A growing body of ethnographic literature on digital technologies has emerged since the early 2000s in the wake of profound economic, political and social changes and cultural mobilities spread by globalization.
Looked at collectively, this literature has sparked the development of the field of “digital anthropology”, which “explores how human and digital can be defined in relation to one another”. Digital anthropology includes new methodological approaches and engaging in digital spaces through “digital ethnography”. It also strives to position engaging analytically with the “network society”, challenging the notion of cultural spaces and places and geographically contained field sites.
Many feminist anthropologists have applied a critical feminist lens to the question of women’s agency and the operating of power through structures and mechanisms of control that create, reproduce and uphold gender norms in society. In extending this notion, “feminist digital anthropology” goes beyond its obvious definition, that being, anthropology/ethnography focused on digital platforms with interlocutors who identify as women or female.
I present the concept of feminist digital anthropology to centrally position the role of virtual spaces in mediating how agency, power and social norms are produced on and through the internet as well as through the body, as intermingled spheres of cultural production and spaces of social and political resistance.
Feminist digital anthropology/ethnography is well suited to study both the adoption and use of digital technologies on the one hand, and how virtual spaces intersect with power and agency in everyday lives to give rise to new forms of mobility and possibilities for social and political resistance, on the other hand.
Incorporating women’s voices and perspectives is central to ethically engaging with questions of representation, as well as accurately understanding culture and power, place-making and people-making. Towards this end, in presenting feminist digital anthropology, it is critical to explore— the role of subjectivity, embodiment, reciprocity and reflexivity in ethnographic and other research practices.
Feminist anthropology provides a framework to guide researchers through critical issues of engagement and the politics and ethics of representing others in research. This is a valuable perspective across disciplines including, for example, in technology studies and the tech sector — to guide processes of engagement in the design of new technologies, and for political transformations towards a more ethical digital economy and society.
The online and the offline represent a synthesis, rather than a distinction, of worlds. The internet has come to play a crucial part in communication and society and, therefore, should be central to our understanding of cultural/identity factors and the political economy.
The power of digital technologies fundamentally calls into question rigid notions of identity and belonging based on dichotomy and distinction, including related to gender, race, ethnicity etc. In fact, digital technologies usher in the possibility for fluid identity and self-representation.
Internet users straddle both online and offline worlds navigating between the two in order to realize a negotiated sense of being, and an identity that is “permanently on the move”. As researchers, let us embrace the “frontier-ness” of being, and radically evolve how we seek to understand and communicate our constantly evolving world.
Feminist digital anthropology is about changing the processes of engagement in knowledge production. It is also about recognizing that, as researchers, we must engage in navigating our own reconfigurations of belonging if we seek to speak to and represent worlds around us.
This requires us to re-think the practice of research itself, and how, rather than being extractive, it may effect conviviality, solidarity and collective desire.
The power of digital technologies fundamentally calls into question rigid notions of identity and belonging based on dichotomy and distinction, including related to gender, race, ethnicity etc.
This article is adapted from Ingrid’s medium blog. You can find the original piece here.