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Two or three years ago, I met Gary Alan Fine, the ethnographer and sociologist who wrote such wonderful books on restaurant kitchens, young orators in high school debating societies, mushroom collectors and many more. We came to talk about varieties of ethnography and one of its German variations: “Phenomenology-based Ethnography”. This form of ethnography pervades German qualitative sociology but is less well-known in Anglo-Saxon sociology. It has been developed by the late Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler together with other  German sociologists and ethnographers of whom a good number studied with Thomas Luckmann, the famous student of Alfred Schutz, at the University of Konstanz (Germany). Gary Fine wondered whether it was possible to put together a Special Issue and encouraged me to approach the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Charles Edgley, with the idea. With the wonderful support of Charles Edgley this Special Issue edited by myself and Ronald Hitzler, has now been produced…

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In sociology and in particular interactionist approaches there has recently been lot of interest in ‘everyday aesthetics’ and ‘practical aesthetics’. At the Participations 2015 conference in Basel in June a panel was organised by Saul Albert and Yaël Kreplak that explored how aesthetics and aesthetic judgement feature in dance (Saul Albert @saul; Leelo Keevallik), in the camera-work in TV productions (Mathias Broth), in the installation of art works (Yaël Kreplak) and in the performing arts (Darren Reed). Save for the panel at the Participations conference, there have been various publications that play into these debates: about a decade ago Christian Heath and I published “Configuring Reception”, a paper that introduced “practical aesthetics” as a practice through which people in everyday situations like museum visits produce situations in which they see and make sense of works of art and constitute them as aesthetic objects. Most recently, Lucia Ruggerone and Neil Jenkings published a paper in Symbolic Interaction “Talking about Beauty” in Symbolic Interaction where they examine participants self-reported aesthetic appreciations in relationship to their life-style.

Jill Walker Rettberg. 2014 “Seeing ourselves through Technology” Palgrave Pivot.

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There is a lot of public and academic discussion about “Selfies” at the moment. When we uncritically follow some of this debate we could believe it is an entirely new phenomenon created by mobile phones equipped with cameras, and maybe selfie-sticks. Jill Walker Rettberg has written an insightful analysis of the ‘selfie-phenomenon’ that situates the photographic selfies we are all familiar with, within the wider social and historic context of past and present technologies and techniques used to create representations of the self, including self-portraits, auto-biographies, and more recently quantified modes of self-logs and activity trackers.

Having situated “Selfies” Walker Rettberg moves on to discuss how “filters” are being used and create distinct version of self-representations. These filters can be technological, such as Instagram filters, or cultural. Whilst the former can be deployed to create images of our selves that show us how we want to be seen by others, the latter are those filters we deploy in response to the socio-cultural environment we inhabit; they guide for example the section of images that we create, collect and display.

A “Selfie” rarely occurs in isolation but often are produced in a series. By examining series of selfies, such as changes of profile pictures over time Walker Rettberg can show how the way in which people present themselves over time changes. As in previous chapters Walker Rettberg manages to link her analysis with knowledge about art history and art theory.

The emergence of Selfies is closely linked to the growing trend of tracking applications and logs. Walker Rettberg illuminates this linkage between these two phenomena and explicates the growing automation of the tracking and its relationship to the earlier discussion about filters. One strength of this chapter is the elaboration of this relationship between, for example the quantified self, the use of automation in the data collection and analysis and the filtering of information in the process. Walker Rettberg further elaborates on the quantified self movement in a separate chapter.

All the developments Walker Rettberg examines and discusses in her book throw in the open issues of surveillance and privacy that every now and again create a media hysteria without being properly dealt with. In her final chapter Walker Rettberg explicates some of the privacy issues related to selfies and possible consequences of the self-logging for people.

Overall, the book provides a very good analysis of the Selfie phenomenon and offers plenty of food for thought on possible further research on related phenomena, such as quantification of the self, automation etc.

Two or three years ago, I met Gary Alan Fine, the ethnographer and sociologist who wrote such wonderful books on restaurant kitchens, young orators in high school debating societies, mushroom collectors and many more. We came to talk about varieties of ethnography and one of its German variations: “Phenomenology-based Ethnography”. This form of ethnography pervades German qualitative sociology but is less well-known in Anglo-Saxon sociology. It has been developed by the late Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler together with other  German sociologists and ethnographers of whom a good number studied with Thomas Luckmann, the famous student of Alfred Schutz, at the University of Konstanz (Germany). Gary Fine wondered whether it was possible to put together a Special Issue and encouraged me to approach the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Charles Edgley, with the idea. With the wonderful support of Charles Edgley this Special Issue edited by myself and Ronald Hitzler, has now been produced and is in the process of being published, first on OnlineFirst of JCE.

