Category: Beyond the Academy

Disability Dongle

I created the term “Disability Dongle” in 2019 to draw attention to the phenomenon of design and engineering students and practitioners who prototype “innovative” disability solutions. The definition satirizes an outcome in which designs or technologies “for” disabled people garner mainstream attention and accolades despite valid concerns disabled people have about them.  (read more...)

Moving Towards Disability

December 3rd is the UN’s International Day for People with Disabilities. The theme of 2021 was “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”. Of course, 2021 has hardly been a post-COVID world; and the social and health effects of the pandemic continue to place people with disabilities at risk. According to the UN, days of recognition work to celebrate, educate, and ‘mobilize political will’ (https://www.un.org/en/observances). These days of recognition are often for complex problems and, as CASTAC’s 2020 post says, the next question is What Happens The Day After? (Borodina 2020). This year I would like to present a brief case for how and why we, in STS and anthropology, can take up Disability as a lived reality and analytic for our work. I discuss disability as a category and its implications and then present two possible frameworks for its incorporation. (read more...)

Coming Soon: The MultiRepository

This post introduces a new collaborative project coming soon to CASTAC: an archive of online platforms that highlights how researchers have utilized different communicative modes and media in qualitative research and creative work, including in journalism and the arts. Think about how you usually encounter a researcher’s findings, a journalist’s account of an important event, or news of an artist’s latest work. In the early 20th century, you would often do so by reading an article in a newspaper, magazine, book, or academic journal. And although these publications might include pictures, graphs, and cartoons, they often emphasized textual ways of conveying information and ideas. Nowadays, an increasing number of researchers, journalists, and artists use multiple media technologies—often digital—to conduct and publicize their work, including text, graphics, and video, among others. Using and combining broader arrays of communication technologies reflects current media practices, but it also gives researchers and other professionals (read more...)

Through Mother’s Eyes: Subjectivity Reimagines Technology in Documentary Film

Anthropology and documentary are shaped by integrating subjectivity with philosophical and ethical questions. This post draws from an interview with filmmaker Natalia Almada and sound designer Dave Cerf, a couple with two young children, about their new film, Users (2021), winner of the 2021 Sundance Documentary Directing award. In contrast to Almada’s prior films which are deeply rooted in Mexico, this cinematic documentary seems unbounded by geography, taking as its starting point a mother’s interrogation of the effects of technology on humanity and earth. This interview focuses on how the structuring choices of filming and editing afforded an opportunity to generate a novel sense of the epic nature of the domestic sphere on par with the vastness of wasteland and sea. (read more...)

Innocent images? The ethics of sharing your children’s photos online

There are collections of embarrassing childhood photos stashed in most parents’ homes. Everyone remembers an instance when those photos unexpectedly appeared in ways that were awkward or humiliating, such as in a graduation slideshow or the stereotyped first-date-meets-the-parents scenario. For previous generations, those images were hard-copy, faded, dog-eared, and easy to hide under your bed. They also came in limited supply, due to the costs of cameras, film, and film processing. For today’s children (and parents), things are different. We create more images thanks to the cameras on mobile phones, share them more widely through the internet, and have no idea how to destroy them. In this evolving sociotechnical reality, what should parents do? Should we succumb to the social pressure to share online photos of our children’s most adorable and incriminating moments, thereby “sharenting”? (And even make money from it, as social media influencers?) Or should we respect our children’s right to privacy and control over images of themselves? (read more...)

Video Games, Mental Health, and the Complicated Nature of Playing

He melted into the shadows, pressing the ‘E’ key on his keyboard, activating his stealth skill, allowing his form to vanish into the grass around him and making him invisible to his prey. A short distance away, in the dense forest tree line, a group of adventurers waited for the established sign: a flare! That flare marked that the cloaked figure had achieved his task of poisoning the nearby camp’s healing pool, a vital resource in this war against their enemy.  For many of these participants, video games are mechanisms that bring them together digitally, often forming a bond that lasts for many years. The scene above is familiar to many, including myself. In fact, the spirit of gaming is something I have lived since I was young. Perhaps it was my early involvement in video games that guided me to consider them as a professional. As a mental health professional with a background in anthropology, I have long been interested in the intersection of video games and mental health. Over the past 15 years, my interest has been framed by my clinical experiences as a therapist. As part of my wider conversation about video games and mental health, I hold a weekly online forum about mental health depictions in video games and then mental health among gamers. While games are often demonized for their association with addiction and violence, I find that some of the things that help link video games to negative associations also have the opportunity to help address some people’s social and mental health concerns. (read more...)

Our Governor Resigned via Facebook: #RickyRenuncia, Puerto Rico’s Summer of Protest

On July 13th, the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (Center for Investigative Journalism) leaked 889 pages of a Telegram App chat between the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló and eleven cabinet members and aides. The 889 pages were full of misogynist, homophobic, and classist comments about political figures, journalists, artists like Ricky Martin, and average citizens. They mocked the victims of hurricane María, which left 4,645 dead, saying “don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows?” Memes citing the most egregious statements quickly began circulating through social media alongside early calls for the governor to resign. But beyond such insulting statements, the chat revealed complex corruption schemes and provided evidence of persecution of the governor’s political opponents. (read more...)

SciCom: The Slippery Business of STEM Promotion

“One thing is certain: When something is scientifically complex, it’s harder to understand and to communicate” (sciencebranding.com). Regardless of its accuracy, this is a commonly repeated sentiment across many public domains. However, this particular claim was produced within the branch of marketing known as Science Communications with the peculiar intent of convincing drug companies they need to hire “creatives” to extol the virtues of biochemistry to physicians. This is just one manifestation of the Science Communications field, which includes academic journals, NGOs, and PR firms. Armed with the more edgy truncation “SciCom” (or SciComm), the field increasingly resembles other promotional paradigms such as experience design (UX) and immersion marketing, wherein the goal is to seamlessly weave advertising into the condition of being alive. (read more...)