Search Results for: scale

Rethinking Scale in Social Media: An Ethnographic Perspective

Scale has been a recent buzzword in discussions of social and digital media, as our editor Patricia G. Lange traced out in her January retrospective post. From MOOCs to Big Data, emerging communication technologies are making possible (and visible) large-scale interactions that have been attracting attention from many quarters, including anthropology. I want to revisit this conversation by discussing further what scale means in the context of networked media, especially social and mobile technologies. Is scale the new global? On the cusp of the new millennium in the late 1990s, there was a lot of buzz over the global reach of the Internet, linked to broader interest in how new communication technologies were entwined with globalizing processes. The World Wide Web itself was envisioned as spanning the globe, while globalism infected the popular imagination. Nearly twenty years on, the Internet has yet to bring about global equality or democracy, though (read more...)

Looking Ahead to 2013: A Question of Scale

The CASTAC community joined together in 2012 to launch this blog and begin dialogue on contemporary issues and research approaches. Even though the blog is just getting off the ground, certain powerful themes are already emerging across different projects and areas of study. Key themes for the coming year include dealing with large data sets, connecting individual choices to larger economic forces, and translating the meaning of actions from different realms of experience. Perhaps the most visible trend on our minds right now involves dealing with scale. How can anthropologists, ethnographers, and other STS scholars address large data sets and approaches in research and pedagogy, while also retaining an appropriate relationship to the theories and methods that have made our disciplines strong? As we look ahead to 2013, it would seem that a big question for the CASTAC community involves finding creative and ethical ways to deal with phenomena that (read more...)

This House Harvests the Rain: Multiple Waters and Infrastructure in a Changing Climate

Seventy-five year-old Mary-Jean climbs up on a short ladder to clear the fruit from her rain gutters. “The gutter likes grapefruit, and they like to plug the little hole where the water goes,” she explains, referring to the opening between the gutters and the downspout. The aluminum downspout drains the rainwater that falls on her roof into an 1100-gallon plastic cistern sitting in her backyard. She has two cisterns, and in early September they are halfway full, fed by the summer monsoon rains. Her yard is sparsely landscaped with reddish gravel and a handful of native trees and succulents. If she were not collecting the rain, she would be sweeping the gravel from the street back to the yard after every heavy rain. “It really slows down the water,” she tells me referring to the runoff and pointing to her front yard and steep driveway. The grapefruit tree came with the house, so she kept it. To water the thirsty tree, she connects a hose to the valve at the bottom of the cistern. The hose has little holes on the underside, so she can leave it running. “It works like a slow drip,” she explains. In front of her house there is a small sign made by the city that reads: “This house harvests the rain.” (read more...)

The Heliopolitics of Data Center Security

From Cyberattack to Solar Attack The small-scale cyberattack, characteristic of the late-twentieth century, has long dominated discourses and practices of data center security. Lately, however, these fears are increasingly giving way to concerns over large-scale, existential risks posed by solar activity. Increasing numbers of data centers are going to extreme measures to protect their facilities from solar flares, solar energetic particles and Coronal Mass Ejections – collectively referred to as “space weather”. As data centers are put into circulation with what Georges Bataille famously called the sun’s “superabundance of energy” (1991:29), the act of protecting digital-industrial infrastructure takes on strangely mythical dimensions. In this post, I would like to briefly explore the business end of the mythical dispositif that arises from the surreal and distinctly Bataillean meeting of data centers and the sun. (read 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. (read 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. (read 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 once we accept that humans are integral parts of evolving infrastructure.   If you were going to explain the arc of your book as a history of human infrastructure, what are one or two of the changes in Ghanaian drivers’ lives over the course of the twentieth century that you would want readers to know about? Jennifer Hart: We often write and talk about the culture of automobility as globally homogenous – an implicit byproduct of the technology of the motor vehicle. It becomes a sort of narrative trope. Paul Edwards called roads the “invisible, unremarked basis of modernity.” But the history of Ghanaian drivers highlights that this technological and infrastructural story was profoundly shaped by the people who use that technology and infrastructure. In the Gold Coast, early vehicles were imported by European administrators and import companies and used as symbols of political domination and control. Cocoa farmers, who used their profits to invest in motor vehicles and employed them to transport cocoa between rural farms and coastal ports in the 1930s and 1940s, created the foundation for a new culture of motor transportation in the colonial Gold Coast. African entrepreneurs, who purchased and operated motor vehicles, controlled this new form of automobility, using the technology to transport goods and people throughout the colony.  That autonomy and control over technology positioned drivers as respectable members of modern society, providing a public service for private profit. The growth of cocoa farming enabled Africans to purchase and deploy motor transportation to expand the economic, social, and cultural possibilities for a wide array of Ghanaians in the colonial and early postcolonial period.   (read 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 back as the epic of Gilgamesh, it cannot be properly classified as solely belonging to the secularism or the current secular dispensation (though this argument mistakes genealogical linkage for fixed identity). (read more...)