Between the Bitterness of Anonymity and Ethics is Racism: Reflections for Anthropological Research on Science in the ‘Backyard’

A picture of the entrance of the room where the Mocambo group works

This essay is one of the results of a roda de conversa (a conversation circle) that took place at the University of Brasilia, Brazil, in December 2023. Professor Soraya Fleischer had the idea and invited her advisees: two men and three women. Since all of us were, in different ways, doing research with researchers that were also working at the University of Brasilia, the roda de conversa had as a guiding theme the following question: what is it like to conduct research with interlocutors who share the same “institutional house”—who work in the same “backyard”? (read more...)

A white, middle-aged woman stands with one foot on a scooter painter white with disability stickers. She is inside a museum with a bright, modern aesthetic.

On Disability, Infrastructure, and Shame

Content note: This piece centers an evolving journey with internalized ableism and accompanying feelings of virtue and shame, particularly around public transportation, driving, and accessibility. Readers can step back from this piece if it is too difficult to read right now. I did not expect Northern Europe to make me more disabled than the United States and Mexico—more disabled and more ashamed. In 2015, I began experiencing chronic nerve pain on my right side—hip and shoulder—which developed in response to a complex musculoskeletal condition. By 2019, I could not walk more than a few blocks or lift much with my right arm, and if I climbed too many stairs in a day, I would pay for it later. In addition to walking, I stopped being able to bike, swim, or hike. Some days just moving around the house or doing the dishes would activate agonizing pain. Over time, I stopped going to places where I couldn’t drive. (read more...)

A landscape image that shows grey rocks in the foreground, a blue river flowing in the middle, and brown mountains rising in the background. The sky is mostly cloudy with a little bit of clear blue.

What Will Be Lost: A Cat, a Man with a Horse, and the Battle at Court

This essay joins ethnographic fieldwork with a visual storyboard to explore speculative futures that arise from ongoing processes of dispossession and loss in the foothills of the Andes mountains in Central Chile. In 2022, local activists and community members from Putaendo took Los Andes Copper, the mining corporation responsible for the Vizcachitas mining project, to the Environmental Tribunal in Chile. They claimed that the corporation had failed to consider the presence of the Andean mountain cat in their environmental impact studies. This oversight could have serious and irreversible consequences for the local ecosystem and the water sources that sustain their community. (read more...)

A black Akai MPC Live II (Image by Author). This is a MIDI Sequencer. MIDI is a file format and technical standard that lets electronic instruments from different manufacturers communicate with each other. A MIDI sequencer is used by artists to record, edit, and play MIDI sequences.

Being Heard as Experimental

Hip Hop is a musical genre and cultural movement that has been the birthplace of ingenious creativity and novel methods of music making that incorporate new and old technologies (Driscoll 2009). These technical innovations can be seen in the redeployment (Fouché 2006, p. 642) of the turntable through moving the record backwards and forwards to generate new sonic textures and generate hypnotic repetition through breakbeats. The MIDI Production Center (MPC) by Akai and Roger Linn—a MIDI sequencer, sampler, and drum machine that was initially designed to give musicians and producers an easier way to create more natural sounding drums in their recorded music—was almost immediately taken up by Black Hip Hop producers in the United States and used to sample longer pieces of audio from a variety of sources and then re- sequence them to create new melodies and drum rhythms. However, the histories of marginalized people’s exploration of new sounds and technologies for the sake of creative music making seems to largely diverge from the histories of what is traditionally labeled experimental music within the western musical canon. In this post, I want to explore histories of experimental music and contrast it with histories of Hip Hop to better understand who is allowed to be labeled as experimenting within music and how the answers to these questions exist along particular lines of race, space, and time. (read more...)

A photo of a dock leading down to a river, with people lined up on the right to board a boat that is coming in to land.

