New publication: Distance/Relation - Doing Fieldwork with Social Media

Nanna Schneidermann's article Distance/Relation- Doing Fieldwork with Social Media has recently been published in the journal Forum For Development Studies as part of a special issue on Qualitative Methodologies in Development Studies, edited by Hilde Arntsen and Anne Waldrop. The article is available for free download for a period of time.

As social media become part of everyday lives across the world, ethnographers are confronted with questions about how to approach the field ‘online’ and what kinds of data social media might generate in research projects that do not have media as their field of inquiry. Based on 16 months of fieldwork among young music artists in Uganda, this article demonstrates how doing fieldwork with social media can shape the research process, both in and out of the field. Drawing from philosopher Martin Buber’s ideas about relation and distance, I argue that though the twofold movement between distance and relation is conditional for human sociality, the shifting tension between these two modes are urgently present in ethnographic fieldwork, and set in motion in new ways, when the field moves online.

 

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Follow-up fieldwork in Botswana

The PI and dr. Storm-Mathisen are near completion of their second period of fieldwork in Botswana. Five weeks of intensive work, partly in Gaborone and partly out in Letlhakeng, Kweneng West.

Jacaranda bloom Gabs 2017.jpg

Even though only one and a half year has gone since the last field visit visible changes have taken place in the village. All the main roads in the village are now paved and street lighting is a striking visual change. It is claimed that this has made it safer for women to move around after dark.

Letlhakeng street light 2017.jpg

Of course, in a land with still unreliable electricity grid but unlimited access to sun rays these lights are solar-powered and light sensor regulated. Good technology!

South Africa Media Survey

Over the last few months the South Africa branch of the MediAfrica project has been running a small survey on everyday media use. The survey was promoted on Facebook and via other social networks, and we had 250 respondents as well as many interesting comments on the project’s Facebook page.

In the coming months we will be trying to learn from the fascinating answers, analyze the data and compare and discuss with colleagues. Results will be shared in articles and papers, as well as in posts here on the website.

All those who completed the survey entered the draw to win a brand new Samsung tablet. Our winner was Karl from Cape Town, who is posing here with his new gadget.

A big thanks go to all those who took time to fill out the survey and shared their stories and experiences with us. 

 

Me, My Phone and I? - guest post by Shari Thanjan

Shari Thanjan holds a BA Hons in anthropology from UCT and is a specialist in maternal and child health interventions. For the past six months she has been working as a field assistant with the MediAfrica project.

A cellphone always becomes some sort of a fictional companion in your life. It’s so easy to grow attached to material things, holding you to all your networks and traits of your personality. Your phone becomes a friend in times of need. This piece is about a heartbreaking journey between me, my phone and I. And it leads me to reflect on the research we have been doing on mobile phones and motherhood in Cape Town.

The whole debacle started when I took it to a music festival a few months back. Music festivals are always a risk for all your belongings. You can always lose your most important valuable items, which usually include a bankcard, your favourite items of clothing and of course, your cellphone. On event pages on Facebook, there are always posts of people looking for missing items after the party. Being a “joller” (in South African terms a person who goes out dancing a lot), I have mastered the art of not losing my most important belongings despite partying hard. So, off I go to a music festival with my “I’m a responsible joller who doesn’t lose her things attitude”. Putting my phone in a safe place, keeping my bags closed tightly and always on my back to avoid losing my phone. Coming home on the Friday night, I was extremely chuffed with myself for not losing anything. The next morning I went for a breakfast with my friend, happy as a hummingbird. This happiness was cut short, as my phone suddenly fell on the ground whilst getting out of the car to come home. In shock I quickly picked it up to check if the screen cracked. A sigh of relief, not one crack! Then, as I turned it on, the screen remained blank, black, dead. I immediately started thinking of things I could do to fix it, thinking maybe I could put it on the charger and then it will come back to life. My mind started racing with all sorts of silly ideas. I felt so stupid, as all my “responsible” actions, the night before, putting my phone in a safe place, keeping my bags closed tightly and always on my back to avoid losing my phone, were apparently for nothing. So, there I was in an ironic situation, annoyed with myself and the universe.

