Platypod, The CASTAC Podcast

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Full Episodes

Platypod is the official podcast of the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing. We talk about anthropology, STS, and all things tech. Tune in for conversations with researchers and experts on how technology is shaping our world.

Orange Platypus with black headphones

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...)

Orange Platypus with black headphones

Platypod, Episode One: Technologies and Politics of Accessibility

In its opening episode, Platypod presents a conversation between Cassandra Hartblay (University of Toronto) and Zihao Lin (University of Chicago). They discuss their research on accessibility cultures, politics, and technologies. This episode was created with the participation of Cassandra Hartblay (the University of Toronto, speaker) and Zihao Lin (the University of Chicago, 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 is accessible below. (read more...)


Platypus on Platypod

The bonus episodes below are the most recent readings from Platypus, The CASTAC Blog. Look for more readings in the Platypus archives or find them on your favorite podcast app.

Sign showing a bird during a demonstration

Counting on Montane Birds: Biologists, Verticality, and Territorial Defense in Colombia

This piece is about the unforeseen and sometimes overlooked connection between (i) birds living in the forests of Colombia’s high tropical Andes, (ii) local biologists supporting an anti-mining coalition by conducting an alternative baseline study, and (iii) the undertheorized production of upward vertical territories. (read more...)

Photo of a white british bulldog looking at the camera in the backyard of a house

The Allowable Limit of Disability

In February 2022 a court in Norway banned the further breeding and selling of British Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Beyond Norway, the ban has sparked conversation amongst UK and American breeders. The reason for this ban is the high rates of disability that affect the dogs; the official language is that the individuals are ‘disease guaranteed’. As a person whose work often overlaps with critical disability studies, I found myself obsessing about these news pieces. These dogs were banned because they were considered too disabled, this court was putting a limit on how disabled these dogs were allowed to be. My conclusion, after stewing on this for 6 months, is that disability is the limit of commodification and vice versa, commodification is the limit of disability. First, it is important to understand that these dogs are a commodity. And as a commodity, they have always been disabled. These (read more...)

Detangling Molecular Hauntings: Hair as a Site of Preserving Lived Experience

Hair is a dynamic biological structure and retains great social significance for humans. Hair can grow on most external areas of the body except for the palmar and plantar surfaces of the hands and the soles of the feet. The number of areas where hair is most noticeable is also the most commonly coiffed, trimmed, shaved, or plucked. These areas include the face, ears, head, eyebrows, legs, underarm, stomach, and pubic regions. As humans develop in utero into fully formed adults, hair growth signals hormone production such as pubertal development where secondary sex characteristics become more visible. Specifically for hair, it can be an indication that intertwines social identity, status, religion, economics, and politics. (read more...)

A graffiti in brown and orange that says "For all"

Inclusion and Opportunities for Equal Participation for Autistic University Students in France

Like the term “equal participation”, the words “inclusion” and “inclusive” are prevalent today. And they are all typically linked: “equal participation” is often the goal of initiatives focused on “inclusion.” Although the word “inclusive” might appear capacious (inclusive just means everyone, right?), projects focused on “inclusion” and “equal participation” often target specific populations of people who have previously been excluded from something. That’s the case of projects focused on the inclusion of autistic people into higher education, including one in France where I conducted ethnographic research for the dissertation I am currently writing on the changing categorization(s) of autism in France. (read more...)

An illustration of the political struggle symbol upright left fist in LGBTQ+ rainbow colors holding a trowel

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in Epistemologies – The Line Between Bodies and Ideas?

A recent trend in the sciences is the attempt to create inclusive research spaces, as evidenced by the formation of new diversity, equity, and inclusion (hereafter, DEI) initiatives, guidelines, and hiring practices. Archaeology, a field science that has long grappled with discriminatory, dangerous, and exclusionary research conditions, has also made strides to create safe and equitable spaces. However, the very epistemic foundations and practices of the discipline are yet to reflect the orientation toward inclusion. In today’s archaeology, the concepts of “data,” “methodology,” and “rigor” (among others), which form the bedrock of scientific endeavor, still reproduce the dominant Western views of science that at their core are fundamentally heteronormative. Those theoretical approaches in archaeology that are directly concerned with minority identities, values, and politics (e.g. Critical Race Theory, feminist theory, Indigenous studies) continue to be marginalized. The marginalization of these theoretical approaches is an unfortunate development because many of these works challenge the epistemic core of what we do as researchers. They have the potential to transform what we think of as good research, not just what this research produces. (read more...)

Collage of bits images (a woman's face, a tiger, patterns and graffiti)

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...)

A wild boar (sus scrofa vittatus) is covered in mud and roams a forest in Pahang, Malaysia.

Viral Entanglements in Malaysian Porcine Worlds

Content warning: This blog post contains photos of factory farming that viewers may find distressing. Pigs squeal and scream as they lie down in group pens. The humid air in the foreground, the farm’s pipes churn out pig waste into the nearby river. This is Kampung Selamat, an industrialized area known for factory farming in mainland Penang, Malaysia. Its river, known as Sungai Kreh, is the living chronology of industrialized pollution. Since the 1980s, the river has turned from bright blue to lime green as 72 pig farms discharge antibiotics, pig feces, and pig carcasses into the water. The foul stench and waste reveal how intertwined pig lives are with the personal livelihood of Kampung Selamat’s villagers over time. (read more...)

Representation of a constellation showing a llama

Thinking in Constellations: Problematizing Indigeneity in the Atacama Desert, Chile

In October 2021, I flew from the capital of Chile to the driest desert in the world—the Atacama Desert, a place with a long history of colonialism and extractivism. I was 12 years old the first time I visited as part of a family trip that lasted one month. We traveled by car 2000 km, so it was exhausting but also unforgettable. I remember our fleeting time in Calama city in the Antofagasta region to continue the journey to San Pedro de Atacama, a town in the Atacama salt flat basin where “atacameño” communities  (one of the ten “native peoples” recognized by the Chilean state since 1995) live. (read more...)

A silver iPhone photographed against a dark grey background

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

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

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...)