Volume 19, Issue 2, Spring 2015
Andreas Birkbak, Morten Krogh Petersen, Torben Elgaard Jensen
Critical Proximity as a Methodological Move in Techno-Anthropology
Techno-Anthropology is a new field, operating with a broad range of methodologies and approaches. This gives rise to the question: What does it mean for Techno-Anthropological research to be critical? In this paper, we discuss this question by developing and specifying the notion of ‘critical proximity.’ Critical proximity offers an alternative to critical distance, especially with respect to avoiding premature references to abstract panoramas such as democratization and capitalist exploitation in the quest to conduct ‘critical’ analysis. Critical proximity implies, instead, granting the beings, fields, and objects we study their own rights and abilities to problematize grand scale claims. Critical proximity further entails that we as researchers are implicated in issues and their formation in ways that allow us to register these critiques and methods, and to emphasize or supplement them. We work through two cases—one on the involvement of users in innovation projects and another on commercial web technologies for tracing issues—to show how critical proximity may be practiced. We sum up the lessons derived in four methodological guidelines for doing research with critical proximity.