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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing Blog


Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


Ethno-graphic collaborations

By alex.clegg, on 31 March 2022

Author: Laura Haapio-Kirk

During my research in Japan, I became increasingly aware of the importance of visual communication, for example stickers and emoji, for how many of my research participants were using their smartphones. As a result I decided to experiment with collaborative graphic methods that combined both analogue and digital media, to explore a range of topics including participants’ relationships to their smartphones and their notions of life purpose (ikigai in Japanese). I found that through such collaborative graphic approaches I was able to foreground their framing and aesthetic choices in conducting and disseminating my research, and importantly, was able to access different kinds of knowledge than without such collaborative approaches.

For example, Ito Megumi, one of my research participants in my rural site, is an artist who I invited to paint her response to the word ikigai. The resulting painting below was then used as the basis for elicitation during remote interviews conducted over zoom. In grounding the interviews in a painting she had created, the discussion was directed by her sense of narrative which emerged as non-linear, highlighting connections throughout her life, represented by motifs in the painting. It was only by using her painting as the basis of our discussion that I was able to understand how she thought of this elusive topic which had proved rather contentious among many of my research participants, associated as it is with the pressure to finds one’s ikigai as one gets older. It was through such drawing exercises that I was able to see how people felt that ikigai, and other intangible topics, figured in their lives, drawing out feelings that are difficult to put into words.

Painting by Ito Megumi, 2021

When I was asked by one of the editors of Trajectoria, a new experimental journal published by the Japanese National Museum of Ethnology, to submit a proposal for a special issue, I knew that I wanted to use this opportunity to further explore the collaborative potential of graphic methods in anthropological research. The editors were responsive to the idea, as were several contributors who I approached. After almost a year of collaboration, the special issue ‘Ethno-graphic Collaborations: Crossing Borders with Multimodal Illustration’ has just been published. The issue includes wonderful contributions from two anthropologists (Dimitrios Theodossopoulos and José Sherwood González) and two anthropologist-artist collaborators (Charlie Rumsby with Ben Thomas, and myself with Ito Megumi), along with an extended discussion by Dimitrios. In the piece by Ito Megumi and myself, you can hear Megumi talking about the various elements of her painting in embedded audio clips, turning her painting into a multimodal exploration that blurs the distinction between research object and research dissemination.

The special issue also contains several discussion videos between all of the contributors, in which we talk more broadly about the gifts of graphic anthropology and modes of collaboration. Please see my introduction for more details on the contributions, and the various ways in which they highlight different potentials of collaboration through graphic experimentation in anthropological research.

Illustrating ASSA’s findings with comics – part 5

By Georgiana Murariu, on 12 October 2021

By Georgiana Murariu and Laura Haapio-Kirk

In this blog post, we present the fifth comic in our ASSA comics series, set in rural Ireland.

The comic below highlights the concept of ‘perpetual opportunism’, which is one of the discoveries of our project, showing how smartphones can facilitate a profound reorientation to the world around us. It is so simple to take a picture, send a message or look something up, that having a more opportunistic approach to the possibilities that surround us, seems to follow naturally. This can, however, also create the feeling that one is ‘always on’, and always available to the opportunism of others.

Set in a small Irish town in Daniel Miller’s field site, this comic features an older woman who wants to enjoy some phone-free time on her walk – however, she quickly realises that having her smartphone with her ensures she is able to plan for future activities such going to a concert. In chapter 5 (see page 105) of the Global Smartphone book, the ASSA team discuss the notion of changes to the practice of photography as a result of smartphone ownership – photographing an event poster falls under the category of ‘functional photography’, which we might recognise as routinely taking photos of things such as flyers and notice boards for the purpose of recording and retaining information.

For the creation of this particular comic, the main discussion points were around how to set the comic in Ireland (which we achieved by using photographs from the fieldsite as a guide to the style of houses ), as well as character representation. We also discussed what the best examples of ‘perpetual opportunism’ would be and how to illustrate them – we settled on outsourcing human memory to the smartphone (i.e. taking a photo of the concert poster to remember later), receiving a notification from the family chat group to buy milk and taking the opportunity to catch up on the news (which flows in real-time) while queueing in the shop – three examples of the way in which the opportunism that smartphones offer changes our relationship to location and transport.

We hope you enjoy this latest installment, and invite you to view the previous comics set in Italy, Japan, Uganda, and Chile.