Workshop Research on Reserach

How is Artificial Intelligence Changing Science?

Research in the Era of Learning Algorithms

Image by Sentavio –


Methodological Approaches and Empirical Challenges in the Digital Age. Ethnography Meets Artificial Intelligence


April 22

09:00 am – 10:00 am:
TALK: Sarah Pink: AI, Ethnography, Futures

10:00 am – 10:30 am:

10:30 am – 11:30 am:
TALK: Andreas Sudmann: How is AI Changing Science? Methodological Approaches and
Empirical Challenges

11:30 am – 13:00 pm:
DISCUSSION: Anne Dippel in conversation with Ina Dietzsch
Fictions, Imaginaries and Scripts of AI cultures. „Hogwarts“ at CERN meets the “Sophia”


April 23

02:00 pm – 03:00 pm:
TALK: Mia-Marie Hammarlin, Jacobo Rouces Gonzalez, Fredrik Miegel & Lars Borin:
Rumour Mining Project (Lund University, Sweden)

3:00 pm – 3:30 pm:

03:30 – 5:30 pm:
PANEL DISCUSSION: In/accessible fields of technology. Reflections on the role and horizon
of ethnographic research on artificial intelligence

Panelists: Anna Echterhölter, Christine Hämmerling, Carole McGranahan, Nuria Valverde Pérez, Julian Genner

Moderator: Jens Schröter

Aim of the Workshop

The aim of this event is to discuss how research on research can be conducted as a transdisciplinary endeavor in such a way that approaches in media studies and cultural anthropology are equally effective and can productively complement each other. The starting point is the observation that empirical methods for researching digital cultures are gaining more and more relevance, especially in the humanities and cultural studies. Moreover, the boom and increasing industrial implementation of AI methods poses a profound challenge for all academic disciplines and their methods, which we explore in a transdisciplinary way. In doing so, we not only want to critically discuss how ethnographic and especially media ethnographic approaches can contribute to exploring these transformations, but also to reflect on how ethnographic methods are themselves placed under new conditions by digitization.

Topics & Speakers (in order of appearance):

Sarah Pink: AI, Ethnography, Futures

In this talk I will discuss how in the Emerging Technologies Lab at Monash University we research in a world of which Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automated Decision Making (ADM) are part. AI and ADM are hyped in as drivers of societal change in dominant techno-solutionist narratives, while simultaneously emerging and shaped within the messiness of everyday worlds. Subsequently, AI and ADM are also part of (and often infrastructures for) the anticipatory and possible worlds created in the predictive narratives of industry and policy and the everyday worlds of real people. How do we research in, and understand people’s possible experiences of and actions in envisioned future worlds and lives? How do we correct and contest and intervene in such questions ethnographically. I will outline why it is necessary for us to do this and how we have approached doing research in possible futures in ETLab projects.

Sarah Pink (PhD, FASSA) is Professor and Director of the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University Australia


Andreas Sudmann: How is AI Changing Science? Methodological Approaches and Empirical Challenges

How do artificial intelligence (AI) technologies affect research and science? By following this perspective, our project is less concerned with research on AI per se than with how different disciplines use AI as a tool. The central focus lies on how heterogeneous concepts and operations of the social sciences and humanities, on the one hand, and the natural and technical sciences, on the other, are integrated into applications of AI. Research on the latter will also explore the extent to which critical perspectives inform and accompany the use of AI. Our project concentrates on artificial neural networks (ANN) because of their dominant status among current AI approaches. In order to extend the scope to an international level, it covers a variety of disciplines across Europe, including the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Hence, it does not only explore the similarities and differences among instances where AI is deployed in various fields, but also sheds light on the cultural and national specificities inherent to these processes.

Andreas Sudmann joined the University of Regensburg in winter semester 2020/21 as Visiting Professor for Spaces of Virtual Communication. He is coordinator and co-applicant (alongside Anna Echterhölter, Jens Schröter, and Alexander Waibel) of the Volkswagen Foundation-funded research project „How is AI Changing Science? Research in the Era of Learning Algorithms.“ Since 2019 he is also director of the German Research Foundation (DFG)-funded project „Media and Infrastructures of Artificial Intelligence: Computer Vision, Transfer Learning, and Artificial Neural Networks as Black Box“.


Anne Dippel/ Ina Dietzsch: Fictions, Imaginaries and Scripts of AI cultures. „Hogwarts“ at CERN meets the “Sophia” family

What narratives, fictions, plots and scripts are embedded in artificial intelligence research and its imaginaries? What futures are (im)possible and what kind of communities are (un)made in everyday work with machine learning algorithms and robotic assemblages? Ina Dietzsch and Anne Dippel will explore the above questions in an open debate centered around two examples from their own research. Dippel will share her empirical material gathered during ethnographic fieldwork at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, where she looked at socio-technical assemblages of physicists, computer scientist, algorithmic worlds and material infrastructures. Dietzsch will present her feminist-cum-STS interpretation of Sophia, the first humanoid robot to receive citizenship of a nation state and the first non-human appointed as the United Nation’s Innovation Champion in 2017.

