New Horizons in Digital Anthropology

Report by UNESCO and the LiiV Center: “Digitisation, social networks, artificial intelligence, and the metaverse are changing what it means to be human. Humans and technology are now in a dynamic and reciprocal relationship. However, while society has invested trillions in building and tracking digital platforms and personal data, we’ve invested a shockingly small amount in understanding the values, social dynamics, identities, and biases of digital communities.

We can’t address transformations in one without understanding the impacts on the other. Handling growing global challenges such as the spread of misinformation, the rise of social and political polarisation, the mental health crisis, the expansion of digital surveillance, and growing digital inequalities depends on our ability to gain deeper insights into the relationship between people and digital technologies, and to see and understand people, cultures and communities online. The world depends heavily on economics and data science when it comes to understanding digital impacts, but these sciences alone don’t tell the whole story. Economic models are built for scale but struggle with depth. Furthermore, experience shows us that over-reliance on one-dimensional approaches magnifies social biases and ethical blind spots.

Digital Anthropology focuses on this intersection between technology and humans, examining the quantitative and qualitative, using big data and thick data, the virtual and real. While innovation in digital anthropology has started, the field needs more investment and global awareness of its unique and untapped potential to humanise decision-making for leaders across the public and private sectors.

This publication, developed in partnership between UNESCO and the LiiV Center, maps the landscape of innovation in digital anthropology as an approach to ensure a better understanding of how human communities and societies interact and are shaped by technologies and, knowing this, how policies can be rendered more ethical and inclusive.

Briefly, the research found that innovation in digital anthropology is in a state of transition and is perceived differently across sectors and regions. In the span of just a couple of decades, innovation has come from doing anthropology digitally and doing the digital anthropologically, two movements that give life to space where creation happens within the blurry lines among disciplines, fuelled by increasingly fluid movement between academia and the private sector.

The innovation space in-between these trends seem to be where the most exciting and forward-thinking digital innovations are occurring, like novel blended algorithms or computational and techno-anthropology, and opens opportunities to educate a new breed of digitally and anthropologically skilled professionals…(More)”.