Pluto: Unexplored, Exploring, Explored

July 21st, 2015, by § 2 Comments

“Yay! Pluto will always be part of our hearts,” a 17-year old exclaims to her companion.

“Pluto just needs a good PR rep,” a dad jokes to his son after reading the formal definition of planet and figuring out why Pluto isn’t one.

“Pluto’s a dog.” “I know it’s a dog. It’s also a dwarf planet,” two friends banter back and forth.

These were a few quotes I overheard while eavesdropping at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum a few weeks ago. Pluto, though demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006 for failing to “clear the neighborhood of its orbit,” remains part of the “Exploring the Planets” exhibit. A scale model of New Horizons—the probe that made its closest approach to the icy underdog on July 14, 2015—hangs above a kiosk that in bright yellow letters reads “Exploring Pluto.” A screen shows the latest images and encourages users to visit the New Horizon’s website with even more information. One teenager passes by and explains to his mom, with confusion, that New Horizons has reached Pluto (though at the time it was still a few weeks away). The mom sighs, “poor Pluto.”

Model of New Horizons spacecraft at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Photo by author.

Image: Model of New Horizons spacecraft at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Photo by author.

Today, a week after New Horizon’s closest approach, can we say we have now explored Pluto? What does it mean to explore a body so distant, incomprehensibly beyond and incapable of human being? And, importantly, who’s the “we” lauding humanity’s new found Plutonian knowledge and what does that mean for politics of contemporary exploration?

« Read the rest of this entry »

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

June 30th, 2015, by § Leave a Comment

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 the rest of this entry »

CASTAC to Award Graduate Student Paper Prize

June 18th, 2015, by § Leave a Comment

A message from CASTAC Co-chairs Nick Seaver and Jennifer Carlson:

Starting this year, the AAA Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC) will award a graduate student paper prize, recognizing excellent work by rising scholars. The prize will be awarded annually for a paper that exemplifies innovative research at the intersection of anthropology and science and technology studies, demonstrating theoretical sophistication and an appreciation of the methodological challenges facing the anthropology of science and technology.

The winner of the prize will be announced at the CASTAC business meeting during the 2015 AAA meetings in Denver and will receive a certificate and $100 cash award. « Read the rest of this entry »

Notes from Art of the Archive: Rethinking Archival Practices in a Digital Era

June 16th, 2015, by § Leave a Comment

This post describes a workshop on archival practices in the digital era that took place on May 21, 2015, at the University of California, Davis. The essay is co-authored by Alessandro Delfanti, Allison Fish, and Alexandra Lippman. Delfanti, Fish, and Lippman are postdocs with UC Davis’ Innovating Communication in Scholarship (ICIS) project.

On May 21, 2015, the Innovating Communication in Scholarship project at the University of California, Davis held a one-day workshop on Art of the Archive. Papers given by the fifteen invited speakers explored the changing nature of the archive given the emergence of new information and communication technologies. These presentations largely focused on how these new digital archives are not merely technical creations, but are also constructed through social processes, have social impacts, and are not seamlessly implemented in everyday life. Instead, these digital storehouses are vibrant spaces for curating, organizing and publishing cultural heritage and expressive culture in new ways. In taking up this discussion three primary topics emerged and are described below: questions about access, circulation, and research design.

Image: Specimen Tray of Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Source: The Natural History Museum, London.

Image: Specimen Tray of Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Source: The Natural History Museum, London.

« Read the rest of this entry »

SOS! Save Our Sea! California’s Salton Sea demands action, but what kind?

May 26th, 2015, by § Leave a Comment

dead fish on the shoreline

Image: Layers of dead fish and desiccated barnacles at the shores of the Salton Sea, a man-made salt lake maintained by agricultural runoff. Photo by author.

This March, California’s State Water Resources Control Board called for a public workshop to re-evaluate the state of the Salton Sea, a complex and notoriously disastrous salt lake in the southeastern California desert. Nearly 200 people responded to the call, crowding in to a hearing room in downtown Sacramento to give testimony on mitigation and restoration projects, consider drought impacts, argue for the Sea’s environmental and economic value, and discuss the enormous water transfer agreements that threaten to damage it even more. Attempts to define the problem and its stakes have gone on for decades, but it is still far from clear whose fault is it that the Sea is still shrinking, still dying, or still dangerous, or, for that matter, if anyone can (or should) keep trying to fix it. As a semi-permanent disaster landscape, the Salton Sea is best defined not by the fall-out from a singular event nor by the slow accumulation of risk, but by a decades-long dynamic tension between mitigation of danger and restoration of health. “SOS! Save Our Sea!”, a popular slogan of local activists, is both a call to account for an irreversibly toxic present, and a reminder that the Sea was and still is a vibrant place worth saving. « Read the rest of this entry »

Rigged Designs: Toward an Anthropology of Rigs?

