Category: Series

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...)

Becoming a Socialite: How Virtual “Fakeness” Produces Material Realities among Urban Chinese Gay Men

On Chinese gay dating apps, “fake profiles” are a constant concern: photos might have been altered or biometrics might have been fabricated. Offline, the person might barely resemble their profile. The lived experiences of Chinese gay men, however, show us that the fake is not always antithetical to the real. The fake, under certain circumstances, could enact material realities of its own. Gay socialites (同志名媛, tongzhi mingyuan) in urban China’s gay community are cases in point. (read more...)

Platypod, Episode Seven: An Anthropology of Data, AI, and Much More

Download the transcript of this interview. For this episode of Platypod, I talked to Dr. Tanja Ahlin about her research, work, and academic trajectory. She’s currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and her work focuses on intersections of medical anthropology, social robots, and artificial intelligence. I told her of my perspective as a grad student, making plans and deciding what routes to take to be successful in my field. Dr. Ahlin was very generous in sharing her stories and experiences, which I’m sure are helpful to other grad students as well. Enjoy this episode, and contact us if you have questions, thoughts, or suggestions for other episodes.  (read more...)

If I Could Talk to the Algorithm

In the film Doctor Dolittle (1967), the title character yearns to “Talk to the Animals,” as the song goes, to understand their mysterious and often vexing ways. It is interesting to observe a similar impulse to understand and communicate with algorithms, given their current forms of implementation. Recent research shows that intense frustration often emerges from algorithmically driven processes that create hurtful identity characterizations. Our current technological landscape is thus frequently embroiled in “algorithmic dramas” (Zietz 2016), in which algorithms are seen and felt as powerful and influential, but inscrutable. Algorithms, or rather the complex processes that deploy them, are entities that we surely cannot “talk to,” although we might wish to admonish those who create or implement them in everyday life. A key dynamic of the “algorithmic drama” involves yearning to understand just how algorithms work given their impact on people. Yet, accessing the inner workings of algorithms is difficult for numerous reasons (Dourish 2016), including how to talk to, or even about, them. (read more...)

Platypod, Episode Two: Ableism in Anthropology and Higher Ed

In this episode, Platypod presents a conversation between Laura Heath-Stout (Brandeis University) and Rebecca-Eli Long (Purdue University). They discuss their research and experiences of ableism in academia, anthropology, and higher ed, in general. This episode was created with the participation of Laura Heath-Stout (Brandeis University, speaker), Rebecca-Eli Long (Purdue University, speaker), Kim Fernandes (University of Pennsylvania, host), Svetlana Borodina (Columbia University, host), Gebby Keny (Rice University, sound editor), and Angela VandenBroek (Texas State University, CASTAC web producer). The transcript of their conversation (edited for comprehension) is available below. (read more...)