Dr Shireen Walton
Shireen holds a BA in history from University College London (UCL) and an MPhil and DPhil in Anthropology from the University of Oxford. She is a Postdoctoral Associate and Tutorial Fellow of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, where she is currently teaching undergraduate courses in Social Anthropology, and an MSc class in Qualitative Data Analysis and the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute. Shireen also co-facilitates the Oxford Digital Ethnography Group (OxDEG); an interdisciplinary hub for qualitative digital research she helped establish in 2013 between the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (ISCA) and the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). She is also a founding core member of the newly established #socialhumanities TORCH network at Oxford. Alongside her teaching and publications, Shireen has been working at the Centre of Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS) on the project: ‘Immigration Narratives in the British Press’ (2016), and is pursuing her research at the intersection of photography, social/mobile media, and digital-visual communication.
Shireen’s doctoral research, entitled Camera Iranica: Popular Digital Photography in/of Iran, was supported by a full academic scholarship from the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS), under the supervision of Professor Clare Harris and Dr Mohammad Talib. It examined the contemporary genre of popular digital photography, with a specific look at photoblogging in/of Iran. Photoblogging is a global media practice that emerged in the early 2000s involving the taking and sharing of digital photographs of everyday life on personal blogs specifically dedicated to photography. In more recent years, photoblogs have converged with, and been integrated into social networking sites and broader mobile media ensembles. Shireen’s research investigated how, why and to what effects photoblogging has grown steadily popular in Iran and amongst Iranians in the diaspora over the past decade as a burgeoning form of visual expression and communication. Visual themes of the mundane, the banal and the ordinary witnessed in Iranian photoblogging, amongst others, are shown to comprise the ‘soft politics’ and playful performativity of the practice. Here, digital photographs of everyday life speak to a visual legacy of dominant images and imaginaries propagated by mainstream media and political discourse, both in Iran and in 'the West'. Based on fieldwork in Iran, the UK, and digital-ethnographic research conducted online – including with Iranian photobloggers living in six countries – photoblogs are shown to be a popular documentary medium for articulating and negotiating perceptions of place, identity and community in local/global contexts, and changing socio-technological landscapes. In light of the study’s empirical findings, theoretical arguments concerning the materiality of digital photographs and localities of web aesthetics are extrapolated, along with relevant methodological strategies for exploring collaborative and participatory digital-visual methods in ethnographic research.
Research interests: Media and social change; digital photography; digital storytelling; popular documentary practices; art, aesthetics and visual culture; social imaginaries; migration and social memory; digital-visual anthropology/ethnography - theory and research methods.
Walton, S. (forthcoming 2016). ‘Being there, where?’ Designing Digital-Visual Methods for Moving With/In Iran’ in Salazar, N., Elliot, A., and Norum, R., (Eds.), Fielding Challenges, Challenging the Field: Methodologies of Mobility, Berghahn Books.
Walton, S. (forthcoming 2016) ‘The Anthropologist as Curator: Introducing a Digital Photography Exhibition as a Collaborative and Participatory Fieldwork Method’ in Afonso, A, I., Bayre, F. and Harper, K., (Eds.) Special Issue: Participatory Visual and Digital Research in Anthropology: Engagement and Innovation, Visual Ethnography, Altrimedia Edizioni.
Walton, S. (2016). ‘Photographic Truth in Motion: The Case of Iranian Photoblogs’, Anthropology and Photography, Volume 4. Royal Anthropological Institute: Online Open-Access.
Walton, S. (2016). ‘Abadan’s Digital Afterlife: Past Images and Present Pasts in Abadani Virtual Communities’, Abadan: Retold. Online Open-Access.
Walton, S. (2015). ‘Re-envisioning Iran Online: Photoblogs and the Ethnographic “Digital-Visual Moment’’’ in Ryzova, L. (Ed.) Special Issue: Critical Histories of Photography in the Middle East, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communications (MJCC), Brill.
Walton, S. (2014). ‘Exploring Digital-Visual Anthropological Research Methods’. Material World blog. Available online
Walton, S. (2013). ‘Digital Visual Anthropology: Envisaging the Field’. Ethnography Matters blog. Available online
BA Archeology and Anthropology, University of Oxford: Mods Paper 2: Introduction to Anthropological Theory, FHS Paper 1: Social Analysis and Interpretation, FHS Paper 2: Cultural Representations, Beliefs and Practices
MSc Social Science of the Internet, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford: Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) and the Internet.
Selected invited seminars and conference presentations
2016, January 25. Doing digital-visual ethnography in/of Iran: The virtual intimacy of working with images, blogs and digital exhibitions. Material, Visual and Digital Culture seminar series (MVDC), Department of Anthropology, University College London
2015, November 10. Exploring Iran Online. Oxford Digital Ethnography Group seminar series, Oxford Internet Institute.
2014, November 22-15. Picturing Iran Online: Photoblogs and the Enchantments of Digital Technologies. Photographs in Novel Digital Contexts. Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) Annual Convention. Washington DC, USA.
2014, July 31-August 3. Framing the Frame: Visible Issues and the Issue of Visibility in a Virtual Research Exhibition. Participatory Visual and Digital Research in Anthropology: Engagement and Innovation. European Association of Social Anthropologists [EASA] 13th Biennial Conference, University of Tallinn, Estonia.
2014, May 29-31 The ‘Art’ of Capturing ‘Truth’ online: Digital Photography as a Technology of Enchantment. Photography, new technologies and the predicament of the frame: theoretical and methodological reflections. RAI Anthropology and Photography conference, The British Museum, London.
2014, March 14. Whence and Whither the Holistic Approach? On Fidelity and Self-Preferentiality in Anthropological Theory. Ethnographic Starting Points: Theoretical Directions for ‘New’ Anthropologists. University of Cambridge
2013, June 7-8. New Media: Envisioning the Alternative Account. The 2013 Global Futures Forum: ‘10 Years on: Art and Everyday Life in Iraq and Iran’ - public forum hosted by the University of Southampton and Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art, Design and Media. The Mosaic Rooms, London.
2013, April 13-14. Envisaging “Iranianness” Inside-Out: Photoblogs and Contemporary Iranian Digital-Visual Self-Representation. Symposia Iranica: Biennial Graduate Conference on Iranian Studies, University of St. Andrew’s.