Rendering Culture

Rendering Culture: New Openings in the Micro-Practices of Ethnography

Chairs: Tom O’Dell & Robert Willim (thomas.o_dell(at) & Robert.willim(at)

The past 15 years has seen an unprecedented expansion of the accessibility of new digital technologies to people in their daily lives. The possibilities created by this digital expansion have even direct consequences for the manner in which cultural researchers think about, collect and process empirical materials, as well for how research is assembled and communicated. Unfortunately, the consequences and potentialities these developments have for the methodological micro-practices through which cultural processes can be studied as well as represented and rendered has not been systematically studied to a sufficient degree.

This session welcomes papers that critically discuss the latest advances that are occurring in the collection, processing and presentation of ethnographic materials. New digital technologies have paved the way for new and intensified micro-practices for gathering and composing ethnographic materials, however, we see these advances as intimately linked to the developing field of sensory ethnography. Digital technology is not simply an artifact of some disembodied “cyberspace”, but is very much grounded in corporeal activities that activate and draw upon the senses.

Here we encourage contributors to re-think the manner in which digital and sensory methods can be understood as being implicated in new modes of “Rendering Culture”. By using the concept “Rendering Culture” we mean to indicate an approach to ethnographic practices that is both an analytical and creative endeavor capable of touching and moving those exposed to it on both a cognitive as well as a corporeal/emotional plane. As part of the session we welcome contributions which are experimental in nature and which push our way of thinking about ethnography and ethnographic practices in a direction which moves us further away from discussions about writing culture and challenges us to test the boundaries of what it can mean to render culture.




Anna Haverinen, M.Phil / PhD candidate

Digital culture, University Consortium of Pori / University of Turku


 “We can never know if she’s really dead” – on the complexity of grief and avatar relationships in an online role-playing group

In my PhD project I have explored the death and mourning rituals in online environments, where virtual and gaming worlds have been one aspect of the research. In this presentation I will introduce a case example from an online role-playing group from Second Life virtual world, who lost one of its members, Yuki, in 2008. Since then members of the group have greated their own personal ways to remember and honor the memory of that player, both as an avatar and an actual person.

The case study focuses on one specific memorial created by Anjali. The memorial was created in the ‘home cave’ of Yuki, and eventually became “a family crypt” for Anjali, since she added memorials for her real-life mother and another deceased avatar as well. The cave became a symbol of all lost relationships for Anjali, although she and others part of the group had their doubts about the death of Yuki, and whether she lied. Yuki’s memorial is a complex combination of the role-playing lore of the group, her actual offline persona and Anjali’s personal choices of remembrance, and is an example of how online and offline relationships, identities and cultures, are not parallel, mut “bleed to each other” (Nadia, 17.2.2011.)


Laura Hirvi

University of Helsinki


“Ethnographic Layering” – The Micro-Practices of Gathering Data in an Online World

In today’s world not only the number of mobile people is remarkable but also the continuous flow of information around the globe is quite astonishing. Carrying out fieldwork in such conditions challenges ethnographers to rethink once more the micro practices that they apply in the process of gathering data.

In this paper, I will reflect on the possibilities that arise when embracing with open arms and an open, playful mind the multiple online options for collecting data. My intention is to highlight the ways in which doing fieldwork in cyberspace might challenge our understanding of who is acting as a righteous participant observer, and who is in the role of gathering empirical data during ethnographic fieldwork.

As I will try to demonstrate, allowing the fieldwork process to gain inspiration and input from various sites, including those that are anchored in the online world, will ultimately be beneficial for the process that I call “ethnographic layering”. Ethnographic layering refers here to an understanding that there are different layers of data, field sites and thus of contexts that ethnographers need to consider and lay on top of each other in an act of bricolage. This act of layering is accompanied by the ethnographic analysis that eventually will inform the written ethnography.

The discussions presented in this paper are based on fieldwork that I have been carrying out since March 2013 for my research project in which I seek to explore the reciprocal interplay between the city of Berlin and mobile artists from Finland living there.


Harri Nyman Ph.D.


X + Y = ? Ethnology and Art, Together They Are More

Why art and science seem to act so separately? What if we combine them? How do they come together in the field of culture and what do they have in common applying methodological concept documentary?

Artist Sanna Vilmusenaho produced her short film – Lumi Snow (2013) – interactioning with ethnologist Harri Nyman. In the film there is an exciting detail. An interview citation describing an imaginary snow game is animated on old yellowish book double page: the double page originates from Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Also an American anthropologist George E. Marcus refers to Kant’s series of Critique. It was Kant’s writings that created philosophical grounds for art and science to become institutionalized apart for centuries. Marcus is one of those who appeals for change. Now when postmodernist ideas have questioned the boundaries comprised during the age of modern also art and science should shake up their conventions a bit and seek for mutual collaboration. Especially ethnography has lot to win!

The film Lumi Snow – the making of it and the product itself – fits quite well into this trend encouraged by Marcus & al. While seeking material for her short film reflecting climate change Sanna Vilmusenaho heard of a previous research project Childhood in Snow run by me at Helsinki University 2001. Going through the source she found the lifelike sound and photo material touching and inspiring. She even decided to gather completing material in an ethnographic manner; in this case by interviewing and observing children. As I see it the artist worked for recognizing and capturing essential and elementary ideas enlightening her subject. She processed and sketched; simplified and intensified. As a final piece of art Vilmusenaho presents an association poem based on documentary material. For the one who watches the film appears true and meaningful. It appeals to one’s senses and is highly evocative.

Seen from certain angle the film Lumi Snow is an artistic ethnographic synthesis. In our planned future project On Winters Backbone. Snow and People – Tradition and Scenario we wish to develop and deepen this joint praxis and to have it as study’s underlying baseline. It is evident that interrelating art and science elevates the possibilities of approach, interpretation and presentation to a new level.


Tom O’Dell

Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences, Division of Ethnology, Lund University


Robert Willim

Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences, Division of Ethnology, Lund University


Rendering Culture and Multi-Targeted Ethnography in Applied Contexts

In this paper our objective is to discuss the manner in which our engagement with applied cultural analysis has spurred us to reassess a number of fundamental underlying concepts and practices of ethnological and anthropological work. The paper opens by explaining how our engagement with applied research (and education) has changed our conceptual framing of ethnography and inspired us to new theoretical developments. For the purposes of this talk we limit the discussion to three themes, Collaborations, Composing Ethnography and Rendering Culture. In closing, we argue for a need to re-frame ethnography as not only a multi-sited practice, but even as a phenomenon that is in need of being understood as multi-targeted.


Anna Rastas, University of Tampere

Dr.Soc.Sc., Professor (fixed-term)
School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Towards More Inclusive Approaches In Research On Diasporas

My ongoing ethnographic action research project examines possibilities for more inclusive narratives of European societies as multi-ethnic, transnational spaces. It provides new empirical knowledge of the various African diaspora communities in Finland and their contributions to Finnish society and culture. Enabled by the multidisciplinary theoretical framework and participatory methods applied to this study, and my participation in an international research project on “Afroeuropeans”, I also explore the weaknesses of current theorizations and conceptualizations in African diaspora studies and in migrations studies related to their ability  to capture the differences between the African diaspora communities in different parts of the world,  and to address the generational and other differences between and within the African diaspora communities in particular locations.  The action phase of this study: An exhibition on the African presence in Finland at The Finnish Labour Museum Werstas in 2015, and archives to be established along with the exhibition project is planned and organized together with people identifying themselves as Africans and/or as people of the African diaspora in Finland. This paper discusses the role of digital technologies in gathering and producing data as well as in presenting knowledge produced during the project.