Archives
Showing the syphilis bacteria under the microscope

Swarming Syphilis: On the Reality of Data

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) Syphilis, an infection caused by the bacterium treponema pallidum, is an important disease. It starts as a skin lesion and develops until it deforms bones, compromises the central nervous system, and ultimately causes death. During pregnancy, the disease can also be transmitted from mother to child. It has accompanied our species at least since the Renaissance and generated various innovations in modern science throughout this history. It helped give rise to serology through the Wasserman Reaction (Fleck 2010), the first detection test, and it was crucial for the consolidation of somatological perspectives of mental illnesses in psychiatry (Carrara and Carvalho 2010). Due to sexual transmission of the disease, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it became the evil venereal illness par excellence in restrictive sexual regimes (Fleck 2010; Quetel 1986). Since that time, syphilis has laid the foundations for codes of social conduct and even for ideas of the “self” in western societies, for example in criminalizing prostitution (Carrara 1996; Bastos 2007) and shaping contagion theories and its relations of body-subject (Echeverría 2010). (read more...)

A restored section of Swedish Archbishop, writer, and cartographer Olaus Magnus' map of Scandanavia. The map features red buildings dotting the land, a ship caught in a whirlpool, and a sea serpent attacking a ship, among other mythical land and sea creatures.

Maps as Cultural Objects

In the Digital Age, maps are closer to us than ever before—a quick tap on a smartphone and you’re off to the nearest Starbucks for a quick coffee stop. Like other popular technologies, maps are critical tools that we use to interact with and understand the world around us. They are simplified depictions of our surroundings, crafted from human experience and made for a purpose. Maps cannot be disconnected from the minds and cultures that decide what to depict, where, and how. Purely factual tools of navigation on the surface, maps transmit and reinforce cultural understandings of our place in the world. (read more...)

Una taza naranja contiene atol y se sienta sobre una manta de rayas azules y verdes.

Centavitos Against Food Insecurity: Structural Violence, Charity, and Technical Fixes in Guatemala

On March 23rd, 2021, the 2020 yearly results for the “Gran Cruzada Nacional por la Desnutrición” (Great National Crusade for Malnutrition) were presented in a press conference held in the Guatemalan National Palace. For a little over an hour, several ministers made short speeches about the success of their activities related to programs attempting to prevent food insecurity in the country. After, a company highlighted a donation for acquiring a nutritionally improved flour to complement children’s diets. The event ended with some words from the Guatemalan president, Alejandro Giammattei. He explained that lowering malnutrition rates in Guatemala is a communal effort that must be carried out by civil society, business, and the government. He then invited national banks to institute a new campaign in which account holders donate the leftover “little cents” (centavitos) from their bank account balance each month. (read more...)

A boy, next to a musical instrument he made, stands upon a cliff and looks out at a mosaic landscape of forest and farmland in green, brown, and blue hues, that lay below and stretches to the horizon.

Land, Property, Technology: Exploring Blockchain as Infrastructural Promise

In my work, I explore the ways in which blockchain technology has been utilized for formalizing land rights in emerging economies. Currently, in these economies, there is a turn towards using digital technologies for recording the relationships between people and land and coordinating and displaying those data for efficient governance. On the one hand, blockchain registries could reduce manipulation of land records and reduce the number of intermediaries: as records on blockchain are distributed and verified by a multitude of nodes in a digital network and as additions to the chain of blocks are cryptographically time-stamped, tampering or accidental data loss are less likely as compared to centralized databases. At the same time, my research suggests that such technology applications should be also studied as infrastructural assemblages that are embedded in older, non-digital modalities and the peopled infrastructures of historically and culturally specific informal networks. These structures behave in more complex ways that are frequently led by the development industry and technology companies investing in technology-mediated financial inclusion initiatives. These areas of research present an exciting frontier for the anthropology of technoscience. (read more...)

photograph of a man enacting scenes of handling a tea pot

Multiple Modes of Being Human

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) In the last couple of years, I have been toying around with the ideas of “modes of humanism,” “inventing new modes of being human,” and modes of existence, such as data swarms and the pre-, post-, and transhuman. However, I was never really able to wrap my head around the question, what it really means when Bergson, Simondon, and others speak about the possibilities of “new modes of being human.” Modes of being human signify a multiplicity of possible forms of being human. These forms differ historically and culturally. (read more...)

