Methods & Ethics in fieldwork seminar: Katrien Pype (KUL) - “Benda bilili na toile: cryptic communication in Kinshasa modeling digital ethnography”

For whom
09-12-2019 from 10:30 to 12:00
Lumumba Room (meeting room Conflict & Development) Universiteitstraat 8, Campus Aula, Ghent University
Department of Conflict and Development Studies
Add to my calendar

Seminar on Digital Ethnography

As digitality increasingly becomes a modality of many people’s lives, scholars need to acknowledge the internet and social media platforms as significant spaces for data collection. Initial reluctance to do so can be explained by the fact that for many, the online-offline distinction parallels the binary "Real" versus "not Real". In this seminar, I contend that we should not see these in opposition to one another, but that the "online-offline" pair remains an important analytic device. I propose to read along and against the pixel. With this method, we can study digital communication in a continuum with the non-digital. The premise of this method is that even though there is an excess of text, visual material and sound in the digital world, much remains hidden, undisclosed, and sometimes even censored. 

In order to make sense of this apparent contradiction, I am inspired by Victoria Bernal’s "Nation as Network" (2014), and in particular her concept of "infopolitics", which points at the hidden mechanisms of digital communication and ways of "being digital". Bernal and I have recently invited a series of papers on "cryptopolitics", asking colleagues to look at the significance of hidden information, double meanings, double-crossing, and the constant processes of encoding and decoding messages in negotiations of power relations. 

My talk explores Whatsapp and Facebook communication (postings, status updates, comments, etc.) of digital natives in Kinshasa (DR Congo) by benda bilili online. Benda bilili, or literally "pulling images", is an urban skill heralded in Kinshasa andrequired for survival in a city where trickery and deceit determine social, political and economic success. Reading along and against the pixel is an adaptation of bendi bilili in the online world (na toile​). I pay in particular attention to the frictions, the erasures, and the politics of digital communication, and thus situate online practices and digital aesthetics within a wider context of sociality, aspiration, and power.  


Katrien Pype is associate professor in anthropology at IARA (Institute of Anthropological Research in Africa, KU Leuven University). She works on popular culture, media, and technology in Kinshasa, and explores how these produce social life in an urban setting. She currently guides a team working on technology cultures in urban DR Congo and beyond (1960-present), in which 3 doctoral and 1 postdoctoral scholar and herself will produce ethnographies of medical, energy and communication cultures in Kinshasa (DR Congo), Kikwit (DR Congo), Matadi (DR Cong), and Nakuru (Kenya). Katrien has been a Newton Fellow (British Academy, 2009-2011) and a Marie Curie Fellow (IOF, European Commission, 2011-2013). Her work has been financed with an ERC Runner-Up Budget and an Odysseus award (both FWO, 2014-present). 



Sandwiches are being provided!

For more information and registration, please contact