Category: Research

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. 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...)

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...)