Tag: ethnography

Fetishes or Cyborgs? Religion as technology in the Afro-Atlantic space

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé, Umbanda or Xangô, are a cluster of religious practices that originated mostly in West Africa, especially in Yorubaland (Nigeria and Benin), but also in Congo and Angola. Similar to other Afro-diasporic religions (i.e. Vodou in Haity and Santeria in Cuba), Candomblé shares many elements with West African traditional religious practices, like the names and characteristics of their deities (called orixás in Brazilian Portuguese and òrìṣà in Yoruba). These deities embody elements of the natural landscape and atmospheric phenomena that are regarded as personas with their own material and spiritual agency. However, in the whole Afro-Atlantic space the most important common trait is the presence fabricated objects. After a ritual procedure they become the bodies and the material manifestation of the deities themselves. These objects, often referred to as “fetishes,” represent the point of mediation between the material and the spiritual world (Meyer 2012: 15). Indeed, Western conception of materiality is often charged with moral implications, opposed to the pure and transcendent qualities of the spirit (Espírito Santo 2010). Conversely, in Afro-Atlantic religions, objects, elements and atmospheric phenomena are considered to be alive or to have a certain individuality, will or personality, in a way that the scientific Western thought would consider unacceptable. (read more...)

Like, Share, Comment, and Follow: Labor and Capital on Instagram

Social media content creator Ishita Mangal (@ishitamangal) uploaded a post with multiple slides on her Instagram page. The first slide is entitled “an apology letter to my audience.” In the rest of the slides, she highlights a “barter collaboration” gone sour. The collaboration entailed the digital creator featuring four Indian kaftans (a type of clothing) brands on her Instagram page in exchange for keeping the outfits that she would feature. One of the brands was singled out, with their Instagram handle mentioned in the caption for viewers of the post to easily access. The brand was accused of harassing the digital creator; walking back on the terms of the agreement; asking for the garment in question back after “absorbing maximum benefits of all the posts on various platforms.” The digital creator proceeds to tell the tale of harassment and “extortion” she experienced at the hands of the luxury brand owner. (read more...)

Knowledge Production, Toxic Corporate Capital, and the Anthropologist’s Entangled Ethics

The dominant disciplinary literature on cultures and practices of extractivism relies on a separation of “the field,” and the insights gained there, from our professional lives as anthropologists in an academy culturally and socially situated in the “Global North.” Increasingly, such distinctions fail to hold as the consequences of extractivism and the conflicts that it produces arrive at the doorstep of the anthropologist’s place of work. I wrote this piece as I grappled with how to frame the effects of toxicity from gold mining in ways that fully accounted for its vast reach beyond “the field” and beyond the material forms (gaseous, liquid, sludgy, in blood levels, as illness symptoms) that I expected it to take. In grappling with the extensive nature of mining toxicity, events occurred to shift my attention to the transnational webs of capital, and the forms of life such toxicity generates. I began to ask: Beyond (read more...)

Days of Their Lives: The Limits, Possibilities, and Parallels of Media-Ted Research during a Pandemic

On a regular day, a Hindi soap opera production set in Mumbai is home to upwards of 100 artists and technicians – production associates, actors, make-up artists, costume artists, lighting technicians, assistant directors, creatives, and spot boys.  Their collective efforts ensure that audiences have new episodes to look forward to daily. Come rain, hail, or shine, through collaborations and conflicts, together they build melodramatic worlds that entertain millions of households in India. But what happens when the meaning of “regular” is redefined? What happens when even two become a crowd? When the first wave of COVID-19 hit Mumbai in March 2020, it brought, among other things, the Hindi soap opera industry to a halt. Daily production activities of soap operas across channels were abruptly paused. Sets had to be abandoned in haste when a citywide lockdown was announced. The absence of film work meant that workers would go without payments (read more...)

(Re)Assembling Asias through Science

Over the past two decades, a proliferation of critiques have emerged from a body of critical inter-asian scholarship to challenge, revise, and situate the conventional theoretical categories, frames, and founding assumptions of many humanities and social science fields, with notable interventions into trans studies (Chiang, Henry, & Leung 2018), queer theory (Chiang & Wong 2017; Yue 2017; Yue & Leung 2016; Wilson 2006), and the anthropology of science and technology (Ong 2016; Ong & Chen 2010). These projects are as theoretical as they are political, ethical, and methodological, posing fundamental questions about the politics of knowledge production, encouraging a critical awareness of the geopolitical positions and historical locations from which our analytic concepts emerge, as well as a heightened sense of the audiences they are intended for, how they may travel, and an epistemic humility that embraces and acknowledges contingency and limitation. With the expansion of academic presses, journals, and academic professional organizations in Asia[1], a growing number of graduate students and professional researchers now find themselves straddling and translating across an interface that spans continents, from academic centers in Europe and the United States to intra-asian networks and spaces of knowledge production. (read more...)

2021 at Platypus

The first weeks of 2021 brought no relief, even though so many hoped otherwise. Instead, the first twelve days clearly demonstrated that exclusion, inequity, violence, and multiply intersecting systems of oppression didn’t magically disappear into the thin air as the clock struck midnight on January 1. Neither in the US nor in other parts of the world. (read more...)

‘Dynamic Totalities’: Data Surveillance as a Paradigm

In the zeitgeist of academia, surveillance has clearly an ominous connotation. However, is surveillance not fundamentally a way of looking? More formally, a way of looking at totalities. Whatever is studied, observed, or measured is part of a definitive totality. A virus is part of a sample. Families are part of a community. Workers are part of the factory. A scientist is part of a laboratory. One reason we are cautious about speaking of totalities is because we are scared of being reductive. But what if we could dynamically measure parameters defining the totalities which concern us. What if we could define our totalities at will and observe phenomena within its boundaries, track phenomena flowing out of it, or ingressing it? If this sounds like an uncanny  ‘intelligent’ camera or rather a poetic job re-description of the individual in the CCTV room, then it is meant to be so. Data surveillance can offer perhaps a fresh paradigm for observation and analysis irrespective of the actual use of computers that enable it. (read more...)

Abu Dhabi Soundmarks: Building Community in the Midst of the Pandemic, One Voice at a Time

Editor’s note: This post is the fifth in our five-part series “COVID-19: Views from the Field.” Click here to read an introduction written by series organizer Rebekah Ciribassi. Editor’s note: Click the links throughout the article to experience the soundscape of Abu Dhabi under COVID-19 In March 2020, I arrived in Abu Dhabi from the island of Sardinia, Italy, to shelter in place with family members, here. As I recently documented elsewhere, after the lockdown was imposed in Italy, the soundscape of that place, and especially the culture of talking, physical contact and making face-to-face music, changed significantly. (read more...)