CFP: Ethnographic Engagements with Digital Alterity

Antonia Walford and I are putting together a panel for this year’s AAA on the digital and alterity. The call for papers is currently open:

*Ethnographic engagements with digital alterity*

Organizers: Hannah Knox (UCL) and Antonia Walford
Discussant: Tom Boellstorff (UC Irvine)

As digital technologies become ever more ubiquitous as artefacts and
infrastructures via which human relations are conducted, this panel
explores an approach to digital relations that asks not whether the digital
is virtual or real, but just what kind of reality the digital is. Rather
than taming digital technologies by incorporating them into standard
anthropological accounts of either technology design or technology use, we
approach the digital real as a specific space of alterity with rich
implications for anthropological theory.

From the sensory infrastructures which feed data streams that are analysed
by algorithms, to the distributed networks of programmers and players that
make gaming environments, digital technologies do not simply provide
representations of an external world, but participate in the organisation
of relations through which new worlds are brought into being. Moving beyond
a dialectic of human/technology or virtual/real, this panel aims to both
explore the epistemological dynamics by which such separations and
boundaries are reproduced, and to push towards an approach to digital
technologies that allows for the relational specificity of a variety of
digital forms (e.g. computer models, social media platforms, digital
devices, and online games) to be interrogated as active and often
unfamiliar(/Other) participants in human social worlds. Looking to the
disruptive, unsettling, or transformative effects of digital technologies,
this panel aims to explore how they raise new questions about the role of
difference, identity, simulation, fakery, newness, automation,
unpredictability, invisibility, authenticity and agency for anthropological
accounts of social relations.

To explore these ideas, we invite papers from a wide range of ethnographic
settings to address such issues as the semiotics of algorithms, the
phenomenology of number, the materiality of digital infrastructure, the
relational extensions of networks and the ontological cuts that such
technologies effect. In drawing attention to ontology, we are interested in
the question of how digital technologies not only perform and produce the
boundaries of the ‘real’ as we know it, but are also active in defining
new, strange spaces beyond those boundaries; and what implications this
might have for reframing what we might call a ‘digital’ form of
anthropology.

Please send abstracts (250 words) to Antonia (walford.antonia@gmail.com)
and Hannah (h.knox@ucl.ac.uk) by *Friday 3rd April.*

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