Author Archives: Matt Thompson

Studying With: Relation and method in the technoscientific field

Studying With: Relation and method in the technoscientific field

Since Laura Nader (1972) suggested that anthropologists turn their attention “up,” using the ethnographic gaze to bring powerful informants down to size, the anthropology of expertise has been entwined with concerns about the politics of method. The anthropology of scientists, engineers and other experts raises new forms of classic methodological questions: How should we understand the relationship between explanations offered by anthropologists and those offered by their interlocutors? How should ethnographers respond to the practical, political, and epistemic problems raised by the idea that our role is to explain what is “really” going on? Anthropologists have proposed a variety of concepts to address these questions, from “polymorphous engagement” (Gusterson 1997), to “lateral reason” (Maurer 2005) and “collateral knowledge” (Riles 2011), to the “found para-ethnographic” (Holmes and Marcus 2005).

Following this year’s call to “examine the truths we encounter, produce and communicate through anthropological theories and methods,” this panel brings together a set of researchers engaged with the practical and conceptual difficulty of studying technoscientific knowledge practices ethnographically. When engineers claim anthropological objects like “culture” as their own, when fieldwork may involve traveling just across campus, or when access hinges on convincing interlocutors of the commercial merit of ethnography, anthropology’s trademark reflexivity and charitable interpretations face new challenges. Drawing on recent and ongoing fieldwork experiences, these papers propose and explore novel modes of relation between the knowledge practices of anthropologists and those they study, building on work in the anthropology of expertise and science and technology studies.

We are looking for one or two papers to round out the panel. If you are interested in joining us, please reply to nseaver@uci.edu expressing your interest by this Friday, April 11th.

Producing Design: Ethnographies of Inequality and Difference in Digital Technologies

Producing Design: Ethnographies of Inequality and Difference in Digital Technologies
Organizers: Jordan Kraemer (UC Irvine/UC Berkeley) and Angela VandenBroek (Binghamton University, SUNY)

Please contact us if you’re interested in participating, and send proposed abstracts of 250 words to Jordan (jordan@jordankraemer.com) on or by April 7.

Technology companies have long been attentive to interface and interaction design, and are increasingly focused on “user experience,” that is, how humans interact with computing devices, products, and other humans. Although ethnographic and other qualitative research methods are now commonplace in corporate and design settings, fewer anthropological studies examine technology design (broadly conceived) in constructing inequality and cultural difference. With the current 2010s tech boom, startups and established companies alike are generating a profusion of new applications, hardware, architectures, and systems. Many of these will be implemented in diverse settings around the globe, albeit in uneven ways. This panel brings together anthropological studies of this unevenness, to address cultural inequalities in user interface and technology design. Recent commentators in the media, for example, have pointed out that tech innovators in places like Silicon Valley design platforms and services mainly for urban elites, like themselves often young, white, male, and technically savvy. Scholarly critics, moreover, seek to trouble utopian visions of technology diffusion by calling attention to the complexity of relations between tech companies, developers and designers, users, states, institutions, and material infrastructures (e.g., Morozov 2011; also Star 1999)—even as these actors often overlap.

Anthropologists and scholars in related fields have studied design and designers for some time, and have contributed to the development of design practices (e.g., Drazin 2012; Suchman 2011). Others focus on emerging forms of digital labor (Ross et al. 2010), especially in relation to value. In this panel, we investigate different ways emerging technologies and their design depend on culturally and geographically specific norms that inform interaction design, to contribute to an ongoing anthropology of design in digital contexts. How does design, especially user interface design, shape experiences of sociality, mobility, personhood, affect, value, or labor? How do designers and users (often the same people) contend with affordances and accommodations of interfaces conceived for elite or dominant subjects? From digital media to Internet-enabled household objects and “wearables,” technologies designed in particular places (whether California, London, Stockholm, Berlin, Shanghai, or Brazil) circulate transnationally and become integrated into daily practices in diverse locales. We follow Lucy Suchman’s call to locate technologies and their design in particular places, while attending to new forms of placemaking they entail.

Topics of particular interest include the anthropology of computing and user interfaces, interaction design, communications infrastructure, online “content creation” and social media, digital forms of labor, surveillance and privacy, crowdsourcing and microwork, big data and algorithms, and issues of space, place, and scale.

Digital technology, transparency, and everyday forms of political engagement

Digital technology, transparency, and everyday forms of political engagement. CFP for 2014 AAA.

Do digital media enable us to see more clearly or accurately than other forms of media? What forms of knowledge, meaning, and/or matter do they make more transparent, and for whom? In which cases do they increase trust and intimacy and in which do they obscure the dynamics of social relationships? What do digital media obscure and how?

