The first digital ethnography skunkworks: dates, tentative program and how to prepare

Hello all, I am just out of a call with @sander (post introducing him coming soon). We have decided to convene a small meeting dedicated to pushing the edge of our digital ethnographic methods in the context of POPREBEL.

Why we are doing this

SSNA is a (very) mixed method. I have a hunch that it could benefit a lot from some methodological steroids. I’m bringing in Sander as someone with plenty of experience in deploying clever methodological combos that draw on different disciplines. Skunkworks 1 is meant as a sort of steroids for the POPREBEL methodology. We also envision a Skunkworks 2, which will deal more with actual early research results and will probably happen in 2020.

What will happen

We are thinking three sessions. Each is started by a presentation, followed by a long, deep, free flow discussion. Think 3 to 4 hours per session.

  • Session 1. SSNA: the state of the art (presentation by @amelia and myself). We discuss SSNA, the main weapon EDGE is deploying onto POPREBEL, and try to get to a fully shared understanding of the implications of working this way.
  • Session 2. Understanding populism with digital ethnography (presentation by @jan). We look at what POPREBEL thinks populism is, and look at the implications of studying it with the tools we use.
  • Session 3. Populism in a complex systems perspective (presentation by @sander). To what extent can we bring to bear the experience of complex systems scientists onto POPREBEL? What can we learn from that experience? Can SSNA be improved to function as a complex systems method?

Where, when and who

Note: updated dates. The first digital ethnography skunkworks takes place in Brussels, on Tuesday, 16th and Wednesday, 17th of July 2019. The following people please save the date:

  1. @jan
  2. @Richard
  3. @amelia
  4. @hugi
  5. @noemi
  6. @melancon

If you really really cannot make the dates, flag it now, we still have some flexibility but need to set the date in stone soon.

We can and should expand the group a bit, but not by much. Let’s preserve interactivity without having to break down the plenary. I take responsibility for making the final call.




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Hi Sander, long time since that dinner with David Lane. Nice to see you here, looking forward to future exchanges.

Dates are saved.

Hi @sander, welcome to Edgeryders ! Looking forward to meet,

Yes the dates should work for me too,

Moving to the public workspace now.

@sander @amelia @hugi I am being asked by @Jan to reschedule to July 15-16 (optimal) or 16-17. Is this possible on your end?

I could do July 15-16, but it’s not ideal. Worst case I could do 16-17 but it’s getting quite close to another event that I need to prepare that week.

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OK, let’s do 16-17. I hope it can work for everybody. I am just talking to @Richard and he would not be able to come for the 15th.

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Moved to 16-17 and updated the text.

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Hi @alberto

What time to you plan to start in the 16th? I’m working out whether to take an early train on the Tuesday or travel the night before.

Best wishes


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I think @sander had the intention of only spending the night of the 16th in Brussels. Let’s say 9.00 welcome coffee, 10.00 kick in. You should be able to make it with an early train from London.

Thanks! And where will the meeting be held? So, I can book a hotel nearby. R

I am going to ask @marina to find us a nice, cosy room. But don’t worry too much: unlike London, Brussels is small, easy to navigate.


I’ve booked the first train from London on Tuesday morning, which gets into Brussels just after 10.00. So I’ll miss the start but should get to you by 10.30-ish.


Dear @alberto: questions:

If we start on the 16th at 10:00 am, I need to fly from Warsaw a night before (so, need night 1 accommodation - we need to find it ourselves, right?)
When will we be done? I understand, the 17th (2nd night of accommodation, possibly), but when exactly? I have a choice of flying back to Warsaw first or flying directly home to the US - need to know the exact times for planing).
You want me to give a talk/run a seminar for 3hrs? What do I need to prepare? he general introduction to Poprebel?
Please advise. Hope you are well.



@Jan: yes, do provide for your own logistics. I think @sander is planning to go back to Brittany on the night of the 17th. Think around 18.00 as an approximate end time. However, we are doing skunkworks, which means it is by design difficult to predict what will happen exactly.

I would like you to help the ethno/netsci people in the room to sink their teeth into populism, and specifically in the research questions about populism that you most care about. Together, we need to find out if, and how, we can push our methodological edge by going out on a limb in the general direction of digital ethnography, and what this would buy us. The outcome is one or more proposed improvements to our methods. Such improvements could be in the realm of coding practices (province of @amelia and Sander himself); software to reaggregate the data (province of @melancon and @hugi); or, most likely, a combination of the two.

To give you an example, at the latest ethnography training, Amelia revealed that some ethnographers like to code “multidimensionally”. For example, you might have a set of codes related to semantics proper, and another one related to emotional states. Mathematically we can represent this state of affairs with something called a multilayer network. There would be a layer of semantic codes, and a layer of emotional codes. Codes are connected by co-occurrence both within and across layers. So, in principle you could look at how different codes or sets of codes in one layer connect preferentially to codes or sets of codes in the other layer. If you were doing an ethnography underpinning Polanyi’s Great Transformation with this method, you would expect to find codes like market, self-regulation and so on (on the semantic layer) preferentially linking to codes expressing dread and anxiety on the emotional layer.

Please, understand this semantic/emotional layer partition is totally arbitrary, and just comes from the particular example that Amelia did during that training. I am just trying to give you an idea for where we are trying to get.

So, in all this your job is to represent the issue of populism to people who know far less than you, and explain what you are looking for, and troubleshoot any wild idea that people might come up with. You and @Richard are the issue owners. But you will not speak for three hours. Take as much time as you need to introduce populism and what makes it so interesting, but no more. We will then, together, try to find a digital ethnography angle of attack. Am I making sense?


Yup. Many thanks. On it.

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Anyway, Sander and I have thought to give everyone a brief. Here is a Doodle to plan it.

The meeting room is reserved. It’s in the center of Brussels, Place Sainte Catherine (Baksteenkaai 74 Quai Aux Briques), easily accessible from the station Gare du Midi (tram lines 51, 3 or 4). If you need additional info or any help let me know!