Computational Ethnography and the Ethnography of Computation: The Case for Context


September 14, 2017
2:00pm to 3:00pm
190 Doe Library
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Ethnography is traditionally a qualitative and inductive methodology – with its origins in cultural anthropology – that is now widely used to holistically investigate people’s lived experiences in and across cultures. In this talk, I define and discuss two ways of thinking about the role of ethnographic methods around computation, then discuss how my research relates to both. The ethnography of computation involves using traditional ethnographic methods (including interviews, observation, participant-observation, case studies, archival research, and surveys) to study how people relate to computation in various ways. For example, this approach investigates issues around how people design, develop, deploy, document, debate, maintain, manage, use, not use, learn, or teach computation in their everyday life and work. Computational ethnography involves extending ethnography’s traditionally-qualitative methodological toolkit with computational methods, conducting mixed-method scholarship in line with the broader principles that make ethnography a rich method for holistically investigating cultural phenomena. Both approaches bring new insights to our understanding of various issues in and around data science, and I discuss projects of both types relating to issues including career paths, managing open source software projects, and open science and reproducibility.


R. Stuart Geiger

BIDS Alum – Ethnographer

Former BIDS Ethnographer Stuart Geiger is now a faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, jointly appointed in the Department of Communication and the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute. At BIDS, as an ethnographer of science and technology, he studied the infrastructures and institutions that support the production of knowledge. He launched the Best Practices in Data Science discussion group in 2019, having been one of the original members of the MSDSE Data Science Studies Working Group. Previously, his work on Wikipedia focused on the community of volunteer editors who produce and maintain an open encyclopedia. He also studied distributed scientific research networks and projects, including the Long-Term Ecological Research Network and the Open Science Grid. In Wikipedia and scientific research, he studied topics including newcomer socialization, community governance, specialization and professionalization, quality control and verification, cooperation and conflict, the roles of support staff and technicians, and diversity and inclusion. And, as these communities are made possible through software systems, he studied how the design of software tools and systems intersect with all of these issues.  He received an undergraduate degree at UT Austin, and an MA in Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University, where he began empirically studying communities using qualitative and ethnographic methods.  As part of receiving his PhD from the UC Berkeley School of Information, he worked with anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, organizational and management scholars, designers, and computer scientists.