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Cards and Codes: Spirituality and Magic in the (Bio)technological Era

The Priestess tarot card

This is not a scientific or technological project, but perhaps it is a project about science and technology. My proposal is to create a magical tool, a tarot deck, that provokes thought about how mystical and religious elements permeate the advancement of science and technology, especially in the field of biotechnology, and are in constant confluence with all aspects surrounding it: academia, startups, investors, and the like. (read more...)

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The Many Modes of Ethnography

Download the transcript for this episode. This podcast episode talks to three anthropologists, Rachel Douglas-Jones, Rine Vieth, and Kara White, scholars working in three different parts of the world who use multimodal methods in their teaching and research. It is not a history of multimodal methods, or even a really detailed review of them; instead, it is a consideration of some of the issues they raise or resolve for ethnography. Whatever Tim Ingold has or hasn’t said about ethnography, he inadvertently offered what I think is the most compelling definition when he wrote: It is where we, “join with things in their passage through time, going along together with them, working with them, and suffering with them” (24, 2020). I’m tweaking the first part of this sentence to make it work here, as he’s actually describing the Latin prefix co- and his idea of “the gathering,” but it works for (read more...)

To Witness: Cell Phone Cameras, Immigrant Communities, and Police Accountability

“There is nothing like an iPhone …to show people the problem…” -Alex Vitale, The End of Policing As I contemplate the momentum of the 2024 presidential election cycle, my focus turns to the potential consequences of a renewed Trump presidency. Drawing on my expertise as an ethnographer, I recall the socio-technological impacts of his initial presidency, which fueled activism and organizing for civil liberties. What follows is a reflection on my fieldwork in Houston, Texas during 2018 and 2019, focusing on how anti-surveillance advocates at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas used cell phones and their cameras as resistance tools. The ACLU has been an active proponent for those in need of protection from government surveillance by educating people in the US on their constitutional rights, advocating for the protection of civil liberties, and taking legal action to stop violations of those rights and liberties. During my eighteen months of research, I engaged with anti-surveillance advocates at the national, state, and city levels who prepared organizing efforts and legal cases limiting unlawful surveillance capabilities. For this piece, I focus on promoting cell phone camera usage in ACLU’s “Know Your Rights” workshops and through the ACLU Blue and ACLU La Migra mobile applications. Throughout the piece, I reckon with what Deborah Thomas calls “the often difficult-to-parse relationships between surveillance and witnessing” (2000, 717). Witnessing the precarity of past ethnographic junctures can highlight injustices, bring them to attention, and formulate strategies for their alleviation. Thus, bearing witness to the past moments may help gain agency over unpredictable futures. (read more...)

Anthropology of a Dream: The Stakes of Studying Addiction in America

In America, the desire for a dream echoes in personal, popular, and political narratives like a refrain promising inevitable progress. I regard addiction as the mirror of this dream in which capitalist processes of production and consumption are embodied at their imaginable limits and addicts appear as perfected capitalist subjects. Drug addicts produce to consume and consume to reproduce themselves, a cycle of reproduction that tightens as their world shrinks, as they increasingly withdraw from social relations to become an economy of one—an autonomously productive and consumptive individual who destroys themselves to reproduce themself (Pine 2019). Addiction emerges as a problem alongside the fantasy of a “good life” characterized by “upward mobility, job security, political and social equality, and lively, durable intimacy” (Berlant 2011: 3). What habits and histories shape the endurance of this dream and why do we imagine anything different as a failure? (read more...)

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

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

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...)