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

Update: we had the preparation call for the Skunkworks on 2019-06-27 as scheduled. Present:

  1. @sander
  2. @Jan
  3. @Richard
  4. @melancon
  5. @hugi
  6. @noemi
  7. @alberto

We used the call to:

  • Introduce each of us to the others, and take stock of the different skills that will be in the room in Brussels.
  • Align expectations as to how we will work together during the Skunkworks.

Some highlights:

  • Sander told us of his experience in coordinating 65 researchers from disciplines ranging from theoretical physics to literature history.

We had to spend the first year relinquishing our professional identities. That is a hard thing to ask, since we did not have new ones yet, so we just waded into unknown waters. Strange things happened, and people found it hard and frustrating to even talk with each other. I remember one meeting about desertification: after hours of discussion, we realized that the English-speaking people thought we were talking of ecological collapse, and the French-speaking people thought we were talking about abandoning urban areas.

  • To get over the hump and into the benefits of transdisciplinarity, we agreed to be patient, give each other plenty of time to make our points, and keep expectations low. Sander also recommended lots of food and drinking. @marina and I will think of some place where we can break bread together once in Brussels.

  • Sander also gave us an indication as to what we are looking for in the skunkworks. We are looking for research questions that are sufficiently concrete for us to latch on to with a strategy for attempting an answer; but sufficiently abstract for people across all disciplines to supply intuitions and models (I am paraphrasing, Sander please correct me if I’m wrong).

  • In operational terms, the program (scroll to the top of this topic) stands. We start from the concrete problem of European populism, in the first session; then we share our ideas for a scaled-up, math-assisted ethnography, in the second one; and finally we try to superimpose the two, and see if there is a fit. We agreed that the presentations will have no set time, and people are allowed (end encouraged) to interrupt the speaker: we don’t move to the next point until we all have understood the current one.

Ping also @amelia and @martin who were not in the call.

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I thought the zoom chat on Thursday was excellent! Looking forward to the face-to-face meeting in July. If Jan and I are going to start by discussing European populism and POPREBEL, we may need to push the start time back a little. I’m taking the first train from London on Tuesday morning, which gets into Brussels just after 10.00, so I’ll not get to you until 10.30-ish.

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Really looking forward to this! My train arrives in Brussels on Monday night around 21:00 and leaves Wednesday at 20:30.

@amelia and @melancon: the three of us are on session 1. I propose a joint “stereo” presentation by Amelia and Guy. It should work like this:

  • Amelia explains one step in the process (eg. online conversation and how ethno data are generated from it).
  • Guy translates that step into network terms (a post is an edge in a social interaction network, etc.)
  • then Amelia moves on to the next step, and so on.

Main thing here is: I want to highlight the model of collective intelligence underpinning SSNA, and the mapping of real-world events (like conversations, interviews etc.) onto ethno data, and from ethno data onto their network form. SSNA is only as good as the way it maps real-world stuff onto a mathematical object. Which, when you think about it, is true of all models!

Do you agree?

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Sounds good!

@melancon, are you in?

BTW: I also invited our co-author @markomanka :slight_smile:

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Everyone, here is an indicative program for the two days of the Skunkworks.

Tuesday 16/7

  • 09h30 - arrival and welcome coffee
  • 10h30 - 13h00 - Session 1
  • 13h00 - lunch at: Velvet Peck (right across the street) or Les Filles (very good veggies, more spacious, 7 minutes walk)
  • 14h30 - 18h00 - Session 2 with a coffee break at the venue
  • 18h00 - participants can go to the hotel to change and rest
  • 20h00 - dinner at Strofilia. Reservation made to the name of Alberto Cottica.

Wednesday 17/7

  • 09h30 start - coffee?
  • 13h00 (or later) end
  • lunch in one of the options above or everyone is free to go. If you want to stay, we have the room for the whole day.

About the meeting room: Attic
Contact person: Hannah Vanrintel (

I’m in!
I’ll be in Brussels on July 15, arriving downtown somewhere around 4pm – in case we need to prepare anything. I’ll drop you both a text message. @amelia is your mobile phone still the +44 75 … 1056 ?

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Tuesday 16/7

My plane leaves Brussels at 6:20pm, so I guess I’ll have to depart from the meeting at 5pm.

Yes, come to the house! @amelia will be staying with us anyway.

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Dear All,

I have prepared a sketch of what I want to say. Here it is (it is more detailed than what I will focus on, but I want to remember what I want to signal, at least):

Brussels meeting, July 16-17

POPREBEL with EDGERYDERS: framing of our study of the rise of populism

  • Begin with the problems the humanity is facing. For example:

    • Concilium Civitas (the event I co-organized in Warsaw, July 9-10):
      • Ladislao Dowbor: “The times, they are a-changin’. Well, not everything is changing. If we have shown fantastic technological and intellectual capacity, on the other hand, we can be seen as the same old morons when it comes to organizing ourselves into a civilized society.”
      • Krzysztof Pomian: “Democratic politics does not exploit the friend/foe dichotomy. Its culmination is not war and its aim is not defeat and annihilation of the enemy. Democratic politics operates with a three-way division: the followers/the hesitant/the opponents. Its purpose is convincing the hesitant and gaining a majority. The friend/foe dichotomy appears only when democracy is threatened and a state of emergency has to be declared. Nevertheless, a state of emergency does not reveal a democracy’s true nature, but it does reveal that of a totalitarian form of government, which is essentially a state of emergency regime.”
  • Globalization: four dimensions and their problems/challenges:

    • Economic:
      • Extraction of energy from the environment without barriers (profit motif: coal/oil curse)
      • Unconstrained trade: disrupted communities
    • Political: coordinating collective existence: what scale is optimal (local, national, global)?
    • Social: population movements: how to organize them? How to incorporate newcomers?
    • Cultural: information systems needed to understand that world: how to create thoughtful citizens?
  • Challenges:

    • Economic:
      • Climate change
      • Open trade: imbalances (at last temporary)
      • Inequality
    • Political:
      • Scale and type of political regime (democracy or not?)
      • Illiberalism: challenge to the rule of law and human rights
    • Social:
      • Population movements
      • Gender inequality
    • Cultural:
      • Optimization of information (culture as a information system) about all problems.
  • Response to challenges: can be thwarted by:

    • The lack of resources
    • Political suppression (power)
    • Misunderstanding (cultural cover-up leading to risk mis-perception):
  • Cultural systems to deal with these changes:

    • Globalizing, inclusive
    • Particularizing, exclusive
  • Populism: its errors:

    • Simplicity of solutions
    • Excessive mythologization/moralism
    • Polarization: vertical (“bad elites”) and horizontal (“bad people”).
    • Impoverished sociological imagination: mythical “people”
  • Search for solutions: how to coordinate three information circuits:

    • Experts
    • Politicians
    • “Ordinary” people
  • Poprebel and Fatigue: Edgeryders’s role:

    • Clifford Geertz: people’s points of view
    • How many points of view? Can we create a typology of diagnoses?
    • How many solutions? Typology of solutions.
    • How are “problems” defined? How are they embedded in broader meaning (cultural) systems?
    • How much of the diagnosis and solution comes from the “outside”?
      • What is “outside”? Ideology versus common sense.
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Dear All - to confirm: I’m in town. See you tomorow. - regards, Martin

p.s @alberto Did you had time to makee contact wih people from the projcet?

p.p.s. See:

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