The Loss of the Informal

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The COVID-19 pandemic is altering the shape of anthropological research on a global scale seemingly overnight. The threads of sociality that connect anthropologists with peers and interlocutors were severed and reconstituted in the digital sphere over social media platforms, internet webpages, chatrooms, comment sections, emails, direct messages, and Skype, Zoom, Teams or WhatsApp calls. The rise of digital methods, netnography and other means of obtaining information about others beyond face-to-face interaction changes the nature of anthropological knowledge being produced. That move to digitized social relations has led to a formalization of social interaction yet much of anthropological research is built on informal social encounters. Our paper explores the ramifications of this apparent loss of informal sociality that forms the bedrock of the ethnographic endeavor. Informal conversations with young people engaging in these activities of surfing and swimming ceased. Only scheduled “interviews” and conversations with coaches and organizers or, when possible, filtered through parents to speak with youth, remained viable research methods. With the loss of the informal, we are in danger of missing mundane but critical aspects of everyday life that are so central to any ethnographic enterprise. Using our own current projects affected by the pandemic, we reflect upon how those changes alter our relationships with our interlocutors and the potential ramifications of the loss of informal relations upon anthropological knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventInternational Union of Anthropologists and Ethnologists Congress 2020: Coming of Age on Earth: Legacies and Next Generation Anthropology - Institute for Anthropological Research, Šibenik, Croatia
Duration: 9 Mar 202114 Mar 2021


ConferenceInternational Union of Anthropologists and Ethnologists Congress 2020
Internet address


  • ethnography
  • informal
  • serendipity
  • sport
  • anthropology
  • knowledge


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