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Multiple Modes of Being Human

photograph of a man enacting scenes of handling a tea pot

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) In the last couple of years, I have been toying around with the ideas of “modes of humanism,” “inventing new modes of being human,” and modes of existence, such as data swarms and the pre-, post-, and transhuman. However, I was never really able to wrap my head around the question, what it really means when Bergson, Simondon, and others speak about the possibilities of “new modes of being human.” Modes of being human signify a multiplicity of possible forms of being human. These forms differ historically and culturally. (read more...)

Recent
The image is a photograph of a 2019 notification sent by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Islamabad, to all satellite TV channel licensees (news and current affairs) and is dated October 26, 2019. On the top left hand corner of the notification is the PEMRA logo consisting of a shield surrounded by a wreath, lying below a star nestled within a crescent moon. On the top right hand corner is the PEMRA headquarters address, noted as Operations Wing, 3rd Floor, Mauve Area, G-8/1 Islamabad, Tel: 051-9107128. The notification number is 13(87)/OPS/2016. The text of the notification is as follows. Subject: Appearance of Senator Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor on TV Channels The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) vide its letter dated October 11, 2019 has conveyed that Senator Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor is “confirmed Alien” (quoted text appears in bold) as he is not a citizen of Pakistan. Therefore, NADRA vide its orders U/S 18 (1) and 17 (2) has cancelled (word appears in bold) and digitally impounded the CNIC issued to Mr. Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor. Since, it is established that the said person is an ‘alien,’ therefore all the TV channels (News and Current Affairs) are directed to refrain from inviting and projecting Mr. Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor in their programmes / talk shows, news etc. This issues with approval of the competent authority. After the text in the body of the notification, on the bottom right hand corner is a signature in blue ink by Muhammad Tahir, General Manager, Operations Broadcast Media. Below it, on the bottom left hand corner, is a note with the following text: Copy for information (text appears in bold): Director General (Monitoring), PEMRA, Head (Legal) PEMRA, and General Manager to Chairman, PEMRA.

Thinking with a Database

In 2019, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority notified television channels that they were not allowed to host the Pakistani Senator Hafiz Hamdullah on air. The reason: Hamdullah had been declared a “confirmed alien,” and his identity card had been “digitally impounded” by Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). NADRA began operations in 2000 by launching a biometric (fingerprints, facial, and iris recognition) computerized national identity card (CNIC). At NADRA, custom-made software integrates and verifies data from individuals as well as kin units, determining who is and is not a Pakistani citizen. (read more...)

A scene of a group of angels pictured in the clouds of heaven

Angelology and Technoscience

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) The study of angels, angelology, is seldomly taken seriously. Instead, it is seen as the topic of ridicule, exemplifying the irrelevancy and unworldliness of some academic questions: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Why would angels have knees? Do angels have sexes? Further, angels often reference disembodiment and neutrality, ideas any decent posthuman scholar seems to abhor. Nevertheless, I would argue that angels are a fruitful way to critically assess our posthuman condition. Angels embody a number of valued characteristics of our posthuman selves, but also a number of transformations in how science is currently practiced– what I would like to call technoscience. Technoscience refers then to a range of new disciplines, such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology, robotics, or data science. These are new disciplines where classic distinctions between science and technology, nature and artifact, are disappearing. Posthuman thought and technoscience have remarkable similarities, but, in contrast to posthumanism, our attitude towards technoscience is ambivalent. Do we really want that kind of science for our future? Or, differently put, do we really want to become angels? (read more...)

Through Mother’s Eyes: Subjectivity Reimagines Technology in Documentary Film

Anthropology and documentary are shaped by integrating subjectivity with philosophical and ethical questions. This post draws from an interview with filmmaker Natalia Almada and sound designer Dave Cerf, a couple with two young children, about their new film, Users (2021), winner of the 2021 Sundance Documentary Directing award. In contrast to Almada’s prior films which are deeply rooted in Mexico, this cinematic documentary seems unbounded by geography, taking as its starting point a mother’s interrogation of the effects of technology on humanity and earth. This interview focuses on how the structuring choices of filming and editing afforded an opportunity to generate a novel sense of the epic nature of the domestic sphere on par with the vastness of wasteland and sea. (read more...)

