Ethnography as Database Narrative: Immersion, Interactivity and Intervention in the Bethune Multimedia Project

By Scott Wilson.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper explores the articulation between new media literary theory and applied visual anthropology. The project is designed to publicize and streamline the services offered at the Bethune Transitional Center – which has been offering educational, transportation and mainstreaming services to homeless families since 2001. Originally conceived as an ethnographic documentary, the project has developed as an immersive, user-navigated database narrative. I argue that immersive, spatially navigable online environments, the foundations of video games and interactive fiction, can also be applied to goal-oriented projects that are produced through community collaboration. In the still emergent field of applied visual anthropology, most interventions focus on policy implications or historical context. Interventions designed to aid agencies and community members in addressing social problems have been relatively unexplored. Applied visual anthropology projects can do both in this mode. Through creative interface and database design, authors can effectively intervene at the levels of discourse and policy, as well as in the daily operations of interested organizations and communities. I refer to these as “vertical” and “horizontal” digital interventions, respectively, and propose that narrative experimentation is required for both.

Keywords: New Media, Homelessness, Interface, Database, Ethnography, Applied Anthropology

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp.1-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 751.320KB).

Dr. Scott Wilson

Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, California State University, Long Beach, CA, USA

Scott Wilson teaches courses on identity, new media ethnography, anthropological theory, and contemporary Chinese society. Born in Stanley, North Carolina, he received his BA from UNC-Charlotte, and his MA and PhD from Stanford University. His current interests revolve around interface and database design, and their relationships to ethnography. When he is not working, he enjoys hanging out at the beach with his wife and daughter.


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