Trolling and the Alt-Right in Japan (Part 1)

I was only a couple of months into my fieldwork when I met Masa. I had been focusing my attention on innovation and politics within the major Japanese TV networks, but he drew my attention to a different kind of media organization: The Free Press Association of Japan, now defunct. At the time, he identified with its founder, Takashi Uesugi, who had made a name for himself as one of the country’s most prominent crusaders for Japanese journalism reform. Masa liked anyone who flouted convention, and the mainstream media’s disparagement of Uesugi for not having attended a high-ranked university only served to endear him further to Masa, who himself had not attended college. It was from Masa that I first heard about chemtrails (kemutoreiru) – the notion that the white trails that aircraft leave in their wake represent a chemical form of meteorological or biological manipulation. He began forwarding me articles and links to documentaries exposing Japanese (more...)

Automation and Heteromation: The Future (and Present) of Labor

Editor's note: This is a co-authored post by Bonnie Nardi and Hamid Ekbia. For the last several years, we have tried to understand how digital technology is changing labor. Of all the alleged causes of disruptions and changes in employment and work—immigrants, free trade, and technology—the last one has received the most extensive debate lately. We review the debate briefly and then discuss our research and how it bears on the questions the debate raises. (more…)

Three Perspectives on “Fake News”

Editor's Note: Today, Shreeharsh Kelkar brings us the inaugural post in a new series on Fake News and the Politics of Knowledge. The goal is to tackle the knowledge politics of both so-called "fake news" itself and the discourse that has cropped up around it, from a wide range of theoretical perspectives on media, science, technology, and communication. If you are interested in contributing, please write to with a brief proposal.  Donald Trump’s shocking upset of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US Presidential Election brought into wide prominence issues that heretofore had been debated mostly in intellectual and business circles: the question of "filter bubbles," of people who refuse to accept facts (scientific or otherwise), and what these mean for liberal democracies and the public sphere.  All these concerns have now have coalesced around an odd little signifier, "fake news" [1].     (more…)

Academography and Disciplinary Ethnocentrism

Donald Campbell (1969) famously blamed the "ethnocentrism of disciplines" for academics' tendencies to spawn "a redundant piling up of highly similar specialties leaving interdisciplinary gaps". While Campbell never gives an extended definition of his term, disciplinary ethnocentrism would seem to entail, for instance, that one views everything through the prism of one's field; that one avidly defends the boundaries of one's field; that one becomes blind to closely related work outside one's field; and that one comes to apprehend disciplinary identities as quasi-natural kinds, just as "ethnicities" are often misconstrued as essences. (more…)

Weekly Round-up | April 28th, 2017

Thanks to input from a number of helpful readers (you know who you are), we've got a bunch of great posts for you this week, running from from evil infrastructure and essential books to Reddit and Duke Nukem. Keep 'em coming! (more…)

Becoming More Capable

“We need to exercise the imagination in order to elbow away at the conditions of im/possibility.” Ingunn Moser & John Law (1999, 174) What is it to be capable? How might we elbow away the conditions that limit ability, to become more capable? In this short piece, I take seriously Rebekah’s invitation to account for “different ways of doing, acting, and living in the world.” The anthropological imperative to “take into account difference” and consider how objects “intersect with social worlds, imaginaries and emergent social practices” speaks to my ongoing efforts to engage with the long and troubled relationship between technology and dis/ability. Specifically, it resonates with my work that asks what, if anything, artificial intelligence (AI) might offer the blind and vision impaired.[1] (more…)

What if both lines go down? Embedded vulnerability in the U.S. Southwest electrical grid

The climate of the Southwest can be extreme: summer heat that borders on suffocating, and a persistent aridity only alleviated by the violent monsoon storms of late summer. In light of these extremes, built environmental systems form the backbone of regional resilience for the Southwest. Water storage and delivery systems distribute water to otherwise dry areas, and a utility grid powers interior climate control and regional water pumping systems. Yet this resilience sits in precarious balance: if these systems are disrupted, damaged, or rendered inoperable, they lose their protective effect. In design and practice, they contribute to regional resilience, but in theory, they can also amplify vulnerability and the potential for disaster if they falter, given the reliance on these systems to cope with, and thrive in, a hostile environment. The fire season of 2011 highlights one such example. (more…)

Driving in the Postcolony: Jennifer Hart on Automobiles and Infrastructure in Ghana

Editor's note: In Ghana on the Go, Jennifer Hart tells the history of how being a driver in Ghana became a contested vocation. Today on Platypus, she talks with Ilana Gershon about her work on infrastructure and profession. They talk through how driving emerged as a profession in the context of British colonial efforts to strategically introduce transportation technology, and about how this history has shaped the current precarious and often stigmatized nature of the job.  Ultimately, Hart argues that the history of Ghanaian roads and motor cars is also a history of how integral human labor and labor conditions are to the development of infrastructures generally. Ilana Gershon: What is striking and possibly unexpected about your book is that to tell the history of Ghanaian drivers is also to tell the history of infrastructure.  Indeed, you make a very compelling case for how studies of infrastructure need to become far more conscious of labor history (more...)

How (Not) to Talk about AI

Most CASTAC readers familiar with science and technology studies (STS) have probably had conversations with friends—especially friends who are scientists or engineers—that go something like this:  Your friend says that artificial intelligence (AI) is on its way, whether we want it or not.  Programs (or robots, take your pick) will be able to do a lot of tasks that, until now, have always needed humans.  You argue that it's not so simple; that what we're seeing is as much a triumph of re-arranging the world as it is of technological innovation. From your point of view, a world of ubiquitous software is being created; which draws on contingent, flexible, just-in-time, human labor; with pervasive interfaces between humans and programs that make one available to the other immediately. Your comments almost always get misinterpreted as a statement that the programs themselves are not really intelligent.  Is that what you believe, your (more...)

After, and Before, Anthropos

Filled with new atheists who see religion as “deathism,” yet animated by yearnings for immortality played out on a cosmic scale, it is easy to see why there is debate as to whether transhumanism and singulatarianism are either formally or effectively religious or religion. On one hand, the anthropologist Abou Farman has convincing argued that the one of the key historical possibility conditions for transhumanism to emerge as self-conscious social movement was religion’s loss of its monopoly on the ability to make determining statements on ultimate issues. If the Church cannot speak authoritatively about eternity, perhaps some futurists can? But Farman’s observation has to be weighed against the plethora of transhumanist organizations that have taken on religious trappings - groups like Teresem, Turing Church, or The Church of Perpetual Life. Further, there is also the claim that since striving for immortality can be given a genealogy that runs as far (more...)