The Digital and the Human: A Prospectus for Digital Anthropology
by Heather Horst & Daniel Miller
[Horst, Heather A., and Daniel Miller. 2012. “The Digital and the Human: A Prospectus for Digital Anthropology.” In Digital Anthropology, 3–35. London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.]
Six main principles
- The first principle is that the digital itself intensifies the dialectical nature of culture
- Our second principle suggests that humanity is not one iota more mediated by the rise of the digital
- The commitment to holism, the foundation of anthropological perspectives on humanity, represents a third principle
- The fourth principle reasserts the importance of cultural relativism and the global nature of our encounter with the digital
- The fifth principle is concerned with the essential ambiguity of digital culture with regard to its increasing openness and closure
- Our final principle acknowledges the materiality of digital worlds, which are neither more nor less material than the worlds that preceded them
“The primary point of this introduction, and the emergence of digital anthropology as a subfield more generally, is in resolute opposition to all approaches that imply that becoming digital has either rendered us less human, less authentic or more mediated. Not only are we just as human within the digital world, the digital also provides many new opportunities for anthropology to help us understand what it means to be human” (13).
“In effect, the digital is producing too much culture, which, because we cannot manage and engage with it, renders us thereby superficial or shallow or alienated” (15).
“At the level of abstraction, there are grounds for thinking we have reached rock bottom; there can be nothing more basic and abstract than binary bits, the difference between 0 and 1. At the other end of the scale, it is already clear that the digital far outstrips mere commoditization in its ability to proliferate difference” (16).
“Digital anthropology fails to the degree it makes the nondigital world appear in retrospect as unmediated and unframed. One of the reasons digital studies have often taken quite the opposite course has been the continued use of the term virtual, with its implied contrast with the real” (22).
“Rather than seeing predigital worlds as less mediated, we need to study how the rise of digital technologies has created the illusion that they were” (23).
“Social science had demonstrated how the real world was virtual long before we came to realize how the virtual world is real” (24).
“the term real must be regarded as colloquial and not epistemological. it should be clear that we are not more mediated. We are equally human in each of the different and diverse arenas of framed behaviour within which we live” (24).
“Materiality is thus bedrock for digital anthropology, and this is true in several distinct ways, of which three are of prime importance. First, there is the materiality of digital infrastructure and technology. Second, there is the materiality of digital content, and, third, there is the materiality of digital context” (34).
“We would therefore suggest that the key to digital anthropology, and perhaps to the future of anthropology itself, is, in part, the study of how things become rapidly mundane. What we experience is not a technology per se but an immediately cultural inflected genre of usage” (38).
“Being human is a cultural and normative concept. As our second principle showed, it is our definition of being human that mediates what the technology is, not the other way around” (38).
“The faster the trajectory of cultural change, the more relevant the anthropologist, because there is absolutely no sign that the changes in technology are outstripping the human capacity to regard things as normative” (39).