8: Technology, Representation, and the “E-thropologist”: The Shape-Shifting Field among Native Amazonians
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147 8 Technology, Representation, and the “E-thropologist” The Shape-Shifting Field among Native Amazonians Stephanie W. Alemán This chapter centers on both the familiar and the arrestingly new. On the one hand it is about my long-term relationship with the Waiwai (Carib-speaking Amazonians in Guyana and Brazil) as collaborators and friends, familiar territory for me. In fact, this territory is not only familiar but rather comforting to me. On the other hand, this chapter is also about following them as they venture into cyberspace and online worlds—places with which they are relatively unfamiliar, but also places in which I am not a familiar participant. This aspect of emergence that is ongoing and shifting makes following ethnographic subjects into new spaces speculative. Their Internet forays make my ethnographic situations arrestingly new because in addition to the nuances that our mutual lifeworlds-in-progress may reveal in other spaces are the very real and increasingly relevant opportunities for pause and reflection, including the opportunity to deepen the significance of the reflexive exercise as method and to contemplate the utility of such reflexivity toward an emergent understanding of the shifting nature of the fieldwork process itself. Thrusting DOI: 10.5876/9781607321705.c08 148 Stephanie W. Alemán the ethnographer into a new, interactive venue for participation with the members of a community with whom they have lived and worked in close somatic proximity brings to light the personal relationship the ethnographer has with this interactive venue. Following the Waiwai into online worlds is like traveling with them in other contexts—along rainforest trails, on winding rivers, or even, ultimately, into “hidden” cosmic and spiritual worlds—and yet these “new” Internet spaces are places I come to with some inherent bias based on my own experience. But anthropology has been here before, even if I and my collaborators have only recently ventured together into “Cyberia” (Escobar 1994), and there are many things to consider and many trajectories to take. As Wilson and Peterson asserted in 2002, the transformations and changes that the Internet might bring about “have been less dramatic and more embedded in existing practices and power relations of everyday life” (Wilson and Peterson 2002, vii), and this is certainly the case among the Waiwai. On the other hand, it is also important to consider questions such as, is the concept of community itself misleading? and will an anthropological approach to these phenomena necessarily differ from other types of anthropological investigation? (ibid., viii). On the positive side for the e-thropologist, anthropology seems “uniquely suited for the study of socioculturally situated online communication within a rapidly changing context,” and it is an opportunity for the discipline to explore and theorize communicative technologies and cyber-created discourses and relationships (ibid.). The creation of a virtual ethnographic paradigm is still and will remain “in progress.” While we grapple with ideas of the Internet as place or the Internet as cultural artifact, or both, ethnographic subjects interact with the Internet in exponential ways that are difficult to capture. Authenticity and identity become more nuanced and face-to-face ethnographic techniques are no longer possible (Hine 2000). In a more localized sense, this chapter examines the collision of what is characterized as modern with what is desired to be traditional—that is, the imposition of Western, or perhaps better, the technologized, aspects of the human cultural experience on what is to some the iconized, unmodernized, unglobalized refuge of desire, the comparatively remote-dwelling indigenous Amazonian Indian or Amerindian. In this respect, interpretations of this collision resemble the denial of native agency in the face of overwhelming directed change, such as when Amerindians discard their feathers for trousers and dress shirts or take up shotguns over long bows, motorized cassava graters over handmade stone-encrusted grater boards, metal axes and adzes over stone implements, or even boomboxes for bamboo and bone flutes. These changes are viewed as forms of postcolonial victimization rather than conscious choices. We can comprehend the desire to be like the “unfettered” native Amazonian (the fetters in this case being the complexity of urban life, 149 Technology, Representation, and the “E-thropologist” the obligation to technology, and perhaps a sense of dehumanization), but we may not consider that they may actually want to be like us. This is especially true if this emulation involves aspects of what we consider our less-desirable selves, the part that is jaded and anxious and needs sleep aids, antidepressants, stimulants, and lattes to function...


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Subject Headings

  • Anthropology -- Philosophy.
  • Cybernetics -- Philosophy.
  • Online social networks.
  • Computers and civilization.
  • Virtual reality.
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