January 20, 2015 – Mike & Kim Fortun – Politics in Collaboration: Ethnographic Ventures in the Sciences of Environment and Health

Politics in Collaboration:

Ethnographic Ventures in the Sciences of Environment & Health


Mike Fortun & Kim Fortun

Department of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


January 20, 2015   1 PM   201C Renaissance Park, Northeastern University

In this presentation, we will describe an array of collaborative ethnographic projects that we are involved in, situating them both in histories of research collaboration (in anthropology, and in the scientific fields that we study ethnographically) and in histories of research technology (again, in anthropology, the environmental sciences, and genomics).   We will describe our work to build the Platform for Collaborative, Experimental Ethnography, an open source digital platform designed to reflect both the theories of Gregory Bateson (and other language theorists), and his experimental use of  (photographic) technology to produce new anthropological insight (on parenting in Bali, in Bateson’s case).  We will also describe the research and digital design of The Asthma Files, a collaborative ethnographic project (that runs on PECE) designed to advance understanding and effort to address environment public health challenges around the world.  Through our work on The Asthma Files, we have come to appreciate what we term “kaleidoscopic insight,” which brings together and leverages different knowledge forms.  We will argue that kaleidoscopic insight, and supporting collaborative practice and digital infrastructure, is particularly important in the current historical moment given the complexity of many societal problems today (involving entangled technological, ecological, socio-cultural, political-economic and discursive systems), further complicated by huge commercial pressure on culture, knowledge and politics.

Mike Fortun is a historian and ethnographer of science and Associate Professor of Science & Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  His research and teaching focus on the practices and politics of the life sciences, drawing widely from poststructural, psychoanalytic and  cybernetic theories of language and knowledge.

Kim Fortun is a cultural anthropologist and Professor of Science & Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her research and teaching focus on environmental risk and disaster, and on experimental ethnographic methods and research design.

Sponsored by the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, the Critical Making Research Cluster, and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology