The PECE project extends from work in cultural anthropology over the last few decades that foregrounds how cultural critique, innovation and change emerge, and the significance of the genre forms through which culture is expressed (Marcus and Fischer 1986; Clifford and Marcus 1986). This thread of work in cultural anthropology has drawn on literary and language theory to address the significance of genre forms both in everyday enactment of culture in different settings, and in scholarly representations of culture. PECE extends this thread of work into the digital domain through a platform design that reflects critical insight from theories of language, literature, and ethnography, built out organically with original ethnographic material. Thus, while designed to reflect critical theory, PECE is also ethnographically grounded, collaborative in nature, and expressly experimental: the platform is designed to permit change as called for by evolving ethnographic engagements. This entwined development process has been challenging but has proven robust, allowing us to identify needs and explore computational possibilities from within humanities work, learning about and building the kinds of tools that are critical when ethnographers work collaboratively, especially on complex topics involving multiple sites, scales and actors, and many different kinds of “data.”
We work on PECE aware of long-standing effort, often experimental in tenor, to integrate new technologies and media into the work and expression of cultural analysis. Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead’s stunning work with photography – as both a research tool and means of conveying their analysis – comes immediately to mind (Bateson and Mead 1942; Jacknis 1988). The history of filmmaking in the conduct and expression of cultural analysis has also laid important ground, generating impressive methodological debates and innovation, and a body of work that literally provides different angles on matters of interest and concern to cultural analysts. Digital tools and modes of presentation add still other possibilities for getting at and sharing understanding of how “culture” works – in historical, geographic, political, economic and media context, always in need of deeper or alternative ways of understanding. The goal of PECE could be described as kaleidoscopic, enriching cultural analysis through use of an ever-evolving array of techniques and technologies – which, together, multiply perspective, give texture to insight, and animate reflexivity.