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Heritage-based tribalism in big data ecologies. An online talk by Chiara Bonacchi (University of Stirling)

This seminar examines heritage-based tribalism emerging in ecosystems of ‘distributed’ ‘practices and relations’ that underpin ‘big data’ (Ruppert 2016). Although it may be argued that conflict and tribalism are intrinsically human, the neo-tribe is a useful heuristic to examine how heritage is used to activate exclusionary identities on social media. People have found solace and legitimisation through the past for centuries. However, on the one hand, such a process is acutely triggered today by the erasure of security and materiality at the global scale. On the other hand, calling upon retrotopias can now occur in faster-paced and hyper-visible ways in ecologies where high volumes of commercially controlled, rapidly moving and ever-changing data are produced. Starting from this premise, the talk will explore how ideas of human origin and ancestry are deployed on Twitter for purposes of antagonistic ‘othering’.  In particular, both data-intensive and qualitative methods are applied to the case of people’s engagements with the news of Cheddar Man’s DNA on Twitter. Findings show that heritage-based tribalism in Big Data ecologies is uniquely shaped as an assemblage by the coalescing of different forms of antagonistic othering. Those that co-occur most frequently are the ones that draw on ‘Views on Race’, ‘Trust in Experts’ and ‘Political Leaning’. The framings of the news that were most influential in triggering heritage-based tribalism were introduced by both right- and left-leaning newspaper outlets and by activist websites. It is concluded that heritage-themed communications that rely on provocative narratives on social media tend to be labelled as political and not to be conducive to positive change in people’s attitudes towards issues such as racism.

This seminar will be presented by Dr Chiara Bonacchi, (University of Stirling) and will be followed by a Q&A.

The talk will take place on Zoom from 1pm-3pm. Open to external audiences.