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography – Special Issue: Phenomenology-based Ethnography

Table of Content

Dirk vom Lehn and Ronald Hitzler – Phenomenology-based Ethnography: Introduction to the Special Issue

Abstract

The article provides the background and rationale for the Special Issue. It explains the origins of phenomenology-based ethnography in Alfred Schutz’s analysis of the life-world and points to some recent development in this approach that is of particular importance in sociology in German-speaking countries. It finishes with a brief introduction to the articles of the issue.

Anne Honer and Ronald Hitzler – Life-World-Analytical Ethnography: A Phenomenology-Based Research Approach

Abstract

Life-world-analytical ethnography aims to investigate the subjective perspective—the life-worlds—of other people. Life-world-analytical ethnography is based on the premise that any world which is not apprehended as a life-world—that is, as the totality of a world that is subjectively experienced—is a fiction. For we do not, in fact, have any knowledge of a world that is not subjectively experienced—of the world per se, as it were. The investigation of one’s own life-world is a difficult program in itself, a program that mundane phenomenology, in particular, endeavors to pursue. However, the investigation of the life-worlds of other actors calls for numerous additional precautions and measures. This article discusses the origins and foundations as well as particular challenges of life-world-analytical ethnography.

Thomas S. Eberle – Exploring another’s subjective life-world: A phenomenological approach

Abstract

Regarding the relationship between phenomenology and the social sciences, significantly different traditions exist between German-speaking countries and the Anglo-Saxon world, which create many misunderstandings. Phenomenology is not just a research method; in its origin, it is a philosophy and has epistemological and methodological implications for empirical research. This essay pursues several goals: First, some basic tenets of Husserl’s phenomenology and Schutz’s mundane life-world analysis are restated. Second, an approach of “phenomenological hermeneutics” is presented that complies with the postulate of adequacy and aspires to understand other people’s life-worlds more profoundly than the widely accepted research practice of treating interview transcripts as data. The methodical procedure is illustrated using selected pieces from a case study of a patient who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and became severely disoriented. Third, some crucial implications of such an approach are discussed in regard to a phenomenology-based ethnography.

Siegfried  Saerberg – Chewing accidents: A phenomenology of visible and invisible everyday accomplishments

Abstract

This article compares two variations of bodily practices and bodily-grounded orientations and systems of relevance: the blind and the sighted life-worlds. Blindness is conceptualized as a particular style of perception being in no way a deficit but on equal footing with sight. Comparison will show differences and commonalities that may give a deeper insight into how bodily and sensory orientation and practice work in a mundane situation. This situation is feeding behavior and in particular its failure in “Chewing Accidents” focusing on three variations: tongue biting, swallowing a wasp, and biting on a cherry pit. Data are taken from participant observation, focused interviews, and online sources such as blogs and medical forums. By virtue of a detailed phenomenological description of chewing behavior, the article shows that blindness is not the contradiction of sight and vice versa. Invisibility is an element of the everyday life-world, with the latter being dependent on dark areas.

Michaela Pfadenhauer and Tilo Grenz – Uncovering the Essence: The Why and How of Supplementing Observation with Participation in Phenomenology-Based Ethnography

Abstract

Participation in phenomenology-based ethnography is about involvement and “doing-it-yourself,” which generates data derived from immediate experience that can contribute to the reconstruction of the internal viewpoint by uncovering the essence of a phenomenon. This phenomenological orientation is the main focus of interest of the present paper. Based on reflections on the ethnographer as a participant who voluntarily assumes the role of the stranger, we demonstrate how observation can be supplemented with participation. We exemplify it with an ongoing research project on the deployment of a so-called social robot in dementia care. Our aim is to show that a subjective perspective, which does not claim to be superior but rather to be of value in its own right, increases the knowledge yield.

Dariuš Zifonun – Posttraditional Migrants: A Modern Type of Community

Abstract

This article analyses the participation of migrants in sport. Based on the case study of a Turkish soccer club in Germany, it scrutinizes the structural and processual features of ethnic self organization. The club responds to the problems of social order in modern complex societies—problems emanating from the pluralization of social life-worlds—by employing a number of characteristic answers. Among them are the segmentation into sub-worlds, the composition of an integrative ideology of friendship as well as the creation of a soccer style. In processes of legitimation and delegitimation, questions of belonging and recognition are being negotiated. All of this allows for the management of ambivalence in everyday life and contributes to the distinctively posttraditional character of community. The article suggests that a sociology of social worlds approach can substantially contribute to the study of the interactive social structures of society.

