Category: Research

The Sargassum Question

Sitting in her office, I could smell the sharp scent of hydrogen sulfide coming from the beach. She turned to me, paused for a second and proceeded to say with a seriousness in her tone that I hadn’t anticipated: The ecosystem that I have been studying all my life is now disappearing in a matter of weeks. Sargasso was once confined to the limits of the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean. As an ecological system, the Sargasso Sea has no land boundaries and its biological containment relies entirely on a delicate balance of ocean currents. Unlike other ecosystems, it lends itself to an almost poetic reimagination of what an ecosystem is. On the West, the sea bounded by Gulf Stream; on the North, by the North Atlantic Current; on East by the Canary Current; and on the South by the North Equatorial Current. It was first described by Cristopher Columbus in 1492 during his journey to the Americas. Ever since, its origins and movements across the Atlantic Ocean have been a source of debate and wonder. It wasn’t until 1834 that the German botanist Meyen F. J. F. proposed the idea that sargassum was an ecosystem entirely independent of any land, a floating ecosystem. He was also the first person who suggested that sargassum reproduces itself in the middle of the ocean instead of coming from any given territory (Deacon, 1942). (read more...)

Hetero-Comfortable Avatars

Content warning from author: This post will have instances of sexism, transphobia, and sexual violence. I noticed a masculine voice near me say: “wow Wow WOW!” I turned my body to see a couple of masculine avatars looking at me, or rather looking at my breasts. I said nothing, afraid I might be “found out” — that my voice wouldn’t quite match what the body of my avatar “should” have. As my avatar stood there, blinking in silence, one of the masculine avatars got closer and began to rub my body, taking particular interest in my breasts. I looked down and shared eye contact with him, and he said “Don’t worry. It’s ok, it’s VRChat. This is what happens. You won’t really feel anything anyway.” The others did the same. (read more...)

Blockchain Reactions: The peril and promise of techno-governance for stateless Rohingya

While Myanmar’s recent ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya minority, which saw 800,000 people driven into Bangladesh, has brought the community’s oppression to the world’s attention, it has also masked a longer term project of exclusion in which the state has been denying the Rohingya their ethnic name and forcing them from their homes since the 1970s. Not only are there now more Rohingya living outside Myanmar than within, but entire generations are being brought up in exile. Critically, many host communities institute ambiguous regimes of il/legality, defined by intertwining inclusions and prohibitions, which keep Rohingya in perpetual limbo, caught between integration and expulsion. (read more...)

Students as laboratory labor

What is the role of students in universities? There are ongoing contentious debates and campus protests about whether graduate students should be considered employees with the right to unionize. Likewise, the employment status of student athletes receives intense discussion from the media and scholars. These questions concern whether universities should acknowledge students as contributors and not just consumers for the institutions’ missions of research and education. (read more...)

White Fans, Liberal Ideologies, and the Erasure of Black Stories in Gaming

Last month, the highly anticipated video game Mortal Kombat 11 (MK11) was released to an excited yet wary fighting game community. Game studio NetherRealm’s newest incarnation received praise from both fans and critics for its simplistic yet entertaining combat system, its thrilling cinematic cutscenes, and the reintroduction of original and beloved characters. However, despite its success the game was given little time to rest on its laurels, as a subset of white male fans immediately began to criticize one particular choice in one character’s story. The game featured a compelling tale in which the two separate timelines of Mortal Kombat merged to finish an ongoing plot branching all the way back to MK’s 2006 game Mortal Kombat Armageddon. As a result of this temporal shift, fan favorite black “kombatant” Jackson Briggs (or “Jax”) was given a fascinating story ending, in which he gains the ability to rewrite time, a power he subsequently uses to create a history in which slavery does not exist. (read more...)

Towards a Queer Art of Surveillance in South Korea

Editor’s Note: This post was co-written with Timothy Gitzen. When is a face not a face? With the launch of the iPhone X that boasts facial recognition capabilities, the individual markers of one’s face tie one’s identity to the security of their phone. Yet it also makes the face complicit in forms of self-surveillance, as it requires definitive facial proof to access one’s phone. It produces the face as evidence of one’s identity that supposedly cannot be forged. In this instance, one continuously uses one’s phone to surveil one’s own identity—with the face becoming a safeguard against potential security breaches. Small-scale, yes, but surveillance need not always be connected to sprawling security apparatuses and institutions. So we ask again: when is a face not a face? When it is used to distinguish a body as a body rather than as an individuated person? With this post, we seek to explore possible answers to this question in the context of South Korea, by focusing on the role of self-surveillance in the politics of queer student activist organizations. (read more...)

Infrastructure after disasters

On October 21, 1868, at approximately eight o’clock in the morning, a major earthquake on the Hayward Fault near Oakland, California shook the Bay Area. The earthquake caused a great deal of damage in the small towns near the earthquake epicenter, as well as on “made ground” in San Francisco. Outside of the affected area, citizens worried about what had happened. People looked for the latest news at telegraph offices, though some telegraph lines were damaged or inundated. When inquirers reached the telegraph offices, however, they were sometimes met with rumors and misinformation.  Some telegrams said, incorrectly, that San Francisco was destroyed and sixty bodies were recovered.[i] Similar news exaggerating the damage in San Francisco spread all across the state. So, while the telegraph promised that people would have more immediate access to events in faraway places, the existence of a telegraphic infrastructure did not guarantee that these assessments had any correspondence to truth. People also reveal how they believe infrastructure should work when public information infrastructures are used intensely, overwhelmed, or broken. The silent structuring work of infrastructures—so integral to modernity—becomes easier to “see” after disasters. (read more...)

Tweaking Narratives of War

Este contenido está disponible en español aquí. Stories of war and violence have permeated the daily life of Colombians for more than half a century. However, in the last decade, the voices and narratives about the armed conflict have diversified and expanded significantly. This is mainly due to the institutionalization of remembrance processes, civil society initiatives, and the opportunities opened up by the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Although these actions still fall short of the effort needed for a fuller reconciliation, they have introduced, little by little, profound changes in the ways in which society and the state remember the war, understand the armed conflict, recognize their victims, and seek to transform the past and present of violence. (read more...)