Anthropology and the Internet

Authored by: Anna Stewart

The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Anthropology

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415583954
eBook ISBN: 9781315743950
Adobe ISBN: 9781317590675


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Anthropology is chasing a moving target. The social and cultural life we study shifts not only according to place but according to our own engagements with it in time, as practices and objects that seem strange at first gain familiarity, and those we would find familiar are cast into strange new formations. This fact has been especially evident in the anthropological approach to the constellation of technologies termed “the internet.” The physical devices associated with these technologies have evolved from the bulky computers housed in specialist institutions in the late 1980s to the slim, fashionable devices carried around by a growing multitude every day. And yet we find that through their widespread use these remarkable tools become mundane. The gadgetry that would have seemed so thrilling twenty-five years ago is by now part of the furniture, another tool we can use to work, shop, and date (Miller and Horst 2010: 4). This casual, everyday ownership of the internet appeals to anthropological sensibility. Clifford Geertz (1973: 452) famously described culture as an “ensemble of texts […] which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they more properly belong.” The internet seems to provide this ensemble with material form. Peering over the shoulders of our informants, anthropologists have sought to understand the place of these technologies in their lives.

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