I have relied on this quote quite a bit over the last week about the authority of audio when dealing with ethnographies. Based on my initial forays into my chosen subject (eLearning Africa), I am inclined to agree.

“Traditionally, oral interactions have been foremost for ethnographers, and texts have taken a somewhat secondary role as cultural products, worthy of study only as far as they reveal something about the oral settings in which the culture resides. “(51).

What is it about oral interactions that lends itself to authenticity, the model of in situ investigation? Is it the authority and clarity of voice, the ability for the subject to articulate their vision of their own community without the subjective filter of analysis? Is it the general lack of interpretation required, where attention shifts from analysis to a large enough sample group to explain the community? Perhaps, but if this is the case, that we do indeed rely on audio for its objectivity, then it is a flawed one.


Sound is highly subjective as it a direct exchange between two subjective elements, the speaker and the receiver. However, it does allow the speaker, at least, to present their take on their role, their perception of community, in an unfettered, unfiltered way. What does it mean for them to participate in this community? How are they bound by it? What are their roles and their means for participation? What transferable knowledge does this group participation provide?

My group, eLearning Africa, sits firmly both the physical and virtual worlds. There are subcommunities that have sprung from the larger community, localized efforts or subgroups built on specific subjects or community. However, their allegience to the larger community, eLearning Africa, is an association with place, with situatedness. It is of Africa, for Africa, but global in scope and digital in application. An intriguing mix.


My colleagues and I recorded the above video at the eLearning Africa 2010 Conference in Lusaka, Zambia. The man speaks with passion, conviction, and clarity; he speaks of a united continent that he admits to not having seen. Is his association with eLearning Africa merely for personal gain? I believe not at all. He is concerned with Africa as a larger entity, one that has distinct digital parallels. So, he extends the scope of Africa to include an African digital culture.

Speaking to the original purpose of this post, how much would be lost if this were merely the transcription of what he said without the emotional conviction with which he says it? What does this indicate about his association with this community? In the below video, he espouses further on what culture is, both digital and physical. He describes it as  “a gift from God”. Harkening to spiritual rhetoric to describe its importance.


By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.