Category: Series

The Shitty Affairs of British Colonialism in Malaya: Manicuring “Native” Agriculture through Race-Specific Livestock Interbreeding

In January 2020, I accidentally came across a series of photographs at the UK National Archives documenting agricultural and livestock experimentation in 1930-1940s British Malaya. The peculiarity of these photographs was striking. British Malaya was infamous for a rigid racial division of displaced and relocated labor in the service of colonial extraction, with Chinese laboring in tin mines and Indians working on plantations. The Malays, indigenous communities of Malaya, were marginalized from colonial extractive industries based on the racialized myth of the “lazy native,” depicted as cultivators of padi (rice fields). Instead, these photographs depicted Indian, Malay, and Chinese as farmers or agricultural assistants operating in different sectors of the small-scale “native” agriculture of Malaya. These photographs aim to capture agricultural and livestock improvement techniques, such as plot flattening, budgrafting, or interbreeding, and are most often succinctly described in reference to food productivity, profitability, and technical innovation in the field of small-scale agrarian and animal husbandry practices. (read more...)

Co-signature Event Context: Toward a Participatory Electronic Health Record

The days of doctors scratching illegible notes in charts fated to hide in obscure files never read by another soul is long gone. Over the last two decades, paper charts have nearly disappeared as the evolution of the electronic health record (EHR) has come to dominate the healthcare environment not only in the US, but globally. The health record performs multiple types of labor. It serves to facilitate communication in medical care or research; it is a legal document and a record to justify billing. A new diagnosis and billing code must make its first entry into the medical record accompanied by the signature of a clinician authorized to determine this diagnosis. After this initial entry, non-professional personnel may then use this diagnosis for any of the above purposes (communication, billing, legal). This blog post explores how developments like the patient portal of the EHR create new opportunities for interpretation, (read more...)

Fetishes or Cyborgs? Religion as technology in the Afro-Atlantic space

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé, Umbanda or Xangô, are a cluster of religious practices that originated mostly in West Africa, especially in Yorubaland (Nigeria and Benin), but also in Congo and Angola. Similar to other Afro-diasporic religions (i.e. Vodou in Haity and Santeria in Cuba), Candomblé shares many elements with West African traditional religious practices, like the names and characteristics of their deities (called orixás in Brazilian Portuguese and òrìṣà in Yoruba). These deities embody elements of the natural landscape and atmospheric phenomena that are regarded as personas with their own material and spiritual agency. However, in the whole Afro-Atlantic space the most important common trait is the presence fabricated objects. After a ritual procedure they become the bodies and the material manifestation of the deities themselves. These objects, often referred to as “fetishes,” represent the point of mediation between the material and the spiritual world (Meyer 2012: 15). Indeed, Western conception of materiality is often charged with moral implications, opposed to the pure and transcendent qualities of the spirit (Espírito Santo 2010). Conversely, in Afro-Atlantic religions, objects, elements and atmospheric phenomena are considered to be alive or to have a certain individuality, will or personality, in a way that the scientific Western thought would consider unacceptable. (read more...)

Ways of Looking: Alternative Encounters with Art and Artifacts

“When we encounter something beautiful, we usually experience two kinds of reactions. One may be moved by learning the background of the work or the artist, while the other one is an emotional excitement we feel for no apparent reason.”— Suntory Museum of Art. One would guess that this quote is based on theories of lateralization, stating that the right hemisphere of the brain controls emotion, while the left hemisphere is dominant in language expression. While there is evidence that discounts the left/right brain concept, many people still believe in this distinction and that their preference for reason or emotion may be genetic. Held at the Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo, Japan, from April 27 to June 2, 2019, “Information or Inspiration? Japanese aesthetics to enjoy with the left side and right side of the brain” plays with this debate in brain science and invites visitors to experience art via two routes: the information route and the inspiration route. (read more...)

Making the Invisible Seen: The Infrastructure of Modern Groundwater Governmentality in Taiwan

In 2009, the Taiwan High Speed Railway Company (THSR) claimed that severe land subsidence in Changhua and Yunlin counties was compromising and damaging the structural integrity of the railway. The THSR urged the government to regulate the over-pumping of groundwater in the region, which was seen as culpable for the land subsidence, in order to guarantee the safety of the rail users. Since the agricultural wells constitute a significant proportion of the total wells in these two counties, the safety issue became an issue of “water-justice” – local farmers have accused the Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant owned by the Formosa Plastic Corporation of exploiting Yunlin’s surface water thereby forcing them to pump groundwater. To tamper farmers’ sentiments, the central government announced that according to a relevant survey, land subsidence was caused by deep wells, rather than farmers’ shallow wells. Therefore, the government would not forbid the pumping of groundwater by farmers in Changhua and Yunlin county. (read more...)

“I’m Not an Anti-Vaxxer, I Just Don’t Want This Vaccine”: Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy among Pregnant Women

“The world isn’t made up of good people and death eaters.” -JK Rowling The world isn’t made up of people who choose to vaccinate and those who are vehemently opposed. With the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding has changed rapidly. With the development of three effective vaccinations, there has emerged a group of people that exhibit what has been dubbed “vaccine hesitancy.” This is a relatively new phenomenon in terms of new vaccination–the uptake, for example, of the polio vaccination in the early 1950s, was more immediate and widespread. The Zika epidemic also provides an interesting contrast to the current situation as well. I use these examples simply as a foil to the current pandemic and draw a number of interesting similarities and differences. (read more...)

Regulating Misinformation from the Global South

India is among the top three internet markets internationally with nearly seven hundred million users. What can debates in India about protecting user privacy under right-wing authoritarian political regimes highlight about social media platforms and the spread of misinformation? In February 2021, the Indian Information Technology, Law and Justice Minister announced wide-ranging regulations over social media firms, streaming services, and digital news outlets that require firms to enable traceability of end-to-end encrypted messages, acknowledge takedown requests of unlawful, misleading, and violent content within twenty-four hours, and deliver a complete redressal within fifteen days. Less sensitive cases, such as those engaging explicit sexual content, are required to be removed within twenty-four hours, and companies are required to establish local offices staffed with senior officials to deal with law enforcement and user grievances. These new regulations pose new challenges for technology giants which count India, Asia’s third-largest economy, as a key overseas market. These gains increasingly struggle with Prime Minister Modi’s government as his promise of muscular economic progress increasingly reveals itself to be ambivalent economic nativism. (read more...)

On Drones and Ectoplasms: Breath of Gaia

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) How do concepts such as the human condition, human mind, or collectivity transform in a technologically enmeshed world? And how is our understanding of relationality and agency changed in the context of hybrid tech and built infrastructures, networked systems of control? This ongoing project constitutes an artistic performative reflection on the entanglement between human agency and technological advances. In this project, the artist[1] focuses on aerial multicopter technological systems—also known as drones—emphasizing the idea of interdependency and control within human-nonhuman systems, which are capable of informing the sustainable and collective futures of our world. (read more...)