Category: Research

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...)

Do We Inherit Abandoned Game Worlds?

When you’re playing an online game and it gets shut down, typically a message flashes on the screen that says something like: “You have been disconnected from the server.” This very message indicates that it is not just “the game” per se that you’ve been disconnected from. What is “the game” after all? In reality, players are connected to a shared version of a virtual world thanks to the workings of servers, those digital devices that make up the backbone of the internet and of virtual worlds, like Second Life and World of Warcraft. When a virtual world dies, when it’s “turned off,” the player is no longer accessing the same server as their friends. In fact, they’re not accessing any server at all. When the server is turned off, the game world is popularly said to have been abandoned—its software becomes referred to as “abandonware.” And just like that, a whole world dies. This post reflects the work of one group of video game enthusiasts and how they are actively working to bring so-called “abandoned” online games back to life by reshaping copyright laws and redefining games as cultural heritage. (read more...)

Sugar Cane in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

When now Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro promised during his campaign to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, putting development ahead of environmental protection, many in the agribusiness sector were decidedly optimistic. One agribusiness group, however, was not: sugarcane ethanol producers. Bolsonaro has since seemingly backtracked on his withdrawal promise, and ethanol producers are now the ones who are optimistic. While sugarcane cultivation is implicated in broader agricultural practices that have historically promoted deforestation in Brazil, sugarcane industrialists ultimately care about the climate accord because it bolsters support for renewable fuels like ethanol. Another group concerned with Bolsonaro’s potential policies was scientific researchers, who worried about the continuation of recent cuts to scientific funding. Nonetheless, it should be noted that for some of these researchers the ethanol industry is also at stake in their work. Sugarcane has increasingly become a focus of scientific inquiry as new biotechnologies expand the potential scale and scope of sugar-based renewables, including both fuels and materials like plastic. (read more...)

A Feeling for Robotic Skin

“I hate it when her eyes flick open. This one, her eyeballs sometimes go in different directions and it looks creepy.” Catherine reached over, gently pulling the doll’s eyelids down with one extended finger. The doll, Nova, was petite, shorter than Catherine and I, and had jet black hair and brown skin. She had been clothed in a white unitard suit. Nova was flanked by other dolls of various heights and skin tones, to her right a white-skinned brunette, also a “petite” model, and across from her, a life-size replica of the porn actor Asa Akira. Henry, a newer model, stood beside Nova. He had been dressed in what might be described as office-kink-lite, a white button-down shirt and black slacks, along with black fingernail paint and a leather wrist cuff. His skull was cracked open to reveal the circuitry inside. Henry, Nova, Asa’s doll, and the others were standing propped in the display lobby of a sex doll manufacturer’s headquarters in southern California. I visited the headquarters in the spring of 2018 to meet the dolls and their makers. Catherine, the company’s media liaison, generously offered me a tour of the display showroom and production site. (read more...)

Inhabiting Public Space: Guerrilla Music on YouTube

Este contenido está disponible en español aquí. *Many of the names and places mentioned below have been changed.* While the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have sometimes been categorized as a ‘peasantist’ (campesinista) guerrilla group (Pécaut 2013), in seeking to capture the attention and support of urban and border zones, this group—first as a guerrilla organization and currently as a political party—has employed a variety of mechanisms and media platforms, among which the appropriation of online spaces is especially noteworthy. Among the digital artifacts the FARC have produced online, YouTube music videos are of particular interest. By studying these videos, and how they circulate, we can not only gain a better understanding of the currently understudied representational tactics of the FARC, but also problematize how we understand the ‘presence’ of this armed group in times and spaces of war. It can be argued that these online spaces—combining digital audiovisual content with representational discourses that contradict the predominantly negative and dehumanized image of the FARC—have allowed this insurgent group to establish an alternative presence in the public sphere, and engage with a broad variety of audiences. In this post, through the particular experiences of a former member of the FARC who has uploaded music videos to YouTube, I will explore how the presence of the FARC is materialized in different spaces. (read more...)

Art, neuroscience and ethnography

Neuroscience The brain is a wild and wonderful thing. Even in a damaged, broken, or diseased state, it performs wonders. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and prolific writer, knew this and he wrote a series of books that documented the inner machinations of injured minds. These are detailed clinical studies of patients, documenting the unusual and often unimaginable. Many of these conditions are extraordinarily rare, drawn from only one or two documented cases. Oliver Sacks collected these clinical case studies, presenting them to his readers like some sort of text-based museum of the absurd. Almost ethnographic stories. Many of his patient accounts are studies in imagination, delusion, sensory, and memory – a ‘frenzied confabulatory delirium’ (Sacks 1998: 109), ‘kaleidoscopic mutations’ (108), ‘sensory ghosts’ (66), and an 88-year-old woman living with neuro-syphilis who preferred the state of ‘mania’ (103). His stories speak of the visceral of the injured mind – sensitivities, time slippage, pain, (read more...)