Tag: infrastructure

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...)

Optics and Fluidity: Evading Surveillance in Hong Kong

請點此閱讀中文版  At the Hong Kong airport, thousands of protesters line the arrivals hall. Creating a corridor for passengers to walk through, they stand silently, using their right hand to cover their right eye. The silence is occasionally perforated by calls of “Hāng Góng Gā Yáu!” and “Xiāng Gang Jīa Yóu 香港加油 – “Hong Kong Add Oil”— expressions of solidarity and encouragement that have become fuel for protests that have been ongoing and lively since March. Jingcha Huan Yan 警察還眼 – or, “police: return the eye” – has become a rallying cry of the movement following a police shooting of a young woman in the eye in Tsim Sha Tsui 尖沙嘴. Protesters ritually cover their right eyes or patch them shut with bloodied bandages. Others change their social media profile picture to an artistic rendering of a woman with an eyepatch. Twitter hashtag campaigns such as #Eye4HK have gained international traction, (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...)

“India’s Gig-work Economy” Roundtable

This roundtable discussion marks the end of our series on India’s Gig-work Economy. In this discussion, we reflect on methods, challenges, inter-subjectivities and possible future directions for research on the topic. Here are some highlights from the discussion. Listen to the audio track or read the transcript for the full discussion: Part 1: On continuities between traditional and newer forms of work in cab-driving: Anushree (researcher, taxi-driving in Mumbai): “Something that came out during field work was the flow of workers from traditional services to app-based services which kind of happened in phases and all these platforms have played a different function in the history of this. While the radio taxis were more important in teaching workers to become professionals in the service economy the new platforms have given them a larger customer base and hired access to audience.” (read more...)

Negotiating Ethical Technology Use: Trust and Care in End-of-Life Conversations

  The headline on the local news station’s website was sensational: “Bereaved Family Upset Kaiser Used Robot to Tell Father He Would Die”. Evoking some sort of post-modern dystopia, the article explains that the family “was taken by surprise when a robot rolled into the room” to deliver the news that an elder family member’s illness had progressed past the physician’s ability to treat it. While the robot actually was a remote physician using teleconferencing software to communicate with the patient and his family, the monitor projecting an image of the physician’s head and shoulders sat atop a tall, narrow metal unit reminiscent of a body. The “robot doctor” story was picked up by national news outlets, like the New York Times, and medical ethicists weighed in on the ethics of communicating “sensitive” topics remotely. The news stories problematized the impersonal, almost routinized, care as it was perceived by the family. In one, a representative from the American Medical Association commented, “We should all remember the power of touch – simple human contact – can communicate caring better than words.” (read more...)

Choreographies of Magic and Mess: AusSTS in Melbourne and Darwin

As the presenter encouraged the academics in the room to consider what it means for nanotechnology to sell itself as ‘magic’, boots appeared outside the window behind him. The presenter was Dr. Declan Kuch from the University of NSW and the occasion was the AusSTS Graduate Workshop, which was held on the 12th floor of Deakin Downtown in Melbourne. The provocation Dr. Kuch presented: ‘who performs the magic and for whom?’, was illuminated by the real time, situated magical performance unfolding behind him, as four high-rise window washers descended, each swiping and cleaning in hypnotic choreography. They wore orange helmets and gloves to keep warm, blue buckets clipped to their belts and bandanas protecting their faces from the water, or perhaps from us, as we smiled and pointed and ogled at their daring feats. It was an STS moment: the physicality of the window washers; the labour/danger dynamic; talk of magic and nanotechnology—science and humanities colliding in a discomforting dance. (read more...)

Battery Life: Charging Culture at the End of Energy 

Vodka-tonic. Take my picture. Charge my phone. Vodka-tonic. Take my picture. Charge my phone.  This (or a similar sequence) is an irritatingly common refrain heard by many waitstaff at lower-tier upper-class Instagram-approved destination restaurants in New York City—presumably other variations proliferate throughout the world’s urban centers. While vodka and digital reproduction make fruitful grist for social critique, the focus of the following is on the request to infuse one’s portable appendage with fresh electricity. There are a number of intriguing aspects of this “charging culture,” from its role in the resource consumption chain (Parikka 2015), to infrastructural adaptations appearing in charging societies (Larkin 2013), to the implications of portable appliances on mobility studies (Schiller 2011), to the novel linguistic interactions engendered by electronic communications (Squires 2010). In concert with these developments, the following discusses the metabolism of charging culture—that is, the processes that are necessary for the maintenance of life. (read more...)

Power Chronography of Food-Delivery Work

*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.* **A note from the editor: This post was co-written with Rajendra Jadhav. http://blog.castac.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/08/RajendraMP3.mp3 Download a transcript of the audio in Devanagari. This post presents the observations around the design of temporality within app-based food-delivery platforms in India. It draws on semi-structured interviews by field-researcher Rajendra and his time spent “hanging out” with food-delivery workers who are also often referred to as “hunger saviors” and “partners” in the platform ecosystem in India. Like in the earlier post by Simiran on food-delivery workers in Mumbai, we also observed that app-based work was structured and monitored along similar lines. However, in this post, we go into a detailed description of how work-time and temporality of work are configured in order to fulfill the promises that app companies make to customers in urban India. (read more...)