Category: General

Key Insights for Thinking and Doing Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Work: Contributions from Latin America

In April 2021, the First ESOCITE-LALICS Conference took place, albeit virtually. This was the first virtual Conference organized with the collaboration of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y Tecnología (ESOCITE) and Red Latinoamericana para el Estudio de los Sistemas de Aprendizaje, Innovación y Construcción de Competencias (LALICS). Importantly, the two organizations have different profiles: if LALICS aims to deepen the links between innovation processes, national/regional development, innovation systems, learning processes, and capacity building in the region, ESOCITE’s goal is to strengthen linkages across members of the community of social studies of science and technology in Latin America. (read more...)

Days of Their Lives: The Limits, Possibilities, and Parallels of Media-Ted Research during a Pandemic

On a regular day, a Hindi soap opera production set in Mumbai is home to upwards of 100 artists and technicians – production associates, actors, make-up artists, costume artists, lighting technicians, assistant directors, creatives, and spot boys.  Their collective efforts ensure that audiences have new episodes to look forward to daily. Come rain, hail, or shine, through collaborations and conflicts, together they build melodramatic worlds that entertain millions of households in India. But what happens when the meaning of “regular” is redefined? What happens when even two become a crowd? When the first wave of COVID-19 hit Mumbai in March 2020, it brought, among other things, the Hindi soap opera industry to a halt. Daily production activities of soap operas across channels were abruptly paused. Sets had to be abandoned in haste when a citywide lockdown was announced. The absence of film work meant that workers would go without payments (read more...)

Swarming Syphilis: On the Reality of Data

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) Syphilis, an infection caused by the bacterium treponema pallidum, is an important disease. It starts as a skin lesion and develops until it deforms bones, compromises the central nervous system, and ultimately causes death. During pregnancy, the disease can also be transmitted from mother to child. It has accompanied our species at least since the Renaissance and generated various innovations in modern science throughout this history. It helped give rise to serology through the Wasserman Reaction (Fleck 2010), the first detection test, and it was crucial for the consolidation of somatological perspectives of mental illnesses in psychiatry (Carrara and Carvalho 2010). Due to sexual transmission of the disease, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it became the evil venereal illness par excellence in restrictive sexual regimes (Fleck 2010; Quetel 1986). Since that time, syphilis has laid the foundations for codes of social conduct and even for ideas of the “self” in western societies, for example in criminalizing prostitution (Carrara 1996; Bastos 2007) and shaping contagion theories and its relations of body-subject (Echeverría 2010). (read more...)

Maps as Cultural Objects

In the Digital Age, maps are closer to us than ever before—a quick tap on a smartphone and you’re off to the nearest Starbucks for a quick coffee stop. Like other popular technologies, maps are critical tools that we use to interact with and understand the world around us. They are simplified depictions of our surroundings, crafted from human experience and made for a purpose. Maps cannot be disconnected from the minds and cultures that decide what to depict, where, and how. Purely factual tools of navigation on the surface, maps transmit and reinforce cultural understandings of our place in the world. (read more...)

Centavitos Against Food Insecurity: Structural Violence, Charity, and Technical Fixes in Guatemala

On March 23rd, 2021, the 2020 yearly results for the “Gran Cruzada Nacional por la Desnutrición” (Great National Crusade for Malnutrition) were presented in a press conference held in the Guatemalan National Palace. For a little over an hour, several ministers made short speeches about the success of their activities related to programs attempting to prevent food insecurity in the country. After, a company highlighted a donation for acquiring a nutritionally improved flour to complement children’s diets. The event ended with some words from the Guatemalan president, Alejandro Giammattei. He explained that lowering malnutrition rates in Guatemala is a communal effort that must be carried out by civil society, business, and the government. He then invited national banks to institute a new campaign in which account holders donate the leftover “little cents” (centavitos) from their bank account balance each month. (read more...)

Land, Property, Technology: Exploring Blockchain as Infrastructural Promise

In my work, I explore the ways in which blockchain technology has been utilized for formalizing land rights in emerging economies. Currently, in these economies, there is a turn towards using digital technologies for recording the relationships between people and land and coordinating and displaying those data for efficient governance. On the one hand, blockchain registries could reduce manipulation of land records and reduce the number of intermediaries: as records on blockchain are distributed and verified by a multitude of nodes in a digital network and as additions to the chain of blocks are cryptographically time-stamped, tampering or accidental data loss are less likely as compared to centralized databases. At the same time, my research suggests that such technology applications should be also studied as infrastructural assemblages that are embedded in older, non-digital modalities and the peopled infrastructures of historically and culturally specific informal networks. These structures behave in more complex ways that are frequently led by the development industry and technology companies investing in technology-mediated financial inclusion initiatives. These areas of research present an exciting frontier for the anthropology of technoscience. (read more...)

Multiple Modes of Being Human

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) In the last couple of years, I have been toying around with the ideas of “modes of humanism,” “inventing new modes of being human,” and modes of existence, such as data swarms and the pre-, post-, and transhuman. However, I was never really able to wrap my head around the question, what it really means when Bergson, Simondon, and others speak about the possibilities of “new modes of being human.” Modes of being human signify a multiplicity of possible forms of being human. These forms differ historically and culturally. (read more...)

Thinking with a Database

In 2019, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority notified television channels that they were not allowed to host the Pakistani Senator Hafiz Hamdullah on air. The reason: Hamdullah had been declared a “confirmed alien,” and his identity card had been “digitally impounded” by Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). NADRA began operations in 2000 by launching a biometric (fingerprints, facial, and iris recognition) computerized national identity card (CNIC). At NADRA, custom-made software integrates and verifies data from individuals as well as kin units, determining who is and is not a Pakistani citizen. (read more...)