Platypod, The CASTAC Podcast

Listen for free on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Do you listen on a different app? Request syndication by emailing the CASTAC Web Producer (webmaster@castac.org).

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify

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.

Decorated image used as an invitation for CASPR 2023

Platypod, Episode Eight: CASPR 2023

Download the full transcript of this episode. The 2023 edition of CASPR: CASTAC in the Spring discussed digital ethnography and its multiple facets. The event was moderated by Dr. Baird Campbell, who, along with guest speakers Dr. Ilana Gershon, Dr. Nicole Taylor, and Dr. Patricia G. Lange, shared their experiences and valuable insights based on their many years of interactions with digital ethnography—much before the recent spike in interest in this method due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some critical insights from the event: On the online-offline divide, guest-speakers pointed out that this division will not matter in the future as interlocutors are increasingly interconnected. Speakers were skeptical about how much this topic still matters now, coming to the conclusion that this separation is largely artificial. The speakers mentioned how digital technologies, social media platforms, and other technological products would indirectly be part of future ethnographies, even if the researcher had (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...)

Platypod, Episode Six: An Anthropology of Algorithmic Recommendation Systems

Download the transcript of this interview. On the morning of Friday, March 10, 2023 Nick Seaver and I met over Zoom to talk about his new book Computing Taste: Algorithms and Makers of Music Recommendation, which was published in 2022 by the University of Chicago Press. In that meeting, we recorded an episode for the Playpod podcast, which is available at the link above. (read more...)

Orange Platypus with black headphones

Platypod, Episode Five: CASPR – CASTAC in the Spring 2022

This episode presents a recording of CASPR 2022, or the CASTAC in the Spring 2022 mentoring event, which took place on May 10, 2022. CASPRT 2022 was organized to encourage dialogue on breaking down binaries that have separated academe and industry. Angela VandenBroek (TXTS), Melissa Cefkin (Waymo), and Dawn Nafus (Intel) discuss their work in leading socially-informed research in industry contexts. (read more...)

Orange Platypus with black headphones

Platypod, Episode Four: Connections and Disconnections on Social Media

In this episode, Platypod presents a conversation between Baird Campbell (Rice University) and Ilana Gershon (Indiana University Bloomington). They discuss the politics of connection and disconnection via social media in Chile and the US. (read more...)

Orange Platypus with black headphones

Platypod, Episode Three: Disability, Toxicity, and the Environment

In this episode, Platypod presents a conversation between Elizabeth Roberts (the University of Michigan) and Sophia Jaworski (the University of Toronto). They discuss the complexities of corporeal life in toxic environments. This episode was created with the participation of Elizabeth Roberts (the University of Michigan, speaker), Sophia Jaworski (the University of Toronto, speaker), Svetlana Borodina (Columbia University, host, producer), Gebby Keny (Rice University, host, sound editor), and Angela VandenBroek (Texas State University, CASTAC web producer). The transcript of their conversation is available below. We thank Sophia Jaworski for her work on editing the transcript for comprehension. (read more...)

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.

A landscape image that shows grey rocks in the foreground, a blue river flowing in the middle, and brown mountains rising in the background. The sky is mostly cloudy with a little bit of clear blue.

What Will Be Lost: A Cat, a Man with a Horse, and the Battle at Court

This essay joins ethnographic fieldwork with a visual storyboard to explore speculative futures that arise from ongoing processes of dispossession and loss in the foothills of the Andes mountains in Central Chile. In 2022, local activists and community members from Putaendo took Los Andes Copper, the mining corporation responsible for the Vizcachitas mining project, to the Environmental Tribunal in Chile. They claimed that the corporation had failed to consider the presence of the Andean mountain cat in their environmental impact studies. This oversight could have serious and irreversible consequences for the local ecosystem and the water sources that sustain their community. (read more...)

A black Akai MPC Live II (Image by Author). This is a MIDI Sequencer. MIDI is a file format and technical standard that lets electronic instruments from different manufacturers communicate with each other. A MIDI sequencer is used by artists to record, edit, and play MIDI sequences.

Being Heard as Experimental

Hip Hop is a musical genre and cultural movement that has been the birthplace of ingenious creativity and novel methods of music making that incorporate new and old technologies (Driscoll 2009). These technical innovations can be seen in the redeployment (Fouché 2006, p. 642) of the turntable through moving the record backwards and forwards to generate new sonic textures and generate hypnotic repetition through breakbeats. The MIDI Production Center (MPC) by Akai and Roger Linn—a MIDI sequencer, sampler, and drum machine that was initially designed to give musicians and producers an easier way to create more natural sounding drums in their recorded music—was almost immediately taken up by Black Hip Hop producers in the United States and used to sample longer pieces of audio from a variety of sources and then re- sequence them to create new melodies and drum rhythms. However, the histories of marginalized people’s exploration of new sounds and technologies for the sake of creative music making seems to largely diverge from the histories of what is traditionally labeled experimental music within the western musical canon. In this post, I want to explore histories of experimental music and contrast it with histories of Hip Hop to better understand who is allowed to be labeled as experimenting within music and how the answers to these questions exist along particular lines of race, space, and time. (read more...)

