collate ingenious and successful responses or ideas that we have learnt from our informants which we can then disseminate to other people who would benefit from those examples.

2) We will use this to educate people about the very different circumstances of peoples around the world and the struggles they face, as revealed by our research. The aim is to help people empathise with situations very different from their own.

3) It is possible that there will be academic reflections subsequently, but this is not our immediate aim.

We suggest that the reports are of any style and length you want, though we suspect short reports are more likely to be used. Please ensure that all sources are entirely anonymous.

We will assume the enquiries are covered by prior ethics permissions, if not, the onus is on you to deal with those issues, as will be the subsequent responsibility.

Please add one sentence at the beginning of every report describing the field from which this material has been garnered.

This material is for public consumption, so we suggest (but it’s only a suggestion) avoiding all jargon or words which would not be used by a high schooler, avoiding anthropological terminology such as habitus or subjectivity, and instead using colloquial English where possible.

Please, if you can, also supply visual evidence such as photographs, pictures, or memes that help illustrate the points you are making – again, this should be done with consent.

Finally, if people want to volunteer to translate the final blog posts/reports into the languages relevant to their field sites that would be very welcome.

Suggested Topics

These would be selected topics with the aim of encouraging simultaneity, i.e. everyone participating would provide materials on the same topic, during the same fortnightly period. Of course, that does not preclude people working on anything else at any other time individually.

1) Can you please find out how precisely people are gaining online information about the virus and how they are using online platforms to share this information with others? What strategies do they use to establish trust in this information?

2) Are there any local, community, family or individual online responses to social isolation that seem original and helpful and that we might want to let others know about? It would be especially helpful if these were related to concern for older people.

3) What seems to be the general attitude to the balance between care and surveillance and the role of ‘online’ in both of these? What do people regard as the correct balance between care and surveillance in their own society, in comparison to what they are hearing about from other regions?

4) How are people are using online education materials, either to employ their time or for substituting for the loss of educational facilities at schools and universities? Ingenious solutions that could be used by others are particularly welcome.

5) Can you please find out about how people are using online channels to compensate for the loss of direct intimate relations, including intergenerational care, the expression of love, care and affection, dating and sexual relations.

6) Can we report on the ways in which people struggle under these difficult conditions, including government restrictions? How do they reflect on the priorities, both of provisioning and life goals more generally? What moral conclusions are they drawing from these experiences?

The material will be collated by Georgiana Murariu at g.murariu@ucl.ac.uk, please contact her or Daniel Miller (d.miller@ucl.ac.uk) for any questions.

The plan is to start this project when we have enough potential contributors to make it worthwhile, which should hopefully be in the next week or so, although the start date is to be confirmed.

Initially, could you let Georgiana know that you are interested in taking part? Feel free to circulate this to other anthropologists.