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.

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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...)

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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...)

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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...)

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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...)

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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.

Women agricultural workers sort onions into brightly colored tubs (Author 2019)

You Are What You Grow: Crops, Cultivation, and Caste in India

Fieldwork can produce odd obsessions. As an anthropologist studying agrarian risk economies, mine was onions. In the central Indian region of Malwa where I conducted research, onions seemed to be everywhere. As I observed (and occasionally, but poorly, assisted with) farm work, I became fascinated by the bulb: its seasonal shades of pink shifting from winter magenta to a spring blush; the way its bright green stalks stood perfectly upright in the field; the speculative frenzy of the auction during peak season; its pungent flavor in raw, pickled, or fried form; and not least, the unexpected wealth it produced for a few and the dashed hopes and devastation it wreaked on most others. (read more...)

Wall in Segovia, Antioquia with graffiti

Toxicity, Violence, and the Legacies of Mercury and Gold Mining in Colombia

Toxic substances are often portrayed as stubborn molecules that resist being restricted to the places where we would like to contain them in order to free ourselves from the environmental and health damage they cause us . Mercury —a heavy metal used for different products and industrial processes— illustrates how the effects of these substances are mediated not only by their “stubbornness” or physical-chemical persistence but also by histories of power, violence, and domination. (read more...)

An image of a Black woman holding a megaphone with sound bubbles around her. The words "slow down" are large above her. Below is the title of the article "Embracing black positionalities. (Re)centring Slowness"

Embracing Black Positionalities, (Re)Centring Slowness: A Challenge to Anthropology’s Anti-Racism Efforts

Anti-racism efforts remain highly problematic. As anthropologists, we are usually aware of the violent, colonial, and genocidal histories of research on ‘race’ and realities of racism which have been conducted in the names of scientific and social advancement. But now, we find ourselves in the “post-George Floyd era”— a phrase used to describe the current temporal phase of discourses on anti-Black racism, as was articulated at the UK’s first (known) Black anthropologist’s conference, called The Gathering . In the UK, the post-George Floyd era refers to a tragic, but expected, decline; where constructive discussions about, empathy towards, and valued recognition of Black lives have reached their peak in popular discourse and are returning to their tokenistic nature in academia. At the height of the global Black Lives Matter movement, and even in the immediate aftermath (late spring of 2020 to the end of 2020), there seemed to be small glimmers of hope that maybe, just maybe, the murder of a Black man at the hands of actors of the ‘State’ would act as a catalyst for the meaningful, long-lasting upheaval of many anti-Black systems. Yet, two years later, in 2022, I find myself in the position of a Black doctoral student studying Anthropology in a state of disbelief and underwhelm. (read more...)

Movement of a worker through the landscape of care in and around the Special Economic Zone called Value Addition City in Pakistan.

Injury and Fitness: Responsibility through Biomedicine 

Kashif pointed to different parts of the wounds on his leg and explained to me how they had healed, exacerbated, or been ignored at different places of care. He had gotten a chemical burn injury on his left leg a year ago while mixing HCl (Hydrochloric acid) and H2O2 (Hydrogen peroxide in bleach), two highly reactive chemicals, almost on the spot of the textile factory where he stood now and talked to me. He was not among the first few people introduced to me by the Safety and Security Officer because he was not considered disabled among the workers at the factory I was conducting fieldwork in Punjab, Pakistan. (read more...)

Two Images of Europa, Jupiter's Moon, side by side, photo taken by NASA

All These Worlds Are Yours Except Europa: Building Colonies without Colonization

Beneath Europa’s frozen surface is an ocean thought to contain twice as much water than that on Earth (Planetary Science Communications Team 2021). Above its surface, temperatures are lethal, ranging from -210 degrees Fahrenheit to -370 degrees Fahrenheit (Planetary Science Communications Team 2021). This is the same moon of Jupiter which harbored indigenous life in Robinson’s 2312 (and was protected because of it) (2012). The same moon that Russian cosmonauts were warned to avoid in Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two (1982) due to its geologically unstable nature (fig. 1). The moon named after a Phonecian Princess, who was made the first Queen of Crete after she was abducted and raped by Zeus. (read more...)