A group of people stand around a mounted exhibit on a wall displying court room sketches.

Data Activism and Petro-Public Knowledge “Across Borders”: The Formosa Plastics Global Archive

When our research group entered the Formosa Plastics museum in Taiwan, the first thing we noticed was a massive piece of kauri wood, sitting protected under a dome of glass. Wang Yung Ching, chairman of the company and formerly Taiwan’s richest person, had acquired the burl in 2002, after seeing it in an art gallery in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. As our tour guide explained with excitement, Wang was captivated by the wood’s radiant strength, representing the “immeasurable capabilities and longevity of the Formosa Plastics Group”, making it an ideal “centerpiece” for the company’s six-floor museum[1] . Exhibits celebrate the founder and spirit of the Formosa Plastics Group (complete with dioramas and wax figures) and a miniature replica of Formosa’s 6th Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant in Central Taiwan. The fourth floor has an Earth Conservation Theatre. The sixth floor conveys how Formosa has given back to society through investment in education, hospitals, and cultural heritage projects[2] . (read more...)

An Image of Papago Well, a large water tank with a faucet. Behind it there is a metal windmill, and barely visible is the purple humane borders flag marking this as a location containing potable water. The water tank sits in a desert landscape, near a sandy road marked by tire tracks.

The Shifting Borders of Value: Water and Wellbeing along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Is access to water a right? Should water be free? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that? This is exactly what surrounds the discourse of water use along the US-Mexico border and the way these questions are being addressed may surprise you. Water use in the U.S-Mexico border region has long been a tense topic, driven by stress placed on water supplies in an arid environment by agriculture and industry. The movement of water through the borderlands, as an economic resource and as an essential human good, has impacted many aspects of border life. The way water is handled in free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has caused tensions to rise. In Mexico, the privatization of water pushed by these trade agreements has created friction with the concept of water as a human right and water as a commodity. Water acts as a medium to observe the movement of resources through borders; such movement over border lines then transforms this natural fixture into a tradeable resource. The encounters with the rivers of the border region bring attention to how these movements are not as free as an idealized vision might have it, especially the visions of those who argue for a globalized world. Like human beings, water is traced from its source to the multitude of spaces it is destined to go and flagged for adequate use. With climate change looming, water issues and broader environmental impacts on transborder activity will become stark; some may argue they already have. (read more...)

Girls, Gadgets, and Gatekeepers: What is Ethical Feminist Fieldwork When Working with Children?

There is no Institutional Review Board (IRB) or equivalent body in India. The ethics of research are left to the purview of researchers, their supervisors, and departments. Therefore, as an international student, I first encountered the IRB when planning my MA project at UC Irvine, where I investigated the intersectional effects of gender and class within the family, and how they shape differential access to mobile phones for adolescents in urban India. (read more...)

Photo of a closed door on the exterior breezeway of a cargo ship, painted white with red lettering stenciled onto it that reads, "Suez Crew Room."

Cargo Ships and Comrades: On the Occasion of the Beached Ever Given

In 2018, we took a cargo ship from Barcelona to New York City and made a short film called Slop Chest [1] about the blurry distinction between work and leisure when you live where you work—and can’t leave. Here, we describe some of our experiences on board, drawing resonances between the labor practices in international shipping and in Amazon’s warehouses. Writing while the cargo ship Ever Given is blocking all trade through the Suez Canal and while Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, are preparing to count votes in favor of unionization, we speculate about how these two events resonate. What are contours of this conjuncture? There are three separate crews on board our ship: the officers, the engineers, and the deck crew who are responsible for maintaining the ship and keeping watch. The captain is Polish and the officers are similarly white and eastern European. The engineers are mostly the (read more...)