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The Second Project Project: The Security to Feel Insecure

Editor’s note: Platypus is launching a series called “The Second Project Project” that asks scholars to reflect on the process of developing new research projects at the intersection of anthropology, science, technology, and computing. Anthropologists, and most qualitative social scientists and humanities scholars, typically produce book-length research projects rather than series of articles, so the “second project” refers to the next major, book-length research project following the dissertation and  first book.

During the week of March 21, I attended the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) international annual conference on developments in virtual reality. Though I had been reading up on virtual reality for the past few months, this was my first dip of the toe into an ethnographic field I hoped to explore in depth. I knew exactly zero people at this 500-person conference. The language on the conference posters in the hallway was mystifying. The thought of introducing myself to any of these strangers triggered butterflies in my stomach. I stood in fear of opening my mouth, thus betraying my outsider status. Right, I remembered, this is what the beginning of fieldwork feels like. It kind of sucks.

This initial foray signifies a much delayed beginning of work on my “second project.” The question of my second project has been one I’ve artfully dodged since graduating in 2011 until just this past fall,  2015. The pressure of articulating a second project in my job applications—starting in my final year as a graduate student up until I secured my magical unicorn of a tenure-track position in 2014—led to a rather uncreative string of unstarted projects. These were often derivative of my first project, and ones that I felt comfortable approaching but neither inspired nor excited to work on. Only with the security of my current position did I feel I had the freedom and time to find a fieldsite that would, in fact, make me feel insecure (in both the best and worst ways). The predicament this raises is, with the realities of the current job market and ever growing expectations for what is accomplished before tenure, how do we find the time and space to develop this second project? (more…)

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The Hulk, Doxxing, and Changing Standards of Privacy

By now you’ve probably heard the verdict in the Bollea v. Gawker case, the formal name of the lawsuit that Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea being his legal name) filed against the online news site Gawker. The jury awarded the Hulkster with $140 million in damages for invasion of privacy after Gawker posted a one-minute segment of a sex tape featuring the wrestler with the wife of his best friend Bubba the Love Sponge. If you got a chance to watch the trial, or a least read about what was happening, you’d know that it was very entertaining, particularly for a media/info/tech law nerd such as myself. You should also know that Hulk has unfinished business with Gawker, having recently (as of May 3, 2016) filed another lawsuit against the media organization and others claiming emotional distress. Bollea v. Gawker, as humorous as it was, is perhaps not as important as (more...)

An Anthropologist Visits the Classroom: On teaching science (and religion)

Although I’ve never taught the book cover-to-cover, my copy of Latour and Woolgar's (1986[1979]) Laboratory Life has been unpacked four times since I finished my Ph.D., six years ago during a final sweltry Florida summer. Their re-inscription of the Salk Institute has moved with me through the planned communities of D.C.’s suburbs, the tech-ifying Research Triangle of central North Carolina, and the cotton-cultivating arid flatland of west Texas. Now, Lab Life and I cohabitate—more peacefully than we used to—at one of New England’s dark-brick collegiate beauties. I’ve offered courses on the anthropology of science, in different iterations and incarnations, at George Mason University, North Carolina State University, Texas Tech University, and now Mount Holyoke College. As my nomadism gives way to more permanent settlement, I’m pausing to reflect on the modest successes (and felt frustrations) of sharing my passion for anthropology through attention to its liaison with science and technology (more...)

Remembering David Hakken

This week, the CASTAC community received the sad news that Professor David Hakken had passed away. Hakken was Director of the Social Informatics Program at The University of Indiana. Trained as an anthropologist, Hakken conducted research at the intersection of ethnography and cyberspace. He was concerned about how digital technologies and culture are continually co-constructive. His prolific career included publication of a recent book co-authored with Maurizio Teli and Barbara Andrews entitled, Beyond Capital: Values, Commons, Computing, and the Search for a Viable Future (Routledge, 2015). Hakken presciently focused on critical areas emerging at the intersection of digital anthropology and science and technology studies. The outpouring on social media from his colleagues and former students has been truly touching and shows the depth of his impact on the community. Hakken was a principal founding member of CASTAC. As a pioneer in anthropological studies of computing in the early 1990s, Hakken (more...)

Does e-Waste Die? Peter Little on Lifecycles and Makerspaces in an “Electronics Graveyard”

Peter Little is an anthropologist and assistant professor at Rhode Island College, and author of Toxic Town: IBM, Pollution, and Industrial Risks (NYU Press 2014). I asked him a few questions about his new project on electronic waste recycling in Ghana. His answers touch on the politics of electronics waste and pollution, surprising links between first and second projects, and the challenge of doing fieldwork in a place that everyone’s talking about. Our conversation below has been edited for length and clarity. Emily Brooks: What was the genesis of your second project? How did you move from Endicott [the field site for Toxic Town] to Ghana? Peter Little: The original project was on a high tech production site, a birthplace of electronics. That led me in to thinking more about the lifecycle of electronics, from production to discard. When we think of electronic waste, China pops up, of course, but more and (more...)

Another Architecture is Possible: Politics, Value, and Architecture in Argentina

Entering the architecture school at the University of Buenos Aires, students pass under a large banner bearing names and photographs of students and faculty disappeared by the military dictatorship of 1976-1983. Together with texts like Arquitectos Que No Fueron (Novillo 2008)—literally “architects that weren’t”—the banner provokes reflection about an unrealized future for architecture that was imagined and then pressed to within an inch of its life over forty years ago. It asks students to consider their inheritance of that moment: to rethink the present through a past substantially shaped by violence, and to hold open the possibility that another architecture is possible. The technical aspects of architectural design—the mainstay of architects’ day-to-day training—were taught in an environment suffused with political inheritance. I arrived at the architecture school to conduct fieldwork for an ethnographic study of a construction boom that followed Argentina’s 2001 economic and political crisis. My current book project, Concrete (more...)

Populist Outsiders in the U.S Presidential Election

Editor's note: This post was written prior to the New York state primary on Tuesday, April 19, in which Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both won majorities. Against all pundits’ bets, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders each stand a chance of winning their parties’ nominations. Writing in disbelief, media analysts and scholars have attempted to explain the allure of both candidates to the disenchanted masses. Some write about the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, and the increasing disconnect between party elites and their constituents to explain the rise of political outsiders; others write about racial backlash against President Obama. And still others write about how years of merciless and cynical political manipulation within the parties has polarized political discourse in the U.S. “Populism!” analysts decry, Peron-style banana republic populism, has taken over U.S. electoral politics. But where should we draw the line between populism and campaigning for (more...)

The Three-Minute Thesis in Science

In the world of business they call it the “elevator pitch”: a short, pithy speech that summarizes the unique aspects of a product or service to interest a potential customer or client. So named because it ideally lasts no longer than the span of an average elevator ride—which the management guru Tom Peters once considered to be two minutes—the purpose of the elevator pitch is to capture and hold someone’s attention in order to sell an idea quickly. Under Peters and others, the elevator pitch became a requisite part of 20th century business. In the world of science, where verbosity is a practiced, even revered, art, the need to capture and hold someone’s attention in order to quickly sell an idea has never seemed quite as necessary. Yet when taxpayer money is increasingly used to fund research, taxpayers generally expect scientists to communicate briefly the findings of that research in understandable (more...)