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From Technocracy to the Anthropocene: 2016 in Review

#ALSIceBucketChallenge. Deflategate. Twins in Space. Animal Sex Work. The joy of working on Platypus since its inception arises from the many lively, timely, engaged posts that our team of contributing editors and authors bring to the blog each week. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, often critical and reflective, the blog offers a look into up-and-coming research in anthropology, STS, and related fields on science, tech, computing, informatics, and more. As editor, I’ve delighted in posts that frequently turn commonsense assumptions upside down. For the past two years, I’ve summarized the major themes and highlights in a yearly review post, and have the pleasure of doing so for 2016. Two noteworthy themes threaded through many of last year’s posts: 1) reflections on technocracy, and 2) living in the anthropocene. By technocracy, I mean emerging regimes of data, algorithms, and quantitative living. Melissa Cefkin (Human-Machine Interactions and the Coming Age of Autonomy) opened the year by asking what’s at stake in notions of “autonomy” underlying autonomous vehicles, that is, self-driving cars. As autonomy comes to characterize the future of driving, Cefkin’s showed how anthropological insight can ground designers’ assumptions in culturally specific understandings of selfhood and sociality. Investigating implicit norms in technology similarly informed Yuliya Grinberg’s reports (Data Visualizations: The Vitruvian Man, Open Data, and Body Real-Estate and Is Data Singular or Plural?) on how data are (is?) imagined, described, and represented. In the first, for example, she examines how technology companies represent bodies as real estate to be mapped—and quantified through personal (more...)
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Anthropos beyond the Human

In their thoughtful provocation, Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie focus our attention on anthropos, and suggest that in transhumanists, anthropologists might find kindred spirits. Though our approaches and traditions may differ, we share “the same conceptual terrain.” Concerned as we all are about shifts in our ways of living and being in a “rapidly accelerating technological contemporary,” transhumanists and anthropologists may indeed have much to learn from each other about future forms of anthropos. But implied in their discussion is a convergence between “anthropos” and “human.” What is at stake in making this equation? Transhumanists and anthropologists alike are tuned into the future of the human, but we should also remember that futures are never very evenly distributed. My work has focused on figuring out the contours of a similar problem space. My main ethnographic study was on a network of researchers in Japan who make what they call ningen-chūshin (more...)

What the $@#! is an “implication for design”?

The upcoming theme for the Association for American Anthropologists Annual Meeting is "Anthropology Matters." While clearly signalling the need for anthropologists to engage and contribute to current social and political affairs in the U.S., the theme can also be interpreted more generally. Today, we're announcing an upcoming thematic series, Disabling Technologies, which will look at how anthropological perspectives matter for technology designers working in contexts of health, disability, and equality across the globe. (more…)

Weekly Round-up | March 3rd, 2017

This week's round-up careens from a Walden video game to the far reaches of interstellar space, with pit-stops for an algorithm that can identify evangelicals and some philosophical neuroscientists along the way. As always, if you find anything interesting, bizarre, despicable, or useful around the web -- send it our way! We'd love to include it in next week's round-up. (more…)

Teaching (Non)Technological Determinism: A Theory of Key Points

How can we account for the radical uncertainty of change when we think about the future, but its seeming inevitability when it comes to the past?  This is, arguably, the hardest part in doing the history and anthropology of technology.  It is also, not surprisingly, the hardest to teach our students.  In what follows, I suggest that the experience of watching (and playing) sports might be of help here. (more…)

Weekly Round-up | February 24th

After a brief hiatus, the weekly round-up returns with stories on algorithms, microdosing, virtual reality documentaries, and how to read new media. As always, we'd love to showcase stuff that CASTAC members are working on elsewhere, or just cool stuff that you find around the web! Drop us a line at editor@castac.org and we'll throw it in the mix for next week. Algorithms have been a favorite punching bag of the blogosphere and middle-brow journals for a few years now. While they're easy to criticize, they're harder to engage and historicize. "Rule by Nobody" does a nice job of both, however. Adam Clair draws on Weber and Graeber to argue that algorithms should be understood as an expansion of bureaucratic rationalization. Rather than posthuman monstrosities of unfeeling code and insensate machines, he suggests that we consider them as profoundly human, sociotechnical systems, open to intervention and creative refashioning. How anthropological! The emergence of algorithms (more...)

Anthropos Tomorrow: Transhumanism and Anthropology

Editor’s note: This week, we’re bringing you the first look at something slightly different. In addition to our regularly scheduled programming, Platypus has decided to experiment with guest-edited thematic series, which will bring together a range of anthropologists working on similar issues for a more theoretically-oriented conversation held over several weeks. Here, Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie introduce our first series, on Transhumanism and Anthropology. If you are interested in participating, please let them know; if you are interested in organizing a future thematic series, please do get in touch with the Editor.   Anthropologists, long relatively comfortable bearing the mantle of studying humanity, today find themselves working in increasingly posthuman theoretical spaces. Anthropos, as a unitary figure, had already began to crumble under the weight of postcolonial, feminist, and deconstructive critique during the eighties; lately, however, our empirical work is pushing us still further beyond the human. This is particularly, but (more...)

The Technocratic Antarctic: Jessica O’Reilly on Science, Dwelling, and Governance

Editors note: this week, we're pleased to bring you a conversation between Stefan Helmreich and Jessica O’Reilly about her new book, The Technocratic Antarctic: An Ethnography of Scientific Expertise and Environmental Governance, just published by Cornell University Press.    Stefan Helmreich: Why Antarctica? Jessica O'Reilly: I came across the 1980's environmentalist movement to make Antarctica a World Park when I was putting together a campfire talk, while I was a park ranger in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park. That fall, I began grad school and began reading Bruno Latour. At the beginning of We Have Never Been Modern, Latour writes about an imaginary ethnography of the ozone hole—this is one of his examples of the hybridity of nature and culture. This idea seemed so weird and wonderful. Once I began reading about and talking to people who live and work in Antarctica, I learned there was this fascinating blend of speculative adventuring and (more...)