Assistant Professor of Media & Communication Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Contributor, Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
Bryce Peake is a media anthropologist, and an Assistant Professor of Media & Communication Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). His research focuses on the ways political actors’ somatic experiences are structured by the gendered and racialized histories of media technosciences. Bryce is currently completing a monograph about masculinity and colonial media sciences in the British Mediterranean, and has begun comparative ethnographic work in the US, UK, Malta, and Gibraltar on the somatic experiences of white nationalist infopolitics in the moments of Trump and Brexit. His work has been published in Cultural Studies, Communication & Critical Cultural Studies, and Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology.
Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
One of the fascinating things about FAKE NEWS and the attendant debate about bias, lying, facts and information is the incredible relevance of so-called “classic” anthropology in our current moment. For my money, Levi-Strauss has been particularly important for my ethnographic work with the highly combustible rhetoric and action of the American Right. For the past two years, I’ve been doing ethnographic fieldwork with Trump supporters, specifically white nationalists, but also everyday individuals with different investments in Trump as a symbol and idea concretized into a body. As anthropologists (and other assorted ethnographers) comment on the political milieu in the US, I have been shocked by the shallow, simplified assumptions about how the Right operates. “Ideology” is such an unsatisfying shorthand, which assumes so much. Here, I’d like to take off from Andria Timmer’s post over at Savage Minds about who George Soros, the Right’s [current] favorite punching bag, actually is. Here, I want to argue that for Trump supporters of all different stripes, it doesn’t actually matter who Soros is or what he does. George Soros – and the same thing might be said about FACTS or NEWS more widely – is something that “grassroots” conservative activists think with, not about. Fake news, in other words, is about ritual and a political cosmology. (more…)
In fall 2014, I began building Tinn, a health data tracking application for people living with tinnitus. I approached building Tinn as an opportunity to explore what a socially conscious, feminist, and anti-colonial process for developing mobile applications might look like. The idea of pairing design, building, and anthropology is hardly all that innovative; “design anthropology,” a subfield of cultural anthropology focused on empirical studies of use cultures, has been around since the 1980’s (at least). What sets Tinn apart, however, is my commitment to working with communities of color in Portland, OR, that have been alienated by and from the technology and application development industry because of intersecting and juxtaposed systems of gender, racial, and access inequality. Perhaps one of the central epistemic problematics for the project, then, can be posed as a question: Can we decolonize design anthropology, and to what success ordegree? What might this entail?
Decolonization is slippery. My “academic anthropology” is a historical ethnography of the ways media scientists after World War II shaped (and continue to shape) the gendered contours of global media flows in the British Empire, with a particular focus on sound, listening, and citizen-subject formation in Gibraltar. My work on Tinn gave me the opportunity to transform my critique of the violence done by media scientists into the starting point for a more ethical approach to user experience research with marginalized Native American, Latin@, migrant, and African American Oregonians living with tinnitus in Portland. Yet what I thought of as decolonizing and what my collaborators thought of as decolonizing was at odds in some instances. For one, while decolonizing anthropology attempts to re-balance the scales of recognition and redistribution in the research process, it is much more difficult to reconcile the colonial histories of designer and designed for. Yet, for my collaborators, this division didn’t actually matter. As Nephi, one of my politically astute collaborators, put it, “the ethics are too heady when we need material help. Someone has to do that work. It’s you today.” While Tinn began with my commitment to making the project open source (as resistance to the privatization and commoditization of collaboration — it’s not that simple), Nephi protested. “My labor is there, too. You’d give it away for free? There’s a long history of white men giving away the work of my people for free.” I said it wasn’t simple.
While there were times where my collaborators and I didn’t agree on what constituted decolonization, we did agree on one thing: data poses a particularly tricky sociohistorical landscape for thinking about recognition, redistribution, and reconciliation. The rest of this post is dedicated to the complications of tracking data about tinnitus, and tracking data about vulnerable and/or marginalized users with tinnitus. (more…)