Daniel Miller – The Internet: Provocation

There’s an entertaining and incisive piece on the Cultural Anthropology website by Prof. Daniel Miller (UCL) on (ethnographic) research concerning the internet/’online’…

I have felt that perhaps my primary qualification for engaging in the anthropology of this domain is simply that I have never, ever actually believed in “The Internet.” My provocation is that this disbelief is what distinguishes anthropologists from other scholars of online activity. My approach has always been ethnographic, what I call holistic contextualization. I study populations whose online activities are a growing element of who they are and what they do. Yet no one lives just online.

If you teach under the auspices of Internet studies or similar, it is pretty hard not to fetishize the Internet. But I cut my teeth on trying to develop something called material culture studies as a systematic defetishizing of objects (and of society). Instead, we examine the place of materiality within the anthropology of relationships. I see online as just one place in which we now live and conduct relationships with others. After overhearing a two-hour telephone conversation between your husband and his mother, for example, you would not remark, “Oh, that sounded bad, but what is your relationship like in the real world?”

Read the whole thing here.

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