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Order and Adat in the Forests of West Papua

Papua is Indonesia’s poorest and least populated region, but, as they say, rich in natural resources. It is developing quickly in the era of pemekaran, an Indonesian word that literally translates as “blossoming,” or “subdivision”. It describes the rapid proliferation of local government institutions that is happening throughout Indonesia, penetrating regions that just a decade ago were totally bereft of infrastructure or public services (McWilliam 2011). Even in the few months that I have spent researching in the district of Tambrauw, on the Bird’s Head of New Guinea, I’ve watched the pipes being laid and the roads being built, slowly reaching out from the main coastal town to the mountainous interior. Throughout the rural regions of Papua, development and pemekaran are more or less synonymous, people seem to want it, and it’s happening quickly. (read more...)

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Harvey, Vulnerability, and Resilience in Context on the Gulf Coast

There has been no shortage of rapid assessments in the wake of Harvey, many of which point to endemic vulnerabilities embedded within US gulf coast communities (risk of hurricanes, large at-risk populations and critical infrastructure, the role of a changing climate, energy infrastructure, vulnerable petrochemical processing plants, etc.). Harvey’s impacts have also led to a “rediscovery” of past reporting and analysis that foreshadowed many of the hurricane’s more devastating outcomes. (e.g. ProPublica’s series on Houston flood risk, (lack of) zoning, and rapid development in the Houston area). They have also shifted media coverage to heavily emphasize context in Houston and Texas gulf coast (e.g. the Washington Post article on Houston’s “Wild West” growth and expansion). On top of rapid urban growth and development in flood prone areas, the stochasticity of weather and the persistent trend of a changing climate also played key roles in how Harvey unfolded (and continues to unfold). A large high pressure ridge over the West had the effect of placing what amounted to an atmospheric wall in the path of the storm (Fig. 3). A climatologist colleague put it simply: “If we had a large sprawling ridge across much of the US like we often do in the summer, Harvey would have kept moving west-northwest and probably would have sheared apart and turned into a rainy day for New Mexico.” (read more...)

Down to a Science with Michelle Murphy

Today, Platypus brings you the inaugural edition of our “Down to a Science” podcast. On the podcast, we’ll be serving up science studies in a format accessible to a wider audience than our regularly scheduled programming (even if that wider audience is your class of undergraduates). In this episode, we bring you an interview with historian Michelle Murphy on her new book, The Economization of Life. In conversation with Lily Ye, Murphy discusses how in the second half of the 20th century, economic logics were used to continue racist programs of population control when the biological evolutionary logic of eugenics fell out of favor. She argues that programs to “invest in a girl” come out of the same tradition of co-governing economy and population. We’d love to get feedback on this series, how we might make it better, and what subjects or scholars you’d like to see featured. Send us a note! (Listen Now...)

No Limits

Many people panic the first time they are hooked up to an underwater breathing machine; to inhale below the chop of the waves feels like the pinnacle of self-destruction, and sometimes, it is. The rush of adrenaline can cause novice scuba divers to blow through a whole tank of gas in what feels like minutes, sucking down breath after unassured breath. The deeper you are, the faster the tank empties: at 30 meters, the pressure is equivalent to four of earth’s atmospheres and you need four times the air to fill your lungs. For every 10 meters, add the weight of another sky. (read more...)

As If I Were Blind…

What is an experience and how can it be conveyed and communicated to others? “A focus on “The Experience” signals a technology has been designed with a consideration for the user’s experiences. It is supposed to indicate  a technology’s role and contribution to everyday life, and the likelihood of its success once implemented. Given its popularity in design contexts, the term “experience” seems unusually rare in anthropology, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Bruner, 1986; Turner, 1986; Hastrup, 1995, for example). This is so despite the fact that we, as anthropologists, can definitely be said to “experience” a way of living other than the one we are used to when we carry out fieldwork. This experience begins with our first encounter with another culture and its people, and continues into the writing stage, with our concerted attempts to communicate the complicated cultural aspects of the places and peoples we study (read more...)

Transhumanism, Tragic Humanism, and The View From Nowhere

A number of scholars of post-humanity (such as Hayles and Wolfe) have argued that transhumanism is an unduly optimistic extension of humanism. I can’t agree – not only is it not optimistic, it is not a humanism. Transhumanism is filled with the anxiety of extinction. It also is enthused enough about non-human flourishing that it marks a departure from humanism (besides: is anything more optimistic than humanism in its enlightenment mode?). Transhumanism’s posthumanist stance is the continuation of enlightenment technoscience in so far as it centralizes human technology, even if it projects the technoscientific breakdown of humanity. However, insofar as its ideas and projected technologies propose an almost panpsychic collapse of mind and matter, it pushes us beyond reductive materialist, secular and humanist arrangements, and points to some interesting new openings. (read more...)

Infrastructure as New Life?

Today, logistics as the science and industry of cross-border transportation of mainly industrial products drives “revolutions” from energy to retail. As most world economies continue to accelerate their involvement with economic globalization, logistics continue to take over local economies in many regions around the world. Paradoxically, many states and sovereigns around the world are also looking (back) to logistics infrastructure as a panacea to curb the half-century-long devastating effects of deregulation of trade, finance and services on nation-state-centric political economies. One can observe this move both in countries of North America and Europe, where the post-1950s deterioration of public infrastructures has long been a problem. The Right’s recognition of this deterioration was at least partly responsible for carrying it into power, for example, in the U.S., although the Left has also occasionally touted this kind of infrastructure politics. In places like China, or Turkey, a country with which I am more familiar, economic development based on the infrastructure, transport, and construction sectors is much newer. This move toward infrastructure, though, at the same time may reflect the end of sovereign state authority, at least as we know it, and the beginning of a new kind of statecraft. (read more...)

The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: A Conversation with Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Walter Benjamin’s well-known piece the “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” has long been a canonical essay on the role art plays in the age of automation. Benjamin saw art both as fueled and altered by mechanization. In a conversation with artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, a partial transcript of which follows below, the role of art in the age of digital reproduction, to paraphrase Benjamin, emerged as a critical theme. Heather’s work, which spans over a decade, is a complex meditation on the contemporary experience of widening digitization. Her work Stranger Visions is perhaps the best known: a project where she reconstructs faces from DNA left on refuse she’s found on the street – a chewed up piece of gum, a stray piece of hair, a lip stain on a glass – into voluptuous, three dimensional portraits. During our conversation, we talked about the creative and the intellectual (read more...)