Summer Research Dispatches: Juliana Friend and Many-to-Many

22 Aug, 2017

Summer Research Dispatches: Juliana Friend and Many-to-Many

We were thrilled to offer six BCNM graduate students stipends to pursue their research over the summer of 2017. Below, Juliana Friend shares her work on crafting a platform to provide "meta-conversations" from across the globe.

This summer provided an opportunity to improve Many-to-Many, an online ethnographic archive launched in Spring 2017, in response to feedback from the April listening session and launch party. A collaboration with BCNM and Digital Humanities at Berkeley, Many-to-Many harnesses digital tools to promote collaboration in the production and circulation of ethnographic knowledge. Over the summer Juliana worked with undergraduate researcher Seth Lu to design an interface for “meta-conversations.” Set to launch in September, the interface allows users to embed conversations – audio, video, image or text – within broader collaborative discussions about the pragmatics and ethics of ethnographic fieldwork. A comment feature was also integrated throughout the site. Set to launch in September, the “meta-conversation” feature brings Many-to-Many into better alignment with our ethical commitment to collaboration. It also helps resist tendencies toward decontextualization, offering those recording conversations the opportunity to include extended reflections on how, why, and for whom the conversations were recorded. This also fulfills our goal of creating a global archive that allows users to form links and connections between conversations recorded on different continents.

The next stage of the project will involve building the conversation corpus, pursuing institutional connections, and conducting user experience research that will itself provide “meta-conversation” to be posted on the archive. Seth hopes to record focus groups about the website with undergraduate programmers. While in Senegal for her dissertation research, Juliana will invite her research participants – teens who are involved in developing digital pedagogical tools for sex-education – to both record their reactions to the site and, in addition, conduct user experience research of their own within their communities. Community feedback will both improve the site and, potentially, reveal unexamined assumptions embedded in the interface.

This summer advanced an ongoing exploration of the possibilities and limitations of Many-to-Many as a tool for dialogic anthropology and participatory research. Juliana conceives this project as her dissertation’s concrete contribution toward methodological practice in anthropology.