Framing Screens Workshop

Instrumental ethnography: An ethnography of (quasi)objects

Contact: Brit Ross Winthereik

Participants: Associate professor Brit Ross Winthereik (ITU) and Reader Helen Verran (University of Melbourne).

Date: January 2010 – present

Type: Bilateral network activity

Description: Ethnographic methods have spread like wildfire into a range of academic fields as well as into commercial settings. Ethnography is no longer primarily carried out by people with an ethnographic/anthropological training and it is no longer – not even within anthropology – primarily carried out with the aim of understanding the origins and complex sociocultural practices of a particular ethnos. Sometimes ethnography is used to improve technological design; sometimes for moneymaking purposes in science-industry collaborations.

This collaborative project focuses on ethnography in STS. It takes as its starting point the confusion encountered by many students of STS when embarking on their first ethnographic fieldwork; there is not much methodological guidance to be found in the STS-classics. In seeking to remedy this lack, the project takes seriously the void encountered between theoretical insights about what sociotechnical networks are and how they work and the existing tools to explore such networks. We propose the notion of instrumental ethnography to capture what ethnography is already doing (in anthropology and STS) and seeks to develop how we might think differently (and constructively) about doing ethnography.


Reading, writing, conversing, a one-day workshop for PhD students on the topic in May 2010, and a one-week PhD course in the fall of 2011.

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