SXSW Interactive 2013

Digital Primitives – The Anthropology of Social


From the beginning, the Internet has allowed patients and caregivers to create online communities that provide something offline communities cannot. In the case of rare genetic disorders, it is a chance to connect with others who know what you are facing; in the case of debilitating disease, a chance to talk openly with others who know what it is like to live in an able-bodied society. The same way that deaf communities sprung up throughout the world, online communities lack formal institutional structures, and come in a number of shapes and sizes, with different cultural norms, interactional rules, and languages. Anthropology and linguistics, as sciences focusing on society and communication, are ideally suited to unpack and understand these communities. We explore real-world examples of online health-related communities, the belief structures of groups, the fault-lines that exist, and what these analyses tell us about the real-world needs and experiences of community members.

Additional Supporting Materials


  1. What is the nature of health-related online communities of practice?
  2. What do spontaneously-created online communities teach us about the ways humans organize themselves, and the ways language is used to generate social and conceptual norms?
  3. What sorts of tools can best help understand these communities, their beliefs, their needs, and their aspirations?
  4. What role(s) do these communities play in relation to real-world healthcare needs?
  5. How can we utilize the findings of “electronic medical anthropology” to identify and meet the needs of patients, providers, and their families?



Brad Davidson, General Manager, Insights & Analytics, Ogilvy CommonHealth

Meta Information:

  • Event: Interactive
  • Format: Core Conversation
  • Track: Social and Relationships
  • Track 2
  • Level: Advanced

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