Category: Series

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Confluences of the Domestic

Much of the water that enters homes in metro Guadalajara, Jalisco is toxic. Water from the tap is used to wash dishes and water plants, but for decades it’s been dangerous to drink. In this sonic ethnography, we hear contaminated water hitting plates used for a meal and evaporating from vegetables as a pan heats on a stove. A woman explains which brands of bottled water are safer, more trustworthy; some, she says, are appropriate for drinking, while others should only be used to wash vegetables. We hear bodies of water referred to as both rivers and sewers. (read more...)

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Aquatic Attractions

Forty years ago, four hippos arrived in Colombia. Drug trafficker Pablo Escobar illegally imported them as part of his project to build an open-door zoo at Hacienda Naples, his enormous farm located in the Magdalena River Basin. Among many other luxuries and eccentricities, the farm housed 1,200 animals. It also included artificial lakes where the aquatic animals lived. After Escobar’s death in 1993, when the Hacienda Napoles was abandoned, most of the animals died due to lack of care, and others were transferred to other zoos. Only the hippos remained, sheltering in the lakes. In Colombia, over 160 hippos inhabit various locations. Some reside in areas formerly part of Hacienda Napoles, while others are dispersed along the Magdalena River. (read more...)

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Attend the Rains

Each night and day in the industrial port of Ciudad del Carmen (Campeche, Mexico), dozens of Pemex oil platform workers roll their small suitcases across the concrete as they approach the dock to board ships that will take them to offshore platforms for two-week shifts. At any given moment, seventeen thousand people live and work aboard the ships and platforms in aging infrastructure. On land, dozens of logistics workers spend their days observing. They watch the movement of people and the movement of the weather. They then record it and make decisions based on what they note. Constant transport—from workers to provisions and materials—is required to maintain a constant drilling rhythm, and all needs to happen according to schedule, a task made more complicated by the volatile weather conditions that characterize the Gulf of Mexico. (read more...)

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Water, Energy, and Youth in the Orinoco River, Colombia

July is part of the heavy rainfall season of South America’s northernmost savannas, known since colonial times as the Llanos (Plains/Grasslands) and, more recently, from a biogeographical perspective, as the Colombian-Venezuelan Orinoquia. During the “winter”/rainy months, the abundance of water everywhere makes audible the sounds of boots and motorcycles crossing flooded pastures and streets, thunders, downpours on the predominant zinc roof tiles, migratory birds, and outboard motors of the many boats traveling along tributaries that at another time of the year will almost entirely disappear. Audio recordings taken during the long six months of “summer”/drought, between November and April when no drop falls on the plains, would radically differ. (read more...)

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Introduction

Inspired by Feld’s (2015) work on sound, in this collection of essays, we bring five ethnographers from Latin America to think about their research through the sounds of their respective field sites. The exercise we propose here borrows Feld’s concept of ‘acoustemology’ to help frame our approach towards the aural dimensions of a place: Acoustemology conjoins ‘acoustics’ and ‘epistemology’ to theorize sound as a way of knowing. In doing so, it inquires into what is knowable and how it becomes known through sounding and listening. Acoustemology begins with acoustics to ask how the dynamism of sound’s physical energy indexes its social immediacy. It asks how the physicality of sound is so instantly and forcefully present to experience and experiencers, to interpreters and interpretations. (p. 12) (read more...)

Belly Versus Bin: How Digital Autoethnography Brought Me Back From the Brink of Disordered Eating

Content and Trigger Warning: This post contains commentary and reflections about disordered eating. In September 2019, I responded to an advertisement by a Dutch university for a PhD student interested in the policy and societal aspects of food waste valorisation. With a strong interest in sustainable food systems and an academic background in food supply chains and regulatory affairs, I seemed to fit the bill. I had not studied food waste before, but I felt a strong moral connection to the subject and the idea of investigating ways to better utilise food waste as a resource appealed to me. Following a successful interview, I was appointed to work on the project for a period of four years. In the months that followed, I dove head-first into literature on food waste. I learned that one third of all food produced on the planet ends up as waste while one in three people (read more...)

Making Companion Species at a Robotics Lab

I spent many a warm summer day holed up inside a robotics laboratory, analyzing various datasets for my Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) research project. The room was often dark and the windows were small. My desk, located in the left corner furthest from the entrance, rarely received any sunlight. On several days, the lab would be empty. I’d be left with nothing but the company of browning tube lights, dangling cables and wires, and robots used in the lab’s Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) experiments. (read more...)

Hippocrates Against Protocols: Experiments, Experience, and Evidence-Based Medicine in Brazil

In this text, I address processes in which science is being claimed, shaken, disputed, and unpredictably rearticulated in Brazil’s medical field. Specifically, I consider denialist practices and movements during the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on an ethnographic approach to a variety of actions by medical groups and institutions that are critical of vaccination against Covid-19 and instead defend the use of drugs (considered ineffective by others) for the “early treatment” of the disease, I seek to highlight how their practices rearticulate, transform, and dispute new meanings, values, and practices of science, rather than simply reject it. Although they are publicly named by the media and scientists as denialists, their practices and discourses, as well as the repercussions of their actions, do not seem to be well explained by mere vulnerability to misinformation, lack of understanding of the technical aspects of the disease, or even the supposedly self-explanatory diagnosis of a frankly anti-science position. On the contrary, as I demonstrate in this essay, these groups resort to different constructions of science to produce their arguments and defend themselves against criticism. They do this by repositioning the content and legitimacy of the evidence on different axes than those of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM), while at the same time, claiming EBM’s authority. In this sense, the following question animates this text: since the practices of these doctors can be recognized as denialist, how can this concept refer to something beyond a simple and direct refusal of everything that is usually called “science”? (read more...)