Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: The Body Online is a creative ethnography hub dedicated to critical digital explorations of health, technology, and the body. The papers in this panel present some of the recent student work to come from this collective. Each paper starts with the lab’s inaugural theme of “millennial health, self, and sociality” to think about a range of situations: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos and the feminizing of digital care; the reassembling of Jim Crow era caricature in contemporary digital memes and blackface; mediations of queer love, desire, and the technosocial on astrology apps; #WitchesofInstagram and the making of intersectional feminist economies; and food blogging as a site for the mediation of new ideas about taste, capitalism, and class. What do these spaces, and those who use them, produce or disrupt about race, sexuality, intimacy, taste, care, biopolitics, digital labor, and the technosocial? In step with Heather Horst and Daniel Miller (2016) who argue that digital worlds amplify the dialectical nature of culture, a guiding theme of this session is to think about digital life beyond a shift in information exchange. What structures dig in deeper and what disruptions become possible? What new epistemological or political possibilities emerge? Another common thread linking the papers is to consider the role of Instagram, YouTube, and other apps in the expression of ideas both normalizing and disruptive about the health, wellness, and identity of contemporary North American bodies. The papers track a number of critical transformations while shedding light on the methodological steps the students took to identify a topic, ethnographically examine it, and write it up. By way of introduction, lab mentor Nicholas Smith will speak to the pedagogical possibilities and questions that emerge, both in the papers and in the collective. What do the lab and the papers gathered here suggest about changes in pedagogical climate taking place in North American teaching and learning. One of the aims of the lab has been to think about digital life beyond the algorithm. What else is being generated in terms of what Gabriella Coleman calls digital cultural politics, vernaculars, and prosaics (2010). Do these projects fall within recent trends in experiential learning initiatives, or are there also ways we (on the panel and in anthropology more broadly) might push the needle further as to what we mean by “experience” or “engagement.” Specifically, how do these presentations and the collective from which they emerge suggest new forms of collaboration that offer fresh ways for anthropologists to consider taking part in and having something critical and informative to say about digital design and its uses by and for myriad publics. This panel is co-sponsored by the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography (CIE).