The “Doing” of Collaborative Ethnography

There is no simple way to tell the story of the recent history of Sainte-Thérèse Island, known as IST (Île-Sainte-Thérèse) by members of the Montreal Waterways research collective, a group based out of the Concordia University Ethnography Lab. Once you start, there is little certainty as to where the story may lead, as its tellings often open different and overlapping pathways for understanding the landscape. Therefore when it came down to the question of how to tell the story of an island—one with a diversity of characters, histories, and happenings—Montreal Waterways made the decision to create a multi-authored compilation of ethnographic texts in the form of a book, entitled An Island is More Than a Park and available online—as part of its research outcomes. The title of the book came from a direct quote made by one of the island’s residents during an interview conducted at a rather difficult time. In the months prior, the community of IST had been preparing to legally defend themselves against a government which had labelled them as squatters, and which was committed to expropriating the seasonal inhabitants to make way for an eco-park. In the time Montreal Waterways spent engaging with the island’s residents and its landscape, it became evident that an island is more than a park: an island is actually a composite of a great number of things that hold meanings that sometimes conflict or contradict each other, especially when so many actors are invested in a version of the island’s story. There was understandably some apprehension on behalf of IST residents, who were suspicious as to why a group of anthropology students were interested in learning about the park, their expropriation, and a project involving collaborative ethnographic research. (read more...)

Premediations of Carcerality: Notes on Targeted Surveillance in Postcolonial India

This post explores the surveillance of letters across two time-periods in postcolonial India: mail letter interception immediately following India’s independence in 1947, and the contemporary use of letters as incriminating evidence against human rights activists in the ongoing Bhima Koregaon-16 (BK-16) case. The BK-16 is a group of activists including academics, journalists, lawyers, artists, poets, and dissenters who were imprisoned through a series of coordinated arrests by the police in different parts of India June 2018 onwards. They were arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), India’s anti-terror law that empowers the government to arrest citizens without any judicial process. Many of them are Dalits, representing India’s most marginalized caste. The BK-16 advocate for the human rights of India’s poorest and most oppressed communities, and overtly oppose the ideology of Hindutva, a Hindu supremacist nationalism espoused by the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) since 2014. (read more...)

Rows of palm trees and indiscriminate national flags frame a pedestrian walkway where people in suits and business attire are standing and walking. The walkway leads to a white building with a rounded, dome-like center area. The sun makes a white circle in the light blue sky.

On Observing: Reflections on UN Climate Policy Negotiations from Paris to the Present

Observe (verb) notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant. watch (someone or something) carefully and attentively. take note of or detect (something) in the course of a scientific study. make a remark. fulfill or comply with (a social, legal, ethical, or religious obligation). maintain (silence) in compliance with a rule or custom, or temporarily as a mark of respect. perform or take part in (a rite or ceremony). celebrate or acknowledge (an anniversary). Source: Oxford Languages (Accessed: March 3, 2024) Nearly every year since 1994, representatives from 198 nations have gathered at the annual meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as the Conference of the Parties (COP), to discuss how to address the immense and intractable challenge of anthropogenic climate change. Alongside these national representatives, thousands of participants from environmental and social non-governmental organizations (NGOs), businesses, local governments, Indigenous nations, research institutions, and trade organizations attentively watch the course of the negotiations. These attendees are officially known as “Observers.” I first joined these meetings as an Observer in 2014 at COP 20 in Lima, Peru. The following year in Paris, France, I participated in the sprawling COP 21 negotiations where the Paris Agreement was adopted by participating countries. Then, eight years later, I returned for COP 28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Given this long gap of time, I was able to consider: What has changed from COP 21 to COP 28? How do evolving global conditions influence the process? And what does the act of observing allow within multilateral spaces and the policy-making process? (read more...)

A black and white photo of rows of Macintosh computers sitting on desks in an classroom, the smooth black monitors reflecting even more computers.

Cultures of Trust in Computing and Beyond

What does it mean to trust? In this post I explore how there are specific ways of producing trust in computer science education. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted for my PhD in an undergraduate computer science program in Singapore, where I examined the “making” of computer scientists—how students are shaped as socio-technical persons through computer science education. During my fieldwork, I conducted participant observation in eight undergraduate computer science courses across all years (first to fourth) with a focus on required core courses for the computer science program, which is what I draw primarily on for this post. I also conducted interviews with students, professors, and administrators; policy and curriculum analysis; and participant observation in the department, university, and tech community more generally. I also myself studied computer science as an undergraduate student, which led to my interest in this topic. (read more...)