On Friday 12 May 2023, the Dutch Anthropological Association (ABv) organizes its annual Anthropology Day. This year’s theme is ‘Reimagining the Digital’. The Anthropology Day will take place in Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden. Save the date!

Digital technologies have become matters of life and death. We live at a time when robots and AI systems assist in medical diagnosis and elderly care, while remote-controlled drones and targeted online propaganda can influence the outcome of a war. Algorithms not only carry out government tasks but also steer the news we read and the people we befriend. Virtual Reality enables us to build and discover new worlds and imagine different futures. The “cloud” requires material infrastructures that increasingly reshape landscapes and environments, from water-cooled data centers to undersea cable networks. As digital technologies mediate ever larger parts of our lives, responses to them range from embrace to resignation and rejection.

Beyond such optimistic and dystopian visions, anthropologists have developed critical approaches to the study of these human-technology entanglements. Anthropologists—in dialogue with science and technology studies, media studies, critical data/algorithm studies, and allied fields—are well suited to investigate the interface between humans and digital technologies. Ethnographic methods can reveal how the interactions between humans and technologies play out in practice, critically analyzing how digital technologies may perpetuate and amplify existing power imbalances. Anthropologists study how diverse groups of people—including activists, hackers, scientists, engineers, and concerned “users”—have subverted, appropriated, reprogrammed and ‘decolonized’ these technologies.

Anthropological research thus offers fruitful methods for the urgent task of reimagining “the digital.” At the Dutch Anthropology Day on 12 May 2023, we will discuss some of the ways in which anthropologists explore, employ, and are part of human-technology entanglements. We ask the following questions:

  • How are anthropologists providing new insight into and reimagining “the digital”?
  • What can ethnography contribute to efforts to design and develop more socially just or equitable systems? What might it mean to “decolonize” the digital?
  • How does digitization affect our own work as anthropologists?

Stay tuned for more information!