Category: General

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...)

Stephen Hawking, Automation, and Politics

This year has been particularly charged with emotion. The stars that have lit up our Universe for a decade, or a century, have slipped away, one after another: Prince, Bowie, Princess Leia and her Mother. Stephen Hawking, who was doomed to an early death more than 50 years ago, celebrated his 75th birthday this past weekend. One never knows what life puts in our path… Hawking thinks he knows, though, and he is warning us. Hawking, indeed, seems to have become an Oracle, the Faust of the 21st Century. This is how, in 2015, he and Berlioz’s Faust were simultaneously reinvented under the demiurgic hand of the director Alvis Hermanis and the bemused eyes of its Parisian audience at the Opera Bastille in Paris. This was nearly one year ago. What’s next? The one, whose existence and career as a physicist has been made possible thanks to technology, as he likes to recall himself, is now warning us about the consequences of accelerating technological change. In so doing, he is making visible what has been the slogan of my field (Science and Technology Studies) from its inception: that the political, the social, the scientific, and the technical are always intertwined. This we should never forget. (read more...)

Data: Raw, Cooked, Shared

(Almost) everyone makes data. People browsing the internet or buying stuff generally do so without knowing much about the data that their activities generate, or even knowing that they are doing so. Scientists, though, are supposed to be a little more conscientious about the data they collect, produce, share and borrow (at least in their professional capacities). They’re lately supposed to be, among other things, data managers. This is largely the product of the funding and institutional environments; program officers, science managers, and university administrators increasingly demand rationalized, comprehensive data management plans (DMPs) from researchers. In many cases, such as those from the NSF, these demands include requirements to store data for a specific period of time—often five or ten years beyond completion of the project—and to make such data publicly available. For some scientists, this is just a formalization of existing disciplinary best practices. For many, though, and for anthropologists who study them, these injunctions raise critical epistemological questions about the nature of data, and by implication, of contemporary scientific inquiry—anthropology included. (read more...)

2015 Year in Review: Deflating Footballs, Twins in Space, Women (not) in Tech, and More

Last year on the CASTAC Blog began with anthropological ruminations on what the “Deflategate” football scandal has to do with questions of expertise, and closed with discussions of citizen science, earthquake warning systems, the (anti-)politics of women in tech, and deeply personal engagement with experiencing crisis or catastrophe—in this case, terror attacks in Paris—over social media. One of the great perks of editing this blog lies in reading the array of topics, perspectives, and modes of analyses from our contributors. This year, I’m taken by the variety in tone, from the (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek (the aforementioned Deflategate post; the anthropology of rigged games), to the deeply affecting (again, Charlotte Cabasse-Mazel “Looking at the Pain of Others [on Social Media]”), from the boundary-pushing (Abou Farman’s call to envision radical alternative futures) to the experimental (a Twitter fieldwork experiment from Rice’s Ethnography Studio). Beyond timely, weekly engagement with climate change, artificial intelligence, changing media ecologies, infrastructure, design, energy, and more, the blog is becoming a repository cataloging—and pushing forward—the driving concerns of social scientific and humanistic inquiry in these areas. In this review post, I consider four central conceptual questions animating this year’s coverage on how science, technology, computing and more are shaping (and shaped by) diverse lives, worlds, and experiences. These include: the mutual production or constitution of conceptual categories; questions of knowledge production and expertise; concerns with the future and futurity; and key political dimensions of science, technology, and computing. Although these themes unfold differently across intellectual projects and modes of inquiry, they elucidate the value of critical, reflexive, and empirical approaches to scientific and technological worlds. (read more...)

CASTAC.org has a new look!

You may have noticed something’s different: we’ve done some remodeling of the CASTAC website. We’ve got a brand new design and our blog has a new name: Platypus. The new design brings together our blog and homepage all under one roof and makes things a little easier to manage on the back-end. CASTAC continues to grow, taking on new members and new projects, and this new design should make it easier for all of you to follow along. Angela VandenBroek, our intrepid webmaster, took the reins on the redesign, using her considerable WordPress expertise. (She’s also working on an ethnography of Swedish web developers, so stay tuned for that!) The new design is fully responsive, so it will work on any screen size, and it’s touch-friendly, so you can browse away on your glass slab of choice. We’ve also added a few features to enhance readability: if you click on the option (read more...)

Announcing the Winners of the 2015 Forsythe Prize!

Today we have a special post from the 2015 Forsythe Prize Committee announcing two scholars recognized in this year’s competition. The Diana Forsythe Prize was created in 1998 to celebrate the best book or series of published articles in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist anthropological research on work, science, or technology, including biomedicine. The prize is awarded annually at the AAA meeting by a committee consisting of one representative from the Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) and two from the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology and Computing (CASTAC). It is supported by the General Anthropology Division (GAD) and Bern Shen. Winner, 2015 Diana Forsythe Prize Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (Verso, 2014) is a powerful ethnography of the making and remaking of networked computational infrastructures and their animating publics and politics. Taking a multi-method anthropological approach to understanding the unruly online collective known as Anonymous, Coleman creatively continues Diana Forsythe’s legacy of getting underneath the cultural logics motivating projects of computational representation and culture. In her unique ethnographic exploration, she tracks affiliated participants across virtual and physical spaces, providing a rich and highly intricate understanding of the labyrinthine worlds that her hacker-activist subjects occupy. (read more...)

Note from the Editor: Summer vacation

The CASTAC Blog is on (late) summer vacation this week. See you next week! Jordan Kraemer Editor-in-chief (read more...)

Tracking the Wilderness: Secur(itiz)ing nature in a New York manhunt

Thatcher Hogan was standing on his dock on Lake Titus on Friday, June 26, when Steve, a family friend and carpenter who had worked on Hogan’s house, stopped by. Steve, accompanied by his brother Darren, an off-duty corrections officer, had taken a borrowed boat down to the end of the lake. Armed with two rifles, they were hunting for Richard Matt and David Sweat, the two convicts who had recently broken out of nearby Dannemora Prison. Subjects of a massive manhunt for the past three weeks, they had been making their way through the Adirondack woods, leaving occasional evidence—DNA on a peanut butter jar here, a pair of underwear there—of their apparently convoluted path from Dannemora to Lake Titus, outside of Malone, NY. Steve and Darren were headed down the lake to hunt the prisoners. The border patrol had claimed they checked every cabin, boathouse, and shed on the lake for the presence of the escapees, but Steve had determined that they missed the camps on the far end of the lake. Unconnected to any road, they were only accessible by boat or by foot. These camps were perfect potential hideouts for someone on the run, and therefore also a prime place for two men with knowledge of the area and skill with firearms to hunt for two convicts with a $150,000 bounty on their head. (read more...)