It might be argued that anthropology has come late to the question of whether there is an ontology to the digital. Although scholars in software and media studies have long described the logical structure of digital media, anthropologists have tended to critique such accounts as overly generalized, focusing instead on the local specificities of technology use. The aim of this Theorizing the Contemporary series is to provide an interface between these positions. We suggest that anthropology’s recent turn to ontology offers the potential of expanding the anthropology of the digital in a way that allows us to attend to ontological questions without falling into the trap of universalizing claims.
This series emerges from two workshops convened by Antonia Walford and Hannah Knox in London in September 2014 and May 2015 to explore the material, epistemological, and ontological character of digital technologies. The workshops were supported by the Economic Social and Research Council’s Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Changeand the University College London Centre for Digital Anthropology. They included a mix of participants working across anthropology, the digital humanities, and science and technology studies. Some had thought a great deal about the relational affordances of digital technologies, but less about whether it was helpful to think of these technologies in ontological terms. Others had strong opinions about the usefulness of an ontological approach to understanding social relations, but had not explored their ideas in relation to digital technologies. The essays in this series are the culmination of the lively discussions that ensued, as we worked to tease out the difference it might make to an anthropology of the digital to approach digital technologies as ontological formations.
Posts in This Series
It might be argued that anthropology has come late to the question of whether there is an ontology to the digital. Although scholars in software and media studi... More
Big Data is not just the proliferation of crunchable information. Rather, Big Data comes with the dawning realization that contemporary processes leave a digita... More
The Danish Ministry of Education is currently making changes to its Management Information System, known as LIS. LIS is a common and mundane spreadsheet databas... More
Race is back with a vengeance. The role of genetics and genomics can hardly be underestimated in this resurfacing of race. While geneticists repeatedly assert t... More
I propose we think about a digital ontology from the perspective of how things work, rather than how things are. What does it mean for conversations about what ... More
Work on the development of two relational database systems required us to confront assumptions about digital objects and the kinds of relations through which su... More
Something has happened to ontology; ontology is not what it used to be. One English dictionary defines ontology as the study of the fundamental foundations of b... More
The light bulb in the window remained on all winter. In the low light of day it glowed green like a Scots pine. After dusk, as the night drew quickly in across ... More
When we discuss the digital, we usually mean computers and new technologies of information and communication. We wonder if they can transform society and what i... More
In this essay, I engage with the ontology of the digital by exploring the temporalities and forms of relatedness that it affords. I do so by focusing on a relat... More
How do we see ontological transformations? Take the case of kittydar, a small demonstration of machine-learning techniques in the area of computer vision. Accor... More
Citizen sensing is a term that describes an emerging range of practices for monitoring environments through low-cost and DIY digital technologies. From air poll... More
“Is there an ontology to the digital?”, Hannah Knox and Antonia Walford provocatively ask. Departing from this provocation, I offer some preliminary reflections... More