April 14th, 2015, by § 1 Comment

Claw Diagram from Japanese Patent CN 202497706

Image: Claw Diagram from Japanese Patent CN 202497706.

Claw machines are rigged.” This recent headline at Vox caught my eye. Not because it was surprising. But because it wasn’t. What I wanted to know was why someone was surprised to find this to be the case. There are a variety of interesting elements to be found in the post. Perhaps most interesting to myself and CASTAC readers, however, was an Also read link to an article drawing heavily on the work of Natasha Schüll and her wonderful book Addiction by Design. I had already assumed the game was rigged; I was surprised that anyone was surprised. But the term “rigging” gave me pause.

What I think surprised the author of this particular article was the way in which the game was rigged. It wasn’t that the claw just wasn’t strong enough, which had been my presumption up until reading the article. But rather that the underlying circuitry of the game dictates a variety of behaviors from the claw. All of which fall into some subset category of what we’d expect from a claw in a game machine. Sometimes the claw grabs harder than others. Sometimes when it grabs more tightly it “loses” its grip on the way to the drop zone. All of these are controlled by a desired payout rate dictated by the operator (i.e., owner) of the game. Which is why while reading the article I thought to myself, “that’s quite literally the same core mechanism that operates how the RNG (random number generator), discussed by Natasha Schüll, in a gaming machine functions.” Which is why I was then doubly pleased to find her work when I clicked the Also read.

« Read the rest of this entry »

New Year, New Team: Welcome from the Editor

January 13th, 2015, by § Leave a Comment

The year has gotten off to a contentious start, with recent events triggering lively debates on social (and other) media, notably the deadly attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7. Ensuing discussions about free speech, religion, and extremism at times reiterate old tropes about Islam and the Muslim world, yet other responses call attention to larger social and historical contexts, such as postcolonialism in Europe and elsewhere. My Facebook and Twitter feeds last week were dominated first by those proclaiming #JeSuisCharlie, and then followed by others countering #JeNeSuisPasCharlie. But of course, social media feeds are increasingly determined by opaque algorithms, raising further questions about the intersection of technology, politics, and corporate power in social life.

These debates illustrate once again the value of scholarly blogs and research on emerging technologies and their imbrication in everyday life – concerns that motivate much of what we do here at the CASTAC Blog. With that in mind, I’m pleased to announce some changes in the Blog’s team for the upcoming year. « Read the rest of this entry »

AAA 2014 STS Recap

December 17th, 2014, by § Leave a Comment

This year’s American Anthropological Association Meeting saw a number of active CASTAC and STS-inspired panels, many of which featured scholars from our own community. We discussed engaging with the Anthropocene, which is becoming a hot new topic, perhaps replacing the ontological focus from last year. Panelists explored whether this term is the “gift” that Latour proposes. The meeting also saw fascinating explorations of issues in design and elitism, as well as theoretical and methodological issues that we must all consider when moving our research trajectory from “studying up” to “studying with.”

« Read the rest of this entry »

Worlding Anthropologies of Technosciences?

October 28th, 2014, by § 1 Comment

The past 4S meeting in Buenos Aires made visible the expansion of STS to various regions of the globe. Those of us who happened to be at the 4S meeting at University of Tokyo four years ago will remember the excitement of having the opportunity to work side-by-side with STS scholars from East and Southeast Asia. The same opportunity for worlding STS was opened again this past summer in Buenos Aires.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Announcing New Positions!

October 23rd, 2014, by § Leave a Comment

As 2014 comes to a close, I’m happy to report that the CASTAC organization and blog have thrived in the past year. Our organization has experienced an expanded groundswell of participation throughout the year, and at our annual CASTAC meetings. The CASTAC Blog has also seen an exciting range of content and new voices. In an effort to expand its organization and leadership, CASTAC is now seeking an Outreach Manager who will be responsible for promoting the CASTAC organization and working with the blog team. The CASTAC Blog is also inviting applications for two new Associate Editors, who will solicit new authors and content, and helm posts in their particular areas of specialty.

For more details see below. Please forward this announcement widely! « Read the rest of this entry »

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the News, Links, and Pointers section at blog.castac.org.

Discuss news, links, and other info from around the web. Email jkraemer@uci.edu with suggestions or to post your own.