Category: Research

Mine Detection Dog ‘Unit’: More Than Humans in the Humanitarian World

How to “clean” and “liberate” contaminated territories occupied by remnants of war? How to perceive and remove explosive devices specifically designed to evade detection? How to remedy and undo the suspicion deeply sown in rural landscapes? In the political context of peace negotiation and post-agreement in Colombia, land decontamination and (partial) recovery has not been an exclusively “human” humanitarian affair. On the contrary, other species and nonhuman actors have been indispensable in the work of detection and in the slow but essential effort to regain trust, not only among former enemies, but also between rural communities and territories. In the case of Colombia, mine-sniffing dogs have been the best co-laborers (de la Cadena 2015, 12). (read more...)

Rocket Scientists and Their Games: A Little-Known Slice of History

In the 21st century, game companies are expanding what can be done with 3D interactive tools and virtual spaces. Companies like Epic Games are increasing blurring the lines between industries as diverse as simulation, film production, and a wide range of XR experiences (virtual reality, mixed reality, and augmented reality). In a recent example, an estimated 10.7 million people simultaneously logged on to Epic’s Fortnite for a live, in-game music experience(1). Over 30 years ago, the game industry was in its infancy, the Apple II personal computer had been introduced with little available software, and motivated people wrote their own programs. In 1986, a small Los Angeles game publisher called Electric Transit, Inc. released one of the first 3D games designed for a personal computer. Wilderness: A Survival Adventure, was a first-person, simulation/resource management game that could run under DOS or on an Apple II. (read more...)

Art, Algorithms, and the Physicality of the Virtual

Star Wars’ legion of fans were rewarded in rewarded in December 2019 with the long-awaited release of Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker, filled with state-of-the-art computer graphics. 42 years earlier, George Lucas presented the first film in the series, Star Wars Episode IV—A New Hope. For the most part, Lucas’ 1977 work was a traditionally-produced film, which filmed painstakingly hand-crafted physical models of miniature spacecraft and terrain to create an alternate universe. But the film also featured several examples of the earliest computer graphics to appear in a feature-length production.(1) In the intervening 42 years, filmmakers embraced and evolved complex computer-generated visual effects into a sophisticated blend of art and technology which has transformed 21st century filmmaking and image culture more generally. (read more...)

#ExistenceOnSearch: Multispecies encounters and knowledge dialogue at the in-between space

Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. According to Colombia’s Biodiversity Information System (SiB Colombia), the country has 51,330 species, including 1,909 species of birds, 528 species of mammals, and 1,521 species of freshwater fish. Colombia ranks second in the world in terms of biodiversity. Its territory is an interweaving of different ecosystems that favors a profusion of life, much of it endemic. However, many of these species are threatened by a variety of human-influenced factors: from the expansion of the agricultural frontier and intensive ranching to the effects of global warming on ecosystems. Humans are also protagonists in the production of life as “diverse,” at least in its existence as data. Biodiversity requires the cataloging, comparison, identification and counting of the living. Without these activities, it would be impossible to state the figures mentioned above. (read more...)

The Server Souvenir: Taking Home Remnants of Virtual Worlds

“It’s amazing to think those little circuits that we can carry around were an entire world to us.” –Diana*, interviewee “We might say that this capacity of objects to serve as traces of authentic experience is, in fact, exemplified by the souvenir.” –Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir, the collection (1984) In 2011, just seven years after the birth of World of Warcraft (WoW), the game’s development company decided to implement some major changes to their server architecture. Rather than disposing of the decommissioned server hardware that had helped run the game world since the beginning, they auctioned it off for charity. For long-time players of WoW, these pieces of server hardware hold value because they are pieces of the virtual game world that hold spatial memory. WoW players have historically viewed servers as persistent and discrete places, places where players played together, formed relationships, and faced challenges. In this short post, I will outline how owners of commemorative WoW server hardware treat these objects as mementos of their time in the world of WoW.** (read more...)

Critical Imagination at the Intersection of STS Pedagogy and Research

*This post was co-authored by Emily York and Shannon Conley*   In 2017, we established the STS Futures Lab—a space to critically interrogate plausible sociotechnical futures and to develop strategies for integrating pedagogy and research. But why a lab, and why a ‘futures’ lab? In a broader societal context in which futures thinking and futures labs are often subsumed within innovation speak, entrepreneurialism, and implicit bias regarding whose futures matter, it might seem counter-intuitive to establish a futures lab as a space for critical pedagogies. And yet, it is precisely because of our concern with the politics and ethics of technological world-making that we are inspired to intervene in this space. A futures lab, as we conceive it, is a space to cultivate capacities for critical and moral imagination that serve to check dominant assumptions about the future. “In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits…. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination.” (Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Operating Instructions”)   We believe STS pedagogies are at their best when they are at the same time critical pedagogies—connected to the politics of knowledge production (Freire, 2018), and congruent with education as a ‘practice of freedom’ (hooks 1994, 4). Moreover, STS understandings of the messiness of knowledge production align well with reflexive practices of learning with our students in the classroom. However, to develop critical STS pedagogies that effectively engage our students, we have to start where we are in terms of our particular location and the students with whom we are working. The STS Futures Lab is an example of how critical STS pedagogies can, and perhaps must, emerge as a situated practice. One of the factors that makes STS pedagogies such a rich and varied set of practices is that they are developed and implemented in a wide array of disciplinary, institutional, and geographically diverse spaces, often heavily shaped by these spaces as faculty attempt to make material relevant to their students and aligned with learning objectives. This is to say, the very factors that constrain approaches to implementing critical STS pedagogies also constitute an opportunity. (read more...)

Representing Diverse Bodies in Medical Illustration

In 2016, just before I began my dissertation fieldwork, a trio of young medical illustrators presented a panel on “Normativity and Diversity in Healthcare Imagery” at the annual meeting of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI). According to those who were at the meeting, the presentation was well-attended, but contentious. Among other statistics, the presenters pointed out that although the profession and the organization are at least 70% women, men often dominate awards and positions of power, and the vast majority of members are white. The panel’s presentations addressed not only the demographics of the profession but also social inequalities arising from the prevalence of the “able-bodied, attractive/thin, young, cisgender” white male body as “standard” in medical images. In a moment of informal conversation that fall, a friend of one presenter told me that they had been convinced that the “Diversity” presentation would likely result in cutting ties with the organization altogether. She gestured dramatically, coupled with a sound effect as though dropping a bomb. (read more...)

Driver-Citizens and Technical Safety in India: Traffic Violations and Penalties in the Motor Vehicle Act 2019

One of the first things that gets discussed with reference to India is road traffic. Erstwhile known as a land of snake charmers, this classically orientalist image of the country has been displaced by a more technocratic obsession with road traffic and accidents[1]. While debates amongst the educated elite around the “appropriate” use of roads have been ongoing since the early colonial period[2], it is only more recently that road safety has begun to garner palpable urgency in its visibility as a social problem that needs to be solved by the Indian state. As such, with the United Nations declaring 2010-2020 as the ‘Decade for Action on Road Safety’, international pressure on the Global South to adopt road safety has only intensified[3]. (read more...)