Adjunct professor, NYU Tandon
Associate, NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology
Editor-at-Large, Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
Anthropologist of social and mobile media, working on the intersection of emerging media technologies and everyday experiences of space and place, especially transnational connections in Berlin and urban inequalities in NYC.
Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
#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...)
Nine field sites, nine ethnographers, eleven books: not exactly the setup for a conventional anthropological study. But for Daniel Miller and a team of eight other anthropologists in the Global Social Media Impact study at University College London (now online as Why We Post), this ambitious, comparative model was necessary to understand emerging social media practices across the world, or at least, in many different places, and extends what anthropological ethnography can be.
As Miller explained in a 2012 post on this blog (when the fieldwork was still underway), the shared features of social media platforms (from Facebook and Twitter to China’s QQ) make it possible to ask what social media are: a new means of communication? Longtime social practices in a new setting? An emergent form of social connection?
So a study that looks at this simultaneously in eight sites works particularly for something that has been introduced across the whole world within a very short time period. All this would at least suggest that a comparative study can actually deepen rather than take away from each individual ethnography.
Last year on the CASTAC Blog began with anthropological ruminations on what the “Deflategate” football scandal has to do with questions of expertise, and closed with discussions of citizen science, earthquake warning systems, the (anti-)politics of women in tech, and deeply personal engagement with experiencing crisis or catastrophe—in this case, terror attacks in Paris—over social media. One of the great perks of editing this blog lies in reading the array of topics, perspectives, and modes of analyses from our contributors. This year, I’m taken by the variety in tone, from the (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek (the aforementioned Deflategate post; the anthropology of rigged games), to the deeply affecting (again, Charlotte Cabasse-Mazel “Looking at the Pain of Others [on Social Media]”), from the boundary-pushing (Abou Farman’s call to envision radical alternative futures) to the experimental (a Twitter fieldwork experiment from Rice’s Ethnography Studio). Beyond timely, weekly engagement with climate change, artificial intelligence, changing media ecologies, infrastructure, design, energy, and more, the blog is becoming a repository cataloging—and pushing forward—the driving concerns of social scientific and humanistic inquiry in these areas.
In this review post, I consider four central conceptual questions animating this year’s coverage on how science, technology, computing and more are shaping (and shaped by) diverse lives, worlds, and experiences. These include: the mutual production or constitution of conceptual categories; questions of knowledge production and expertise; concerns with the future and futurity; and key political dimensions of science, technology, and computing. Although these themes unfold differently across intellectual projects and modes of inquiry, they elucidate the value of critical, reflexive, and empirical approaches to scientific and technological worlds. (more…)