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Tear Gas as Punishment

Colorful collage illustration which provides information about how to handle teargas and pepper spray at protests

Tear gas is a chemical weapon that was developed in the early 20th century and has been predominantly used by police or military forces to stifle political unrest. As a result, tear gas serves as a manifestation of state violence; by forcefully reminding us of our need to breathe, its function is to break collective solidarity. Over time, the tactics surrounding tear gas have evolved and become more militarized. Typically, this has looked like both a general greater use of tear gas at protests, and the development of tear gas as punishment. As a researcher of radical, left-wing social movements in the United States and the security technologies used by the state to suppress them, tear gas is particularly interesting to me because it serves as a security technology par excellence. By examining the interplay between state use of tear gas to punish activists and the protestors fighting against it, we catch a glimpse into the racial capitalist operations of the United States and where it is vulnerable to resistance. This essay examines the police tactic of kettling, how it is wielded to punish activists, and how radical left-wing organizers respond. (read more...)

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Spatial Approaches to Livestreaming: A Methodological Exploration in Digital Ethnography

On AfreecaTV, faceless, wandering viewers appear and disappear in a livestream without notice. Many deceptively change their nickname (username) or use multiple nicknames to divide themselves and appear in different livestreams and other internet forums simultaneously. In crowded livestreams with hundreds to tens of thousands of viewers, it is increasingly challenging to discern the individuality of each viewer’s comments as their presence becomes ephemeral, almost like noise, amidst the rapid speed of chats. Given the near impossibility, or perhaps the meaninglessness, of identifying individuals in these online fields, I may opt to leave the quantified scope (e.g., the size and population) of my research fields undefined and just go with the “flow” (hŭrŭm). This is my reflection on the frustrations that I encountered during the initial phases of my fieldwork within AfreecaTV. Between late 2016 and early 2018, I conducted ‘online’ and ‘offline’ ethnographic fieldwork for my master’s thesis on (read more...)

A map of Belgrade with thick lines marking common routes.

Two Insomniacs Discuss Routine and Restlessness Through Google Tracking

In this piece I meditate on a conversation I had with my key interlocutor, Aleksandar Kecman, about Google tracking and our reflections upon first encountering my digital footprint. I met Aleksandar in Belgrade, where I did research among insomniacs exploring how the experience of time (and tangentially, space) figures in their lives. Being an insomniac myself I felt chronically out of synch with the rest of society—people close to me and their work and sleep schedules, the rhythms of socializing, and the idea of productive life well spent in time—and this feeling tracked with my interlocutors. Many of the problems the sleepless face are quandaries of time. How are the everyday practices of insomniacs shaped by local and broader understandings of what it means, temporally, to lead a “good life,” or a productive life, within a society that values grind and hustle? (read more...)

A plate of Msakhan prepared by TikTok User Mxriyum with a follower's comment overlaid reading "Such wonderful culture that comes out of Palestine, thank you for showing it to us"

Recipes of Resistance: Global Digital Gastrosolidarity for Palestine

From the North in Safad (where my father is from) and Galilee to the South East in Al-Lydd (where my mother is from) and down to Jerusalem and Gaza, the food differs but is united at the same time, through love and history… Palestinian food is found in the home. That is where it all begins. (Joudie Kalla, Palestine on a Plate, 2016) Food is the most precious part of Palestinian heritage. For Palestinian food not to go extinct, the young have to learn from the old. (Aisha Azzam, Aisha’s Story, film forthcoming 2024) Around the world, millions have taken the streets in support of a free and thriving Palestine in the face of active genocide and the continuance of settler colonial violence. Visible on the streets and all over social media feeds, scattered among flags and keffiyehs, are images of the vibrant watermelon. This trinity of nationalist symbols bear a shared honoring of an ancient yet enduring cultural intimacy with Levantine lands. A cursory search about the history of the Palestinian flag’s colors (black, white, red, and green) leads one down many possible origins and mythologies behind the green portion of the flag. These include but are not limited to representing influential Arab dynasties, peace, Islamic faith, as well as a deep love and appreciation for the olive trees which bloom across the landscape. The keffiyeh, a traditional scarf, embodies similar sentiments entangled in its design. Within its iconic weave, visual histories of Palestinian trade pathways, robust fishing culture upon the Mediterranean sea, and once again, the olive trees. Last is the watermelon, which was used as a covert placeholder for the flag during a period of occupation when the display of the flag itself was forbidden. In essence, at the core of these symbols are Palestinian foodways and culture. (read more...)

