Ethnography as Diaspora

Ethnography work on software in Vietnam; interesting updates from the field.

Ethnography Matters

Lilly U. Nguyen Lilly U. Nguyen

Editor’s Note: Lilly U. Nguyen (@deuxlits) tells us how in her own work on the ethnography of software in Vietnam, she both studies and embodies “diaspora” – and she shares the insights that diaspora has given her. She is a postdoctoral scholar at the ISTC-Social at UC Irvine. She studies race, labor politics, and information technology in Vietnam and among the Vietnamese diaspora.

Lilly’s post continues the March-April edition focusing on ethnographies of makers, hackers, and engineers.


In my work, ethnography takes on diasporic dimensions.

These qualities touch on several of the questions raised in previous posts in this blog series, such as the distinction between self and other and the Cartesian coordinates of studying up and down in Nick Seaver’s post and the disciplinary shifts as described in Austin Toomb’s post. For those of us who study decidedly contemporary phenomena like algorithms, hackers…

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About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of governance.

3 thoughts on “Ethnography as Diaspora

  1. I’m sympathetic to the ethos here but wonder if it isn’t still caught up in modernist ideas about author-ity/identity and focusing on intentions vs after-effects? The field (so to speak) seems incapable of making the switch to understanding their efforts/products in terms of something like reader-responses, something(s) which cannot be known in advance and will not be stable/unified.
    There are no doubt possible capabilities/powers to ethnographic work(s) but they cannot be systematized/structured/prefigured. This is NOT a loss in that there is much of life, especially much of what we value, that isn’t repeatable (can’t be reverse-engineered) in the way that lab-sciences and all are. Now what it may mean, what may be the cash-value, of such works in our current academic machinations is another story…

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    • Yeah, the “intentions vs after-effects” thing smacks of old Mertonian thinking from the functionalist days. Of course, your other idea, mainly, “something(s) which cannot be known in advance and will not be stable/unified” would require some pretty serious analytical heavy-lifting that may or may not be reward in the context of contemporary publishing, at least, in sociology-as-usual.

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      • sure, but if folks are just to got thru the motions to please the inc.powers that be than what sort of endeavor is this and should we support/endorse it?
        Not sure if analytic lifting is the key, as I understand much of the research in these areas what is needed is something more like a social/generational shift in persons and attitudes/values. We need better tactics more than knock-down arguments (no such thing I’m afraid) by my accounting.

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