Category: Research

Viral Entanglements in Malaysian Porcine Worlds

Listen to an audio recording of this piece read by Kymberley Chu Content warning: This blog post contains photos of factory farming that viewers may find distressing.   Pigs squeal and scream as they lie down in group pens. The humid air in the foreground, the farm’s pipes churn out pig waste into the nearby river. This is Kampung Selamat, an industrialized area known for factory farming in mainland Penang, Malaysia. Its river, known as Sungai Kreh, is the living chronology of industrialized pollution. Since the 1980s, the river has turned from bright blue to lime green as 72 pig farms discharge antibiotics, pig feces, and pig carcasses into the water. The foul stench and waste reveal how intertwined pig lives are with the personal livelihood of Kampung Selamat’s villagers over time. (read more...)

Thinking in Constellations: Problematizing Indigeneity in the Atacama Desert, Chile

. In October 2021, I flew from the capital of Chile to the driest desert in the world—the Atacama Desert, a place with a long history of colonialism and extractivism. I was 12 years old the first time I visited as part of a family trip that lasted one month. We traveled by car 2000 km, so it was exhausting but also unforgettable. I remember our fleeting time in Calama city in the Antofagasta region to continue the journey to San Pedro de Atacama, a town in the Atacama salt flat basin where “atacameño” communities  (one of the ten “native peoples” recognized by the Chilean state since 1995) live. (read more...)

Revisiting Human-Machine Relationships and Efforts of Feminist STS

Alexa, Bixby, the GPS voice, Siri.… AI (Artificial Intelligence) assistants, which operate through algorithms and also produce them, have restructured our everyday lives: from listening to music to getting a sense of where we are (if the GPS is working properly). For users, these “assistants” have become integral parts of our everyday lives. Human-machine communication, in turn, has become more intimate than ever before. However, little effort has been made to understand this intimacy between humans and machines. Instead, much attention has been centered on the increasing obsolescence of technology, as newer models and gadgets enter the market. To recognize machines as sociable and understand human-machine relationships from a different perspective, I revisit feminist STS (Science and Technology Studies) scholars’ works. Furthermore, I look at smartphones, which are usually only considered as hosts for the immaterial AI, as social. (read more...)

People Are Not Fixed Media

Listen to an audio recording of this post as read by Ritwik Banerji Sensory ethnography continually emphasizes that the sensorium is just as much a (product of) sociocultural practice as it is a biophysiological property of the human species (Pink 2015). Recognition of this point has prompted several shifts in ethnographic work. On the one hand, it has pushed ethnographers to include in their writing a greater discussion of how subjects engage with the world through their senses as well as how the putatively biological phenomenon of sensory perception is so highly variable across and within sociocultural milieux. On the other, it has inspired ethnographers to pursue media practices beyond text, particularly through ethnographic film or sound recording (Feld 1991). Regardless of form, this work has greatly increased the possibility for the reader, listener, or viewer to experience with their senses the social environment that subjects inhabit and where the ethnographer conducted fieldwork. (read more...)

Climatic Futures and Tree Response-ability: Can Urban Forests Restore Human-Tree Relations?

How do we account for the agency of trees in our anthropocentric worlds? By what methods, representations, and relations of care can these sentient beings claim existence as more than data entry points and statistical figures? In this post, I turn our attention to the problem of the taken-for-granted responsibility of trees as a panacea for climate change and propose instead a practice of “thinking-with” and “becoming-with” trees (Haraway 2016). I focus on the ecological and ethical complexity of transposing tree ecologies as it overlooks questions of justice and climatic futures through the Miyawaki urban forests in Pakistani cities. Attention to “braided knowledge” (Kimmerer 2013) manifests not just in how trees are cared for in gardens and arboretums, but also in how urban forests are planned to make a city more inclusive, aesthetically pleasing, and healthier. Inspired by Haraway’s (2016, 34) insistence to take “response-ability” as “collective knowing and doing, an ecology of practices,” I invite us to “think-with” trees as markers of belonging, emotion, and wisdom for not only times past but for futures to come. (read more...)

​​Traveling but Not Arriving: Hieroglyphics of Caste in Computing

When I landed in Bangalore in early 2020, it was a long-awaited moment of my grad school journey. I had finally defended my proposal and was set to transition into fieldwork in the next couple of months. In my preparation for fieldwork, I had read many ethnographies, most of which had an arrival scene. It seemed that the first couple of weeks of entering a field site presented a crucial lever of juxtaposition for ethnographic writing that lends itself to evocative descriptions of the setting. The “arrival trope” has been long challenged in anthropology through accounts that complicate the narrative of an ethnographer entering an unperturbed native setting (Pratt 1986). Pratt also complicates the artificial distinction between personal narrative and “objective” description, particularly as they are blurred in moments of transition or arrival in ethnographies. For me, the trope of arrival was exciting despite all its problems because it finally gave me an opportunity to re-enter a world that I was familiar with and describe it on my own terms. I had worked as a software engineer before and now wanted to study gender and caste relations in the computing industry. Dalits, formerly seen as “untouchable” under the caste system, and other lower caste people, have been subjects of upper castes doing research for a very long time. I was looking forward to subverting the arrival trope as a Dalit woman doing ethnography where upper castes were my research subjects. I wanted to do this through participant observation in the computing industry that is highly dominated by upper castes. (read more...)

Netlicks and Chill: Digitalization and Food Politics in Taste the TV (TTTV) Technology

Digital technologies have increasingly penetrated aspects of daily routines and practices — this has only been exacerbated by the conditions put forth by the COVID-19 pandemic. Technologies mediate experiences, thereby generating new forms of engagement with the world (Ihde, 1990). One arena of such digitalization and increased technological entanglement is food; over the last decades, the processes of procuring, growing, preparing, and eating foodstuffs have been inundated with new technologies (Lewis, 2018). From cooking robots and “smart” kitchen appliances to virtual online communities devoted to sharing food-related content and discussing food politics, interactions with food have transformed considerably. These transformations warrant additional inquiries into how food and surrounding processes of tasting and eating may manifest differently in accordance with such technologically-intertwined conditions. (read more...)

Insights on Entrepreneurship and Non-Salaried Labor in Latin America

The problem of unemployment and underemployment in Argentina emerges as acutely pressing and very complex. The National Institute of Statistics and Censuses’ last report on Argentina shows some relevant data. 27.4% of 12 million of the economically active Argentinian population are non-salaried workers. At the same time, the unemployment rate is at 9.6%, and underemployment is at 12.4%. 40.6% of the population lives below the “poverty line” (INDEC, 2021). In 2017-2018, when I conducted field research in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian government had accrued significant debt with the International Monetary Fund, leading to profound economic and social adjustment policies, thus exacerbating these already pressing issues. Understanding the problem of the economic disenfranchisement of the Argentinian population is, however, a challenging task. Take, for example, the internationally acclaimed reports from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, known to reproduce hegemonic neoliberal ideology. Although informal work, self-employment, and unemployment feature (read more...)