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Beauty Filters: New Tech, Old Problems

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."

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...)

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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...)

Orange Platypus with black headphones

Platypod, Episode Five: CASPR – CASTAC in the Spring 2022

This episode presents a recording of CASPR 2022, or the CASTAC in the Spring 2022 mentoring event, which took place on May 10, 2022. CASPRT 2022 was organized to encourage dialogue on breaking down binaries that have separated academe and industry. Angela VandenBroek (TXTS), Melissa Cefkin (Waymo), and Dawn Nafus (Intel) discuss their work in leading socially-informed research in industry contexts. (read more...)

Orange Platypus with black headphones

Platypod, Episode Four: Connections and Disconnections on Social Media

In this episode, Platypod presents a conversation between Baird Campbell (Rice University) and Ilana Gershon (Indiana University Bloomington). They discuss the politics of connection and disconnection via social media in Chile and the US. (read more...)

A glowing orb of energy floating in mid-air. The inside is like a giant star-gate with portals to other worlds and dimensions.

LaMDA and the Limits of Sentience

In early June, Blake Lemoine, then an engineer at Google, claimed that LaMDA, a Machine Learning-based chatbot, was sentient and needed to be treated with respect. LaMDA stands for Language Model for Dialog Applications. AI chatbots are designed to interpret user-entered text, analyze key phrases and syntax with Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) models, and generate responses and actions that feel believable as a conversational partner . After multiple conversations with LaMDA, Lemoine concluded that LaMDA was psychologically like a child of 7 or 8 years old . Google accused Blake Lemoine of “persistently violating clear employment and data security policies” and fired him .  (read more...)

An image of a Black woman holding a megaphone with sound bubbles around her. The words "slow down" are large above her. Below is the title of the article "Embracing black positionalities. (Re)centring Slowness"

Embracing Black Positionalities, (Re)Centring Slowness: A Challenge to Anthropology’s Anti-Racism Efforts

Anti-racism efforts remain highly problematic. As anthropologists, we are usually aware of the violent, colonial, and genocidal histories of research on ‘race’ and realities of racism which have been conducted in the names of scientific and social advancement. But now, we find ourselves in the “post-George Floyd era”— a phrase used to describe the current temporal phase of discourses on anti-Black racism, as was articulated at the UK’s first (known) Black anthropologist’s conference, called The Gathering . In the UK, the post-George Floyd era refers to a tragic, but expected, decline; where constructive discussions about, empathy towards, and valued recognition of Black lives have reached their peak in popular discourse and are returning to their tokenistic nature in academia. At the height of the global Black Lives Matter movement, and even in the immediate aftermath (late spring of 2020 to the end of 2020), there seemed to be small glimmers of hope that maybe, just maybe, the murder of a Black man at the hands of actors of the ‘State’ would act as a catalyst for the meaningful, long-lasting upheaval of many anti-Black systems. Yet, two years later, in 2022, I find myself in the position of a Black doctoral student studying Anthropology in a state of disbelief and underwhelm. (read more...)

Movement of a worker through the landscape of care in and around the Special Economic Zone called Value Addition City in Pakistan.

Injury and Fitness: Responsibility through Biomedicine 

Kashif pointed to different parts of the wounds on his leg and explained to me how they had healed, exacerbated, or been ignored at different places of care. He had gotten a chemical burn injury on his left leg a year ago while mixing HCl (Hydrochloric acid) and H2O2 (Hydrogen peroxide in bleach), two highly reactive chemicals, almost on the spot of the textile factory where he stood now and talked to me. He was not among the first few people introduced to me by the Safety and Security Officer because he was not considered disabled among the workers at the factory I was conducting fieldwork in Punjab, Pakistan. (read more...)