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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...)

A poster for the ReACT conference says, in Portuguese, "Alliances for other futures." It shows an illustration of colonial people interacting with Indigenous people, but standing in front of a large electrical power facility.

Alliances and Institutional Partnerships for an Engaged Anthropology of Science and Technology

Listen to this post read by the authors here. Conceptual transformations and emerging thematic agendas in the anthropology of science and technology become clearly visible in STS conferences. Paying particular attention to conferences that take place in the global South has the potential to open up an understanding of post-colonial scientific endeavors within our own field of expertise (Kervran, Kleiche-Dray & Quet, 2018;  Anderson, 2017; Law & Lin, 2017). (read more...)

graphic representation of various disability dongles. Top Left stair climbing wheelchair. Top right "social emotion recognition" AR goggles. Bottom Left Sign language gloves. Bottom Right haptic shoes interfering with blind person's navigation.

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...)

a collage of the cards we made in our trial run of the game

Powerpoint Karaoke, a Ph.D. Version

“You win the lottery! You are a millionaire! You never have to work again in life.” This was the first card I drew in the weird little game of Ph.D. life that Quinn Georgic and I designed. I had no idea who wrote it. Everyone was giggling when I read it out loud and started making up the story: “I don’t need to worry about anything, so I started grad school.” The other group was far less fortunate. The card they drew was “You or your partner are pregnant.” (read more...)

This is an image of Maxine's principal patch as it appears in the Max/MSP, which is a visual programming environment in which the programmer connects boxes and string-like to control the flow of information and the system's decision-making processes.

People Are Not Fixed Media

Listen to an audio recording of this post as read by Ritwik Banerji Sensory ethnography continually emphasizes that the sensorium is just as much a (product of) sociocultural practice as it is a biophysiological property of the human species (Pink 2015). Recognition of this point has prompted several shifts in ethnographic work. On the one hand, it has pushed ethnographers to include in their writing a greater discussion of how subjects engage with the world through their senses as well as how the putatively biological phenomenon of sensory perception is so highly variable across and within sociocultural milieux. On the other, it has inspired ethnographers to pursue media practices beyond text, particularly through ethnographic film or sound recording (Feld 1991). Regardless of form, this work has greatly increased the possibility for the reader, listener, or viewer to experience with their senses the social environment that subjects inhabit and where the ethnographer conducted fieldwork. (read more...)

Image of a large tree with many thick branches shooting out in different directions. The tree has bright green leaves toward the top. On the ground, below the trunk, are scattered fallen leaves from the tree.

Climatic Futures and Tree Response-ability: Can Urban Forests Restore Human-Tree Relations?

How do we account for the agency of trees in our anthropocentric worlds? By what methods, representations, and relations of care can these sentient beings claim existence as more than data entry points and statistical figures? In this post, I turn our attention to the problem of the taken-for-granted responsibility of trees as a panacea for climate change and propose instead a practice of “thinking-with” and “becoming-with” trees (Haraway 2016). I focus on the ecological and ethical complexity of transposing tree ecologies as it overlooks questions of justice and climatic futures through the Miyawaki urban forests in Pakistani cities. Attention to “braided knowledge” (Kimmerer 2013) manifests not just in how trees are cared for in gardens and arboretums, but also in how urban forests are planned to make a city more inclusive, aesthetically pleasing, and healthier. Inspired by Haraway’s (2016, 34) insistence to take “response-ability” as “collective knowing and doing, an ecology of practices,” I invite us to “think-with” trees as markers of belonging, emotion, and wisdom for not only times past but for futures to come. (read more...)

Image of several men in formal attire looking toward India's first digital computer. The image is in black and white. India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, reaches out to interact with the computer, while four other men close to him look on at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Among the onlookers are Professor M. S. Narasimhan and Homi Bhabha. Away from the computer, against the wall, two other men look toward the demonstration, standing by the edges of the room.

​​Traveling but Not Arriving: Hieroglyphics of Caste in Computing

When I landed in Bangalore in early 2020, it was a long-awaited moment of my grad school journey. I had finally defended my proposal and was set to transition into fieldwork in the next couple of months. In my preparation for fieldwork, I had read many ethnographies, most of which had an arrival scene. It seemed that the first couple of weeks of entering a field site presented a crucial lever of juxtaposition for ethnographic writing that lends itself to evocative descriptions of the setting. The “arrival trope” has been long challenged in anthropology through accounts that complicate the narrative of an ethnographer entering an unperturbed native setting (Pratt 1986). Pratt also complicates the artificial distinction between personal narrative and “objective” description, particularly as they are blurred in moments of transition or arrival in ethnographies. For me, the trope of arrival was exciting despite all its problems because it finally gave me an opportunity to re-enter a world that I was familiar with and describe it on my own terms. I had worked as a software engineer before and now wanted to study gender and caste relations in the computing industry. Dalits, formerly seen as “untouchable” under the caste system, and other lower caste people, have been subjects of upper castes doing research for a very long time. I was looking forward to subverting the arrival trope as a Dalit woman doing ethnography where upper castes were my research subjects. I wanted to do this through participant observation in the computing industry that is highly dominated by upper castes. (read more...)

A stack of differently colored folders rest neatly on top of multiple stacks of identical cardboard boxes. Some boxes sit atop a wooden desk, as in an office.

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...)