A photo of a dock leading down to a river, with people lined up on the right to board a boat that is coming in to land.

The “Doing” of Collaborative Ethnography

There is no simple way to tell the story of the recent history of Sainte-Thérèse Island, known as IST (Île-Sainte-Thérèse) by members of the Montreal Waterways research collective, a group based out of the Concordia University Ethnography Lab. Once you start, there is little certainty as to where the story may lead, as its tellings often open different and overlapping pathways for understanding the landscape. Therefore when it came down to the question of how to tell the story of an island—one with a diversity of characters, histories, and happenings—Montreal Waterways made the decision to create a multi-authored compilation of ethnographic texts in the form of a book, entitled An Island is More Than a Park and available online—as part of its research outcomes. The title of the book came from a direct quote made by one of the island’s residents during an interview conducted at a rather difficult time. In the months prior, the community of IST had been preparing to legally defend themselves against a government which had labelled them as squatters, and which was committed to expropriating the seasonal inhabitants to make way for an eco-park. In the time Montreal Waterways spent engaging with the island’s residents and its landscape, it became evident that an island is more than a park: an island is actually a composite of a great number of things that hold meanings that sometimes conflict or contradict each other, especially when so many actors are invested in a version of the island’s story. There was understandably some apprehension on behalf of IST residents, who were suspicious as to why a group of anthropology students were interested in learning about the park, their expropriation, and a project involving collaborative ethnographic research. (read more...)

Premediations of Carcerality: Notes on Targeted Surveillance in Postcolonial India

This post explores the surveillance of letters across two time-periods in postcolonial India: mail letter interception immediately following India’s independence in 1947, and the contemporary use of letters as incriminating evidence against human rights activists in the ongoing Bhima Koregaon-16 (BK-16) case. The BK-16 is a group of activists including academics, journalists, lawyers, artists, poets, and dissenters who were imprisoned through a series of coordinated arrests by the police in different parts of India June 2018 onwards. They were arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), India’s anti-terror law that empowers the government to arrest citizens without any judicial process. Many of them are Dalits, representing India’s most marginalized caste. The BK-16 advocate for the human rights of India’s poorest and most oppressed communities, and overtly oppose the ideology of Hindutva, a Hindu supremacist nationalism espoused by the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) since 2014. (read more...)

Rows of palm trees and indiscriminate national flags frame a pedestrian walkway where people in suits and business attire are standing and walking. The walkway leads to a white building with a rounded, dome-like center area. The sun makes a white circle in the light blue sky.

On Observing: Reflections on UN Climate Policy Negotiations from Paris to the Present

Observe (verb) notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant. watch (someone or something) carefully and attentively. take note of or detect (something) in the course of a scientific study. make a remark. fulfill or comply with (a social, legal, ethical, or religious obligation). maintain (silence) in compliance with a rule or custom, or temporarily as a mark of respect. perform or take part in (a rite or ceremony). celebrate or acknowledge (an anniversary). Source: Oxford Languages (Accessed: March 3, 2024) www.google.com. Nearly every year since 1994, representatives from 198 nations have gathered at the annual meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as the Conference of the Parties (COP), to discuss how to address the immense and intractable challenge of anthropogenic climate change. Alongside these national representatives, thousands of participants from environmental and social non-governmental organizations (NGOs), businesses, local governments, Indigenous nations, research institutions, and trade organizations attentively watch the course of the negotiations. These attendees are officially known as “Observers.” I first joined these meetings as an Observer in 2014 at COP 20 in Lima, Peru. The following year in Paris, France, I participated in the sprawling COP 21 negotiations where the Paris Agreement was adopted by participating countries. Then, eight years later, I returned for COP 28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Given this long gap of time, I was able to consider: What has changed from COP 21 to COP 28? How do evolving global conditions influence the process? And what does the act of observing allow within multilateral spaces and the policy-making process? (read more...)

A black and white photo of rows of Macintosh computers sitting on desks in an classroom, the smooth black monitors reflecting even more computers.

Cultures of Trust in Computing and Beyond

What does it mean to trust? In this post I explore how there are specific ways of producing trust in computer science education. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted for my PhD in an undergraduate computer science program in Singapore, where I examined the “making” of computer scientists—how students are shaped as socio-technical persons through computer science education. During my fieldwork, I conducted participant observation in eight undergraduate computer science courses across all years (first to fourth) with a focus on required core courses for the computer science program, which is what I draw primarily on for this post. I also conducted interviews with students, professors, and administrators; policy and curriculum analysis; and participant observation in the department, university, and tech community more generally. I also myself studied computer science as an undergraduate student, which led to my interest in this topic. (read more...)

