Tag: expertise

Not knowing as pedagogy: Ride-hailing drivers in Delhi

*A note from Co-PI Noopur Raval: The arrival and rise of gig-work globally has ushered in a new wave of conversations around the casualization of labor and the precarious nature of digitally-mediated “gigs,” ranging from online crowdwork gigs to digitally-mediated physical work such as Ubering. Gradually, scholarship has extended beyond North America and Europe to map the landscape of digital labor in the global south. These posts that make up “India’s Gig-Work Economy” are the result of one such project titled ‘Mapping Digital Labour in India,’ where four research fellows and a program manager, me,  have been studying the dynamics of app-based ridehailing and food-delivery work in two Indian cities (Mumbai and New Delhi). This project is supported by the Azim Premji University’s Research Grants program. In this series of posts, the research fellows and I offer reflections on pleasure, surveillance, morality and other aspects woven into the sociality of gig-work and consumption in India. Each post also has an accompanying audio piece in an Indian language, in a bid to reach out to non-academic and non-English speaking audiences. The series ends with a roundtable discussion post on the challenges, gender and class dynamics, and ethics of researching gig-work(ers) in India.* http://blog.castac.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/07/RidehailinginDelhi_SarahCASTAC.wav Download a transcript of the audio in Devanagari. Ride-hailing[1] platforms such as Olacabs and Uber have “disrupted” public transport in India since their arrival. It has been almost seven years since app-based ride-hailing became a permanent feature of urban and peri-urban India with these aggregators operating in over a 100 Indian cities now. Akin to the global story, much has happened – there was a period of boom and novelty for passengers and drivers, then incentives fell. Ride-hailing work has become increasingly demanding with reduced payouts. But what hasn’t received enough attention (especially outside the US) is how these platforms create a deliberate regime of information invisibility and control to keep the drivers constantly on their toes which works to the companies’ advantage. What then are the implications of this uncertainty, which is fueled by app design as well as by the companies’ decision that drivers need little or no information about users? How does service delivery operate in a context where those actually delivering it have little or no idea about the workings of the system? (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...)

Inhabiting Public Space: Guerrilla Music on YouTube

Este contenido está disponible en español aquí. *Many of the names and places mentioned below have been changed.* While the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have sometimes been categorized as a ‘peasantist’ (campesinista) guerrilla group (Pécaut 2013), in seeking to capture the attention and support of urban and border zones, this group—first as a guerrilla organization and currently as a political party—has employed a variety of mechanisms and media platforms, among which the appropriation of online spaces is especially noteworthy. Among the digital artifacts the FARC have produced online, YouTube music videos are of particular interest. By studying these videos, and how they circulate, we can not only gain a better understanding of the currently understudied representational tactics of the FARC, but also problematize how we understand the ‘presence’ of this armed group in times and spaces of war. It can be argued that these online spaces—combining digital audiovisual content with representational discourses that contradict the predominantly negative and dehumanized image of the FARC—have allowed this insurgent group to establish an alternative presence in the public sphere, and engage with a broad variety of audiences. In this post, through the particular experiences of a former member of the FARC who has uploaded music videos to YouTube, I will explore how the presence of the FARC is materialized in different spaces. (read more...)

Race, Rural Livelihoods, and Contested Conservation Landscapes

A visit to Basu Farms in Pembroke Township, about 60 miles south of Chicago, provides a glimpse into the entanglement of land tenure, black history and self-determination in rural Northeastern Illinois. On one side of the main building at Basu Natural Farms, shelves line the walls containing rows of dark bottles of tincture and salves labeled ‘black walnut,’ ‘St. John’s wort,’ ‘horsetail,’ and many others.  Pam Basu makes these herbal medicines primarily from plants that she grows organically or wild harvests. The Basus also sell vegetables and flowers produced on the farm. On the other side of the building is a small museum displaying objects that highlight the African-American experience in this region.  For many Pembroke residents, land tenure and the form their livelihoods take cannot be disconnected from local black knowledge traditions and the struggle for post-Jim Crow enfranchisement. The annual Marcus Garvey festival held on the Basu Farm, (read more...)

Is Uncertainty a Useful Concept? Tracking Environmental Damage in the Lao Hydropower Industry

The collapse last week of a major hydropower dam in southern Laos, the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy, as a tropical storm dumped an unknown, but massive, volume of water into its reservoir, seems to have prompted at least a little soul-searching for a country that considers itself ‘the Battery of Southeast Asia.’ It’s not very often that large dams collapse, but it’s the second time it’s happened this year in Laos (the prior one was much smaller), and some readers may have been affected by the near-collapse of the Oroville Dam—the tallest dam in the United States—in central California in 2017, prompting the evacuation of 180,000 people. Laos has far lower population density—about 10,000 people have been affected by the still under-construction dam—and as of the time of writing there are perhaps a dozen dead and several hundred missing. But a dam doesn’t have to collapse for it to be a disaster. Even when dams work well, in the best case scenarios they produce a tremendous degree of uncertainty for the people they affect about what might happen and what comes next.  (read more...)

