The Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC) fosters cross-cultural, interdisciplinary and multi-sited research, especially in relation to the Asia-Pacific region. Through research and critical engagement, we collectively seek to push the boundaries and possibilities of ethnographic practice in, through and around digital media. DERC is a research centre in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, affiliated with the Design Research Institute. Read more about digital ethnography. Sign up for our mailing list.

Blog Index
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Speculative Ethnographic Documentary: A screening of Nightfall on Gaia

Date: Thursday 3 March 2:00-4pm

Venue: RMIT Swanston Academic Building, Building 80, Level 3, Room 1, Melbourne

In April 2043, Dr. Xue Noon finds herself stranded in the GAiA International Antarctic Station. As the polar night closes in she connects herself to the Ai-system to scavenge digital memories and archives. Nightfall on Gaia is a speculative ethnographic film that depicts the lives and visions of human communities living in the Antarctic Peninsula. Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Antarctica, the film is an experimental meditation on the future of the Antarctic as a new extreme frontier for human inhabitation, the complexities of a fragile planet at the verge of ecological collapse, and the vicissitudes of an uncertain geopolitical future for the region.

Juan Francisco Salazar is an anthropologist and media practitioner. He is an Associate Professor in communication and media studies at Western Sydney University where he is also fellow of the Institute for Culture and Society. His film Nightfall on Gaia (2015) is his second feature length documentary and has been exhibited at international festivals in Bristol, Denver, Toronto, Copenhagen, Bogotá, Santiago and Sydney.

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RMIT Europe Book Launch - Digital Materialities Design and Anthropology

Date: Wednesday 24 February 7pm

Venue: RMIT Europe, Barcelona, Spain

RMIT Europe will host a book launch for 'Digital Materialities Design and Anthropology' this Wednesday 24 February in Barcelona, Spain

Digital Materialities presents twelve chapters by scholars and practitioners working at the intersection between design and digital research in the UK, Spain, Australia and the USA. By incorporating in-depth understandings of the digital-material world from both the social sciences and design, the book considers how this combined knowledge might advance our capacity to design for the future. Divided into three parts, the focus of the book moves from the theoretical to the practical: how different digital materialities are imagined and emerge, through software emulation, urban sensors and smart homes; how new digital designs are sparked through collaborations between social scientists and designers; and finally, how digital design emerges from the insider work of everyday designers.

A fascinating, ground-breaking book for students and scholars of digital anthropology, media and communication, and anyone interested in the future of digital design.

Eszter Hargittai Seminar: The Online Participation Divide

Date: Wednesday 24 February 3:30-5pm

Venue: RMIT Council Chamber, Building 1, Level 1, Bowen Street, Melbourne

While digital media have certainly lowered the barriers to sharing one's perspectives and creative content with others, research on online engagement has found considerable differences by user background. The first part of the talk will discuss differentiated rates of online participation including photo and video sharing, writing reviews, and editing Wikipedia. Findings suggest that gender, socioeconomic status and Internet skills are all related to who shares content online. Drawing on some of the challenges of existing work in this domain, the second part of the talk will discuss the various dimensions of online participation that are worth keeping in mind when studying such activities.

Eszter Hargittai (PhD Sociology, Princeton University) is Delaney Family Professor in the Communication Studies Department at Northwestern University where she heads the Web Use Project. Starting in Fall 2016, she will hold the Chair in Media Use at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Her research looks at how people may benefit from their digital media uses with a particular focus on how differences in people's Web-use skills influence what they do online. Her work has received awards from several professional associations including the International Communication Association's Outstanding Young Scholar Award. She has published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and 19 book chapters. She is co-editor, with Christian Sandvig of Digital Research Confidential recently out with MIT Press. She has given invited talks in 21 US states and 15 countries on four continents. She tweets @eszter.

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Paul Dourish Seminar: The Cultural Narratives of Design Practice

Date: Monday 8 February 3:30-5pm

Venue: RMIT School of Business, Building 80, Level 6, Room 9, Swanston Street, Melbourne

Design is widely touted not just as a source of product innovation but of civic engagement. From Richard Florida’s writings on the creative class to President Obama’s National Day of Civic Hacking, we are surrounded by stories that entwine design thinking and design practice with broader political projects. In this talk, I want to examine current topics in design, and especially the emergence of the DIY/maker movement, in terms of their connection to broader narratives of civic participation, commercial innovation, and political resistance. I will draw in particular on ongoing studies of hackerspaces and maker practices in multiple sites around the world but particularly in China

Paul Dourish is a Professor of Informatics in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC Irvine, with courtesy appointments in Computer Science and Anthropology, and co-directs the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing. His research focuses primarily on understanding information technology as a site of social and cultural production; his work combines topics in human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing, and science and technology studies. He is the author of two books: Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction (MIT Press, 2001) and, with Genevieve Bell, Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing (MIT Press, 2011). He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University College, London, and a B.Sc. (Hons) in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh.