These are some of the questions we hope to ponder in this panel on digital technology, transparency, and everyday forms of political engagement. In the global South, in particular, government administrations and civic and community organizations have formed to promote the idea that “going digital” will lead to greater political clarity – i.e., transparency – and eliminate both graft and mundane human error. Capitalizing on the post-Cold War global euphoria for greater openness, and governance built on sharing “information,” digital technology and “transparency” have become indelibly linked, as the former is expected to bring about the latter, itself described as both a desired end of and means to achieve “good governance.”

In this panel we hope to consider the “thingness” or materiality of digital technology in concert with its dialectical opposite: the “seen through.” What are the social, cultural, and technical operations and arguments through which digital technology, on purpose or by oversight, enables us to see…or not? What are the effects of this (non)seeing? Possible topics for discussion include: – the production and circulation of new visual media and the creation of new digital publics – citizen engagement with open data projects – the social production, circulation, and use of crowdsourcing software (esp open source) – the construction, management, and operation of data holding structures – the labor of laying fibre optic cables or transporting lithium, etc.

We call on panelists to consider how the representational and the material, the transparent and the opaque, the seen and the unseen are entangled in historically specific moments and culturally specific locales. At the same time, we urge panelists to consider how particular digital transparency claims and/or projects resonate with those formed in other times and places, and collectively contribute to broad transnational political visions, projects, and movements. We thus welcome proposals from all geographical areas. If you are interested in being on our panel please send an abstract of 250 words or less with your name and institutional affiliation by April 5 to poggiali@stanford.edu and dmahoney1@usf.edu.

Thanks, Dillon Mahoney, University of South Florida, and Lisa Poggiali, Stanford University

Localities: Science and Technology in Places, Spaces, and Times

Localities: Science and Technology in Places, Spaces, and Times is a Graduate Student Conference in STS at York University, May 3-4 in Toronto.

The Science & Technology Studies Program at York University announces the forth annual graduate student conference. This year’s theme, Localities, challenges us to consider how places, spaces and times take active roles in shaping the science and technology we research, and our research of science and technology. As places, spaces and times create boundaries, the concepts surrounding them are something considered and vigorously debated within STS. Their definition and construction reflect the social nature of the ways science is conducted, technologies developed, and the manner in which both are disseminated, debated, and considered, both publicly and within their respective communities. What are the localities created by such boundaries, in which science and technology and their subsequent consideration and debate reside? Do they reside within them at all, or are the very idea of localities, within which science and technology and the discourse surrounding them takes place, even something that exists or something that needs to be considered? This year’s graduate student conference looks to explore these bounded localities, hoping to bring attention to the various realms, in which science and technology reside, and to encourage discussion on how the tangible and intangible is presented across localities, as well as
how they impact individuals and communities.

We invite papers from graduate students from all areas of the humanities and social sciences that will inspire, challenge, and stretch personal assumptions, academic categories, and pedagogical approaches to the practices of STS. This conference provides an excellent opportunity to share research as well as to meet other like-minded up-and-coming academics and researchers.

We welcome contributions on the following topics:
• Education, Pedagogies and Methodologies of Locality • Public Dimensions of Science & Technology
• Science & Technology in Academic Localities • Science & Technology in Nature and Space
• Science & Technology in Fiction and Media • Technicalities of Science & Technology
• Extraordinary Localities • Embodiment and Identities • Material Dimensions
• Policies, Regulations, Law • Political Localities • Historical Localities
• Localities / (Con-)Temporalities • Thinking and Making • Multispecies Ethnography

Submission & Registration
Please submit a maximum 350-word abstract, which includes your name, affiliation, year of study, and e-mail address to STS2014@yorku.ca.
Deadline: March 31, 2014.
Please go to our website yorkustsgradconference2014.wordpress.com for further details.

Digital Anthropology at the AAA’s

Included in this post are two Call for Participants from individuals interested in organizing sessions around digital themes. Contact these folks promptly if you want to join!

WHAT’S AT STAKE? A DISCUSSION OF TRANSPARENCY, AUTHENTICITY, APPLICATION, THEORY, AND ACCESSIBILITY IN PUBLIC ANTHROPOLOGY

What we mean by the phrase “public anthropology” reveals as much about our discipline as it does our own imagining of it. The application of the label “public” and the increasing engagements with new lines of public discourse by anthropologists have resulted in an expansive landscape that encompasses classroom, journal article, ethnography, blogosphere, and beyond. In our discipline’s history, Margaret Mead remains an iconic public anthropologist, a figure widely recognized outside of anthropology and touted as emblematic of an ideal practitioner who was able to bridge the spaces among the academy, public policy, popular discourse, and speak to issues at home and abroad. Why does contemporary anthropology claim no singular public anthropologist and struggle with our role as public intellectuals? Is this because the world has changed; the discipline has changed; and an individual who can embody all of the threads of public anthropologies no longer exists? Or is it because we have an outmoded notion of public anthropologist? This session seeks to redefine public anthropology by looking at what cutting-edge practitioners are doing and how their work can intersect and support the various efforts.

