Feeling Ethnographically Better through Collaborative Fieldwork Methods
Daniel White is a cultural anthropologist at the University of Cambridge. He examines the mutual
production of emotion, politics and emerging media technologies, with geographic concentrations on Japan and the UK. His first book, Administering Affect: Pop-Culture Japan and the Politics of Anxiety, traced how affects of geopolitical insecurity among Japanese state bureaucrats became transformed into feelings of hope through policies advancing the nation’s culture industries. He currently co-leads a project called Model Emotion where he collaborates with computer scientists, psychologists, robotics engineers, and social scientists to examine practices of emotion modeling in the development of affect-sensitive software, social robots and artificial emotional intelligence. His publications and ongoing projects can be found at modelemotion.org.
Affect theory can feel physically exciting in its promise to deepen anthropological work on the emotions below or beyond the level of discourse. But for all its theoretical potential, a certain methodological anxiety haunts the term. In its emphasis on non-discursive aspects of sociocultural impacts and effects, researchers are often left wondering how to actually locate, observe, record, and write about affect with a sense of ethnographic legitimacy. Compounding this anxiety is a model of the fieldworker as a solitary researcher of singular intellectual acumen that can uniquely make sense of cultural puzzles. Even more challenging, a competitive disciplinary field of anthropological cultural production—particularly regarding affect—often evaluates the success of such puzzling on the virtuosity of ethnographic writing, as if poetic novelty was the primary metric
for cultural translatability. Experiments in collaborative fieldwork, however, suggest there are ways of feeling both professionally and ethnographically better. Importantly, and as indicated as early as George Marcus’s reflections on the complicities but also affinities of collaboration in his famous “The Uses of Complicity in the Changing Mise-en-Scène of Anthropological Fieldwork” (1997),” there are multiple ways of collaborating. Drawing on my own collaborative fieldwork with anthropologists, psychologists, and computer scientists interested in emotional AI, this session explores how to apply multiple forms of collaboration in fieldwork on affect and emotion. In doing so, it considers how to potentially feel theoretically, methodologically, and even professionally better in the process.