RMeS Digital Ethnography Seminar with Dr. Ellie Rennie & Dr. Kelsie Nabben

Innovative Digital Tools for Digital Ethnography of Decentralised Communities

A conversation with Dr. Ellie Rennie (RMIT University) and Dr. Kelsie Nabben (European University Institute)

When: 11 September 2024 | 9:30-11:00 a.m. CET
Where: Utrecht University – Hybrid (exact room, see below)
In person: Kromme Nieuwegracht 20 – T.0.05; Grote Zaal
Online: Teams link will be sent to all registered participants
ECTS: 2-4 EC. More information about credits and assignments, see below
Coordinator: Prof. dr Annette Markham (Utrecht University)
Organisation: Prof. dr Annette Markham, Department of Media and culture Studies (Utrecht University) and RMeS
For: PhD Candidates and RMa students in Media Studies, who are a member of a Dutch Graduate Research School (onderzoekschool). RMeS staff and other interested colleagues are welcome to sit in on specific sessions.

Registration via THIS LINK. IMPORTANT NOTE: When registering, please specify at ‘remarks’ if you want to attend IN PERSON or ONLINE.

This seminar is part of the RMeS Digital Ethnography Seminar Series 2024: Tools, Ethics, Futures. More information can be found here.

Innovative Digital Tools for Digital Ethnography of Decentralised Communities

Several challenges exist in undertaking digital ethnography in distributed, online communities, such as blockchain-based Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) and other opensource field sites. These challenges include high volume of data, transient participant culture, and ethics consent. In this talk, we explore digital tools and methodologies that we are actively involved in developing and working with to enable researchers to navigate these decentralised, digital environments more effectively. These include a Discord bot (called “Telescope”) that facilitates more participatory and ethical research with Discord communities, and a project with Large-Language Models (LLMs) that combine the ethnography of AI with the ethnography of online communities using AI tools.

Ellie Rennie is a Professor at RMIT University and an Australian Research Council-funded Future Fellow working on the project “Cooperation Through Code”. Her research is examining permissionless systems (including public blockchains) using ethnographic methods. Prior to her fellowship, Ellie’s work was focused on the topic of digital inclusion in remote Indigenous communities, and she currently serves on the Expert Panel for Australia’s First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group. She has written five books and is the producer of two audio documentary series. She is a research director within the international research network Metagov, and former Director of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

Kelsie Nabben is an ethnographic researcher specialising in the social impacts of emerging technologies, notably decentralised digital infrastructure (such as blockchains, peer-to-peer protocols, and Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) and other algorithmic systems (such as Large-Language-Models). Her interdisciplinary research focuses on resilience and accountability in contexts of digital governance. Dr. Nabben completed her PhD as a scholarship recipient at RMIT University’s Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making & Society on the topic of resilience in decentralised technologies. She is currently Max Weber Fellow at European University Institute.


General readings: 
Burrell J. (2009). The field site as a network: A strategy for locating ethnographic research. Field Methods, 21(2), 181–199

Marcus G. E. (1995). Ethnography in/of the world system: The emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology, 24(1), 95–117.

To learn more about the featured speakers:
Nabben, K, and Zargham, M. (2022). The Ethnography of a ‘Decentralized Autonomous Organization’ (DAO): De-mystifying Algorithmic Systems. Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, 2022: 74-97.

Rennie, E., Zargham, M., Tan, J., Miller, L., Abbott, J., Nabben, K., and De Filippi, P. (2022). Towards a participatory digital ethnography of blockchain governance (February 27)). Qualitative Inquiry, 28(7),


To earn ECTS credit for this series, students in RMA or PhD programs may choose from the following options:

2 ECTS: Attend five of the six Seminar sessions. No further requirements

4 ECTS: Attend four of the six seminar sessions. In advance of each session attended, students should prepare and upload to a designated course folder a single PDF document that comprises four questions, based on the reading materials, that could be posed to one or both of the featured speakers. Each question should be framed or situated by a short (approx 600-750 words) blogpost style essay that provides background on why or how the question is relevant and more specifically, how it is derived from the student’s personal reading and comprehension of the materials provided/suggested for each seminar session. Other source material may be added. (total word count per seminar attended is 2400-3000 words. Over the course of the entire series, the student will produce 9200-12000 words). Expression of ideas in a blogpost style post indicates that informal, first person writing style is allowed. Within this, proper citations and a consistent citation style should be used. Essays are evaluated as Pass/Fail, on the basis of completion and evidence of basic comprehension. Students should not expect any feedback from the facilitator on content.