Friday, October 18, 2013

Spoon-billed sandpiper: Fieldwork ideas, in Indonesia and Harbin, Language-learning vis-a-vis learning about culture

Hi Jess,

China! ... sounds like a great traveling opportunity and trip ... curious how you're documenting your Yogyakarta fieldwork as well ... For my ongoing Harbin Hot Springs' fieldwork, I continue to take notes for my 2nd book and virtual world ... And revising my 400 page 1st Harbin manscript also involves incorporating ongoing fieldwork ... and fieldwork, reconceived (pool play?), at Harbin, is fun because it's partly about the waters and even a kind of meditation. :)

Happy travels,

Hi Scott,
Fieldwork is turning into a much more "traditional" anthropological approach than I had originally anticipated. I'm spending more time in "deep hanging out" than paying attention to what's happening online, mostly because up to now I've been trying to learn Indonesian and Javanese, and because I've been trying to finish a basic household survey before I can get into online details. The other factor is that online use here seems to focus on Facebook, so when I do explore  what's happening online, it's usually quite limited (though still fascinating because I get to see everyday how a facebook status, including my own, affects or plays into daily social interactions. A reminder that my research is about an urban community that calls itself a "cyber village" because of a grassroots community initiative that has provided cheap cable internet access to many families, though not all). So now in the next stage, after I get back from China, will be to really hunker down and try to figure out what exactly is going on when people are engaging with different media, including facebook, SMS, chatting, newspapers, radio, etc. Apart from "Netnography", which combines traditional and online ethnography, I'm not quite sure how to approach this systematically, and what would be most interesting, so we'll see as the months progress. I'm thinking of submitting a post to the Air-L listserv to see what other people might suggest. Can you tell me more about your own work?


Hi Jess,

I wonder if looking at Wellman's pre-"Networked" (and pre-FB in general) work, particularly in the 1990s, might be useful field note conversation material, as well as broad question-generating material - since I think there was a suburb of Toronto with a similar "Cyber-village" designation and plan, which he has continued to study now over decades.  Besides 'Netnography' resources, what are key, initial, anthropological books or papers for you?

For me, it seems like learning the Indonesian and Javanese languages will give fascinating ethnographic insight into the Indonesian 'mind' 'culture' and language, which the Indonesian internet and your "Cyber village" study would dovetail with, but I need to focus consistently for years with classes, too, to learn a language. (I started translating Rilke poetry and a yoga book into German a few years after returning from a year in Munich, while meeting weekly with an elderly German woman outside of Philadelphia, where she got companionship and I was able to speak with her about what I translated, all of which solidified my German, and was a kind of win-win situation for both of us, and gave me further insight into German culture, as well). But you may well choose a different approach. It also seems like a culture stays with an anthropologist over a life time, - and will in Canada with you, as you teach it - so language expertise would be opening and fascinating in these senses too. What Indonesian poetry or poets do you enjoy?  Any internet poets emerging? (I know of a woman in Chennai, India, who has facilitated a Yahoo group (soul flash) of almost daily poetry; she also lived in the SF Bay Area in Santa Cruz years ago, ... both India and Santa Cruz come through her poetry and others who post on this list for example).

For my first Harbin book, I've come into conversation with Boellstorff's "Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human" (Princeton 2008), and written, with punctilious citations, significantly, an ethnography of actual Harbin, which fits his virtual ethnography  of SL well, and then also interpreted aspects of how a virtual Harbin might find form, having planned to build a virtual Harbin in Second Life, after the first virtual Harbin in OpenSim (and my first, different Harbin manuscript were stolen in June 2009). Boellstorff's SL book has been a remarkable fit for me, who needs structure in writing, and Harbin is alternative/hippy/countercultural enough, and 1960s-informed enough, to make it kind of virtual as an actual place, in some ways. And his second edited "Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method" (Princeton 2012?) looks like it could inform my second actual / virtual Harbin book which will involve the building of a virtual Harbin for ethnographic comparison ("The Making of Virtual Harbin Hot Springs as Ethnographic Field Site in Second Life and Open Simulator" -, perhaps in digital googles like the Oculus Rift, or one's even that WUaS makes in REI Glacier Glasses. Field notes for my first book involved regularly logging things in a journal that interested me when I spent a year there in 2008, as well as when I was a Harbin resident for about 5 months in 2005, having conceived of this project well before this. 'Informants' I find fascinating have been important. I enjoy the mind-turning-ness of Harbin and ethnographically. You can find the first 3 1/2 draft chapters here - I see Harbin as a long time research site, and it's also very enjoyable to visit, partly because of the waters and related culture.

Apart from FB, I wonder about the Indonesian folks who put in the internet networks in your city, and what they think about the foreignness of the information coming into Indonesia. I wonder about translation issues - how little or much from English or other languages gets translated into Indonesian and Javanese and vice versa - and what new ideas are adopted and then reformulated in Indonesian terms, - perhaps in terms of identity - and what Indonesians do on the web to change, for example, American culture. What questions along these lines are you asking?

Posting your own observations regularly to your G+ profile, FB, a blog and other social networking sites could provide useful notes and conversation, that could then become dissertation idea building blocks.

I know T.D. (on WUaS's board, and who is exploring translating MIT OCW into Indonesian on behalf of WUaS), whose English is good, and who's an academic teaching at the University of Jakarta, might be able to put you in touch with Indonesian academics or essayists writing about the web there, and in Indonesian or Javanese. I also know Tom Boellstorff a little, and could possibly put you in touch with him, if that would interest you; I'd think Tom, as a professor actively writing about digital questions and Indonesia, but separately :) and more actively teaching cyber-ethnography, would be of possibly great help, but he has a lot of irons in the fire. (Just came across this interview of him in Indonesian - Jenna Burrell's references in her book per her Harvard talk - - might also be good starting places, in addition to Wellman's, although this is probably all familiar literature to you. I know I let the field itself focus me, - and not the academic literature which can get overwhelming in scope, (except for one book - CoAiSL), but could be worth synthesizing nevertheless, depending on your inclinations - and for me the Harbin as field site, is significantly informed by its waters, its clothing-optional pool area, and the legacy of the 1960s and '70s that continues to inform Harbin in unfolding ways. How this Harbin will find form in a virtual Harbin will become novel ethnography. (And I'm drawn to the novel and innovation ethnographically, even beyond the anthropological travel aspects of living in an unfamiliar, fascinating culture).

Time to revise further my book here. Happy China traveling :)



No comments: