Category: Research

Harnessing Indeterminacy: The Technopolitics of Hydrocarbon Prospects

Amidst an international crisis sparked by the scandalous confessions of a mafia boss and a pollution and climate change-triggered marine disaster at the Marmara Sea in May and June 2021, Turkey’s Minister of Energy made consecutive announcements of oil and gas discovery (among other valuable minerals such as gold) in Turkey’s offshore waters and onshore lands. Mainstream and state-owned media reported these discoveries as steps in Turkey’s economic wealth and resource independence to come. Critics, however, seemed to think that the announcements were just a ploy to detract attention from Turkey’s real political and economic problems. Following the reactions on social media from Chicago, I was struck by how many people seemed to think that these “discoveries” were actually fake. Many mocked the news about gas discovery in the Black Sea by sarcastically asking if there was an election on the horizon or if a bitcoin mine discovery was next (read more...)

Knowledge Production, Toxic Corporate Capital, and the Anthropologist’s Entangled Ethics

The dominant disciplinary literature on cultures and practices of extractivism relies on a separation of “the field,” and the insights gained there, from our professional lives as anthropologists in an academy culturally and socially situated in the “Global North.” Increasingly, such distinctions fail to hold as the consequences of extractivism and the conflicts that it produces arrive at the doorstep of the anthropologist’s place of work. I wrote this piece as I grappled with how to frame the effects of toxicity from gold mining in ways that fully accounted for its vast reach beyond “the field” and beyond the material forms (gaseous, liquid, sludgy, in blood levels, as illness symptoms) that I expected it to take. In grappling with the extensive nature of mining toxicity, events occurred to shift my attention to the transnational webs of capital, and the forms of life such toxicity generates. I began to ask: Beyond (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...)

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...)

Angelology and Technoscience

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) The study of angels, angelology, is seldomly taken seriously. Instead, it is seen as the topic of ridicule, exemplifying the irrelevancy and unworldliness of some academic questions: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Why would angels have knees? Do angels have sexes? Further, angels often reference disembodiment and neutrality, ideas any decent posthuman scholar seems to abhor. Nevertheless, I would argue that angels are a fruitful way to critically assess our posthuman condition. Angels embody a number of valued characteristics of our posthuman selves, but also a number of transformations in how science is currently practiced– what I would like to call technoscience. Technoscience refers then to a range of new disciplines, such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology, robotics, or data science. These are new disciplines where classic distinctions between science and technology, nature and artifact, are disappearing. Posthuman thought and technoscience have remarkable similarities, but, in contrast to posthumanism, our attitude towards technoscience is ambivalent. Do we really want that kind of science for our future? Or, differently put, do we really want to become angels? (read more...)

The Shifting Borders of Value: Water and Wellbeing along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Is access to water a right? Should water be free? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that? This is exactly what surrounds the discourse of water use along the US-Mexico border and the way these questions are being addressed may surprise you. Water use in the U.S-Mexico border region has long been a tense topic, driven by stress placed on water supplies in an arid environment by agriculture and industry. The movement of water through the borderlands, as an economic resource and as an essential human good, has impacted many aspects of border life. The way water is handled in free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has caused tensions to rise. In Mexico, the privatization of water pushed by these trade agreements has created friction with the concept of water as a human right and water as a commodity. Water acts as a medium to observe the movement of resources through borders; such movement over border lines then transforms this natural fixture into a tradeable resource. The encounters with the rivers of the border region bring attention to how these movements are not as free as an idealized vision might have it, especially the visions of those who argue for a globalized world. Like human beings, water is traced from its source to the multitude of spaces it is destined to go and flagged for adequate use. With climate change looming, water issues and broader environmental impacts on transborder activity will become stark; some may argue they already have. (read more...)

Girls, Gadgets, and Gatekeepers: What is Ethical Feminist Fieldwork When Working with Children?

There is no Institutional Review Board (IRB) or equivalent body in India. The ethics of research are left to the purview of researchers, their supervisors, and departments. Therefore, as an international PhD student, I first encountered the IRB when planning my MA project at UC Irvine, where I investigated the intersectional effects of gender and class within the family, and how they shape differential access to mobile phones for adolescents in urban India. (read more...)

Cargo Ships and Comrades: On the Occasion of the Beached Ever Given

In 2018, we took a cargo ship from Barcelona to New York City and made a short film called Slop Chest [1] about the blurry distinction between work and leisure when you live where you work—and can’t leave. Here, we describe some of our experiences on board, drawing resonances between the labor practices in international shipping and in Amazon’s warehouses. Writing while the cargo ship Ever Given is blocking all trade through the Suez Canal and while Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, are preparing to count votes in favor of unionization, we speculate about how these two events resonate. What are contours of this conjuncture? There are three separate crews on board our ship: the officers, the engineers, and the deck crew who are responsible for maintaining the ship and keeping watch. The captain is Polish and the officers are similarly white and eastern European. The engineers are mostly the (read more...)