Angie Hart: Resilience Based Approaches Supporting Young People and Families

Date: January 28th, 2:00pm - 3:30pm

Venue: Pavilion 1, Level 10, Building 100 (Design Hub) 3065

The not for profit Boingboing and the University of Brighton have been working for some years now to find better ways to develop resilience with and for some of the most disadvantaged young people in society. They have developed various research-based approaches to resilience building, all of which have been co-produced with young people and adults facing major challenges (see Visual arts-based approaches have formed a crucial part of the work they have been doing. This session will offer an overview of this work and demonstrate some of the training tools, books, films and exhibitions that young people and adults have designed and developed together as part of the Research Council funded Imagine Project. Many different young people facing serious life challenges have been involved in this work. Boingboing supports them with volunteering and employment opportunities. Young people are also co-deliverers of training and other events to share what we have learnt, with some of them beginning to make a career out of working in the resilience field.

Angie Hart is Professor of Child, Family and Community Health at the University of Brighton. Together with students, practitioners and community members, Angie has published widely on resilience based approaches to supporting children and families in schools and beyond, and her work is funded through many sources including research councils and local authorities. She co-founded Boingboing, a not for profit organisation which supports resilience based practice ( Her resilience research profile is underpinned by professional and personal experience – Angie is a Child and Adolescent Mental Health practitioner and the adoptive parent of three young people with complex needs.


Mobile Media: Methodological Considerations and Explorations

Date: September 29th, 10:30am - 1:30pm

Venue: Pavilion 4, Level 10, Building 100 (Design Hub) 3065

Mobile media has changed the way we work and live imperceptibly, but at the same time fundamentally, and present media studies with new challenges. Research in mobile media studies requires inventive methods and practice theories as more and more epistemic, social and material things become networked and smart, as infrastructures are rendered visible, and as digital technologies increasingly become assistive, wearable and context-aware. This master class will unleash the potential for exchanges between media studies, social theory, science and technology studies, and research in mobile human-computer interaction. An interesting concept introduced within this context by some large scale studies on mobile application usage is application chains, where users switch from one application to another in a chain of activity. These “application chains” are essential for our understanding of the streamlined, linear experience of mobile web users today, as the mobile screen experience of smartphones and handhelds is designed to follow a series of visual patterns. In this master class, we will investigate to what extent browsing patterns, such as the launching of applications, the swiping of lists, the logging in and signing up via Facebook, the rotating of content, the searching for locations, and the target-orientated watching through a camera lens, are adapted from older cultural techniques, as proposed by mobile app developers. By this means, we will discuss several kinds of important historical milestones in the development of mobile media technologies in order to pave the way for a better understanding of alleged new media. To this end, the master class will explore how methods of digital ethnography, material socio-technical analysis, and software studies can be used to gain a profound understanding of contemporary media practices.


Mobile Media: Operative Images: The Pasts of Futures of Locative Media

Date: September 30th, 2:30pm - 4:00pm

Venue: Pavilion 1, Level 10, Building 100 (Design Hub) 3065

Although augmented reality navigation using smart phones or smart glasses appear at first glance to be something completely new, they are in fact based on a very old cultural technique. Virtual travel through pre-recorded spaces can look back at least to the year 1905, when the first attempt at capturing residential streets of select routes in photographs took place. The idea was to make them available as ‘photo-auto guides’, with superimposed textual and pictographic route instructions. Moreover, these guides were designed as ‘ social media’, with empty lines under each photograph allowing the preservation of photo- related memories. The navigation instructions were layered within a series of photographs, as if arrows had been drawn in the dust of the streets. The object of this lecture is photography that is turned into layered operative imagery through inscriptions. These ‘graven images’ are operative in two ways: On the one hand, the presented photographs have been subjected to operative changes through embedding information in their surface; on the other hand, these photographs have been taken and compiled in such a way that they are part of an operative practice: the practice of autonavigation. The material historical ethnography of several used, marked, and tattered photo-auto guides shows that there is a sense of mobility and user-generated operability within layered image-space which challenges our inherited definitional assumptions of location-based photography. Most former approaches to locative media have neglected the changes in objects as they move and circulate through networks and have remained content to trace the lives of objects or humans attached to objects. In these movements, while there are significant translations in cultural form and meaning, the tracked objects maintain an aesthetic integrity. However, what if we take the algorithmic construction of images seriously and dig deeper into the movements within an artifact instead of the artifacts in motion? This lecture demonstrates that locative media using augmented reality always have had qualities that are far more diagrammatic than representational.