Category: Series

Technologies of Equal Participation: Formats, Designs, Practices. Introduction.

Listen to an audio recording of this piece read by Svetlana Borodina Only today, an unremarkable Friday morning in March 2022 (the day when I was writing this text), my participation has been requested at least eight times. On my way to work, as I was running down the stairs to catch a train, through the sound of music coming from my headphones I caught, “Please make sure to vote!” This was followed by a faint addition: “if you are a voter.” As I purchased coffee in a corner shop right outside the subway, the screen solicited my participation in their customer satisfaction survey: “What can we improve?” At work, as I sat down and opened my email, I saw that the NYC Parks and Rec Department had sent out a new batch of volunteering opportunities; a colleague had sent an invitation to participate in a round table next month; and a friend working on their UX portfolio had sent a link to a survey for an app they’d been working on (“What kind of problems do I run into in my commute?”). Meanwhile, my family’s WhatsApp chat was filling up with the regular, “Sveta, are you even here?” messages, complaining about my lack of participation in conversations. A gofundme campaign to crowdfund struggling refugees and a friend’s paper silently awaited their time, too. (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...)

Disability Dongle

I created the term “Disability Dongle” in 2019 to draw attention to the phenomenon of design and engineering students and practitioners who prototype “innovative” disability solutions. The definition satirizes an outcome in which designs or technologies “for” disabled people garner mainstream attention and accolades despite valid concerns disabled people have about them.  (read more...)

Extractivism en Papier: Chronotopes of Settler-Colonial Capitalism in Australia

What if the greatest legacy of uranium mining is not its localized radioactive toxicity, but the seemingly mundane set of bureaucratic practices it catalysed? In this post, I reflect on the late 1970s origins of Ranger Uranium Mine located on Mirarr country in remote northern Australia, as revealed in a secret institutional archive. In particular, I focus on the hidden practices that clotted during this timeframe, and how they have structured Indigenous-state extractive relations in Australia ever since. This apparently benign spatiotemporal assemblage of textual, material, and social practices, which I have suggested is a chronotope, is in some ways as insidious as the contamination typically associated with this uranium mine. (read more...)

Ethnographies of Nuclear Life: From Victimhood to Post-Victimization

Iitate village, located in Fukushima Prefecture, is typical of rural Japanese hamlets. One finds large arable lands buttressed by imposing mountains that dazzle with emerald-green colors. Iitate fits perfectly this postcard image that many tourists have of rural Japan, with just one difference: among the fields of green are over a million and a half vinyl bags filled with radioactive tainted soils. Rows of black plastic bags, piled on top of each other, form Mayan-like pyramids as far as the eyes can see. (read more...)

Complicating Disability: On the Invisibilization of Chronic Illness throughout History

At the time of writing, the world is entering the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus is causing cases to surge in numerous countries, media and public health narratives have been dominated by speculation that the virus appears to cause less severe illness and fewer deaths, and that this is the natural trajectory of a pandemic nearing its end: a virus continues to mutate and gradually evolves to be more transmissible and less virulent, eventually becoming endemic and mundane. Much of the general public has taken up the rhetoric of public health agencies, which assert that we should be encouraged by the fact that severe illness and death from the virus almost exclusively occur in the unvaccinated and those with pre-existing conditions (Dickinson 2022; Mateus and Murray 2022; Ominous 2022). This is necropolitics: society has designated it acceptable for certain groups of people to die (Mbembe 2019). (read more...)

Queered Ruptures: The Politics of Anti-irradiation Maternalism in the TEPCO Nuclear Disaster, Kokutai, and Hentai

It is August 2018 and Ishikawa Chiharu and I are sitting down for tea in an herbalist cafe in Fukushima prefecture. We are reflecting on a recent workshop I had organized with my friend N, a professionally trained dancer, for youth in the anti-irradiation space Chiharu organizes. Commenting on how N began her workshop with a short performance, Chiharu says, Thinking normally, that kind of self-expression is something to be embarrassed of Even if it’s small, I think it would be nice to have a place that tells it’s okay for them not to kill a part of themselves. That’s why when very little was emerging out of Fukushima prefecture, the people who tried to take action were really a little hentai… This essay reflects on the significance of Chiharu’s description of herself and other women active in anti-irradiation efforts as hentai. It reflects on the sense that Japanese mothers who take issue with nuclear reconstruction in late capitalist Japan are perverse and aberrant. (read more...)

Reactions and Ruptures: Ethnographies of Nuclear Life

In one sense, nuclear materials direct our attention to the vibrancy and reactivity of all material life. Nuclear elements such as uranium, radium, thorium, and plutonium regularly leak electrons during the process known as radioactive decay or nuclear disintegration, intra-acting and transforming themselves and others in unpredictable ways (see Barad 2007). At the same time, nuclear events and places are also often framed as ruptures, whether in the form of nuclear weapons detonations, nuclear disaster inquiries, the creation of new nuclear power or waste projects, or the founding of new mines to unearth nuclear elements. From this perspective, nuclear events such as the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster somehow signal a break, implying that before, the Fukushima region was untouched by disruptive energies and effects of the nuclear. A nuclear actor enters, causes a break, and leaves worlds permanently altered. (read more...)