Category: Research

Locating Servers, Locating Politics

When we think of servers, like web servers and Amazon servers, we don’t usually think of them as occupying physical space. We might think of a remote data center, thanks in large part to images that have been circulated by companies like Facebook and Google. But still, these only visualize unmarked buildings and warehouse rooms, showcasing a particular tech aesthetic of colored wires and tubes, and neatly assembled rows of blinking machines (Holt and Vondereau 2015). Such imagery is hardly meant to provide the public with a sense of where servers are actually located. For most day-to-day computer users, it often doesn’t matter at all whether servers are in the U.S. or China or Russia, so long as they work.     But server location matters, and many groups of people value certain material benefits and effects of the placement of servers and their own proximity to servers. It matters (read more...)

Policy-Making and the Public: Where are the People in Bureaucratic Rulemaking?

I’m a lawyer-turning-cultural anthropologist and I study rulemaking (please don’t go away just yet!). In policy-setting circles, rulemaking has a specific statutory origin and a particular meaning, denoting a process that most federal agencies must undergo as they create policies (also known as “regulations” or “rules”). Though never a sexy topic of conversation, rulemaking is gaining public traction as a process that imposes a duty upon the government to solicit feedback from the public on proposed rules. News outlets report that President Trump is reviewing and likely revoking some of President Obama’s policies. As new presidents usually review the previous president’s policies, this is neither unusual nor unexpected. But the urgency with which such news is received by some Americans indicates an opportunity to learn what it takes to revoke or alter a rule: a new rulemaking.[1] (read more...)

This House Harvests the Rain: Multiple Waters and Infrastructure in a Changing Climate

Seventy-five year-old Mary-Jean climbs up on a short ladder to clear the fruit from her rain gutters. “The gutter likes grapefruit, and they like to plug the little hole where the water goes,” she explains, referring to the opening between the gutters and the downspout. The aluminum downspout drains the rainwater that falls on her roof into an 1100-gallon plastic cistern sitting in her backyard. She has two cisterns, and in early September they are halfway full, fed by the summer monsoon rains. Her yard is sparsely landscaped with reddish gravel and a handful of native trees and succulents. If she were not collecting the rain, she would be sweeping the gravel from the street back to the yard after every heavy rain. “It really slows down the water,” she tells me referring to the runoff and pointing to her front yard and steep driveway. The grapefruit tree came with the house, so she kept it. To water the thirsty tree, she connects a hose to the valve at the bottom of the cistern. The hose has little holes on the underside, so she can leave it running. “It works like a slow drip,” she explains. In front of her house there is a small sign made by the city that reads: “This house harvests the rain.” (read more...)

Democratizing Credit: An Interview with Historian Josh Lauer

Since the consumer credit reporting agency Equifax revealed on September 7th that the personal information of 143 million Americans had been compromised in an attack by hackers, leaving more than forty percent of the population vulnerable to identity theft and damaged credit scores, questions about the responsibilities and accountability of the credit bureaus, the fairness of the credit rating system, and the vulnerability of consumers’ data have reached a new level of urgency. While Equifax has been widely criticized for its incompetent, and maybe even criminal, response to a disaster that quite possibly could have been prevented, what is at issue are not just the security practices and corporate ethics of a single company, but also, more generally, the structure and viability of the credit rating system itself. No one is in a better position to help us make sense of how the Equifax breach fits into the history of American capitalism than Josh Lauer, associate professor of media studies at the University of New Hampshire. His book, Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, which was published in July, is the first to tell the story of credit reporting in the United States, tracing its evolution from its 19th century beginnings to the regime of commercial surveillance and algorithmic calculation that tracks us today. (read more...)

Order and Adat in the Forests of West Papua

Papua is Indonesia’s poorest and least populated region, but, as they say, rich in natural resources. It is developing quickly in the era of pemekaran, an Indonesian word that literally translates as “blossoming,” or “subdivision”. It describes the rapid proliferation of local government institutions that is happening throughout Indonesia, penetrating regions that just a decade ago were totally bereft of infrastructure or public services (McWilliam 2011). Even in the few months that I have spent researching in the district of Tambrauw, on the Bird’s Head of New Guinea, I’ve watched the pipes being laid and the roads being built, slowly reaching out from the main coastal town to the mountainous interior. Throughout the rural regions of Papua, development and pemekaran are more or less synonymous, people seem to want it, and it’s happening quickly. (read more...)

No Limits

Many people panic the first time they are hooked up to an underwater breathing machine; to inhale below the chop of the waves feels like the pinnacle of self-destruction, and sometimes, it is. The rush of adrenaline can cause novice scuba divers to blow through a whole tank of gas in what feels like minutes, sucking down breath after unassured breath. The deeper you are, the faster the tank empties: at 30 meters, the pressure is equivalent to four of earth’s atmospheres and you need four times the air to fill your lungs. For every 10 meters, add the weight of another sky. (read more...)

Infrastructure as New Life?

Today, logistics as the science and industry of cross-border transportation of mainly industrial products drives “revolutions” from energy to retail. As most world economies continue to accelerate their involvement with economic globalization, logistics continue to take over local economies in many regions around the world. Paradoxically, many states and sovereigns around the world are also looking (back) to logistics infrastructure as a panacea to curb the half-century-long devastating effects of deregulation of trade, finance and services on nation-state-centric political economies. One can observe this move both in countries of North America and Europe, where the post-1950s deterioration of public infrastructures has long been a problem. The Right’s recognition of this deterioration was at least partly responsible for carrying it into power, for example, in the U.S., although the Left has also occasionally touted this kind of infrastructure politics. In places like China, or Turkey, a country with which I am more familiar, economic development based on the infrastructure, transport, and construction sectors is much newer. This move toward infrastructure, though, at the same time may reflect the end of sovereign state authority, at least as we know it, and the beginning of a new kind of statecraft. (read more...)

The Nerd is Dead, Long Live the Nerd!

Editor’s note: This is a co-authored post by Lina Eklund and Evan Conaway. On the internet, a war for identity is being fought in the previously hidden depths of nerd subcultures. In this post we offer a view from the trenches,  examining the rise of a new nerd as different opposing sides embrace the networked structure of online social life. We propose that shifting nerd identities offer new venues for thinking through how technology shapes and is shaped by culture. During the last half-decade, “alt-righters” (we are using the term loosely) and so-called “social justice warriors” (or SJWs) have exchanged blows on social media networks, forums, news-sites, etc. Seemingly everywhere on the internet the right to define oneself as a nerd is being contested at institutional, commercial, technical, and social levels. Originally the preoccupation of a select group of white men, being a nerd is now available to everyone, everywhere as subcultures expand into mainstream culture. (read more...)