Advancing Digital Anthropology

Humans and technology are in a dynamic and reciprocal relationship. Yet, in our increasingly digitised world, much attention has been focused on understanding digital technologies, and shockingly less attention is being given to inquiring about how these technologies shape and are shaped by human cultures, behaviours and motivations.

Responding to pressing challenges, such as misinformation, social polarization, digital surveillance and inequality in the digital economy, depends on our ability to gain insights into the relationship between cultures and digital technologies.

While data science has taken a central role in analysing digital societies, the over reliance on big data and artificial intelligence is introducing biases and blindspots into our social decision-making. To re-introduce human perspectives to the debate, interdisciplinary human and social scientists have led a stand for ethical technologies, data protection and care for diversity and marginalised communities. This global movement has been shaped by decades of innovative research and practice in anthropology, a discipline that has developed a theoretical underpinning for examining human insights.

Anthropology contributes a rich and contextualised perspective about humans, communities and societies in the digital era. Anthropological methods see what data analysts miss and are especially sensitive to biases and blind spots. In addition, anthropology has made use of new technical possibilities to carry out thoughtful and in-depth analyses of qualitative data and has had a relevant role in the ethical debates on technological development. Likewise, digital innovations are essential for anthropology to bring its unique perspective in the face of the dynamic evolution of the digital space.

UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences and The LiiV Center agree that global efforts are needed to bring more innovation to digital anthropology to uncover deeper insights into people in digital communities and societies. This effort materialises in the UNESCO – LiiV Center partnership and the “Innovation  in Digital Anthropology project.” The Partnership intends to ensure better understanding of how human communities and societies are interacting and shaped by digital technologies and how policies can be rendered more ethical and inclusive.