Anne Dippel (Jena University) is a cultural anthropologist and historian with a passion for ethnographic inquiries of all kind. I am a specialist in scientific cultures and German speaking societies. I held fellowships, taught and researched in Germany and abroad, including at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Cluster of Excellence “Image Knowledge Gestalt” (HU Berlin), the Institute for the Advanced Study of Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS) at Lüneburg University and the Department for Ethnology at the University of Heidelberg. For the purpose of my current research I have been an associated member of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Ina Dietzsch is a cultural anthropologist, professor at the Institute for European Ethnology and Cultural Studies, with a PhD from Humboldt University of Berlin (“Writing borders during the time of the German wall”) and a habilitation work at the University of Basel on “The everyday life of publics”. She taught at several German and Swiss universities and worked in various research projects funded by the German BMBF and DFG, the ESRC and the Swiss National Research Council. Her research interests are: anthropology of knowledge, digitisation in everyday life and culture-nature-technology-relations.


Mia-Marie Hammarlin, Jacobo Rouces Gonzalez, Fredrik Miegel & Lars Borin: Rumour Mining Project (Lund University, Sweden)

The aim of this presentation is to introduce a 4-year mixed method research project (2020–2023), independently financed by the Bank of Sweden Foundation, with the goal to investigate the role and importance of rumouring for the vaccination skepticism growing on the internet, and how it can be understood as an expression of civic engagement in present digital times. We will also reflect over AI as a method, Digital Humanities’ pros and cons, and the possibilities and challenges that arise in a multi-disciplinary project on an everyday basis.

Diseases like measles are returning in different parts of Europe, partly as a result of the activities of the anti-vaccination movement. The reluctance towards the covid-19-vaccine among some people has made the project even more timely. The herd immunity in most Western countries is high but even a small decrease in vaccination would have immediate negative effects. The project will offer an understanding of how everyday interaction in the form of the spreading of rumours on the internet has a powerful impact on and may challenge democratic solutions, such as the established vaccination programmes. The project, which is run by an ethnologist, a sociologist, and two Natural Language Processing (NLP)-technologists, also has a methodology developing goal, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, and contributes with new possible ways to study folkloristic expressions in online environments. Right now, we investigate topics extracted from a subset of Flashback (Swedish version of Reddit) vaccination critical corpus, how we could visualize these, and also how much overlap there is between topics that signal rumouring. We want to know whether some particular topics are more frequent within the context of antivaccine than in general. Additionally, we eagerly await the vaccine against covid-19 ourselves so that we can go on interviewing and observing vaccine hesitant citizens.

Mia-Marie Hammarlin is Rumour Mining’s PI, a 4-year (2020–2023) mixed methods project with the goal to investigate rumours on- and offline surrounding vaccines as well as vaccine reluctance in a Swedish context. She is Associate Professor in Ethnology and vice Head of the Department of Communication and Media, Lund University. Hammarlin has written several texts about mediated scandals, rumour and gossip, as in her latest book (Hammarlin, 2019), published by Lund University Press/Manchester University Press, title: Exposed: Living with Scandal, Gossip, and Rumour.

Lars Borin is professor of natural language processing at the University of Gothenburg. He is also director of Språkbanken (the Swedish Language Bank), a national research infrastructure funded jointly by the Swedish Research Council and its partner institutions. He is further the national coordinator of the Swedish activities in the European CLARIN ERIC research infrastructure. His research interests include historical, areal and typological linguistics, computational lexical semantics, and methodological aspects of language-technology informed digital humanities, especially as applied to humanities and social-science research based on Swedish textual data, and he has published extensively on these topics.

Fredrik Miegel has a PhD in Sociology and is Associate Professor in Media and Communication at the Department of Communication and Media, Lund University. His main fields of research are youth culture and lifestyle, the sociology of culture, and civic culture and the media. His research has, among others, been conducted with Peter Dahlgren, e.g. the project Young People, the Internet and Civic Participation (CIVICWEB): EU Sixth Framework Programme Project 2006–2009. He has published several research reports, book chapters and journal articles within the field of internet and civic culture, participation and engagement.

Jacobo Rouces Gonzalez is researcher at the Department of Swedish, University of Gothenburg (GU). He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and his main fields of research are language technology and natural language processing, aspect-based sentiment analysis and opinion mining, linked data and semantic web, as well as digital humanities and digital social sciences. He has published several articles in conference proceedings and journals covering these fields. He also has a background in telecommunication engineering and audio and video processing.


