Tag: infrastructure

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...)

Hearing the Unknown: Case Studies in Cuba and Taiwan

The saga of mysterious sounds afflicting US diplomats in Cuba—and more recently China–has appeared in the US news cycle intermittently over the last couple of years. Since 2017, news organizations have reported that officials working at the US Embassy in Havana were experiencing hearing loss, dizziness, and possibly brain injury as a result of exposure to high-pitched, grating sounds. The State Department described the phenomenon as a sonic attack, believing that officials were purposefully targeted by an “acoustic element.” Cuban officials have denied the allegations by citing the failure of US officials to identify the source of the sound. Other details surrounding the incident have added to the mystery, including the fact that not all individuals who exhibited symptoms reportedly heard the sound, and those who did may not have been hearing the same sound. (read more...)

At the Edge of Land and Water: Navigating sea level change in Chennai

It was 8am in Ennore, a coastal region at the northern-most tip of the city of Chennai and home to artisanal fishers who have traditionally lived along the shores of the Bay of Bengal.  I had recently started my fieldwork on property relations at coastal spaces around Chennai there. The sun was out, the fishers were busy sorting through the catch of the day, and the smoke from the factories around made everything look hazy. My neighbor and long-time Ennore resident, Kumar uncle, decided to introduce me to fishers he knew at Periyakuppam, a fishing village in the area. We met the fishers and as we stood facing the sea, I asked them about the history of the village and changes in the landscape over time. In response, they pointed at the sea and said, “Look! Do you see the sand there, the sea water extended till that point until last week, but it has receded further now…come again next month and see what we’re talking about!” Just a few minutes later, they shifted their gaze to the left and asked, “Can you see those ships in the distance? That is where the port is. They built it for the ships bringing coal to the power plant. They put in sea-walls around there…” and once again, shifting their gaze towards the shore and the sea they said, “Look there, half the land in that village is now under water; it’s because of those stones from the sea-walls over there.” (read more...)

Description/Classification/Threshold: Experiments with Renewable Energy Taxonomy

This is not renewable energy:   Nor is this some clever, Magritte-esque meta-commentary on how it is impossible represent or think about renewable energy separate from the technologies that harness it. No, it is simply an issue of taxonomy: hydropower is only counted as “renewable” some of the time. This is confusing, because if the term “renewable” has any meaning, after all, it is first and foremost a description of a process, one that specifically refers to the fact that the natural resource from which said energy is produced either does not significantly deplete upon use to begin with, or can be easily replenished within a human time scale. Hydropower, harnessed through the most abundant substance on our “blue planet”, seems to easily fit the description, which makes the exception worth exploring. (read more...)

Voided Spaces: Architectural indices of ravines in Guatemala City

Deep, canyon-like ravines fracture forty-two percent of Guatemala City. Covered in thick, wet, and dense foliage, these ravines are contentious ecological forms for Guatemala City residents, who have often described ravines as physical borders that disconnect their city; opportunities for landfills that are out of sight, out of mind; informal housing for gangs, violence, and the city’s poorest[1]; as well as precarious locations where damage from earthquakes, floods, and landslides is felt the most. However, in 2006, the city municipality reclassified these ravines as an “ecological belt” (Cinturón Ecológico Metropolitano), identifying them as sites in need of ecological and developmental attention. Architects in particular have taken special interest in these ravines, arguing for sustainably-minded designs that would develop and connect ravines to the broader city landscape. Ravines, they argue, are underutilized and contaminated spaces that work against, rather than with, the built environment. Interested in the classification and production of space, in what follows, I describe the conditions that led architects to recognize ravines as sites of developmental potential in Guatemala City. In order to be designated as spaces for development, I argue that ravines first needed to be redefined volumetrically and epistemically, revealing new parameters for thinking about where the built environment can reside. (read more...)

Infrastructure after disasters

On October 21, 1868, at approximately eight o’clock in the morning, a major earthquake on the Hayward Fault near Oakland, California shook the Bay Area. The earthquake caused a great deal of damage in the small towns near the earthquake epicenter, as well as on “made ground” in San Francisco. Outside of the affected area, citizens worried about what had happened. People looked for the latest news at telegraph offices, though some telegraph lines were damaged or inundated. When inquirers reached the telegraph offices, however, they were sometimes met with rumors and misinformation.  Some telegrams said, incorrectly, that San Francisco was destroyed and sixty bodies were recovered.[i] Similar news exaggerating the damage in San Francisco spread all across the state. So, while the telegraph promised that people would have more immediate access to events in faraway places, the existence of a telegraphic infrastructure did not guarantee that these assessments had any correspondence to truth. People also reveal how they believe infrastructure should work when public information infrastructures are used intensely, overwhelmed, or broken. The silent structuring work of infrastructures—so integral to modernity—becomes easier to “see” after disasters. (read more...)

Computable Norms: Clinical Practice Guidelines and Digital Infrastructure

I’m a sociocultural anthropologist by training. Until recently, my research focused on environmental issues in Ecuador. Yet, my attempt to address the gaps left by traditional anthropological approaches to environmental issues quickly brought me into topical areas that the anthropology I was trained in infrequently touched on: institutional change over historical time, knowledge infrastructure work, and particularly the functioning and interaction of modern forms of expertise. I’m now a postdoctoral fellow in medical informatics at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration.  It is an odd organizational context to find myself in, as someone who conceived of himself as an environmental anthropologist for years. Yet many of the big themes are strikingly familiar. In particular, I am surrounded by (and participating in) the expert design of sociotechnical contexts intended to be inhabited by other experts – an aspect of environmental expertise that fascinated me in my environmentally-focused research. In my postdoc, I’m fortunate to have exposure to many of the technical nuts and bolts of infrastructure design for clinicians. In my remarks below, I share some reflections about “clinical practice guidelines,” a specific form of formal medical guidance that increasingly constitutes part of the digital infrastructure used by medical providers, designed and implemented in part by informaticists. (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...)