Digital Environments

Dealing with Data in Socio-Environmental Field Research

October 31, 2016

Alder Keleman Saxena

How do communication technologies—whether novel or newly extended—change the objects, subjects, and practices of environmental anthropology? Lately, I’ve been pondering this question, thinking particularly about two contrasting incidents from my fieldwork in Bolivia.

The first is the memory of sitting in scratchy-bright, high-altitude sunlight, playing with my clunky first-generation smartphone in a lull between surveys in mid-2014. Slipping a SIM card from the state-run cellular company, Entel, into my phone, I booted it up and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the long-promised, nationwide 4G signal, enabled by Bolivia’s newly launched satellite, Tupac Katari, had indeed arrived in this remote field site. Suddenly, I found myself able to send and receive Gchat messages with my husband, who was sitting in his office back in the States. I felt a little guilty about being distracted by my phone during this precious time in the field, but I was also happy to be able to let him know that I had arrived safely, to share some details about how my day had gone, and to confirm when he should expect to hear from me next. Though nothing in my surroundings looked different, I felt just a bit closer to home.
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