A dark grey female Asian elephant standing in a forest raising trunk in the air, partially obscured by branches at the foreground of the shot.

Gazing into the Eyes of Elephants: Unsettling Recognition in Multispecies Relations

“Do the elephants recognize you?” I am asked some version of this question by most people who find out my work has involved multiyear relations with elephants in Thailand. The short answer is yes, but not in the ways that most people think when they ask about recognition. I know that the elephants recognize me because they ignore me, because my presence in their space does not perturb them; the absence of a reaction, what might be interpreted as indifference, is how I know that I am familiar to them. People find this response disappointing. The ways that elephants express recognition do not seem to be legible to people as recognition. I think what people expect, or perhaps hope to hear, is a picture of recognition that aligns more with certain anthropocentric and often commodified forms of human-elephant interaction. (read more...)

Two men walking along the street in front of the Shaka house decorated with palm trees and sunshine

Waves of Well-being: Surfing at the Shaka Surf Club in Kodi Bengre, India

Surfing’s roots are in long-standing cultures in the Pacific Islands, South America, and West Africa. After wave-riding was banned by European Missionaries who deemed it leisurely and “savage,” surfing’s contemporary “revitalisation” took place in Hawaii where it became a notable phenomenon of the 20th century. Nowadays, surfing represents a subculture around an “alternative” sport, a lifestyle, and an art with profound personal and lifestyle implications (Ford & Brown, 2006). Likewise, in India, particularly in the fishing village Kodi Bengre, surfing means much more than simply sliding along a wave. This qualitative study captures how the Shaka Surf Club shapes perceptions of well-being and mental health in surfers and surrounding community members in Kodi Bengre. (read more...)

“We had to rethink many, many things”: Reflexivity in Scientific Practices during the Zika Epidemic in Recife, Brazil

Luiza is a pediatrician and researcher specializing in infectious diseases who works at a teaching hospital in Recife, Brazil. Her daily routine involves treating children with congenital infectious syndromes, which can lead to various clinical conditions including microcephaly. However, in October 2015, an unprecedented situation unfolded. As she described during an interview with me, “That year, a new world entered my world.” She was referring to the surge in cases of microcephaly that puzzled Brazilian doctors and health authorities that year. In Recife, where the average number of microcephaly cases historically stood at nine cases per year, there were twelve cases registered in just one maternity ward within a month. (read more...)

Colorful collage illustration which provides information about how to handle teargas and pepper spray at protests

Tear Gas as Punishment

Tear gas is a chemical weapon that was developed in the early 20th century and has been predominantly used by police or military forces to stifle political unrest. As a result, tear gas serves as a manifestation of state violence; by forcefully reminding us of our need to breathe, its function is to break collective solidarity. Over time, the tactics surrounding tear gas have evolved and become more militarized. Typically, this has looked like both a general greater use of tear gas at protests, and the development of tear gas as punishment. As a researcher of radical, left-wing social movements in the United States and the security technologies used by the state to suppress them, tear gas is particularly interesting to me because it serves as a security technology par excellence. By examining the interplay between state use of tear gas to punish activists and the protestors fighting against it, we catch a glimpse into the racial capitalist operations of the United States and where it is vulnerable to resistance. This essay examines the police tactic of kettling, how it is wielded to punish activists, and how radical left-wing organizers respond. (read more...)

Spatial Approaches to Livestreaming: A Methodological Exploration in Digital Ethnography

On AfreecaTV, faceless, wandering viewers appear and disappear in a livestream without notice. Many deceptively change their nickname (username) or use multiple nicknames to divide themselves and appear in different livestreams and other internet forums simultaneously. In crowded livestreams with hundreds to tens of thousands of viewers, it is increasingly challenging to discern the individuality of each viewer’s comments as their presence becomes ephemeral, almost like noise, amidst the rapid speed of chats. Given the near impossibility, or perhaps the meaninglessness, of identifying individuals in these online fields, I may opt to leave the quantified scope (e.g., the size and population) of my research fields undefined and just go with the “flow” (hŭrŭm). This is my reflection on the frustrations that I encountered during the initial phases of my fieldwork within AfreecaTV. Between late 2016 and early 2018, I conducted ‘online’ and ‘offline’ ethnographic fieldwork for my master’s thesis on (read more...)

A map of Belgrade with thick lines marking common routes.

