Distraction Free Reading

The More Things Change…

Things are more than a little unsettled, lately. The past ten days since the Inauguration have been a maelstrom of activity, leaving many of us feeling profoundly uncertain about our political, technological, and scholarly futures. Of course, we haven’t been passive. Whatever else it has been, the rise of Trumpism has been an occasion for a great deal of anthropological activity. Anthropologists from around the world have been hard at work attending to the emergence of this phenomenon as both scholars and citizens. If our activities at each of these levels have seemed somewhat disconnected, somewhat divorced from one another, it is perhaps a testament to the profound challenge to our inherited sensibilities, our disciplinary and political commonplaces, represented by the transformations we are witnessing. I think, however, that this is in some respects a constitutive feature of our discipline; anthropology has long been haunted by a tension between its ethical commitment to engagement and its methodological commitment to untimeliness.

In this time of more-uncertain-than-usual political, technological, and scholarly futures, it strikes me as perhaps more important than ever to continue to work this divide. Anthropologists can be thoughtful, engaged, and effective participants in civil society and public discourse, but I think that we should also remain committed to theoretical depth, methodological experimentation, and the production of useful concepts. It seems clear that our practical achievements as activists, since the days of Margaret Mead, Zora Neale Hurston, and Franz Boas, have always been at their best when framed by careful, rigorous scholarship, and supported by the authority that comes from a thorough observation of the institutions and processes that shape our domains of intervention. The careful and ethically robust interplay between these two levels of engagement, to me, represents the best of what academic conversations can bring to the table. Certainly, striving for this careful balance has characterized our efforts here at Platypus. As the incoming editor, I look forward to facilitating these discussions as they emerge within our collective efforts to understand the role of science and technology in shaping contemporary worlds.

… the More they Stay the Same

Of course, my primary goal as editor will be to maintain and build upon the strong work foundations laid out by our previous editors, Patricia Lange and Jordan Kramer, and our web producer, Angela VandenBroek. Over the past few years, they have established an agile, durable, collaborative publishing model, greatly expanded our readership, built a sophisticated technical infrastructure, and worked up an excellent-looking and functional redesign for the blog page itself. Together with the contributing editors, they’ve brought together an amazing collection of scholars to participate in vital conversations about a huge range of ethnographic, theoretical, and practical issues. This blog wouldn’t be what it is without their tireless efforts, and I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to continue their work.

Duck-billed platypus engraving, 1853.

Actual image of your incoming editor hard at work (Public domain | Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to our existing, regularly-scheduled weekly posts, the contributing editors and I are cooking up a couple of new formats for this year, as well. The blog has always relied heavily on community involvement, and has been the stronger for it, and these will hopefully be no different.

The first, as you may have already noticed, is a weekly round-up of news stories, open access published material, and internet ephemera that we think will be interesting to Platypus readers. The editorial collective is casting our individual nets wide, but we are only so many people, and like anyone else can tend to get siloed in our habitual media ecologies. As Platypus readers yourselves, the chances are that if you write or make something, or just stumble across something that strikes you as particularly cool, it will also be interesting to your peers. We’d love to have your help broadening our reach, and representing the work our readership, so please send any relevant links to editor@castac.org for inclusion in the round-up.

The second, following on the model laid out by Lisa Messeri’s illuminating Second Project Series, will be Thematic Series. The goal is to organize and curate tightly-focused conversations centering on key theoretical, methodological, or ethical issues in the study of science and technology. We’ve already had an insightful post in Lisa’s continuing series this year, and we will be launching another series on the relationship between anthropology and transhumanism in mid-February. Again, this is an excellent opportunity for blog readers to get involved. If you’ve got an intellectual itch that can’t quite be scratched through a single post, or through traditional scholarly publishing, please do get in touch at editor@castac.org and let’s talk about it!

Welcome to our New Contributing Editors!

In addition, I’d like to take the time to welcome four additional contributing editors to our staff for this year. They have a diverse range of ethnographic and theoretical competence, and I’m looking forward to learning a great deal from the posts they put together.

Evan Conaway is a graduate student in anthropology at UC Irvine, where is working on a dissertation project that examines how virtual world (or online game) servers, across time and space, come to be experienced and imagined not only as invisible digital infrastructure, but also as social places through engagements with memory and nostalgia, senses of ownership and belonging, and materiality. As an editor, Evan will be working on collecting posts related to these issues, as well as keeping us up to date with reflections on current events in science and technology.

Rebekah Cupitt is a graduate student at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Media, and Interaction Design. She is working on empirically-grounded account of Swedish sign-language speakers’ and Swedish speakers’ interactions (both human and non-human) within the context of video mediated communication in an state-run organisation, bringing a social anthropological perspective to human-computer interaction and focus on the broader social contexts in which interactions are embedded. As a contributing editor, Rebekah will aim to attract Europe-based researchers to further broaden the reach of CASTAC beyond the US and English-speaking countries. Topically, she will also work to to increase content that focuses on technology, disability, minorities and visuality, as well as the politics of technology and ethics of design.

Peter Taber is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Arizona. His work takes the example of biodiversity to understand the institutionalization of the environment as a political, economic and technical problem in Ecuador. Drawing on the infrastructure literature in STS and on the sociology of economics, his dissertation research charts how ‘economic externalities’ and ‘the environment’ are performed in the context of Amazonian oil development. At Platypus, he will focus on soliciting contributions that make cautious and detailed assessments of “the environment” as a contemporary object of political concern.

Lily Ye is a doctoral candidate in the department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on knowledge production and expertise in American educational interventions, and how the process of producing (paper and digital) technologies mediates the institutional organization of expertise. For Platypus, Lily will be working on a series of podcasts geared towards making STS intelligible to the general public. She will draw on her background in radio production to conduct interviews with STS scholars, breaking down their work into digestible terms and laying out their meaningful stakes for broader audiences.

Keep an eye out for their posts! And as always, thank you for your support and contributions to the blog, and I look forward to working with our community over the coming year. If you have an idea for a post, feel free to contact one of the contributing editors listed on our masthead directly. If you want to talk about a series, or general blog business, you can write me directly at editor@castac.org.

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