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Before They Erase It: Memory and the social media archive

Disponible en español aquí. This afternoon, I began to notice increasingly alarming images, posts, and tweets from my interlocutors in Santiago. It appeared that Santiago was on fire, and that the military was in the streets. Images of familiar streets and landmarks now felt doubly familiar, as their similarity to images taken during the coup of 1973 were undeniable. A quick Google search confirmed my fears; Piñera had declared a state of emergency in response to the student metro protests, that there were already deaths, disappearances, and torture reported, and that a curfew had been implemented. Switching over to Whatsapp, I sent frantic messages to my interlocutors and former host family to check that they were safe (they were.) However, it was clear that—even for seasoned activists—this felt different. Many recalled memories or iconic images of the 1973 coup, wondering if history might be about to repeat itself. As the (read more...)

Period Tracking Apps: Something Old, Something New

They’re sleek and colorful, “fun and easy”, full of icons and dials. Period tracking apps, or “menstruapps,” are an increasingly common way a large segment of the population attends to their health and embodied experience of menstruation. In some ways, these apps are part of very recent trends towards the Quantified Self, the datafication of health, and reliance on biometric tracking devices to “optimize” one’s habits. In other ways, they evoke older legacies of feminist health care, notably the Our Bodies, Ourselves movement begun in 1969. Fifty years later, what does it mean to use technology to “understand how your body works”, as Clue advertises, or “take control of your body,” the tagline for Natural Cycles, which are two of the most popular menstruapps? (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. 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...)

Portending the Posthuman on YouTube

During this most spooky time of year, it is apropos to explore our transmogrification into posthumanity—a concept that instills fear in the hearts of many scholars, including many anthropologists, who are especially afraid that exploring this terrain precipitates the end of their discipline. For humanities studies scholar Rosi Braidotti (2013: 5), there is an “undeniably gloomy connotation to the posthuman condition, especially in relation to genealogies of critical thought.” In her view, our lack of theorization of posthuman subjectivity has brought us into a “zombified landscape of repetition without difference and lingering melancholia” (Braidotti 2013: 5). To be honest, I share numerous concerns about posthumanist claims and their implications. However, whether widespread posthuman-phobia is warranted remains to be explored. (read more...)

Archiving for the Anthropocene: Notes from the Field Campus

On a chilly Sunday afternoon in March, our Field Campus group walked through downtown Granite City, Illinois. Located just 6 miles north of St. Louis, the downtown was a markedly post-industrial landscape. Many of the red brick buildings were vacant and showed signs of lasting decay. Weedy patches of open land occasionally provided views of a large nearby factory. It was hard to tell if coffee and sandwich shops were closed forever. The factory, a U.S. Steel Corps manufacturing plant called Granite City Works was founded by two German immigrants in 1896, along with the city itself. In 2009, the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) ranked neighborhoods in Granite City at the second highest risk for cancer in the country, highlighting the plant’s coke ovens as a likely source (McGuire 2009). Coke oven emissions include benzene, arsenic, and lead (Earthjustice 2019) – that people breathe, and soils absorb. Another source of toxic air pollution has been the NL Industries/Taracorp lead smelter. Before its closure in 1983, the smelter contaminated over 1,600 households in Granite City and beyond, eventually turning into an EPA superfund cleanup site (Singer, n.d.). The US EPA recognized that the highest concentrations of lead in the air are around smelters. Lead in the air means lead in the soil. Tearing down houses in “blighted” sections of the city exacerbates the problem since demolitions release the lead in the paint of older buildings (Blythe 2019). Granite City is certainly a hot spot. As we walked through Granite City, we were guided by our local collaborator and artist Chris Carl, whose work with the urban renewal group New American Gardening “explores garden making on vacant lots and post industrial land.” Chris led us to the particular plot, pointing to a number of concrete blocks scattered around the ground. One of the blocks featured a warning symbol etched into its top, the other had the letters ‘Pb’ scrawled upon it – which, as he informed us, is the chemical abbreviation for lead. The blocks were Chris’s “DIY version of a lead remediation,” an intervention he began after a project by the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and a visit by EPA officials who confirmed low levels of lead all over the area after conducting the requisite soil testing. The levels on the site we were standing on, however, had proven to be “off the charts.” Notably, both Madison County and the U.S. Steel Trust had provided funding for this pilot plot. (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...)

Organic Waste and the Looming Putrecene

As an urban compost coordinator I have supervised efforts to increase compost collection both commercially and residentially in New York City over the past five years. The job has offered an intriguing vantage to assess the future of urban waste-driven economies. This post discusses the microbial capitalism on display in the compost pile, looking beyond today’s relatively transient Anthropocene toward the far more enduring Putrecene. (read more...)

Platypus Celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month

In support of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, please enjoy some of our favorite posts engaging with understandings of disability! (read more...)