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An Ethnographic Case Study of Digital Anthropology

PI: Itamara Lochard, George Mason University

Year selected for award: 2021

Habitus and the Information Environment: An Ethnographic Case Study of Digital Anthropology 

Principal Investigator: Itamara Lochard, George Mason University

Years of award: 2022-2027

Managing service agency: Office of Naval Research

Project description:
This five-year Minerva award is a novel, interdisciplinary, ethnographic, thick description (Geertz 1973), case-study approach to analyze the nature of contemporary crisis communications and malign campaigns. As there is no other ethnographic analysis of digital anthropology and influence, the goal is to better understand how, and under which conditions, such tactics succeed to mitigate their effects. It posits three factors must be addressed that have been overlooked by other studies: (1) assessing the habitus (Bordieu 1977) of both the digital and non-digital information environment (IE) – how a population of interest is impacted by and in turn impacts the IE; (2) identifying where said populations get their trusted sources of news and information and why they trust it; and (3) creating baselines of the impact of a malign campaigns in crisis communications using non Western-Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) country variables as WEIRD approaches dominate 90 percent of behavioral research (Henrich et al. 2010; Estrada 2018; Hruschka 2018; Schulz et al. 2018; Kupferschmidt 2019). A “digital twin” of the Estonian subpopulations and sources of information will be created using publicly available data, to which coded, qualitative findings from social science research and surveys will be applied to determine patterns and generalizability to other locales related to crisis communications. This methodology has never been applied to influence. An Estonian, single case-study approach is justified given its unique e-structure and strategic relevance.