Hubert Knoblauch and Bernt Schnettler – Video and Vision: Videography of a Marian Apparition

Abstract

In this article, we sketch the field of qualitative video-analysis and locate videography within this. Instead of presenting the methods of videography formally, we illustrate the application of this method in a particular field: Marian apparitions occurring in a German town in 1999, captured live on video. The presentation of the method in this paper follows a general methodological structure. (1) We first outline the ethnographic context of the setting in which the video-recordings were made. This context includes actors, religious associations, and locations as well as some aspects of the apparitional events’ historical genesis. (2) We then turn to look at the performance of the Marian vision as recorded in the video. By applying sequential analysis, we roughly identify a temporal order to the event, which exhibits an interesting deviation from earlier forms of apparitions due to the way it takes a subjectively “spiritual” form. This finding leads us to finally (3) address the role of the subjective perspective that, as we argue, is a further essential dimension of videography. It is on this level that we are made aware of the relevance of the life-world as a methodological background for the kind of interpretive social science that takes the actor’s perspective into account.

Paul Eisewicht & Heiko Kirschner – Giving in on the Field: Localizing Life-World Analytic Ethnography in Mediatized Fields

Abstract

This article proposes a differentiation of ethnographic research by theoretical paradigm, methodological stance, and scientific purpose. Following these categories, we specify life-world-analytical ethnography as originating from the (subject-centered) action theory with an emphasis on observational participation, an affirmative–descriptive attitude toward the research, as well as the implementation of data gathered by personal experience and its interactive verification within the field. Furthermore, we address the challenges ethnographers are facing when conducting their research in mediatized fields and illustrate the advantages of a life-world analytical approach on our case of online-livestreams and videogaming. We thereby introduce the concept of passing to methodologically expand this approach.

More than five decades ago Marshall McLuhan published his famous Gutenberg Galaxy. The book has been highly influential in a range of disciples from communication and media studies to sociology, management studies and many more. With the growing popularity in the late 1990s McLuhan became not only the Patron Saint of Wired Magazine but also again the centre of academic debate about the noticeable changes in the media ecology.

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Already in 2001 Manuel Castells took it upon himself to examine concurrent technological developments and publish a book with the title “The Internet Galaxy. Reflections in the Internet, Business, and Society” (Oxford: OUP). Save for the title of the book though, there is very little similarity with McLuhan’s book. This is not a critique of the book but merely of the title. The book indeed provides interesting analyses of the relationship between technological and societal developments. In a way, Castells’ Internet Galaxy continues a discussion that he began with his trilogy on the Network Society published in the mid to late 1990s.

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Castells thereby carefully avoids the technological determinism that characterises so many contemporary book about the internet and society. Instead he uses his sociological expertise to offer an analysis of how the Internet and related network technologies provide the basis for new opportunities and challenges for business and economy, politics, and culture. He devotes an entire chapter to a discussion of the digital divide, and emphasises that access to the Internet is not the only barrier to participation in the Network Society but it is a prerequisite for an involvement in societal processes.

In his chapter on “e-Business and the New Economy” Castells investigates the opportunities of new forms of production including changes in labor-relations. He also discusses the financial markets and highlights the fragility of financial markets that are subject to global communication via online networks. In some way that now can be seen as a prediction of the 2007/8 financial crisis, but Castells is not in the business of making prediction. Instead he sticks to an analysis of the present (2001) and recent past and from there on reveals possible directions for business, work and labor and the economy as a whole.

Although The Internet Galaxy was published in 2001 it still is a worthwhile read as it provides a well-founded analysis of networked organisation of society.

over on the SSSI Music blog Jason Sumerau posted an interesting piece on Musical Technologies of Memory

Symbolic Interaction Music Blog

I have an electric guitar in my office. Cherry red and white, it lives on a little stand situated between one of my bookshelves and a file cabinet. Sometimes when I get stuck on a manuscript or course preparation, I pick it up and just play for a little while (without amplification) to clear my mind. I find the feel of the strings between my fingers allows me to relax and think about other things for a while, which often helps me work through whatever has me temporarily stuck. At other times, it sparks conversations with students and colleagues who notice it upon entering my office. In such cases, some people ask about its origin, design, or sound while others comment on its appearance or seek to get me to play a bit (to varying degrees of success). While preparing for my university’s graduation ceremony this past week, I found…

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