Tag: ethnography

Transpositioning, a Hypertext-ethnography

This is a work of hypertext-ethnography. It is based on my research of a small genetics laboratory in Tokyo, Japan where I am studying the impact of the transnational circulation of scientific materials and practices (including programming) on the production of knowledge. In this piece, I draw primarily from my participant observation field notes along with interviews. I also incorporate other, maybe more atypical, materials such as research papers (mine and others), websites and email. The timeframe for this work is primarily the spring of 2020 and the setting is largely Zoom. Although I began my research in 2019 physically visiting the lab every week, in April 2020, it—and most of the institute where the lab is located—sent researchers home for seven weeks. That included me. Luckily, the lab quickly resumed its regular weekly meetings online (between the Principal Investigator (PI) and individual post-docs for example, as well as other (read more...)

If I Could Talk to the Algorithm

In the film Doctor Dolittle (1967), the title character yearns to “Talk to the Animals,” as the song goes, to understand their mysterious and often vexing ways. It is interesting to observe a similar impulse to understand and communicate with algorithms, given their current forms of implementation. Recent research shows that intense frustration often emerges from algorithmically driven processes that create hurtful identity characterizations. Our current technological landscape is thus frequently embroiled in “algorithmic dramas” (Zietz 2016), in which algorithms are seen and felt as powerful and influential, but inscrutable. Algorithms, or rather the complex processes that deploy them, are entities that we surely cannot “talk to,” although we might wish to admonish those who create or implement them in everyday life. A key dynamic of the “algorithmic drama” involves yearning to understand just how algorithms work given their impact on people. Yet, accessing the inner workings of algorithms is difficult for numerous reasons (Dourish 2016), including how to talk to, or even about, them. (read more...)

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...)

Monstrous Matter, Out of Place

The following is an autoethnographic comic about my experiences re-understanding a new diagnosis through revisiting Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger. (And yes, the final panel is from a conversation I did have with a grad student colleague and dear friend.) (read more...)

​​Traveling but Not Arriving: Hieroglyphics of Caste in Computing

When I landed in Bangalore in early 2020, it was a long-awaited moment of my grad school journey. I had finally defended my proposal and was set to transition into fieldwork in the next couple of months. In my preparation for fieldwork, I had read many ethnographies, most of which had an arrival scene. It seemed that the first couple of weeks of entering a field site presented a crucial lever of juxtaposition for ethnographic writing that lends itself to evocative descriptions of the setting. The “arrival trope” has been long challenged in anthropology through accounts that complicate the narrative of an ethnographer entering an unperturbed native setting (Pratt 1986). Pratt also complicates the artificial distinction between personal narrative and “objective” description, particularly as they are blurred in moments of transition or arrival in ethnographies. For me, the trope of arrival was exciting despite all its problems because it finally gave me an opportunity to re-enter a world that I was familiar with and describe it on my own terms. I had worked as a software engineer before and now wanted to study gender and caste relations in the computing industry. Dalits, formerly seen as “untouchable” under the caste system, and other lower caste people, have been subjects of upper castes doing research for a very long time. I was looking forward to subverting the arrival trope as a Dalit woman doing ethnography where upper castes were my research subjects. I wanted to do this through participant observation in the computing industry that is highly dominated by upper castes. (read more...)

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...)