Tag: STS

Personal Computing and Personhood in Design and Disability

When I try to explain augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to those unfamiliar, I usually start with physicist Stephen Hawking, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Hawking speaks using a high-tech computerized AAC device with synthetic speech output (Mialet, 2012). The electronic voice communicates to others the text that Hawking selects from a cursor moving across the computer screen mounted to his wheelchair using his cheek movement as input. These sorts of ‘tools for talking’ are also used by those with other disabilities and medical conditions that potentially impair oral speech such as autism, cerebral palsy, or a stroke. AAC devices are mobile by definition, as they ought to move with a person as they move through the world (Reno, 2012). They are becoming more “mobile” in another sense too. Individuals increasingly have the option of using AAC devices that take the material form of ordinary smartphones, tablet computers, and mobile apps that simulate software on specialized computers dedicated to AAC (Alper, 2015). (read more...)

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 and American government cover-ups. Unemployed, he spent most of his days on the Japanese bulletin board, 2ch (ni chan). He was my first encounter with the Japanese internet alt-right (the netto uyoku), the beginning of an inadvertent deep-dive into one of the most vocal factions in the Japanese internet. (read 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. (read more...)

Teaching (Non)Technological Determinism: A Theory of Key Points

How can we account for the radical uncertainty of change when we think about the future, but its seeming inevitability when it comes to the past?  This is, arguably, the hardest part in doing the history and anthropology of technology.  It is also, not surprisingly, the hardest to teach our students.  In what follows, I suggest that the experience of watching (and playing) sports might be of help here. (read more...)

A Second Project from Hedgehog to Fox and Back

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth entry in the Second Project Series. This series explores an often undiscussed moment in professionalization: the shift from the research you began as a graduate student to the new work undertaken as an early- or mid-career scholar. This series is especially interested in personal journeys and institutional features that enabled or constrained this transition. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Lisa. Almost a decade ago, I presented a dissertation outline to my graduate advisor. Scanning the page with rising incredulity, she decreed, “Well, it looks like a great book, but it’s not a dissertation.” Such encounters transformed my protean liberal-arts-trained being into someone who could play the hedgehog-like scholar (Berlin 1953). In his classic essay on The Hedgehog and the Fox, philosopher Isaiah Berlin distinguishes the hedgehog, whose work builds one big idea or program, from the fox, who chases diverse ideas without subordinating them to a core claim. Hedgehogs: Dante, Plato, Proust. Foxes: Shakespeare, Aristotle, Joyce. We trickster-loving anthropologists may fancy ourselves foxes. But writing a dissertation reads as consistent with hedgehog culture and personality. The dissertation or dissertation-based book assembles ideas into an edifice, into one Idea. Foxes may lean more toward article-production. Berlin knew, of course, that the distinction was overdrawn. We’re all a bit of both. And, when I completed the dissertation and began to experience the academic job market, I had to learn, once more, when to play the fox and when to play the hedgehog. (read more...)

Animal Sex Work

Crouched beneath a stallion’s hot undercarriage, bearing the weight of a two-foot long sterile tube on my shoulder as the horse thrusts into it, I vocally encouraged him to ejaculate along with a team of human handlers dedicated to the business of equine sperm. “Come on, boy,” we all chirp, “don’t stop now!” This particular kind of human-assisted animal sex is repeated all spring and summer long at equine breeding facilities across the globe. The proliferation of Artificial Insemination (AI) techniques and technologies over the past two decades has revolutionized the equine breeding shed, making it possible to produce offspring from two horses with no physical, or even geographical, proximity. As recently as fifteen years ago, performance horse breeders imported actual horses from Europe, Russia, or South America to improve the American strains of particular breeds. Now it is possible to breed American mares to international stallions without either party leaving home. New industries and technologies have been created to collect, package, freeze, and transport equine semen; state, federal, and international laws govern the movement of semen across political borders; and a whole branch of equine veterinary medicine concerned with reproduction—theriogenology—has swelled to accommodate the growing need for professionals to supervise encounters like the one I described above. (read more...)

Pragmatism and the Magic Book for Nuclear Power

Today’s post by Vincent Ialenti, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Cornell, is in partnership with the experimental publication Allegra Lab, and links reflections on the theme of #pragmatism to anthropological research on nuclear energy and environmentalism. Pragmatism, according to Merriam-Webster, refers to both “a practical approach to problems and affairs,” and an American philosophical tradition, founded by C. S. Peirce and William James, that evaluates conceptions and thought through their practical consequences in guiding action. — Editor’s note.   This is a picture of a brightly colored South Korean pro-nuclear children’s book adorned with friendly animals dancing around a light bulb in front of a nuclear power plant. The title translates to The Magic Book for Nuclear Power with WINK (Women In Nuclear-Korea). I first encountered this artifact in London at a 2013 World Nuclear Association symposium. There, it was a tool nuclear energy industry insiders used to counter what they saw as anti-nuclear misinformation to which Korean children might be exposed through television, from their parents, or at school. At the time, I associated the book with rising “climate pragmatist” pro-nuclear environmentalisms like those in Robert Stone’s Pandora’s Promise documentary, those of Breakthrough Institute thinkers, those of the Hartwell Group, or—more recently—those in the Ecomodernist Manifesto. These pragmatisms were underlain by hopes for technology, innovation, human agency, open futures, incremental progress, and possibilities for achieving common ground across political divides. I continue to reflect on these pragmatisms as I develop an ethnography of Finland’s deep time auguring Olkiluoto nuclear waste repository safety case experts. (read more...)

CASTAC Panels at AAA 2015 in Denver

We at the CASTAC Blog are very excited about many panels and events at this week’s Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Nov. 18-22 in Denver, CO. We’ve collected talks and panels of particular interest to CASTAC Blog readers attending the meetings. Hope to see you there, and don’t forget to attend our business meeting! There will be food! Jordan Kraemer, Editor Jenny Carlson and Nick Seaver, CASTAC Co-chairs Wednesday, Nov. 18 Wednesday, 12:00 PM-1:45 PM 2-0175 TESTING AS WORLD-MAKING Richard W Rottenburg, Uli Beisel, Sandra Calkins and Stacey A Langwick Wednesday, 2:00 PM-3:45 PM 2-0290 , 2-0460 ANTICIPATING FAMILIAR/STRANGE ENVIRONMENTS: THE SOCIAL LIVES OF SCIENTIFIC PREDICTIONS – PART I | PART II Sophie Laura Haines, Sophie Laura Haines, Renzo Taddei and Susan Crate Wednesday, November 18, 2015: 4:00 PM-5:45 PM 2-0505 ANTHROPOLOGIES OF DATA Nick Seaver, Elizabeth A Rodwell, Orit Halpern (discussant), Shreeharsh Kelkar, Anna Jabloner, Alison Cool (read more...)