Category: General

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...)

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...)

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...)

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...)

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...)

Generations: A Review of AusSTS2022 in Melbourne

In July 2022, early career and PhD Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholars met across four locations in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) for the fourth Australasian STS Graduate Network Conference (AusSTS2022). Attendees gathered virtually for shared keynote sessions and each node in Melbourne, Sydney, Darwin, and Wellington subsequently hosted their own programs, including short presentations and field trips. Our shared theme was “generation,” and AusSTS2022 urged us to reflect on the diverse meanings of this word as temporal, relational, bounded, and multiple, reconsidering the ethical practice of STS in times of crisis. As an interdisciplinary PhD researcher at Deakin University I attended the Melbourne node of AusSTS2022, which this blog post will recount and reflect on. (read more...)

All These Worlds Are Yours Except Europa: Building Colonies without Colonization

Beneath Europa’s frozen surface is an ocean thought to contain twice as much water than that on Earth (Planetary Science Communications Team 2021). Above its surface, temperatures are lethal, ranging from -210 degrees Fahrenheit to -370 degrees Fahrenheit (Planetary Science Communications Team 2021). This is the same moon of Jupiter which harbored indigenous life in Robinson’s 2312 (and was protected because of it) (2012). The same moon that Russian cosmonauts were warned to avoid in Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two (1982) due to its geologically unstable nature (fig. 1). The moon named after a Phonecian Princess, who was made the first Queen of Crete after she was abducted and raped by Zeus. (read more...)

Photoshopping Desire: Gender, Caste, and the “Authentic” Self

In an Instagram post by a photographer @photo_paparazzo, we see what the labor of creating a perfect picture looks like. The video, set to trending music, shows a woman in a bridal outfit being helped up a wooden ladder to the roof of a room on a terrace by three men. One of the men is holding a camera. Once the woman is on the roof, the photographer takes the mesh maroon-colored dupatta and wears it over his head, presumably to show the bride how to pose. The text on the video reads, “What goes behind creating that “ONE PERFECT SHOT” for our brides @photo_paparazzo.” The caption reads: “To one of the favourite parts of our job, creating EFFORTLESSLY beautiful portraits and memories for the brides to remember (cry-laughing emoji)…kudos to the team and most important each and every bride of @photo_paparazzo and being the sport of our creativity (red heart emoji).” The video ends with two stunning shots of the bride, captured in the golden yellow light from a setting sun (what is referred to as the golden hour). The video has amassed 6.7 million views, 970 thousand likes, and 1,571 comments. A cursory look at the comments reveals positive reception of the video. The comments range from the use of only emojis (fire emoji, red heart emojis, heart eyes emoji, among others) reflecting appreciation to more overt comments acknowledging and recognizing the efforts put in by the photographers. One particular comment on the post, however, deviates from this general trend and points out how the same effect could have been achieved using far simpler techniques that did not require the bride to be helped up a rickety ladder. Part of the comments reads, “You guys could have easily went to any open space and put her on a stool or something .” The OP (Original Poster) replies to the commenter, “Simple things don’t get you extra ordinary results (upside down smiley emoji).” Another commenter adds to this discourse, “ is photoshop is made for joke 3min work with 2022 edition .” (read more...)