Negotiating Expertise: The Case of Operations Research

Among the most important and common questions that historians of science and STS scholars address is how technical cultures interact with various “lay” communities, such as policymakers, executive decision makers, juries, and public stakeholders. Within STS broadly, scholars have usually thought about these relations within an analytical framework of boundary negotiations. In this framework, technical experts do political work to stake out an epistemic terrain in which their claims will carry an unchallengeable authority. The idea of “science” is important in this framework, because it supposedly signifies (to historical and contemporary actors) knowledge that is uniquely authoritative and stands outside the influence of society and culture. My research on the history of “operational” or “operations research” (OR) has led me to question how well this model describes actual cultures of expertise. One of the prototypical sciences of decision making, OR originated in World War II in scientists’ scrutiny of military tactics and procedures. In the postwar period, a civilianized version of OR, directed at industrial problems, arose, accompanied by a body of formalized (i.e., mathematized) OR theory. Prior scholars have supposed that formalization constituted a move to consolidate OR’s scientific authority. I believe that to understand the development, we require an entirely different understanding not only of OR’s history but of how cultures of expertise operate. (read more...)

2015 Year in Review: Deflating Footballs, Twins in Space, Women (not) in Tech, and More

Last year on the CASTAC Blog began with anthropological ruminations on what the “Deflategate” football scandal has to do with questions of expertise, and closed with discussions of citizen science, earthquake warning systems, the (anti-)politics of women in tech, and deeply personal engagement with experiencing crisis or catastrophe—in this case, terror attacks in Paris—over social media. One of the great perks of editing this blog lies in reading the array of topics, perspectives, and modes of analyses from our contributors. This year, I’m taken by the variety in tone, from the (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek (the aforementioned Deflategate post; the anthropology of rigged games), to the deeply affecting (again, Charlotte Cabasse-Mazel “Looking at the Pain of Others [on Social Media]”), from the boundary-pushing (Abou Farman’s call to envision radical alternative futures) to the experimental (a Twitter fieldwork experiment from Rice’s Ethnography Studio). Beyond timely, weekly engagement with climate change, artificial intelligence, changing media ecologies, infrastructure, design, energy, and more, the blog is becoming a repository cataloging—and pushing forward—the driving concerns of social scientific and humanistic inquiry in these areas. In this review post, I consider four central conceptual questions animating this year’s coverage on how science, technology, computing and more are shaping (and shaped by) diverse lives, worlds, and experiences. These include: the mutual production or constitution of conceptual categories; questions of knowledge production and expertise; concerns with the future and futurity; and key political dimensions of science, technology, and computing. Although these themes unfold differently across intellectual projects and modes of inquiry, they elucidate the value of critical, reflexive, and empirical approaches to scientific and technological worlds. (read more...)

The Rise of Citizen Science, Part I: A Principled Approach

This is the first in a two-part series about the rise of citizen science, from CASTAC Contributing Editor Todd Hanson. When it comes to science, Albert Einstein was an amateur. Well, at least he was during the time he made his most groundbreaking contributions to physics. From 1902 to 1908, Einstein’s day job was that of an assistant patent examiner at the Swiss Federal Office for Intellectual Property. It was during these six years as an avocational scientist that he developed his theories that transformed physics. Working as what we would today call a “citizen scientist,” the four papers he published would become a foundation of modern physics. While Einstein’s case may be unique, a lesson from his life is that ignoring the contributions of those scientists and scholars unaffiliated with university or research institutions is done at society’s risk. The bifurcation of scientists into professional and amateur is a relatively recent and arbitrary occurrence. Several notable eighteenth and nineteenth century “gentlemen scientists” had no direct affiliation to corporate or public institutions, including Robert Boyle, Henry Cavendish, and Charles Darwin, and were not paid scientists, or even science professors, for much or even all of their lives–but were nonetheless immensely important in the history of science. Historically, the divide increased as professional scientists were generally better educated in their fields and paid positions in universities and, later, corporations increased. Still, the general public interest in scientific matters was strong and although amateurs were rarely welcomed into science’s inner circles, they continued to work unpaid, and mostly unacknowledged on scientific matters. (read more...)