Firstly, and most importantly,the phone held the ties to my boyfriends. My one boyfriend, who is sort of an ex but still a friend ( its complicated) asked me to behave while I was at the music festival and report to him, where I was and how I was doing, as he needed to know(apparently) that I was safe. Then, a boy I had been crushing on for years, was at the festival and I had drunk-texted him at three am confessing my dear feelings and was still awaiting his response that Saturday morning, but alas, my dear phone broke .Until today, I don’t know what his reply was! I always wonder if a potential and blossoming romance was cut short, by my broken phone. Obviously, it was not meant to be, but a girl can dream sometimes.

Secondly, my broken relationship with my phone affected my friendships. Of course at a festival in a city where you have many friends, you want to meet with them for pre-festival fun. Now I could not contact any of my buddies, getting some disappointed moans from friends when I saw them later that evening.

Further, without my phone I worried about my safety, potentially getting lost, and not having the ability to contact my people, or uber home. So my whole social circle and interactions, which are particularly important in the light of a music festival weekend, was all lost within that moment of my phone breaking.

Part of going for a good party these days is capturing all of the music, videos, pictures, the venue and gorgeous selfies on your cellphone. Just for keeps or to share on Instagram, WhatsApp or Facebook, to show the world what a marvellous time you had . I worked hard on the Friday night taking as many cute selfies and beautiful pictures as I could, only to have it all lost. It tried to borrow my friends phone, which is difficult as their cameras work differently and sometimes their memory gets full and stuff. Eee, I guess one should just live in the moment, right? Well, now I didn’t have a choice!

Without my phone my personal life seemed to be in shambles. But worse, my job as a research assistant was set back. All of my research participants contact details were saved on my phone as well, and now I wondered how to even get in touch with them. Believe me, some of them were hard to come by. And what about doing interviews? All my recordings of interviews were done on my phone. We had also collected something we called media diaries from participants, which is a documentary of their everyday lives recorded on their phones. Though we had wisely made backups, I could not view this material on my phone any longer. How could I do my work with no phone?

It was so heart breaking. I was so upset and there and then, with my broken phone. A material object I owned had the ability to break my heart. There wasn’t much sentiment attached to my phone as an artefact, but more emotion attached to the services it could provide me with- ranging from the camera to the social ties and work - it was all gone.

Yet, in the midst of all this agony there was a light. Through doing many interviews in poverty stricken areas in Cape Town, I soon came to realize that my agony was shallow, and honestly quite silly and I should not have been so upset. Many of the mothers we spoke to did not have smartphones, or even phones. Their reason for this was its unaffordability as the prices of data in South Africa are unaffordable to most, but also more disconcerting was: Some were afraid to be robbed, if they had a (nice) phone, and some did not have a phone because it had already been stolen. While I fret and worry about Facebook posts, many people had access to Facebook as part of a data saving network plan, whereby one couldn’t see pictures and videos, only writing. Many of our research participants hardly went on social networks. Some avoided it purposefully, to avoid all the social drama attached to networks.

The moms we worked with who did have a phone often bought a WhatsApp bundle for R12.50, which lasted them the whole month, and did not include downloading of pictures and videos. Many survived with just this as their main form of communication with partners, family and friends.  While sitting in the clinics, trying to get moms to register on MomConnect, many of the moms were not even interested in their phones, or had any idea how to use it. This happened with moms of all ages.  I had to assist most people I met with the whole procedure.

My time in the field and comparison with my own phone really made me realize, that even though statistic screams that South Africa has 100% mobile penetration, it is not even so. South Africa is a majority poor country. Yet, although there are many mobile interventions deriving from policy, pushed into South African programmes, it seems that end user was not considered, basically, the people of South Africa. In almost every interview I did, or people I met throughout fieldwork could not afford the phones imagined for the mobile interventions.

Going back to my drama, my fieldwork really showed me that a phone is not everything, and one can actually live a happy content life without it. The participants in the research showed me this, and helped me, well, get over my self and my phone.

 

Shari and a participant working on their phones

Shari and a participant working on their phones

Permeable Boundaries – Anthropology Seminar at UCT

I think leaving the field is one of the worst parts of being an anthropologist for a living. Life as I have come to know it in the field collides with life as I used to know it at home. It is one of the big steps of data processing; transforming the lived life, shared concerns and thoughts, experiences, aesthetics and skills learned during the fieldwork from “stuff that is going on in my life” into “data”; the object of analysis and writing academic texts and the like. Suddenly everything, both “here” and “there,” is strange and awkward.