Jens Schröter

Prof. Dr. Jens Schröter, is chair for media studies at the University of Bonn since 2015. Since 4/2018 director (together with Anja Stöffler, Mainz) of the DFG-research project “Van Gogh TV. Critical Edition, Multimedia-documentation and analysis of their Estate” (3 years). Since 10/2018 speaker of the research project (VW foundation; together with Prof. Dr. Gabriele Gramelsberger; Dr. Stefan Meretz; Dr. Hanno Pahl and Dr. Manuel Scholz-Wäckerle) “Society after Money – A Simulation” (4 years). Director of the VW-Planning Grant “How is Artificial Intelligence Changing Science?” (Start: 1.5.2020, 1 Year, Preparation of Main Grant); Summer 2017: Senior-fellowship IFK Vienna, Austria. Winter 2018: Senior-fellowship IKKM Weimar. Summer 2020: Fellowship, DFG special research area 1015 „Muße“, Freiburg. Recent publications: Medien und Ökonomie, Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2019; Zukünftige Medien – Eine Einführung, Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2020 (with Christoph Ernst) Visit: / /


Anna Echterhölter

Abstract: t.b.a.

Anna Echterhölter is Professor of History of Science at the University of Vienna. She was a visiting professor at Technical University, Berlin, and the Institute of Cultural History and Theory at Humboldt University of Berlin and held fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin (2008, 2015), and the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC (2016). Echterhölter is a co-founder of Ilinx magazine. Research topics include economic exchange and metrology, standardization and colonialism, the history of quantification, and the political metallurgy of copper.


Christine Hämmerling

My approach to ethnographic research on AI may seem somewhat traditional: Rather than conducting participant observation in STS-manor and looking at algorithms as actors, I will try to widen the view towards different kinds of are(n)as where AI “takes place”. I find it stimulating to look at seemingly outdated studies like Bernd Jürgen Warnekens work on pinball machines or Hermann Bausingers “folk culture in a world of technology”. This inspires me to look at AI in the context of industries, as well as of pleasure. It reminds me that auto-ethnographic insights enrichen our perspective. Places to look at AI go beyond those, where AI is created or used. Rather it comes to us as a product. There are markets for it, it must be advertised and learned. Like pinball machines, AI, too, is part of judicial, educational, and political discussions. Also, there seems to exist something like a “structure of feelings” towards artificial intelligence, we should not ignore. Looking at AI, we should keep in mind how technology re-forms social differences, why new technology is looked at as if it was more-than-human in the strict sense of the term, even demonian. Following this approach, I will give some examples of where to go and what methods to use, to conduct fieldwork on AI.

Christine Hämmerling, PhD, is a Senior Teaching and Research Assistant at the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, University of Zurich. She finished her Studies at the University of Tübingen and at the Charles University Prague with a Master’s degree with distinction (1.0) in Empirical Cultural Science, Modern and Contemporary History and Sociology („Today is a Holiday“ 2012). In 2014 she received the doctoral degree from the University of Göttingen (thesis on Quotidian Integration and Social Positioning of the Television Series „Tatort“, Open Access). Her research interests include cultural aspects of economic practices, authenticity, Ego documents, and Media theory.


Carole McGranahan

What might ethnographic research tell us about artificial intelligence? What has ethnographic research already told us about AI and machine learning? Ethnography is an interdisciplinary method, but in some disciplines, is more than a method. In anthropology, for example, there is no ethnography without a corresponding ethnographic sensibility. That is, the understanding and practice of ethnography as method, theory, and writing practice rests on the cultivation of a sense of the ethnographic as the lived expectations, complexities, contradictions, possibilities, and grounds of any given cultural or social group. Our cultivation of ethnography as both something to know and a unique way of knowing usually presumes participant observation through in person interactions in a long-term immersive context. However, over the decades, we have also brought an ethnographic sensibility into other domains, those in which interactions are not face-to-face, but are mediated through documents, technology, and/or material objects. This requires an ethnographic sensibility; that is, how do we find the ethnographic in, for example, colonial documents, photographs, social media timelines, or machine learning model tuning parameters?


Carole McGranahan is professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado. She is author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War (20100, and editor of Imperial Formations (2007, with Ann Laura Stoler and Peter Perdue), Ethnographies of US Empire (2018, with John Collins), Flash Ethnography (2020, with Nomi Stone), and Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment (2020). She writes and teaches on developing an ethnographic sensibility and on ethnography “beyond method.”