The image is a photograph of a 2019 notification sent by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Islamabad, to all satellite TV channel licensees (news and current affairs) and is dated October 26, 2019. On the top left hand corner of the notification is the PEMRA logo consisting of a shield surrounded by a wreath, lying below a star nestled within a crescent moon. On the top right hand corner is the PEMRA headquarters address, noted as Operations Wing, 3rd Floor, Mauve Area, G-8/1 Islamabad, Tel: 051-9107128. The notification number is 13(87)/OPS/2016. The text of the notification is as follows. Subject: Appearance of Senator Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor on TV Channels The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) vide its letter dated October 11, 2019 has conveyed that Senator Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor is “confirmed Alien” (quoted text appears in bold) as he is not a citizen of Pakistan. Therefore, NADRA vide its orders U/S 18 (1) and 17 (2) has cancelled (word appears in bold) and digitally impounded the CNIC issued to Mr. Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor. Since, it is established that the said person is an ‘alien,’ therefore all the TV channels (News and Current Affairs) are directed to refrain from inviting and projecting Mr. Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor in their programmes / talk shows, news etc. This issues with approval of the competent authority. After the text in the body of the notification, on the bottom right hand corner is a signature in blue ink by Muhammad Tahir, General Manager, Operations Broadcast Media. Below it, on the bottom left hand corner, is a note with the following text: Copy for information (text appears in bold): Director General (Monitoring), PEMRA, Head (Legal) PEMRA, and General Manager to Chairman, PEMRA.

Thinking with a Database

In 2019, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority notified television channels that they were not allowed to host the Pakistani Senator Hafiz Hamdullah on air. The reason: Hamdullah had been declared a “confirmed alien,” and his identity card had been “digitally impounded” by Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). NADRA began operations in 2000 by launching a biometric (fingerprints, facial, and iris recognition) computerized national identity card (CNIC). At NADRA, custom-made software integrates and verifies data from individuals as well as kin units, determining who is and is not a Pakistani citizen. (read more...)

A scene of a group of angels pictured in the clouds of heaven

Angelology and Technoscience

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) The study of angels, angelology, is seldomly taken seriously. Instead, it is seen as the topic of ridicule, exemplifying the irrelevancy and unworldliness of some academic questions: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Why would angels have knees? Do angels have sexes? Further, angels often reference disembodiment and neutrality, ideas any decent posthuman scholar seems to abhor. Nevertheless, I would argue that angels are a fruitful way to critically assess our posthuman condition. Angels embody a number of valued characteristics of our posthuman selves, but also a number of transformations in how science is currently practiced– what I would like to call technoscience. Technoscience refers then to a range of new disciplines, such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology, robotics, or data science. These are new disciplines where classic distinctions between science and technology, nature and artifact, are disappearing. Posthuman thought and technoscience have remarkable similarities, but, in contrast to posthumanism, our attitude towards technoscience is ambivalent. Do we really want that kind of science for our future? Or, differently put, do we really want to become angels? (read more...)

View from above the port with silhouette of port crane operator looking down on shipping containers on dock.

Through Mother’s Eyes: Subjectivity Reimagines Technology in Documentary Film

Anthropology and documentary are shaped by integrating subjectivity with philosophical and ethical questions. This post draws from an interview with filmmaker Natalia Almada and sound designer Dave Cerf, a couple with two young children, about their new film, Users (2021), winner of the 2021 Sundance Documentary Directing award. In contrast to Almada’s prior films which are deeply rooted in Mexico, this cinematic documentary seems unbounded by geography, taking as its starting point a mother’s interrogation of the effects of technology on humanity and earth. This interview focuses on how the structuring choices of filming and editing afforded an opportunity to generate a novel sense of the epic nature of the domestic sphere on par with the vastness of wasteland and sea. (read more...)