By Anna Glaser and François-Xavier de Vaujany
Ethnography is increasingly a collective thing, involving both teams of researchers, members of the society explored, and people co-exploring from far with digital tools.
In the context of the Research Group on Collaborative Spaces (RGCS) we organize numerous learning expeditions, field trips and stays which are opportunities to discover, deconstruct, share, new work practices. These expeditions are more and more part of a research and political new research practice we co-produce at the level of the network itself: OWEE (which stands for Open Walked Event Based Experimentations). OWEE implies both an openness to any stakeholder in the exploration and co-construction, an intense use of social media to share and extend the experience, and a strong sense of improvisation (a major part of the places and people we visit are improvised in the flow of our questions and discussions). The protocol shares communalities with the French “Dérive” (e.g. drifting) conceptualized by Guy Debord.
Walk, embodiment, gestures, are a key part of our emergent protocol. We would like to focus here on a key embodied practice which is playing an increasing role in our expedition: the role of camcorders in the social dynamic of our events (see their use below in the context of our learning expedition about street art in Paris #OWEESA).
Pictures 1: The use of a camcorder at our street art learning expedition in Paris (source: authors’ own)
The network has two camcorders at its disposal. We have started to use them in the context of two learning expedition: one in Paris about street art (June, 14th) and another one in Boston about the opening and hacking of knowledge in elite institutions (July, 24th-26th). Anna used the first camera in the former, and François in the latter. We would like to give here a first feedback about the use of this practice in the context of collaborative ethnography.
Our use of camcorder was twofold: keeping a memory of our events (to store them and diffuse them on line), doing crossed interviews of participants and people encountered (individual and collective, seated or walked). Smartphone could be a way to do both things, but we quickly realized the technical limitations of these tools.
Interestingly, beyond their precious use to collect ethnographical material. Paris and Boston’s experience have been a way to realize another key aspect of camcorders. They (re)introduce gestures in the narration and in data collection. Holding the camcorder is also holding obviously and visibly the line of narration. For those interviewed, the cam and the gesture introduced a small tension, a solemnity in the process of interviewing. The cam creates a bubble for those interviewed and those seeing the scene from the outside. It makes obvious that an interview is going on (in contrast, today’s tool of data collection are so miniaturized that they become almost invisible, and part of everyday objects, i.e. smartphone).
In some context (see the picture 2 of this interview below), the cam can be put somewhere and everybody can feel part of the scene and interview, nobody holds the line.
Picture 2: putting the camera for a collective discussion at MIT Sloan Business School (source: authors’ own)
Gesturing the cam is thus a powerful way to invite narrative and reflective perspectives into the walk and discussion.
We are only at the beginning of our experimentation with this tool and other ones (e.g. Framapads, blogs and social networks). Cam have obviously a great potential to introduce new embodiments, new spatialities, new narratives and new temporalities into our event. Among the other experiments we have on mind, the sharing of the cam is one of them. In the context of our next learning expedition, we would like to invite each participant to hold at some point the camcorder and to do films and interviews with is. Let’s see what this mediation will create for the group and for the network.
To be continued…