Visualizing Ethnography in the 21st Century
The VizE Lab is dedicated to empowering scholars across the disciplines who want to enrich their research with innovative forms of ethnography. As the Lab's defining core, ethnography is a qualitative approach to studying people and cultures that involves in-depth and often long-term participant observation. Ethnographic methods help researchers understand what motivates human behaviors from the standpoint of social contexts, and it is the method used most by socio-cultural anthropologists.
Ethnography is also the outcome of a variety of methods used for eliciting data about how people explain what they do and what they actually do, as well as for attending to how either of these might change over time. In addition to the method of close-up participant observation, researchers may also draw on interviews, surveys, and videography on one hand and the other statistical methods and analyses of "big data" used in behavioral research in disciplines such as sociology and politics, as well as in engineering and the natural sciences. The VizE Lab is a hub for pioneering new configurations of ethnography that combine these techniques, and for pursuing new critical questions about knowledge production in the digital age. As a hybrid process of data collection for both interpretive and statistical analyses, then, ethnographic scholarship potentially can be represented in a variety of forms.
Using emphatically visual modes, the VizE Lab's unique mission is to assist researchers in connecting the person-centered and narrative traditions of ethnographic and documentary film, based on participant-observation, with new techniques of data collection and visualization, which have emerged in relation to computational analysis. By bringing this range of techniques together under one roof, VizE Lab is focused on catalyzing new creative practices for conducting and visualizing ethnography across the disciplines. Thus, the Lab is eager to collaborate with scholars in social science and humanist disciplines as well as scientists, engineers, designers, and policy experts who seek to use ethnography to enrich and communicate their work.
A Dual Agenda
As it starts up, the VizE Lab confronts a political and environmental moment that places new if not urgent demands on scholars to expand their range of methods and the accessibility of their work. Ethnography can bring into view a variety of unseen and unanticipated cultural facts through grounded engagements with people outside of elite institutions, or who may not count in statistical knowledge. Yet ethnography created from the standpoint of social arrangements can both enrich and be inspired by the patterns and questions that "big data" can illuminate. The present moment also requires scholars to extend the reach and legibility of ethnographic knowledge to elite institutions and beyond. The VizE Lab's resources for multimodal ethnographic research and visualization provides techniques for empathetically understanding the humanity of people where ever they are situated, while revealing the shifting complexity of global inequalities in intelligible and engaging forms to wider publics, where ever they are located. Put differently, the VizE Lab necessarily has a dual agenda for ethnographic visualization: First, to bring unseen publics into view through ethnography, and secondly, to make ethnographic knowledge itself visible to the widest possible range of publics.
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