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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing Blog


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


Archive for the 'Other' Category

Creating a free university course during a pandemic

Daniel Miller6 October 2020

While the figures may seem small compared to the one million downloads of our open-access ‘Why We Post’ books, the MOOC created for FutureLearn as part of the Why We Post project was taken by over 40,000 students. A Russian translation of the course was taken by another 9,000 students. Compared to 100 students in a typical lecture class, this certainly seems worthwhile. A MOOC can also reach people in countries and situations that are far more open than traditional university teaching, and it is free. So, we never doubted that we wanted to make another MOOC for the ASSA project. We expect to launch this next April on FutureLearn alongside the first three books. While Laura Haapio-Kirk bore the brunt of the work last time, this time it is Georgiana Murariu, currently working as a public dissemination officer on the project. The FutureLearn platform acts a bit like social media in that the students interact with each other and post loads about their own experiences. This should work well for a topic such as the smartphone, in which most people have personal experiences and observations. By the way, the Why We Post MOOC is still running at: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/anthropology-social-media.

We are making some changes. MOOCs typically have quite a tail off so we are making a three-week course, rather than five weeks. Currently, the main emphasis is on filmmaking since Ben Collier, our filmmaker, is only employed for a short period. The films are a little shorter than before, but the text is likely to be similar is scope. The first week is mainly devoted to the smartphone itself and our original insights and perspectives on what a smartphone is and will also summarise our comparative book ‘The Global Smartphone’, due to come out next year. The second week considers the smartphone in the context of ageing, which is the main concern of our new monograph series, also due to come out next year. The third week focuses more on an element of ASSA that did not exist for Why We Post – our efforts to make our work of direct benefit to people’s welfare through our radical alternative to conventional mHealth and the general use of smartphones in the field of health.

For the present effort in filmmaking, we are obviously constrained by the circumstances of Covid-19. We don’t have the group and round-table discussions found in the earlier MOOC. Instead, the concentration is more on using material that comes directly from our ethnographic engagements around the world.  Most of our films are pretty serious, but in this instance, it seemed okay to have a bit of fun with the whole issue of filmmaking during a pandemic. I play the role of Mr Grumpy, to Xinyuan Wang’s annoyance.

See the film here:


Illustrating Anthropology

Laura Haapio-Kirk23 September 2020

Last week I participated in the ‘Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future’ conference which was jointly organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Royal Geographical Society, the British Academy, the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS, and the British Museum’s Department for Africa, Oceania and the Americas. I was invited to join a roundtable discussion on ‘Public Anthropology and Geography’, chaired by Dr Joe Smith, the director of the Royal Geographical Society with IBG. Joining me were geographer Dr Ella Harris (Birkbeck University of London) and Dr Simon Underdown (Oxford Brookes). It was a lively discussion featuring many questions from the 90 delegates in the audience, exploring the ways in which anthropology and geography can be – or should be – ‘public’, ranging from engaging beyond academia, informing public policy, through to ways of constructing knowledge with publics. Ella presented her work on interactive documentary making during COVID-19, and Simon called for greater communication within and between the disciplines of Anthropology and Geography for better engagement with the public.

I used the opportunity to talk about my interest in visual approaches to public anthropology, and to launch an exhibition I have been working on, alongside Dr Jennifer Cearns, supported by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Earlier in the year we put out an open call for illustrations of anthropological research and were overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of the response from anthropologists all over the world. We spent a long time working our way through the entries, along with guest judge Dr Benjamin Dix, Founding Director of PositiveNegatives, who produce comics, animations, and podcasts about social and humanitarian issues.

Maxime Le Calvé’s fluid field sketches that capture the ‘atmosphere’ of a situation.

Jennifer and I are both Leach Fellows in Public Anthropology at the RAI, and this year have been organising a variety of public endeavours. The pandemic has made it a strange year to try to arrange public activities, but perhaps a positive side effect of having to refocus our attention on online events is the possibility to reach larger and more wide-flung audiences. Another side effect is that we have had to prioritise visual media that will engage people online. The online ‘Illustrating Anthropology’ exhibition explores human lives around the world through comics, drawings, and paintings of anthropological research. From those who use illustration as a fieldwork method to others who partner with artists and research participants to tell stories, this exhibition draws together a wide range of ways that contemporary anthropologists are illustrating anthropology.

Tom Crowley’s illustrations of a story told to him by a member of a community in the Kalash Valleys, Pakistan

Drawing has long been part of anthropological research and communication, in the form of maps, field-note sketches and kinship diagrams. But now anthropologists are increasingly recognising the phenomenal storytelling power of illustration as a way to return their research to the communities they work with and to share their findings far and wide. Illustration can be a powerful way to contribute towards the public imagination of anthropology, and also to work with publics in the production of knowledge, including through participatory methods.

I invite you to take a look at the exhibition website where we will be releasing new illustrations every week over the next ten weeks. You can also follow along on the @Illustrating_Anthropology Instagram account for our daily updates. Hope you’ll join us on this journey! And if you are exploring illustration in your anthropological work, then share it with us on Instagram with the hashtag #IllustratingAnthropology.