We’re off to Bowling Green for the Ray Browne Conference!

you can do it

Sorry for the late update on this, but we did get accepted to the Ray Browne Popular Culture Conference at Bowling Green State University. We’ll be headed there in two weeks! The abstract is copied below.

Proposed Abstract

Knowing How to Live/The Magic of Friendship: Ethnographic Methodology and the My Little Pony Fandom

While technologically-mediated interfaces are often understood as producing a different order of anxiety about human socialization, we wish to denaturalize the notion underscoring this view: that media interfaces are strange, foreign, and mysterious in a particular way unique to modernity. Are current media ideologies categorically different an interface than the vernacularization of biblical knowledge spearheaded by the Gutenberg Bible1, the encounter between the colonial west and the non-west2, or the Cold War promise/nightmare of atomic power3? While historical and cultural specificity must be maintained, the encounters are surprisingly similar: early-adopters integrate and mediate the interface as part of their social habitus just as others have their ideologies and ways-of-being jilted by the very same possibilities.

In this paper, we counter Henry Jenkins’ notion that “[n]one of us really know how to live in this era”4 by insisting that people are remarkably adept at living their lives, technologically mediated or otherwise. Technologies result in new ways of doing old things—expressing oneself, forming communities, and interacting with others—and while these new forms can be troubling for some, they quickly become home for others. Using our collaborative ethnographic project with fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (or more affectionately, “bronies”) as a point of departure, we argue for an ethnographic methodology that emphasizes not the strangeness of media technologies to those in online communities, but rather their mundanity and everyday-ness. Our blog, Research is Magic, represents an attempt at participant-observation5 that collapses the boundaries between academic and interlocutor based on those grounds—that we need not “do” the Internet in different ways and places than our interlocutors, and that a more productive way to interact with ethnographic subjects might be to theorize, create, and write with them, in their midsts, rather than far away and long after the ethnographic encounter.6


  1. As the first book printed in the West in any kind of major scale, the Gutenberg printing of the bible made church leaders anxious since it represented a threat to the church’s power in social life. 

  2. The colonial gaze and colonial power changed the ways people on both sides understood themselves and others. 

  3. Views of atomic power were utopian on one hand, since it meant this amazing new form of energy, and dystopian on the other, since the destructive power of the atomic bomb was scary for everyone involved. 

  4. Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture. 

  5. Participant-observation is a form of research that involves deep “hanging out” with the people you want to understand: both participating and observing. 

  6. Anthropologists have traditionally had a tendency to go to some far-flung corner of the world, live with the people there for some number of years, and then return and write books that the people they study never come into contact with. 

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