Category: General

Surveillant Materialities of Migrant (Im)mobility: Reconceptualizing Border Technologies

After lunch on the day I arrived at Casa Begoña Migrant Shelter in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México, Doña Paquita, a shelter director, came to fetch me from the comedor, or the dining space, outside the back of the shelter.[1]  “I want clear information so I know what to tell El Padre [the priest] in case he asks about why you are here.” She stopped walking once we were in the waiting room in front of the kitchen and quickly pointed to the video camera at the left corner. “El Padre sees everything. The camera is always on, it’s recording and transmits to his office.” (read more...)

Research in Virtual Lab Worlds during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Heading into Steve’s[1] university laboratory for the first time, I anxiously waited to begin observing the lab members’ work with computational protein structure prediction and design. This lab was one of the first spaces for such work in the US. Gaining legitimacy and recognition after the rise of genomics, protein computation aims to model protein structure and its interactions with other proteins, enzymes, and surroundings. This has become crucial for biological, biochemical, and even medical research. Needless to say, I was excited to see leaders in the field hard at work, but then was shocked to walk into a plain, tan-colored office area with four separate desks, everything completely quiet. Because of their collaborative work with other research projects, I had expected to see a more vibrant and dynamic lab space. Sadly, my excitement and energy slowly dissolved away into boredom watching four students type code into their computers. As I observed lab members code and model proteins, I wanted to understand how so much excitement and a strong collaborative environment with outside sciences could come from such mundane computer work. (read more...)

Zombie Knowledge: Toward a Deeper Conversation between Black Studies and Multispecies Anthropology

Monsters, the nightmarish figures we conjure in the dark, reflect our own culturally and politically specific anxieties. They are a dark mirror: a terrifying rendering of a social fact exaggerated, turned inside out, or perhaps a manifestation of some truth we find unthinkable except in fantasy. (read more...)

Science and Justice: “Impartial” Water Monitoring and Resistance to the Escobal Mine in Guatemala

Editor’s note: This is the third post in an ongoing series called “The Spectrum of Research and Practice in Guatemalan Science Studies.” A water monitoring process conducted around a controversial mine site in Guatemala highlighted the central, but also contested and indeterminate, role of science in environmental struggles. Groups with competing aims, and distinct conceptions of science and politics produce (or influence the production of) distinct forms and interpretations of science to ground their claims and shape the outcome of environmental conflicts. (read more...)

Managing Refugee Mobilities: Global Flows of Migration Deterrence Technologies

In 2000, a United Nations Resolution designated June 20th World Refugee Day. In the week leading up to this day, countries throughout the world pay homage to the ideals of the refugee rights movement through public festivals celebrating their migrant communities’ cultures, social media campaigns on refugee resilience, and declarations of their commitment to protect those seeking asylum. Historically, nation-states have employed such public messages to emphasize their identities as benevolent, humanitarian actors.  However, what these proclamations elide is not only the violent ways that individual nations reject asylum seekers[1], but the collective ways that countries work together to inhibit their mobilities. Both the technologies of detection and deterrence as well as anti-refugee rhetoric, while based on insular ideas of nationhood and ‘who belongs,’ are also increasingly dependent on collaborations and partnerships with other nation-states. In attempts to control refugee movement, multiple nation states are both entangled and willingly involved in a global effort to contain, reroute, and eventually immobilize asylum seekers from the global South seeking protection in liberal democratic states. While there has always been an international refugee regime since the inception of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it is worth paying attention to the new ways in which nation states are learning from and relying upon each other to govern where refugees can and cannot go. (read more...)

‘Dynamic Totalities’: Data Surveillance as a Paradigm

In the zeitgeist of academia, surveillance has clearly an ominous connotation. However, is surveillance not fundamentally a way of looking? More formally, a way of looking at totalities. Whatever is studied, observed, or measured is part of a definitive totality. A virus is part of a sample. Families are part of a community. Workers are part of the factory. A scientist is part of a laboratory. One reason we are cautious about speaking of totalities is because we are scared of being reductive. But what if we could dynamically measure parameters defining the totalities which concern us. What if we could define our totalities at will and observe phenomena within its boundaries, track phenomena flowing out of it, or ingressing it? If this sounds like an uncanny  ‘intelligent’ camera or rather a poetic job re-description of the individual in the CCTV room, then it is meant to be so. Data surveillance can offer perhaps a fresh paradigm for observation and analysis irrespective of the actual use of computers that enable it. (read more...)

MacHack VI: Computer chess and the roots of AI

On January 21, 1967, a mild winter Saturday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a couple of computer researchers from the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) flagged down a taxi near Tech Square. Loading a bulky, 60-pound teletype called a 35 KSR (“Keyboard Send/Receive”) into the trunk, they set off for downtown Boston, across the river. A short while later, the cab pulled up at the Young Men’s Christian Union (YMCU), and the researchers wrestled the machine up the stairs to the second floor, where the Boylston Chess Club was setting up for a weekend tournament. (read more...)

On the social nature of toilet paper

You would be forgiven for thinking that the first thing bought in a global crisis would be tinned, dried, and frozen foods; clean water; and medicines—things that enable the survival of you and your kin. Yet, when the number of COVID-19 cases in Australia hit 100 on March 10, 2020, it was the toilet paper aisles of supermarkets that were empty. Through what became the subject of memes depicting Australians sheltering from the ensuing pandemic wrapped only in toilet paper, and of men wearing lavish adornments of toilet paper rolls, daily bodily habits had hit center stage. (read more...)