Digital sketch of a giant green bird described by a hospice patient

Bed-Time Storytelling

Bedtime stories are stories narrated by adults to children before they fall asleep. As an essential parenting skill, the storytelling scene is infused with love and trust. These stories make the transition from day to night easier. Rest well, tomorrow will be another day. In this piece, I wish to introduce an alternate narrative form I have named bed-time-storytelling—a practice of care born within the confines of hospice care beds. This approach redefines our understanding of storytelling, bridging the realms of the living and the departing, and opening a new chapter on how we engage with tales shared in the threshold between two worlds. (read more...)

Image of hundreds people on the street at night. Many wear green headbands and are facing forward. A few people at the front of the crowd turn back, and others in the middle of the crowd are holding up a sign.

Who Knows About Ethical Research?: Reflections on Research Ethics and Vulnerability in Abortion Research

People who have abortions are often thought of as inherently vulnerable. When retold without nuance, this narrative can be harmful to abortion-seekers, as well as to reproductive autonomy more broadly, since it reinforces negative stereotypes about abortion and abortion-seekers. Changing affective paradigms around abortion has been a key concern for feminist activists around the world. In fact, a significant part of my ongoing PhD research on pharmaceutical abortion, healthcare access, and feminist activism in Argentina is concerned with how and why feminist activists seek to disrupt the social perception of abortion as intrinsically being a certain kind of experience—tragic, shameful, vulnerable, to give just a few pointers. While preparing for my data collection, I was struck by the discrepancy between how feminist activists who accompany abortions conceptualise the agency of (potentially) vulnerable abortion-seekers and my UK university’s research ethics committee’s approach to it. Especially given my own positionality as a non-Argentine PhD student, this prompted me to reflect on the challenges of navigating this divide when researching feminist activism and self-managed abortion. To this end, I unpack some of my reflections while trying to balance my duty of care for potentially vulnerable participants with respect for their agency. Striking this balance can be especially complicated when the understandings of both risk and ethical practice diverge between ethics committees, who—to a certain extent have to—adopt a universalist approach, and feminist practitioners holding contextually specific expertise on the subject, while also frequently working with different definitions of care. This divergence is even more pertinent in the case of abortion, an experience steeped in assumptions based on moralised and medicalised social and political discourses. Throughout my research process, I have understood refusing to reproduce such paternalistic discourses as essential to doing ethical research, alongside attending to potential vulnerabilities. (read more...)

A map of the Mekong Delta oriented to the left is on a round white table. There are piles of small white squares with different icons organized into rows below the map. Colored markers and pens are also on the table next to and below the map. A person's hands are visible at the bottom left corner, while the bodies of others are also seen standing around the table.

Anthropology, STS, and the Politics of Imagination in Navigating Socio-Environmental Change

“he climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.” Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2015), p.9. “We are in an imagination battle.” Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (2017), p.18. In late 2010, members of Dutch and Vietnamese planning delegations, sitting around conference room tables at a fancy hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, began work on what was to become the Mekong Delta Plan. The Dutch consultants depicted four quadrants divided by two axes, with climate change along one and economic growth along the other, which they deemed the two primary drivers of uncertainty facing the Mekong Delta region in the coming decades. The quadrants, they said, represented four “plausible future scenarios,” which could then be used to identify responsible investment and policy decisions in the present, regardless of whichever future were to unfold. This exercise, modeled on a similar set of quadrants used for climate adaptation planning by the Dutch in their own country, was central to the delta management approach being advanced by the Dutch participants. The “scenario planning methodology” is a strategic planning tool used to support policymaking under conditions of deep uncertainty, originally developed by former RAND Corporation strategist Herman Kahn and later refined by Royal Dutch Shell (Faubion 2019; Samimian-Darash 2021). In other words, it is an exercise in imagining possible futures, used to guide planning meant to enable adaptively navigating among unforeseen events. (read more...)

Vivid blues and greens are cut through by blurry rays of light shimmering out from the center, giving the impression of looking down into a watery expanse.

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Confluences of the Domestic

Much of the water that enters homes in metro Guadalajara, Jalisco is toxic. Water from the tap is used to wash dishes and water plants, but for decades it’s been dangerous to drink. In this sonic ethnography, we hear contaminated water hitting plates used for a meal and evaporating from vegetables as a pan heats on a stove. A woman explains which brands of bottled water are safer, more trustworthy; some, she says, are appropriate for drinking, while others should only be used to wash vegetables. We hear bodies of water referred to as both rivers and sewers. (read more...)