The boundaries between the field and home are in anthropology increasingly permeable, but maybe that just intensifies the movements as different modes of engagement with the world.

Me and the awesome assistant Shari felt this in full a few weeks ago, as we finished up and said goodbye to friends at Hanover Park MOU and at the courts we had been hanging out at, and then drove straight to University of Cape Town for me to present at the research seminar of the Department for Anthropology. We were late, and I was nervous and had bad stage fright.

 

Luckily the theme was Permeable Boundaries, and I was presenting with my buddy Rogers Tabe Egbe Orock from Wits University. We talked about the concept of “BIGNESS” and power in our fieldworks in Cameroon and Uganda, and in African anthropology more generally. But we also talked about our shared background as PhD students in Århus and the pathways of being a young(ish) scholar. The questions from students and colleagues led to important discussion about stereotypes in African politics and the materiality of fame and power.  

Letting the calmness and openness of hanging out at Hanover Park seep into the seminar room for me brought a gentleness and humor to a genre, the staff seminar, that us usually either dreary or scary.

”Hinging on the concept of permeability, we hope to preliminarily imagine and practice an intellectual collegiality that will help us grapple with some of the core issues of the current political moment. ” (from the Anthropology Seminar blurb)

The seminar also marked the end of my time at UCT as a visiting fellow, and I left Cape Town grateful for the wisdom, tough questions, and generous help and friendship from colleagues at Anthropology and the First Thousand Days research group.

PhD buddies from Århus reunited in Cape Town: Nanna and Rogers   

PhD buddies from Århus reunited in Cape Town: Nanna and Rogers

 

 

 

 

A Visit in the Promised Land – mHealth in context

A Visit in the Promised Land – mHealth in context

In development policy and public discourse mHealth is at times seen as the Promised Land. Something that potentially can cut at least 25% off health expenditure and improve health systems and the delivery of services to citizens. So what does the Promised Land look like from the point of view of those bringing it about?

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Reflections on the richness of visual data at Visual Research Coference

Helle-Valle 1990, Botswana

Helle-Valle 1990, Botswana

Storm-Mathisen and Helle-Valle gave a talk, titled Visuality re-acting  at the Thirty-Second Annual Visual Research Conference, November 14-16, 2016, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Orgnizers and Chairs: Thomas D. Blakely, Andrea Heckman, Jerome Crowder.)

Read the abstract here.

Birthing Knowledge: the reluctant midwife

Birthing Knowledge: the reluctant midwife

“If you feel like you need to push, then you should push” I say. And she immediately starts pushing, her sister holding her halfway up behind her. “I don’t wanna do this,” I exclaim in panic, and I get up, walking a few steps away. Like, my whole being just wants to leave the room. “I can’t do this, I don’t wanna be here! I don’t want to be a midwife!” 

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Kampala: Network, connections, and the chain of the phone

Kampala: Network, connections, and the chain of the phone

I’m back in Kampala. I have been away for five years, and return now, to see people who have been my family and friends. I am of course worried; will they remember me? I better not impinge on their lives, just politely pass by. The city, however, has other plans.

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Arrivals: the less innocent anthropologist

Arrivals: the less innocent anthropologist

Arrival at a new field site is for the ethnographer often characterized by an overwhelming amount of practical activities towards answering questions like these: Where am I? Do I live here? How do I protect my body and my equipment (and in the long term my mind) from the weather/wild animals/destruction by ritual sacrifice/theft? Can I sleep safely? Do I need to get around? How do I get around? Who do I talk to? How do I address them? How do I respond without facing sanctions? What is dangerous? What is safe? What is good?

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Mobile phones as devices for caring in DR Congo

Mobile phones as devices for caring in DR Congo

What kinds of access do elderly people in Kinshasa (DRC) have to new media, and in particular, to mobile phones? Surprisingly, instead of children providing their elderly parents with such devices, it is grandchildren who facilitate access, but sometimes in troubling ways. 
 

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