Author Archives: Sareeta Amrute

Sareeta Amrute studies digital technologies, labor, and equality. She is Associate Professor at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her first book, Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin, was published by Duke University Press in August 2016 and has received the Diana Forsythe Prize for the best book in anthropology on work, science, and/or technology, including biomedicine. In addition to developing ethical principles for technologists, Sareeta is interested in humor, rage, and all the emotions in between that digital technologies elicit.

What Would A Techno-Ethics Look Like?

Each year, Platypus invites the recipients of the annual Forsythe Prize to reflect on their award-winning work. This week’s post is from 2017’s winner Sareeta Amrute, for her book Encoding Race, Encoding Class (Duke, 2016). What would a techno-ethics look like? This question persists long after this book, has been written and edited, proofed and published; perhaps it lingers, too, in the minds of its readers as they ponder the pathways and dead-ends digital technologies lay down. Digital technologies build on previous iterations of capital, labor, as well as social and environmental relations, even as they materialize new relations. The part-time visa regimes that most tech companies make use of build on a long history of mobile migrant, free and unfree, labor that has been used to build other kinds of infrastructure, from plantation economies across the British Empire to railroads in the United States and glass-and-steel skyscrapers in Germany. Similarly, the infrastructure of cloud computing relies on previously established military bunkers and railway lines, even as it creates unprecedented demands for energy. An ethical response to these dynamics would produce regimes of care that unite a knowledge of subjects’ evolving relationships with technologies with the goal of reducing spaces of domination created by these technologies. A techno-ethics should provide guidance for those who develop, use, and make polices about technologies. (read more...)

Digital Mess as Method

Editor’s note: This is the second entry in the Second Project Series. This series explores an often undiscussed moment in professionalization: the shift from the research you began as a graduate student to the new work undertaken as an early- or mid-career scholar. This series is especially interested in personal journeys and institutional features that enabled or constrained this transition. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Lisa. There is a scene in season two of Mr. Robot where a smart house goes bad. Lights flicker, the stereo plays loudly, then cuts off, the alarm systems blares incessantly, and the temperature of the house drops. The wealthy inhabitant flees her domicile in dread. To her management company’s suggestion on how to fix the problem, she screams, “unplug what? Everything is inside the walls!” This scene condenses anxieties about the dark manipulable side of lifestyle technologies into one long jump cut of discomfiture. Indeed, when hackers can infect your thermostat with malware and demand ransom, these fears are re-legitimized. When I watch this scene, I see something else. The glitches in the house make me think of the ripples that disrupt the smooth functioning of our digital everyday. Those ripples are good things. They indicate that the data that surrounds us is uneven, imperfect, sloppy, full of holes. What if, instead of worrying about holes, we celebrate them? (read more...)