Saturday, November 29, 2014

Auto-biography: losing your tools in the digital age

From Photocosmos, Facebook

Interconnections between biography and travel are many in published scholarly fora, but they usually do not endeavour to discuss the burden of such projects’ execution in too much detail. The ‘details’ I am mostly concerned with are not slides of pen and intimate revelations, but epistemologically ingrained omissions during and after different forms of fieldwork – including both terrestrial and virtual ethnographic journeys.

First things first: the so-called ‘ethnographic tourist’ (Graburn 2002) is, today a venerated subject area in anthropological and tourism theory. But today we also deal with cyber-ethnographic imaginaries, which are not as well represented in tourism research (e.g. Germann Molz 2012; Tzanelli 2013). As a result, there is little mention of the traveller’s progressive reliance on technological tools to convey their mobile discourse to the public (e.g. D’Andrea 2006). These tools (cameras, mobile phones and tape recorders) tend to figure as supplementary of the traveller’s hermeneutics rather than as centrepieces of their mobile show. There is still some prejudice over actor-network theory approaches, probably because they tend to consider ‘networks’ as inanimate formations. As a result, travel autobiography does not always take seriously its ‘auto’ prefix, focusing instead on the grammar of the traveller’s mobile articulations – that is, the art of re-presenting their trajectory in space and time. But what happens to the tools used in such articulations in the digital age? Do we have to habitually discard them for their alleged instrumental value – or should we examine their validity as travelling connectors per se?  

There is certainly a danger in such a move, when certain semiotechnologies (Langlois 2012) are prioritised over other ones. Hermeneutic uses of camera-work tend to focus on the technology’s ocular capital, turning for example auditory signs/messages into auxiliary ‘things’ in the travel narrative. Phenomenologically, it seems, so to speak, that such selectivity follows the original script of ethnographic mediation, which articulates our humanity on the basis of our ocular capital. It is difficult to refute that the ethics of travelling are, methodologically and epistemologically, connected to our attitude towards coordinated sensory-as-aesthetic input and output while we are on the move.  

D’Andrea, A. (2006) ‘Neo-nomadism: a theory of post-identarian mobility in the global age’, Mobilities, 1 (1): 95-119.

Germann Molz, J. (2012) Travel Connections. London: Routledge.

Graburn, N.H.H. (2002) ‘The ethnographic tourist’, In G.M.S. Dann (ed) The Tourist as a Metaphor of the Social World, Wallingford: CABI.
Langlois, G. (2012)’Meaning, semiotechnologies and participatory media’, Culture Machine, 12: unpaginated. Available at:

Tzanelli, R. (2013b) Heritage in the Digital Era: Cinematic Tourism and the Activist Cause. London: Routledge.

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