Now Hiring: Ethnographers for Collaborative Fiction Project
We are Hugi Asgeírsson, Ola Claesson and Jakob Skote, a programmer, a writer and an artist all deeply involved in the Scandinavian scene of participatory art and culture, and Amelia Hassoun, a UK-based cultural anthropologist and geographer. In our work we explore new ways of collaborating and creating through the use of new technology and novel social practices.
We have gotten a grant from the Swedish Arts Council to explore how digital ethnography can enhance collaborative creative processes online. We are currently building a team for this project, and that is where you come in.
Babel Between Us is a cartographic visualization of a collaboratively created fiction. A group of around 20 writers collectively improvise a story on an online forum over approximately 6 months. As they follow this collaborative writing exercise from beginning to end, a team of ethnographers (including you!) code and analyse the story on the platform, and those codes are automatically visualised as an interactive network map. We use the codes to build an interactive network of collective associations, mixing ethnography and network science to produce a visualisation of the story. This map is then presented back to the group of writers throughout the process. The final map is also presented as an interactive artwork in itself which the general public can explore.
We are looking to hire two ethnographers to collaborate with us on this project. This would run for about six months on a part-time basis (about 20% of your time). The position pays 28,000 SEK total.
- Trained in the theory and practice of ethnography.
- Comfortable performing online ethnography.
- Experience with qualitative data analysis, specifically qualitative coding. The software is unimportant as we have our own, which you will be trained to use.
- An open mind and a creative spirit – this is a highly experimental project and a non-traditional ethnographic environment. It will be a learning process for all involved and you will be co-creating a new artistic practice as well as performing analysis on that practice.
- Ability to collaborate with other ethnographers.
- Flexibility and willingness to engage in productive dialogue around coding decisions— good communication skills are a must.
- Strong organization skills – must be available for weekly check-ins and document coding choices in a shared open codebook.
- Code the story as it unfolds, using a tool we built in-house called Open Ethnographer.
- Build an ontology of relevant codes, appropriate to ethnographic coding of the story, and keep a detailed and organized codebook.
- Collaborate with other ethnographers to maintain a consistent coding ontology.
- Help to compile an ethnographic report (or other kind of medium to present your reflections) at the conclusion of the project.
- Participate in the discussion towards improving both Open Ethnographer and the SSNA methodology.
- Discuss the artistic and explorative evolution of the project and help design future iterations
The work will take place from January 2020 to June 2020.
Where will the work happen?
The majority of the work will be done remotely. You can do the work online, from wherever you are.
The exception will be an ethnographic methods training in January, for which the project will pay for travel and accommodation.
If you happen to be in Brussels or Stockholm, you can also come work at the Reef or Blivande (our workspaces), but that’s not a requisite. We coordinate and communicate through the Edgeryders platform.
If you are interested and believe you fit the criteria, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a CV and a letter describing yourself and telling us why you want to work on the project.
Please feel free to comment below with any questions!
If you feel that this project is interesting but that you’d rather be one of the writers, please let us know and we will send you the application when it’s out.
Here follows our original application for the project which describes it in more depth:
Babel Between Us is a cartographic visualization of a collaboratively created fiction. A group of around 20 writers collectively improvise a story on an online forum during an extensive amount of time. The resulting fiction is analyzed by a team of ethnographers and presented as an interactive web-based map. This map is then presented back to the group throughout the process. The final map is also presented as an interactive artwork in itself which the general public can explore.
We want to explore new ways to create and present collaboratively written literature. The best way to present a collective creative process is not necessarily in traditional form, but the nature of the process itself may require entirely new media formats to make the content comprehensible.
By presenting a co-created story as a map, we allow the spectators to explore the world the writers have collectively created. Because they themselves interact with the fiction and find their own ways through the maze, we break up the linear narrative we are otherwise accustomed to. Since the map of the connection between the various posts is the basis of the experience of the work, the written text becomes secondary to the actual story.
We let twenty invited co-writers write a co-created fiction for three, month-long cycles. Writing takes place on an online forum where each new posts and comment is considered a unique item. Each such post has a unique timestamp and sender.
The writers have no other rules except to follow the principle of “yes, and.” This means that we ask the writers to build on each other’s ideas and not prevent or shoot down each other’s creative processes.
Digital Ethnography & SSNA
To create the map, we use the latest technology in digital ethnography, called semantic social network analysis (SSNA). The process briefly states that a group of ethnographers analyze all the entries that the writers write on the forum, and gives each record one or more tags that can process all the content, from events to mood, tone, and more. Read more on SSNA in this paper.
These items and tags are visualized in an interactive network graph, which is the basis for the cartographic visualisation.
Collective writing easily becomes unmanageably sprawling because it is difficult for any single participant to embrace the totality of the fiction they co-create. Unlike improvisation theater, live role-playing and other co-created art forms, collective writing takes place as correspondence where many threads are going on at the same time, while the writers are in very different environments and state of mind.
The role of the ethnographers is then to show the writers an overview of their collectively created fiction. The interactive network graph allows them to see which themes they themselves have been most involved in and which they have not yet explored, and which writers they often interact with and which they not. They also see which themes often occur together and can explore the history they themselves write from angles they have not seen before, allowing them to consciously allow them to converge or branch.
The writing takes place in three cycles each lasting one month. During the first cycle the writers write without seeing any ethnography. After the first cycle, the ethnographers complete the interactive map, which is then presented to the writers. Then the second cycle begins when the writers continue to write, but now with the map as a reference. After the second cycle, the second round of ethnography is concluded, and the writers then see the new map before they enter the last cycle. Then a final round of ethnography is made to produce the final map.
We intend to exhibit the final map, both as an interactive web-based map free for internet to explore, as well as a physical piece in an exhibition space. Both of these will be designed in the end of the project, when we have a better overview over the data.
For the audience, exploring the map becomes a boundless discovery of a world, where you yourself put together how everything is connected. The map becomes a book without beginning nor end.
For those who want to dive into the methods used all source material will be available, including interactive tools for exploring the graphs in the SSNA software used by the ethnographers. The project will also result in a research report describing how we have developed the technology behind SSNA and its application.
Collaboration with academia
This project is a collaboration with the Edgeryders Research Network, experts at the forefront of using digital ethnography to understand the depths of online conversations. Through having ethnographers and network scientists from Edgeryders on the team, we have access to the software, methods, and expertise that make SSNA possible to implement.
The project creates a new artistic practice where collaborative processes and new technology reinforce each other. The basis of this practice is the self-reinforcing feedback loop that arises in the interaction between the writers and the ethnographers. In this way, we explore the possibilities for how literature and ethnography can interact in new forms of expression, while at the same time testing the boundaries of both areas.