Nuria Valverde Pérez: AI and Radical Otherness: Ethical and Epistemic Challenges in Modelling Human-Artificial Co-Creativity

My contribution to the workshop deals with work-in-progress related to an ongoing multidisciplinary project (ReNACE). Our team is trying to develop a creative machine based in Gilbert Simondon’s philosophical approach to individuation. We assume that while there are ontological asymmetries between “human beings” and machines, they can share the structure of a general process we call “creativity”, and thus they can co-operate in a mutually creative exchange. However, the asymmetry of the “meaning”, relevance and mutual representation between both agents has to be highlighted in order to adequately evaluate the vulnerabilities in which each one of them gets engaged. Moreover, our project is directed to people with severely diminished mobility (locked-in syndrome and ALS), which in some autobiographical narratives have expressed their strong disposition to engage creatively with their environment. We assume that the relationship they should establish with any machine has to be one which gives them increasing autonomy in connection to the ends and results of the creative process. This, however, entails a period of training (both on the part of the LIS or ALS person and the machine) in which each one of the agents learns to be “sensitive” or “vulnerable” to the other’s minimal signals. Following Judith Butler, we understand vulnerability as a “disposition or openness towards the other.” But it is unclear what kind of relationship would emerge from this undetermined openness towards the radically other. Thus, I will discuss the ethical and epistemic challenges we face in the process of modelling the creative relation between these agents and the extent of their potential consequences in defining individuation and personal accomplishment.

Nuria Valverde Pérez is a professor-researcher at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitan de México, Cuajimalpa campus. She holds a PhD in Science and Culture from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and her work has received the 2011 Derek Price/Rob Webster Award from the History of Science Society. Her research focuses on the epistemological, ethical and socio-political impact of technological and scientific developments. In her most recent work she addresses the production of liminal spaces and concepts of liminality and vulnerability of technological environments or assemblages, as well as the moral consequences of the application of new ontologies of technology. She is the main researcher of the project “Exploration of non-anthropocentric relational creativity” (ReNACE) funded by CONACYT (A1-S-21700), which she co-directs with Santiago Negrete. Her most recent publications are: “Preserved Worlds: Vulnerability, Ontology, and the Logics of Standards” (Journal of History of Science and Technology, 2020), “A Line of Touch: Liminality and Environment in eighteenth-century Spanish Empire” (The Routledge Companion to the Hispanic Enlightenment, 2019), “Instrumentos, disponibilidad y objetividad en el México del siglo XX” (Piedra, papel y tijera: Instrumentos de las ciencias en México, 2018), “Creativity, Coevolution and Computerized Co-production: Reframing Creativity from a Non- Anthropocentric Approach”, co-authored with Santiago Negrete (Adaptive Behavior, 2018); “Underground Knowledge: Mining, Mapping, and Law in eighteenth-century New Spain” (The Globalization of Knowledge in the Iberian Colonial World, Max Planck Institute 2017), “Meanings of Waves: Electroencephalography and Society in Mexico City, 1940-1950” (Science in Context, 2017).


Julian Genner: Infallible recorder and/or trustworthy witness? The researcher’s role in online ethnography

Generating ethnographic knowledge is based on the personal experience („being there“) of the researcher. Ultimately, the fieldworker is ethnography’s research tool.  Whether an ethnographic description is considered true hinges on the question whether its author is considered trustworthy. In ethnography, truth claims are inextricably entangled with claims of truthfulness and trust (Wittgenstein). Like the witness, the ethnographer is supposed be a neutral recording device registering what happens and at the same time a trustworthy person transforming a personal experience into a public statement (Krämer, Marcus). I am interested in how digitization alters the interdependence between the ethnographer-as-a-device and the ethnographer-as-a-person. I argue that standard ethnography is concerned with the fallibility of the researcher. Notebooks, recorders, and cameras promise to enhance the capacity of the researcher-as-a-device to observe, to document, and to store events, and more importantly, to grasp a truth independent of the researcher-as-a-person. However, this does not seperate questions of truth from questions of trust. Rather, equipping the researcher-as-a-device increases the chance to be considered a trustworthy person. Classic ethnographic texts mirror these tensions: In the realist tale (Van Maanen), the ethnographer appears as infallible neutral recording device whereas the confessional tale constructs the ethnographer as a trustworthy authorative personal voice. How does digitization influence the relation between the qualities of the ethnographer, once as a device, and once as a person? In online ethnography, the researcher-as-a-device is confronted with non-human observers, which are much better equipped to observe, store, track, interpret, mediate, and guide human online activity than any human being. What is there left to observe for the researcher-as-a-device and what is the researcher-as-a-person supposed to gain, or to lose from it?

Julian Genner received his PhD in cultural anthropology in 2015. He works as a PI in a project on preppers at the University of Freiburg (Germany).




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