Sample Anthropology Essays on Digital Anthropology

Digital Anthropology


Anthropology is a discipline whose initiatives are focused on understanding human beings and examining the manifestation of humanity in diverse cultures. Technological innovation characterized by the introduction and the proliferation of the internet implies that the objectives of anthropology are gaining new impetus from the exponential rise of the digital culture. By embracing different aspects of technology, digital anthropologists have been effective in demonstrating the productive nature of anthropology in the digital world.

An Assessment of Digital Anthropology

Digital anthropology engages in the exploration of how digital and human can be defined in relation to each other from disability to avatars, and the underlying cultural differences in the diverse approaches that humans are using to establish relevance through social networking sites. Furthermore, it also engages in the exploration of the practical consequences of digital politics, the growth of the gaming industry and other online aspects (Horst & Miller, 2012).

A definitive attribute of digital anthropology is that it is an emerging field that focuses on internet related transformations that facilitate a range of new social phenomena. Research in this field has been effective in demonstrating the relevance of anthropology by providing valuable perspectives on the relationship between culture and technology. In its current application, digital anthropology overlaps with terminologies such as virtual anthropology, and is seeks more associations with other fields within the field of anthropology such as the anthropology of science and technology, and of media anthropology (Horst & Miller, 2012). Digital anthropology derives most of its influence from sociocultural anthropology because both areas of study focus on the relationship between human beings and the society in an environment that is defined by dynamism.

The effectiveness of digital anthropology seeks to use different technological aspects in understanding diverse cultures in the society. It engages in virtual research initiatives that provide opportunities to address the objects of study in their own terms (Golub, 2014). This implies that it is not a derivative of the offline since it focuses on the terminologies that define an object under study. These terminologies often involve the direct and indirect ways online sociality points at the physical world and how the physical world, in turn, points to the social world (Horst & Miller, 2012). Participant observation is a critical aspect in all fields of anthropology, and in digital anthropology, most of researchers that use this approach in data collection often claim to engage in ethnography. Their claims often arise when their research methodologies involve interviewing in conjunction or in isolation with other elicitation methodologies such as surveys.

While there is a dominant notion that digital anthropology can be equated to virtual anthropology, a more focused conception that is inspired by an understanding of the original meaning of the term “digital,” which will provide a way of refocusing on the specific methodological benefits that are critical in the study of online culture. Instead of disseminating the idea of the digital as a platform that concentrates on online and electronic platforms, an elaborate study of this methodology understanding of should provide prospects for the development profoundly more vigorous theoretical frameworks described by two major elements. The first element is the foundation appreciation for the constitutive role of the gap between the actual and the virtual. The second element of consideration includes understanding the relationship of the indexical relationship that essentially constitutes the actual and the virtual (Horst & Miller, 2012).

Digital anthropology, like all the other fields of anthropology, seeks to explain and understand how the society works by assessing the relevance of the activities that define the daily operations in the society. Through online platforms such as social media, digital anthropologists must seek technological ways of attending to the principles that are effective in shaping everyday life (Horst & Miller, 2012). The digital platforms provide ways of illustrating the identified principles in ways that improve understanding of different cultural or social aspects roles in defining the activities of a diverse population in different settings.

The existing assertion is that digital anthropology is a process characterized by ethnography. Despite the assertion, it is notable that ethnography cannot be perceived as an anthropological method considering that it exists as a product of a set of methodologies. When embracing digital anthropology, the evolving supposition is that it is imperative for anthropologists to address not only the speculative frameworks that they engage and the socialites that they study, but also how they integrate the research process. When embracing ethnography as an integral part of digital anthropology, it is important for researchers to seek ways of adapting them to the contexts that define specific field sites within specified periods (Horst & Miller, 2012). Such an approach would provide digital anthropologists with boundless flexibility especially when the information available on these online platforms can be used in the comparative analyses of different aspects that are unique to the topics under study.