Photoshopping Desire: Gender, Caste, and the “Authentic” Self

In an Instagram post by a photographer @photo_paparazzo, we see what the labor of creating a perfect picture looks like. The video, set to trending music, shows a woman in a bridal outfit being helped up a wooden ladder to the roof of a room on a terrace by three men. One of the men is holding a camera. Once the woman is on the roof, the photographer takes the mesh maroon-colored dupatta and wears it over his head, presumably to show the bride how to pose. The text on the video reads, “What goes behind creating that “ONE PERFECT SHOT” for our brides @photo_paparazzo.” The caption reads: “To one of the favourite parts of our job, creating EFFORTLESSLY beautiful portraits and memories for the brides to remember (cry-laughing emoji)…kudos to the team and most important each and every bride of @photo_paparazzo and being the sport of our creativity (red heart emoji).” The video ends with two stunning shots of the bride, captured in the golden yellow light from a setting sun (what is referred to as the golden hour). The video has amassed 6.7 million views, 970 thousand likes, and 1,571 comments. A cursory look at the comments reveals positive reception of the video. The comments range from the use of only emojis (fire emoji, red heart emojis, heart eyes emoji, among others) reflecting appreciation to more overt comments acknowledging and recognizing the efforts put in by the photographers. One particular comment on the post, however, deviates from this general trend and points out how the same effect could have been achieved using far simpler techniques that did not require the bride to be helped up a rickety ladder. Part of the comments reads, “You guys could have easily went to any open space and put her on a stool or something .” The OP (Original Poster) replies to the commenter, “Simple things don’t get you extra ordinary results (upside down smiley emoji).” Another commenter adds to this discourse, “ is photoshop is made for joke 3min work with 2022 edition .” (read more...)

The main façade of the ITINTEC Museum

Interactive Science Museums: Replicating Science Without a Context

“We want a different museum. One where people are not afraid to interact with the objects” were the words of one of the promoters of the ITINTEC museum, the first interactive science museum in Latin America that opened in Peru in 1979 and closed in 1993. During its opening years, this museum became a space for school students to learn about physics and engineering through hands-on activities, where school teachers participated in workshops about science education, and overall, a space where different audiences interacted with science. The museum was part of the Institute of Technological Research, Industry, and Technical Norms, known by its acronym in Spanish as the ITINTEC. However, the museum was not part of the original plans of the institute, and it was impacted by the political context of the military years and the following unstable economic crisis in Peru. Its institutional vulnerability became evident when the institute was transformed into a new agency, the INDECOPI, that focused on intellectual property and industrial competence, where the museum had no place and ended up closing. (read more...)

A slide projected onto a white screen with a graphic of a pill inscribed with the hashtag PrEP Works and a subcaption reading: "The time for debate on the effectiveness of PrEP is over.

PrEP on Trial: the Future of HIV in Indonesian Policy Worlds

In 2012, the first pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs, billed as a pill a day to prevent HIV, were authorized for use in the United States. Heralded as a transformative prevention technology for gay men and trans women in particular, one that encouraged new forms of self-management and risk mitigation practices alongside condoms, testing, and treatment, PrEP has since been incorporated into the global HIV prevention toolkit. In reports, policy documents, and community organizations, PrEP is uniformly described as necessary to accelerate the HIV control response and meet the global target of the “end of AIDS” by 2030. In line with this dominant policy narrative, governments reliant on international donor funding for HIV programs are now encouraged to incorporate PrEP into HIV programs for MSM, transgender women and other “key populations” assessed as meeting a specific risk profile. This is the case for Indonesia, which formally approved PrEP for a trial in 2021 (United States Agency for International Development (USAID) 2021). Although initially announced in 2019 with a considerable degree of community support, Indonesia’s PrEP trial was postponed both due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent bureaucratic delays. Nevertheless, with significant pressure from international donors and support from the Global Fund, USAID, and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a PrEP trial commenced in April 2022 across seven provinces in Indonesia. Key populations who agreed to undertake an array of tests and routine clinical monitoring, would obtain access to a 30-day supply of a single pill combining tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) and emtricitabine (FTC) – generic Truvada – from one of 34 primary health clinics at no cost. As it circulates in policy, clinical, and community spaces, PrEP is transforming the temporal horizon for HIV in Indonesia and other postcolonial settings where access to healthcare remains thwarted by entrenched global inequalities. (read more...)

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...)