Monthly Archives: February 2013

Why Should I Obey a Machine?

ÜBERLINGEN MID-AIR COLLISION 2002 It is evening, in the sky over southern Germany. Two commercial aircraft are flying on a collision course: a Russian charter flight from Moscow to Barcelona, and a DHL cargo flight from Bergamo to Brussels. Their courses should be corrected by an air traffic controller in Zurich, but he is doing the job of two controllers, at two different work stations, as his equipment is degraded by ongoing maintenance work. Both planes are equipped with TCAS, an automated warning system that is the last line of defense if air traffic control fails to separate planes soon enough. Less than a minute before the crash, the air traffic controller notices the collision course, and gives the Russian crew a command to descend. Seven seconds later, the automated warning system orders the Russian crew to climb, while ordering the DHL crew to descend. The Russian crew begins to (read more...)

Big Data Panel at 4S Conference [CFP]

We are looking for people who are interested in presenting a paper at this year’s 4S Annual Meeting (October 9-12, 2013, San Diego, California) in a session we are organising on Big Data: Symbols, Practices, and Epistemic Uncertainties (see details below). Session Proposal Title: Big Data: Symbols, Practices, and Epistemic Uncertainties Convenors: Chiara Garattini (Health Strategy & Solutions, Intel Corporation) and Dawn Nafus (Intel Labs, Intel Corporation). Abstract: In the last couple of years “Big Data” has attracted increasing attention in academic, industrial and popular discourse. But what is being exactly referred to as Big Data and what are its implications? In images of data as a “gold mine” or “the new oil,” or even in Manovich’s (2012) notion of big data as a collapse of substance and surface, the sheer size and heterogeneity of these data bring back the analogue into the digital world in both the imagination and (read more...)

CASTAC: Past, Present, Future

As a longtime CASTAC member, I’d like to offer my take on where we’ve been and where we, as an organization might go in the future. My first encounter with CASTAC came at the 1992 AAA meetings in San Francisco. I was a new grad student of Gary Downey’s in the STS program at Virginia Tech; however, CASTAC had been founded earlier. The following brief history is based primarily on “corridor talk,” oral histories passed along informally at AAA meetings and other fora by folks like David Hakken, Lucy Suchman, Julian Orr, David Hess and others. CASTAC, as an organization, began as CAC (Committee for the Anthropology of Computing) at the initiation of David Hakken and a few other anthropologists who were pioneering anthropological studies of computing. David approached Marvin Harris who was, at that time, the President of the General Anthropology Division (GAD) about creating CAC as a Committee (read more...)

The Power of Metaphors

Metaphors are important elements of science and technology practice and pedagogy. They influence how knowledge is produced, interpreted, and represented. Many courses in science and technology studies introduce students to how metaphors inspire and orient investigations into the unknown. Sometimes, metaphors do not introduce new knowledge so much as overlay what we think we know onto interpretations about how the world works. As educators, it is instructive to find and share materials that help our students understand the power of metaphors, and how they influence our very perceptions. Over the years, I’ve benefitted from educators who have generously shared their teaching materials online. This blog post is an attempt to pay it forward, and share an exercise that I’ve developed for my class on anthropology and technology at California College of the Arts. This exercise is meant to inspire discussion on how metaphors influence our thinking in daily life, as (read more...)


EMERGENT TECHNOLOGIES, FUTURE PUBLICS In keeping with the 2013 AAA meeting theme of ‘Future Publics, Current Engagements,’ this double panel brings junior and senior scholars into dialogue in order to explore how current engagements with (bio)technologies shape attitudes, behaviors, and subjectivities, and thus affect—or have the potential to affect—future publics and future bodies in meaningful ways. This panel, which we intend to submit for Invited status, is being co-organized by the Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) special interest group of the Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA) and the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology and Computing (CASTAC). A number of senior scholars have agreed to contribute papers and serve as discussants on this panel. We are currently soliciting abstracts for 3-4 ‘open’ slots on the panel. While we encourage potential participants to think broadly – and critically – about this topic, preference will be given to abstracts that complement (read more...)

The Asthma Files: Anthropological Learning Through Technical Practice

The Asthma Files is a collaborative ethnographic project focused on the diverse ways people in settings around the world have experienced and responded to the global asthma epidemic and air pollution crisis. It is experimental in a number of ways: It is designed to support collaboration among ethnographers working at different sites, with different foci, such that many particular projects can nest within the larger project structure. This is enabled through a digital platform that we have named PECE: Platform for Experimental, Collaborative Ethnography. PECE is open source and will become shareable with other research groups once we work out its kinks. PECE has been built to support collaborative, multi-sited, scale-crossing ethnographic research addressing the complex conditions that characterize late industrialism – conditions such as the global asthma epidemic and air pollution crisis; conditions that implicate many different types of actors, locales and systems – social, cultural, political-economic, ecological and technical, (read more...)