Press release

UNESCO and The LiiV Center for Digital Anthropology Launch Global Partnership to Advance the Field of Digital Anthropology

02/08/2021

UNESCO and The LiiVTM  Center for Digital Anthropology launched a global partnership to advance the science of digital anthropology. The first phase of this  partnership will be a four-year collaboration to build a global movement that unifies the academic discipline of digital anthropology and raises awareness of its power to create a more ethical, cohesive, and empathetic society. 

The launch event is planned for 24 September at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris. This will be pivotal in setting the work of the partnership in motion. The movement is in response to the rapid pace of digital transformation and its impact on all aspects of societies, cultures, and people in the digital world. Digital anthropology looks at how technology and digital platforms such as Twitter, TikTok, Tinder, Google, Instagram, and YouTube are altering social dynamics, economies, and even entire nations—providing governments, educators, NGOs, and others with valuable insights into these social phenomena.

The UNESCO Partnership is the first step in the creation of The LiiV Center for Digital Anthropology, which will lead the process of unifying the conversation around modernizing the empathetic mindsets and research methodologies of ethnography with the scale and precision of data science. The partnership will facilitate global academic degree programs, along with research initiatives and technology to drive this innovative field forward across both the public and private sectors.

As a laboratory of ideas, UNESCO's ambition is to respond to the major contemporary questions by using all the tools available to researchers. The LiiV Center for Digital Anthropology will provide a forum for collaboration about digital anthropology as a mainstream field of academic enquiry and social transformation.  

As digitization is transforming culture today in a world that is both globalized but also very divided, we need, without fail, policy relevance to be put in a context of cultures. The world urgently needs Digital Anthropology to make data more human and help leaders better understand the needs and experiences of people across the digital world. The world urgently needs Digital Anthropology to appraise political and economic reflections with fresh perspective, as we try to build a more fair and sustainable world for tomorrow.

Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences at UNESCO

The partnership furthers UNESCO’s unique mission to ensure that all people can live dignified lives through international cooperation in education, the sciences, and culture, with goal of establishing digital anthropology as a mainstream field that promises to help society, leaders, and change-makers understand modern humanity and what it means to be human in the digital world. 

Digital anthropology, therefore, is about the cultural study of modern groups of people as they navigate their physical and digital lives through the internet and technology as well as on socio-digital phenomena arising from the mass-use of technological devices, such as wearables, game consoles, all kinds of hardware, smartphones, and more.

This movement fills urgent ethical needs across societies and is deeply aligned with the suite of UNESCO’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). The achievement of these goals requires stronger data systems that better reflect human needs—ensuring individual privacy and incorporating unstructured and qualitative information. This is a critical first step in building a better ethical future for people and the planet.

We’re excited, honoured and humbled to start this partnership together. This is a call to action, to get involved, and join the conversation. Bring your passion and what you’ve been working on to unify a global voice for digital anthropology.” He then added, “We’re excited to partner with UNESCO to launch the field of Digital Anthropology and foster ethical, responsible, and human-rights-based practices in technologies and methods, including personal data protection and non-discriminatory algorithms.

James Ingram, CEO of LiiV

What does Digital Anthropology deal with? 

  • It establishes bridges between people's digital lives and the non-digital environment (holistic approach), and it is not confined to what happens online.
  • It highlights the voice of people. It prioritizes qualitative data and humanistic explanation over quantitative data, but without neglecting the use of statistical tools for analysis.
  • It has a polymedia approach. It considers the different digital (and non-digital) technologies used by human beings to understand their socio-cultural reality.
  • It emphasizes the role of people’s interactions rather than technology. Digital ethnography for instance, unlike other methodologies (which usually involve the use of software), studies the nature of online human interactions.

Digital anthropology helps define “digital tribes” as groups of people who are not only physically united, but who share practices and customs that give them a sense of symbolic belonging. They do not need physical space to consolidate. Rather, they arise from shared digital experiences (Cova & Cova, 2002).

For more information, visit The Liiv Center for Digital Anthropology.