The role of an anthropologist is to understand the rapid changes in the world and their contribution to the development of different aspects that define the society. Digital anthropology operates on the understanding that the society is rapidly changing because of technological innovations. These innovations imply the need to shift anthropological studies to the virtual platform to understand the mechanism that these platforms use in enabling the activities of different individuals in the society (Anna, Jillian, Mark, & Fraser, 2014). Culture is a phenomenon within the society that is constantly changing. There is often a discrepancy between what people say and what they do. While participatory observation may improve the understanding of a researcher about a particular culture, it is subject to questioning considering that human attributes change depending on the prevailing conditions (Horst & Miller, 2012). Digital anthropology provides a platform for engaging in a comparative assessment of diverse cultures based on the available information on the online platforms.

The Advantage of Digital Anthropology

Digital anthropology is a flexible anthropological methodology for researchers seeking to collect data from diverse backgrounds without the need for travel to the identified destinations. The implication is that through digital anthropology it becomes relatively easier to engage in a research process on the terms of the informant. The process is considered a relatively different approach to engaging a research process because when a researcher chooses to use social media as a platform to engage his or her informant, it becomes fairly easier to establish a virtual connection in which they can meet and speak (Horst & Miller, 2012). In such situations, the researcher only has to ensure that they can access internet connections to establish a communication process irrespective of the geographical barriers that may be considered an impediment in other anthropological approaches.

The flexibility that characterizes digital anthropology also arises from the understanding that it provides a platform for overcoming and navigating the challenges attributed to the politics of access. There are cultures in which gender differences make it difficult for anthropologists to mingle with members of other genders to collect data. In such societies, digital anthropology provides a platform that enhances the possibility of overcoming this challenge through the establishment of a virtual connection. Digital anthropology addresses the cultural and religious challenges that may affect a research process especially in situations where physical contact between individuals from different genders is prohibited. The politics of gender deny researchers an opportunity to engage in political access. It is through digital anthropology that that challenges of mobility, travel, and finance can be bridged with limited effort (Horst & Miller, 2012). Digital anthropology provides opportunities to engage in online research, making the internet an essential tool that does not replace face-to-face fieldwork but a tool that enhances access.

The Disadvantage of Digital Anthropology

A shortcoming of digital anthropology arises from the threat of its rigor and legitimacy. It is a common occurrence when digital anthropological researchers claim to have engaged in an ethnographical study whenever they conduct their interviews in isolation while pairing most of their analysis with unverified works of literature such as blogs. It is, therefore, misleading for anthropologists to characterize such works as ethnographic (Anna, Jillian, Mark, & Fraser, 2014). In essence, in any anthropological discourse, participant observation is considered a core methodology in facilitating a conclusive research process. Elicitation methodologies that define the research approaches in digital anthropology often derive their authenticity from their ability to allow interceptors the chances of speaking retrospectively about their speculations of the future, practices, and beliefs. The approach is different from ethnographies, which combine elicitation methodologies such as focus groups and interviews with participant observation. The essence of participant observation is that it is not predicated on elicitation hence allowing anthropologists to engage in the study of the differences between the perceptions and actions of people drawn from different cultures in the society (Horst & Miller, 2012).

The challenge of using elicitation methodologies in isolation is that they stealthily encode a theoretical assumption of culture as present to consciousness. When using this methodology, digital anthropology is perceived to be predicated on the presumption that culture is an aspect that is in the mind of the people. Culture is also perceived to be a set of perspectives that an interviewer, when engaged on the digital platform, can tell the researcher (Christopher, 2014). It can be used as an authoritative source of information when publishing such accounts. While it is possible for individuals to be eloquent interpreters of their cultures, it is important to understand that interviews and other elicitation methodologies can never reveal certain cultural aspects that can only be experienced through participant observation (Horst & Miller, 2012).


Digital anthropology seeks to merge technological platforms such as the internet in enhancing communication and the study of different cultures. Through it, researchers improve their ability to access information from different platforms by overcoming geographical and social barriers to face-to-face interaction. However, the ethics of using digital anthropology in observing, interviewing, and writing about different cultures can present different challenges. These challenges limit the possibility that the discipline can remain objective in its deliberations, its changes and of understandings in the society.


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Horst, H. A., & Miller, D. (2012). Digital anthropology. London: Berg.

Golub, A. (2014). Digital Anthropology. Australian Journal Of Anthropology, 25(2), 263-264.