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Platypus in 2023

Welcome to Platypus in 2023! We’re excited for another year of anthropological and social thinking around science and technology. Last year we had over forty-five posts on topics ranging from photoshopping desire to monstrous matter to human-tree relationships to anti-racism in anthropology, as well as several Platypod episodes on disability and toxicity, ableism in higher ed, and more. The blog had over seventy-six thousand visits in 2022 and maintains a readership from 187 different countries. We’re looking forward to another engaging year. We feel such gratitude to you, our readers; thanks for stopping by every week. And thank you to our authors and contributors. If you’re interested in writing or creating for Platypus this year, read on. (read more...)

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The cover of the book Pollution is Colonialism which has a black background with a petri dish on it.

Reading Max Liboiron’s Pollution is Colonialism in a Chemistry Lab

Pollution is Colonialism (Liboiron 2021) uses plastics to trace pollution in fish stomachs in Newfoundland while showing how this pollution is embedded in bad “land relations.” For Liboiron, land relations refers to how land is assumed to be available for settler goals and how it allows for some pollution to occur.  One of their main goal in thinking about environmental science as a practice is to see how science can align with or against colonialism. They point to the fact that even when researchers work toward benevolent goals, environmental science and activism are often premised on a colonial worldview and access to land. Colonialism, according to Liboiron, who borrows their ideas on the subject from Tiffany Lethabo King, is not just bad action or even intention but a set of relations that allows for bad land relations to occur and make sense. Their aim is to illuminate how pollution is not a symptom of capitalism but a violent enactment of colonial land relations that claim access to Indigenous land. (read more...)

A thick rainforest, with many trees, leaves, and vines

A Concert in the Rainforest: Sound in Multispecies Ethnography

The four minute clip above was one of many that I recorded during preliminary fieldwork this past summer in the Eastern rainforest corridor of Madagascar. This specific recording occurred during a weekend trip to Analamazaotra with two of my interlocutors- biologists who study in Ranomafana National Park, my primary fieldsite. That morning, we had woken with the crepuscular mist to hike the muddy trails that transected the area. Walking with Jean, from the local guide association, we spent the morning as many tourists would, spotting camouflaged Nightjars nesting on the ground and smiling at brown lemurs that wrestled on Traveler’s Palms. Throughout the walk, we heard the haunting calls of Indris, Madagascar’s largest lemurs and one of its most recognized, due to its song and striking black and white patterning. (read more...)

One person stands speaking with gestures in a cave that is brightly lit by a spotlight, while another person looks on recording the conversation with their phone, and a third person wearing a facemask looks directly upwards towards the cave roof.

Little Experiments in Worldmaking with Amor Mundi Lab

The AMOR MUNDI Multispecies Ecological Worldmaking Lab transpires as a collaborative space for emerging scholars, artists, scientists, and practitioners of all kinds working in the Global South with a common theme in multispecies anthropocene studies. Anthropocene and ecopolitical theorist Maya Kóvskaya, who recently joined the Faculty of Social Science at Chiang Mai University in 2020, shares their idea of the lab and extends the opportunity to students across disciplines. Through Maya’s inspiring energy as the Lab Director, our network of collaborators and interlocutors grows. Among many who join and share their scholarship from around the world, a core group of people who are already based in Chiang Mai come together to give this emerging space a chance to move forward. (read more...)

Clarinetist François Houle improvises with Zamyatin, a virtual improviser designed by Oliver Bown. Shown are Houle playing clarinet to a microphone on a stand, an electric piano (unused), and Bown seated at a table in front of a laptop.

Uncovering Ethnography in Creative Practice Research with Machines

This blog post comes out of a discussion with Ritwik Banerji about the ‘hidden’ role of ethnography in the work involved in creating new experimental systems for music improvisation. Ritwik put it to me that “it seems that a lot of work … involves a kind of ‘implied ethnography’ – that is, it’s clear that the author/designer has lots of personal experience with the domain they’re designing for, and yet the technical documentation of such systems makes scant mention of it.” This was a welcome invitation to reflect on my past practice since I had once been a student of social anthropology and am now, as an associate professor 25 years on, re-engaging with ethnography as a methodology. Have I been implicitly using ethnography all along, and could/should this component have been more explicit in the presentation of my work in an academic context? I will begin with some scene setting. (read more...)

Image demonstrating how to make one's own Instagram filter in Spark AR Studio. Against a background that is many shades of purple, the image demonstrates the second step in making a filter. It shows a number of faces, with suggestions for how each might be modified to make a filter. Above these faces, the text for Step 2 reads, "Choose a template or create your own filter from scratch." One of the faces at the end of the middle row is circled in yellow, and the filter being suggested through the highlighting of this face is called "Face Distortion."

Beauty Filters: New Tech, Old Problems

Retaining a youthful appearance is a laborious and painful exercise, often rife with invisible labor. Digital beauty tech has made it much easier. Rather than altering our own faces through cosmetic procedures, we now have a conduit — an online persona — that can easily be touched up with the help of beauty editing apps or filters. This has done little to challenge ageist prejudices but has offered an avenue out of old age in the form of customization. In offering up this tech, the beauty industry can be seen to perform a bait-and-switch, displacing the weight of beauty standards from physical appearance onto our consumer choices. (read more...)

Women agricultural workers sort onions into brightly colored tubs (Author 2019)

You Are What You Grow: Crops, Cultivation, and Caste in India

Fieldwork can produce odd obsessions. As an anthropologist studying agrarian risk economies, mine was onions. In the central Indian region of Malwa where I conducted research, onions seemed to be everywhere. As I observed (and occasionally, but poorly, assisted with) farm work, I became fascinated by the bulb: its seasonal shades of pink shifting from winter magenta to a spring blush; the way its bright green stalks stood perfectly upright in the field; the speculative frenzy of the auction during peak season; its pungent flavor in raw, pickled, or fried form; and not least, the unexpected wealth it produced for a few and the dashed hopes and devastation it wreaked on most others. (read more...)

Wall in Segovia, Antioquia with graffiti

Toxicity, Violence, and the Legacies of Mercury and Gold Mining in Colombia

Toxic substances are often portrayed as stubborn molecules that resist being restricted to the places where we would like to contain them in order to free ourselves from the environmental and health damage they cause us . Mercury —a heavy metal used for different products and industrial processes— illustrates how the effects of these substances are mediated not only by their “stubbornness” or physical-chemical persistence but also by histories of power, violence, and domination. (read more...)