Two Insomniacs Discuss Routine and Restlessness Through Google Tracking

In this piece I meditate on a conversation I had with my key interlocutor, Aleksandar Kecman, about Google tracking and our reflections upon first encountering my digital footprint. I met Aleksandar in Belgrade, where I did research among insomniacs exploring how the experience of time (and tangentially, space) figures in their lives. Being an insomniac myself I felt chronically out of synch with the rest of society—people close to me and their work and sleep schedules, the rhythms of socializing, and the idea of productive life well spent in time—and this feeling tracked with my interlocutors. Many of the problems the sleepless face are quandaries of time. How are the everyday practices of insomniacs shaped by local and broader understandings of what it means, temporally, to lead a “good life,” or a productive life, within a society that values grind and hustle? (read more...)

A plate of Msakhan prepared by TikTok User Mxriyum with a follower's comment overlaid reading "Such wonderful culture that comes out of Palestine, thank you for showing it to us"

Recipes of Resistance: Global Digital Gastrosolidarity for Palestine

From the North in Safad (where my father is from) and Galilee to the South East in Al-Lydd (where my mother is from) and down to Jerusalem and Gaza, the food differs but is united at the same time, through love and history… Palestinian food is found in the home. That is where it all begins. (Joudie Kalla, Palestine on a Plate, 2016) Food is the most precious part of Palestinian heritage. For Palestinian food not to go extinct, the young have to learn from the old. (Aisha Azzam, Aisha’s Story, film forthcoming 2024) Around the world, millions have taken the streets in support of a free and thriving Palestine in the face of active genocide and the continuance of settler colonial violence. Visible on the streets and all over social media feeds, scattered among flags and keffiyehs, are images of the vibrant watermelon. This trinity of nationalist symbols bear a shared honoring of an ancient yet enduring cultural intimacy with Levantine lands. A cursory search about the history of the Palestinian flag’s colors (black, white, red, and green) leads one down many possible origins and mythologies behind the green portion of the flag. These include but are not limited to representing influential Arab dynasties, peace, Islamic faith, as well as a deep love and appreciation for the olive trees which bloom across the landscape. The keffiyeh, a traditional scarf, embodies similar sentiments entangled in its design. Within its iconic weave, visual histories of Palestinian trade pathways, robust fishing culture upon the Mediterranean sea, and once again, the olive trees. Last is the watermelon, which was used as a covert placeholder for the flag during a period of occupation when the display of the flag itself was forbidden. In essence, at the core of these symbols are Palestinian foodways and culture. (read more...)

Digital sketch of a giant green bird described by a hospice patient

Bed-Time Storytelling

Bedtime stories are stories narrated by adults to children before they fall asleep. As an essential parenting skill, the storytelling scene is infused with love and trust. These stories make the transition from day to night easier. Rest well, tomorrow will be another day. In this piece, I wish to introduce an alternate narrative form I have named bed-time-storytelling—a practice of care born within the confines of hospice care beds. This approach redefines our understanding of storytelling, bridging the realms of the living and the departing, and opening a new chapter on how we engage with tales shared in the threshold between two worlds. (read more...)

Image of hundreds people on the street at night. Many wear green headbands and are facing forward. A few people at the front of the crowd turn back, and others in the middle of the crowd are holding up a sign.

Who Knows About Ethical Research?: Reflections on Research Ethics and Vulnerability in Abortion Research

People who have abortions are often thought of as inherently vulnerable. When retold without nuance, this narrative can be harmful to abortion-seekers, as well as to reproductive autonomy more broadly, since it reinforces negative stereotypes about abortion and abortion-seekers. Changing affective paradigms around abortion has been a key concern for feminist activists around the world. In fact, a significant part of my ongoing PhD research on pharmaceutical abortion, healthcare access, and feminist activism in Argentina is concerned with how and why feminist activists seek to disrupt the social perception of abortion as intrinsically being a certain kind of experience—tragic, shameful, vulnerable, to give just a few pointers. While preparing for my data collection, I was struck by the discrepancy between how feminist activists who accompany abortions conceptualise the agency of (potentially) vulnerable abortion-seekers and my UK university’s research ethics committee’s approach to it. Especially given my own positionality as a non-Argentine PhD student, this prompted me to reflect on the challenges of navigating this divide when researching feminist activism and self-managed abortion. To this end, I unpack some of my reflections while trying to balance my duty of care for potentially vulnerable participants with respect for their agency. Striking this balance can be especially complicated when the understandings of both risk and ethical practice diverge between ethics committees, who—to a certain extent have to—adopt a universalist approach, and feminist practitioners holding contextually specific expertise on the subject, while also frequently working with different definitions of care. This divergence is even more pertinent in the case of abortion, an experience steeped in assumptions based on moralised and medicalised social and political discourses. Throughout my research process, I have understood refusing to reproduce such paternalistic discourses as essential to doing ethical research, alongside attending to potential vulnerabilities. (read more...)