WORLD ANTHROPOLOGICAL UNION

CONGRESS 2024​

SELECTED PANEL

( pn52 )

Reimagining digital anthropology: towards decolonial perspectives and practices

Organizers

    Leah Junck

    German

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Katrien Pype

    Belgium

    KU Leuven

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

IUAES Affiliation: Digital Anthropology

Keywords:

digital anthropology, decoloniality, plurality, peer-learning

Abstract:

This panel invites for a broad spectrum of insights and inspirations that critically think through the kinds of knowledge imbued in digital practice - and how they both reinforce and challenge power. Technologies are becoming ever more attractive as funding opportunities in the name of philanthropic endeavours multiply (Birn, 2014; Wilson, 2021; Al Dahdah, 2022). Despite rationales of evening out systemically cultivated exclusions, the very technologies that are meant to mitigate inequalities often play into them (see e.g. Gebru & Buolamwini). Technologies, then, are not value-neutral but may, if not carefully designed, implemented, and monitored, accelerate assumptions grounded in biased data at an unprecedented scale. Given that this often leaves vulnerable groups even more marginalised, digitisation processes, driven by the visions of a few powerful stakeholders and from a perspective of privilege, have been described as ‘digital cannibalization’ (Sampath, 2021) or ‘digital colonialism’ (Coleman, 2018). At the same time, the circumstance that power is often veiled through narratives of progress makes it easy to disguise power and allows for discredited ideas of categorisation to be given new legitimacy (see Birhane, 2020; Bernal et al., 2023). Misguided investments and public foci also mean that questions of how, what, why, with whom, and what for continue to be neglected - questions Mignolo and Walsh (2018) consider to be revealing in terms of the creative force of resistance and re-existence - or decolonial ways of living and thinking. In this panel, we want to stimulate conversations that pay attention to power while also acknowledging creative responses (see Pype, 2017) and negotiations of what Pype calls the "technology contract," which is “the outcome of negotiations that speak to a society’s acceptance, refusal, or partial acceptance of technological innovations” (2018:4). We want to look at the immediate societal relevance of seemingly epistemic ideas of digitisation as progress and are also interested in how they connect with issues and problems that emerge within communities as part of digitisation processes. While not limited to these, we propose the following areas of discussion: 1. What do everyday contestations of power and knowledge through digital means look like? 2. Against the backdrop of technology solutions in the name of development, how can anthropology serve to connect care and context on the one hand - and scaled visions of impact on the other? 3. How can we move towards conceptualising and producing a useful notion of ‘critical digital literacy’? We would like to hear from scholars who have had experience with related questions in their work about how such questions can be given shape in a decolonial fashion. We are very keen on learning from and with colleagues who have been involved in or are setting up similar research projects in dialogue with the envisaged research communities. After all, if digital anthropology wants to remain relevant within rapidly transforming lifeworlds, we need to try to tackle issues of inequality, power difference, societal relevance (and preference), also within our own research endeavours.