Michael Fischer

Professor of Anthropological Sciences & Director of Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent

Interests

Documenting and modelling how human thought creates, reproduces and transforms the material world, how individuals’ choices contribute to collective activity and how societies create, organise and manage choices and access to choices. Methods for preservation and reuse of digital data and supporting software. Portable software. Counter surveillance.

Research

I am an anthropologist who as done research mainly in the Punjab and Swat regions in Pakistan and on the islands of Rarotonga and Atiu in the Cook Islands. Topics I have investigated include how marriages are arranged in Pakistan, how new knowledge enters into the public sphere and becomes integrated (or traditional), and how people address new problems by reconstructing and applying old knowledge.

I am situated in a School of Anthropology and Conservation, and have found good partnerships there, working on projects that investigate how to migrate aspects of local justice systems in PNG to the National legal code, integrating biological and ethnobiological information, identifying illegal wildlife sales online, tracking animal traffic with sensors and micro-controller units, and using spatial methods for conceptualising and analysing data, including soundscapes. I have most recently been looking at the complexity of online social networks and how to represent and analyse these as multidimensional networks of partially overlapping information flows.

A developer of microcomputer hardware and software during the 1970s, in 1985 I took up a post in Anthropology. Initially, computing methods from AI and neural networks served as my base, organised around a “Software Tools” paradigm to support research computing.  This has evolved to create larger data sources, better data mining approaches, and a software tools paradigm based around online services.

I have developed software for recording genealogies, kinship terminologies and tools for identifying mathematical structure in these;  interactive media annotation tools;  tools for representing and analysing large scale networks;  tools for collecting ethnographic interviews and representing results from these in expert system and agent-based models.

Since 1986 I have developed services platforms, leading to the Ethnographics Gallery in 1993, one of the first few hundred web sites, and in 2005 to AnthroGrid, distributed across institutions rather than a single platform. Current AnthroGrid related projects include a services platform for the Human Relations Area Files at Yale,  the NSF funded Complex Social Science Supercomputer Gateway at UC Irvine, and Kinsources, hosted by the TGIR HumaNum, Paris.

Check out contributions by and mentions of Michael Fischer on www.software.ac.uk