Speculating (on the Digital and the Monetary)

in Social Analysis
Yang Liu PhD Student, University of Toronto, Canada yangliu.liu@mail.utoronto.ca

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Thomas Malaby Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA malaby@uwn.edu

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Daniel Miller Professor, University College London, UK d.miller@ucl.ac.uk

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Scholarship has frequently struggled with several pairs of dichotomies as it has sought to understand the digital: real vs. virtual, authentic vs. mediated, openness (freedom) vs. closure (control), and community vs. network. In order to make conceptual headway without falling into these traps, we turn in this article to the concept of indexicality. We urge an account of the digital that sees it as a resource for social action, one with the capacity to reduce and abstract as well as to differentiate and proliferate, recognizing both of these as potential projects that social actors may undertake. We offer the operation of money as an instructive analogy for how we may identify both the abstracting and the specifying dimensions of the digital.

Contributor Notes

Yang Liu is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her research interests focus on the creation of scientific knowledge and technological expertise, as well as human-machine relations. She is specifically interested in looking at the materiality and process of computation, including AI, machine learning, and algorithms, and to investigate how they operate invisibly but meaningfully in our daily life. E-mail: yangliu.liu@mail.utoronto.ca

Thomas Malaby is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research interest is in the ever-changing relationships among institutions, unpredictability, and technology, especially as they are realized through games and game-like processes. He has published numerous and widely cited works on the status of games in human experience and suggests that the increasing use of digital games by institutions marks a fundamental transition in modern governance. His publications include Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life (2009), an ethnographic examination of a San Francisco Internet company. E-mail: malaby@uwm.edu

Daniel Miller is a Professor of Anthropology at University College London. He is currently Director of the ASSA project examining aging and the smartphone through nine comparative ethnographies. He is the author/editor of 39 volumes, including The Comfort of People (2017), Visualising Facebook (2017, with Jolynna Sinanan), Social Media in an English Village (2016), and How the World Changed Social Media (2016, with several co-authors). E-mail: d.miller@ucl.ac.uk

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Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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