Category: Series

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...)

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...)

Innovation and its discontents

“I’ll never be a billionaire. Now I help other people try to get there, but I just don’t have the emotional well.” These words from a tech company founder-turned-startup-coach would once have surprised me, prompting frantic scribbling in my field journal. One year into an anthropological study of futurists, strategists, designers, and foresight practitioners in Silicon Valley, however, I only nodded and noted the timestamp on my recorder. These once unexpected expressions of emotional and psychological depletion had turned out to be commonplace, imposing themselves to the point of dominating many of our research interviews. (read more...)

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...)