Author Archives: Ian Lowrie

I'm currently a doctoral student in the sociocultural program at Rice University, and the editor of Platypus, the CASTAC blog. I work on data science and computational neuroscience in Russia and the United States.

Conspiracies, Fake Social Networks, and Young Blood | Weekly Round-Up, June 23, 2017

This latest installment of our intermittently-weekly round-up brings you posts on machines that do conspiracies, transhumanism and capitalism, algorithms (beginning to be a staple), and biomedical vampirism. What more could you ask for? If you see anything around the web that you think we ought to include, please drop us a line. (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | June 2nd, 2017

This week’s round-up is a bit skewed towards essays and think pieces rather than the academic equivalent of cat pictures, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how much you need to chuckle today. If you do find any more-diverting tidbits for our next round-up, please do pass them along to the editor. One of the values of anthropology is that it can do a good job of putting abstract, theoretical conversations about things like technicity in contact with profoundly concrete things like stone tools and human brains. Sapiens’ recent piece on brain evolution and tool use was fascinating, but perhaps tilted towards the concrete: we read it with an idle, speculative dream of a four-fields anthropology of science.   Nehal El-Hadi has a suitably haunting look at the spectral reproduction of Black death by contemporary communications technology at The New Inquiry (exemplifying a subtle and deeply ethical approach to using critical theory in (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | April 28th, 2017

Thanks to input from a number of helpful readers (you know who you are), we’ve got a bunch of great posts for you this week, running from from evil infrastructure and essential books to Reddit and Duke Nukem. Keep ’em coming! (read more...)

Driving in the Postcolony: Jennifer Hart on Automobiles and Infrastructure in Ghana

Editor’s note: In Ghana on the Go, Jennifer Hart tells the history of how being a driver in Ghana became a contested vocation. Today on Platypus, she talks with Ilana Gershon about her work on infrastructure and profession. They talk through how driving emerged as a profession in the context of British colonial efforts to strategically introduce transportation technology, and about how this history has shaped the current precarious and often stigmatized nature of the job.  Ultimately, Hart argues that the history of Ghanaian roads and motor cars is also a history of how integral human labor and labor conditions are to the development of infrastructures generally. Ilana Gershon: What is striking and possibly unexpected about your book is that to tell the history of Ghanaian drivers is also to tell the history of infrastructure.  Indeed, you make a very compelling case for how studies of infrastructure need to become far more conscious of labor history once we accept that humans are integral parts of evolving infrastructure.   If you were going to explain the arc of your book as a history of human infrastructure, what are one or two of the changes in Ghanaian drivers’ lives over the course of the twentieth century that you would want readers to know about? Jennifer Hart: We often write and talk about the culture of automobility as globally homogenous – an implicit byproduct of the technology of the motor vehicle. It becomes a sort of narrative trope. Paul Edwards called roads the “invisible, unremarked basis of modernity.” But the history of Ghanaian drivers highlights that this technological and infrastructural story was profoundly shaped by the people who use that technology and infrastructure. In the Gold Coast, early vehicles were imported by European administrators and import companies and used as symbols of political domination and control. Cocoa farmers, who used their profits to invest in motor vehicles and employed them to transport cocoa between rural farms and coastal ports in the 1930s and 1940s, created the foundation for a new culture of motor transportation in the colonial Gold Coast. African entrepreneurs, who purchased and operated motor vehicles, controlled this new form of automobility, using the technology to transport goods and people throughout the colony.  That autonomy and control over technology positioned drivers as respectable members of modern society, providing a public service for private profit. The growth of cocoa farming enabled Africans to purchase and deploy motor transportation to expand the economic, social, and cultural possibilities for a wide array of Ghanaians in the colonial and early postcolonial period.   (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | March 31st, 2017

We’re back to full steam on the round-up this week! Your editor’s brief paternity leave included the aimless stockpiling of dozens of partially-read tabs in Chrome, and we’ve got the cream of the crop for you here. As always, let us know if you’ve written, sculpted, recorded, or just stumbled across anything cool on the web for next week’s round-up. (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | March 3rd, 2017

This week’s round-up careens from a Walden video game to the far reaches of interstellar space, with pit-stops for an algorithm that can identify evangelicals and some philosophical neuroscientists along the way. As always, if you find anything interesting, bizarre, despicable, or useful around the web — send it our way! We’d love to include it in next week’s round-up. (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | February 24th

After a brief hiatus, the weekly round-up returns with stories on algorithms, microdosing, virtual reality documentaries, and how to read new media. As always, we’d love to showcase stuff that CASTAC members are working on elsewhere, or just cool stuff that you find around the web! Drop us a line at editor@castac.org and we’ll throw it in the mix for next week. Algorithms have been a favorite punching bag of the blogosphere and middle-brow journals for a few years now. While they’re easy to criticize, they’re harder to engage and historicize. “Rule by Nobody” does a nice job of both, however. Adam Clair draws on Weber and Graeber to argue that algorithms should be understood as an expansion of bureaucratic rationalization. Rather than posthuman monstrosities of unfeeling code and insensate machines, he suggests that we consider them as profoundly human, sociotechnical systems, open to intervention and creative refashioning. How anthropological! The emergence of algorithms (read more...)

The Technocratic Antarctic: Jessica O’Reilly on Science, Dwelling, and Governance

Editors note: this week, we’re pleased to bring you a conversation between Stefan Helmreich and Jessica O’Reilly about her new book, The Technocratic Antarctic: An Ethnography of Scientific Expertise and Environmental Governance, just published by Cornell University Press.    Stefan Helmreich: Why Antarctica? Jessica O’Reilly: I came across the 1980’s environmentalist movement to make Antarctica a World Park when I was putting together a campfire talk, while I was a park ranger in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park. That fall, I began grad school and began reading Bruno Latour. At the beginning of We Have Never Been Modern, Latour writes about an imaginary ethnography of the ozone hole—this is one of his examples of the hybridity of nature and culture. This idea seemed so weird and wonderful. Once I began reading about and talking to people who live and work in Antarctica, I learned there was this fascinating blend of speculative adventuring and intense governmental scrutiny and cooperation. Environmentalists often describe Antarctica as a “last wilderness,” along with the deep oceans and outer space, and I wanted to take the opportunity to explore how Antarctic people mapped out their activities and ideas in relation to this. (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | February 10th, 2017

This week’s round-up is a bit more focused, with threads on Mars colonization, automation, and artificial intelligence. As always, we also ask you to write or find great stuff for us to share in next week’s round-up: you can send suggestions, advance-fee scams, or Venmo requests to editor@castac.org. (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | February 3rd, 2017

This week’s round-up brings us stories on climate change, robot overlords, copyright, and video games. As always, we also ask you to keep an eye out for interesting digital tidbits that we should include in next week’s round-up: you can send them, along with any hate mail, compliments, or cat pictures, to editor@castac.org. (read more...)