This roundtable discussion will consider the question “What’s at stake?” in the various iterations of public anthropology through a series of questions and topics considering the topic from multiple angles and circulated to participants in advance. After an introduction of roundtable participants, each participant will reflect briefly on the first of five related themes—transparency, authenticity, application, theory, and accessibility—in public anthropology, fostering a provocative, personal, and interactive discussion among the panel. Time will be provided for engagement from attendees.

New publics, new public spaces, and new forms of public anthropology are emerging at a more rapid pace and the audience for our work and insight has both grown and splintered. Engagement happens in classrooms, in one-on-one conversations, virtually, locally and globally – all simultaneously. As this fragmentation occurs it raises issues related to the quality and status assigned to work, the applications for anthropological insight, the translation of contributions into metrics for professional advancement, and the role of technology and biases related to technology. It is these threads of inquiry that have brought together this group of scholars and professionals to engage, debate, and provoke our thinking as anthropologists with a stake in the publics with which we align

Contact Sarah Ono at [Sarah.Ono@va.gov]

DIGITAL MEDIA AND NEOLIBERAL URBANISM

The use of digital media has become increasingly pervasive in many dimensions of urban life. Although people and institutions frequently celebrate digital development, these often naturalized new technologies invite new inquiries into the relationship between power and media. The organizers of this panel are involved in Philadelphia-based ethnographic research that explores the use of new media in urban planning/public participation, youth media programs and social exclusion, cultural branding of immigrant organizations, and the spectacle of broadcast news interventions of neighborhood blight.

We invite papers that reflect upon similar topics in other U.S. cities with the hope of illuminating the commonalities and points of disjuncture between different cities living out post-industrial poverty and segregation. While our focus is North America, we also welcome research from international sites. Ultimately, we hope to bring ethnographic insight to the relationships between digital media, urban policy, activism, and land use.

Topics may include:
– listserv communities and neighborhood watch organizations
– the use of digital media in urban planning and participation
– new systems of surveillance
– smartphone coverage of police brutality – the strengthening of community-based radio and tv programs in light of new media policies and media consolidation
– news media representations of race and gender in urban spaces

Please send abstracts (up to 250 words) to [azellers@temple.edu] by Saturday, March 16.

Cyberworlds, Digital Studies, and Potential ideas for AAA 2013 Panel

Are you interested in planning a session for Digital Anthropology at the 2013 AAA conference? Sydney Yeager at Southern Methodist University [sydneyyeager@gmail.com] is looking for a few good anthropologists!

“Future Publics, Current Engagements” fits well with the interests of our group and it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to put together a session that can share the research and methods of digital anthropology. Last fall there were numerous, successful sessions that addressed issues relating to digital anthropology. It is possible for us to put together a successful session for 2013 which can be associated with DANG and that works toward achieving some of the goals we set during our business meeting last fall.

We have two options for how we would like to set this session up. Last fall it was mentioned that the Society for Visual Anthropology was interested in sponsoring a session with us. If this option is still on the table, I think it would be preferential. In addition, we have the right to claim some conference time to do whatever we want.

Does anyone of ideas for a the theme, topic, purpose of a session on Digital Anthropology? Our session needs to fit with the overall theme. Potentially we could discuss how the “current engagements” of anthropologists working around the world could benefit from the addressing “future publics” with the methods and insights gained from digital anthropology. That of course is still a very vague topic, but it would leave us room to address both digital methods and insights from digital research. Do we have a preference about what exactly we think this session should be focused on?

Deadlines:

The AAA Call for invited sessions closes on March 15.

The AAA Call for volunteered sessions closes on April 15.

Either way, we need to get busy if we want to make this happen. Sydney would great appreciate everyone’s feedback. After we have a more concrete idea for what we want to do, she can organize a “hangout” on Google+ so that interested members of DANG can discuss this over video chat.

Please share your suggestions and feedback.

DANG’s to do list…

Hi DANGsters! Just a quick FYI and redirect here. I’ve been posting notes and observations about our AAA business meeting on Savage Minds. Please join the conversation.

On the anthropology of digital worlds and the professionalization of blogging
On Open Access

More posts to come.

Field Methods #openthread

Perhaps the most fundamental, basic change to the discipline of anthropology will come from the way online platforms and handheld technology will impact the way field research is conducted.
Continue reading

Open Access #openthread

Open Access was the issue that spawned the genesis of DANG, but the scope problem of academic publishing can seem global and beyond our powers to affect. Here we imagine what we can do about it.
Continue reading

Teaching #openthread

Teaching is something virtually everyone in the academy must do and traditional college students have grown to take the Internet for granted. This is one field where the digital revolution will come sooner rather than later.
Continue reading