Fieldwork as Interface: Digital technologies, moral worlds and zones of encounter

Karen Waltorp
Aarhus University

Through fieldwork and filmmaking with young Muslim women in a social housing area in the Danish capital Copenhagen, I have explored place-making, identity and belonging through uses of Smartphones. The young Muslim women I work with carve out distinct private spaces for themselves within the otherwise very ‘public’ media platforms, which they modify, censor or make revealing, depending on audience and context. I came to see these practices as making up an art ‘Moral Laboratory 2.0’ (Mattingly 2012, Waltorp 2013). Courtesy of the online dimension, a creative experimentation with parallel worlds and (im)possible futures take place within the confines of dominant socio-cultural conceptions of ‘the virtuous woman’. I found myself participating in – and filming – a great many situations, more intimate than I had ever expected when embarking on the fieldwork. After a number of such encounters, I came to realize, that the Moral Lab 2.0 is as much a metaphor for our collaboration: Through our Smartphones and my video camera, the young women and I are collaborating in documenting, questioning and experimenting with everyday life as it is lived, produced, negotiated, and navigated continuously. Technology- and media-related activities and devices are inextricably entwined in this. And the anthropologist is – inadvertently or not – entwined in this. The methods we apply in our research do not just describe social realities but are involved in creating them (Law 2004), and the experimental collaborative mode, I argue, is sensitive to a mutual ‘invention of culture’ (Wagner 1981), emerging between the informants/collaborators and the anthropologist. In this chapter, I draw on ethnographic examples to further discuss the ethical implications of collaborating around contested issues, and my struggle to be sensitive to-, reflexive about-, and creatively use- the power of sequencing, curating, and editing of the products of the ongoing, collaborative efforts of my informants/collaborators and myself in the field and ‘after the field’.

Karen Waltorp

Karen Waltorp

Karen Waltorp is a PhD Fellow at the research project Camera as Cultural Critique, Anthropology, Aarhus University.

Her current doctoral research explores issues of intimacy, representation and uses of Smartphones among young Muslim women in a social housing area in the Danish capital Copenhagen. She is director of award-winning documentary Manenberg (2010), building on fieldwork in the township Manenberg, South Africa between 2005-2009.

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