Chen Guangchen faced detainment and physical abuse after mobilizing protests and law suits against the Chinese government
In 2006, my final year of undergrad, I participated in a Chinese language and culture scholarship program. We learned to speak and write in Mandarin for two semesters, followed by a month long trip in the summer. As tends to happen, I’ve forgotten most of the language. The lessons, however, have stuck with me. Along with humbling experiences of climbing the Great Wall, walking through the Forbidden City, and sampling tea in the rural mountains, I remember a few incidents in which Chinese censorship took me by surprise. For instance, on the day after we visited Tiananmen Square, I studiously went to an Internet café to learn more about the events that transpired at the historic site. Besides iconic images of tanks and soldiers, I was admittedly uninformed about most of the details. The tour guide only made one quiet allusion to the Cultural Revolution, and quickly changed the subject. The Internet, I hoped, would help me grasp the cultural and historical magnitude of the space I’d just inhabited. No such luck. Google was more tight-lipped about Tiananmen Square than our knowledgeable but cautious guide.
China is infamous for its censorship policies and practices. Amnesty International claims that China imprisons more journalists and ‘cyber-dissidents’ than any other country, and maintains a sizeable “Internet Police” force, up to 50,000 officers strong. But recent studies by Political Scientist Gary King show interesting and surprising patterns in censorship enforcement. His data show that government censorship of digital activity is less about quieting criticism, and more about squashing physical mobilization. (more…)
On August 21st, thousands of Syrians suffered the effects of an alleged chemical attack by contested Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad and his regime. According to U.S. reports, 1,400 people died, and many more were injured. Many of those killed and injured were not part of the Free Syrian Army, but innocent citizens, including children. Investigations indicate that the weapon of choice was Sarin, a liquid-to-vapor nerve agent that can cause an array of symptoms, up to and including death. The Obama administration is now pushing for a U.S. military response. The president will hold a vote today (Tuesday) in an attempt to get congressional backing for targeted missile strikes against the Assad regime.
Importantly, this is an openly symbolic act. Obama and his supporters—along with British PM David Cameron , whose Syria plan was recently voted down—explicitly state that they do not intend to change the tide of the ongoing civil war. Rather, military action against the Assad regime acts as a public punishment for the use of chemical weapons, a violation of the Geneva Protocols of 1925 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Below are some excerpts from Obama’s remarks a few days ago (here is the full transcript): (more…)
As Edward Snowden settles into his new life in Russia, and Facebook inc. faces accusations of providing information to government officials about protesters in Turkey, issues of privacy are on the lips, minds, and newsfeeds of many global citizens.
Citizens sit with the uncomfortable and now undeniable reality that we are being watched. That our own governments, in many cases, are doing the watching. And that the economic, social, and interactive structures makes this kind of surveillance largely impossible to avoid.
I have noticed an interesting trend as people work through what many view as an unfortunate inevitability of pervasive surveillance: the use of play as a form of resistance. To be sure, PJ Rey (@pjrey) is our resident Play Theory expert here at Cyborgology. I am an admitted novice to this line of theory. As such, I hope that those with greater expertise than I will supplement my wide-eyed sociological noticings with established or developing social theorists and their theories. (more…)
The Today Show recently did a special on sexting, and NBC reporter Abigail Pesta wrote a piece about it, with a video link, here. Much of the piece is based around the expert opinion of Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist who wrote a book on the topic based on interviews and observations with teenage students in the U.S.
In what follows, I leverage a rather harsh critique of the piece and the research that it cites. I do so because I think they show promise, but go wrong in very important ways. This critique is meant not as a fight, but as a push to researchers, policy makers, and general citizens to check their assumptions about the relationship between bodies, behaviors, and technologies. And moreover, it is an imploration to address root level issues, rather than seeking out blamable objects with naive hopes of eradicating social problems through destruction of material stuff. (more…)
EXTRA!! EXTRA!!! DIGITAL MEDIA CONSUMPTION WILL SURPASS TRADITIONAL TELEVISION VIEWING THIS YEAR!!!!
The folks at eMarketer just released a study which projects that this year, adults will spend over 5 hours consuming digital media, as compared with about 4.5 hours watching television. This makes for a nice headline. It also makes for a wonderful example of the social construction of knowledge, and relatedly, the embeddedness of digital dualism.
A root assumption of Science and Technology Studies (STS) is that both science and technology, though billed as objective, are anything but. Knowledge systems, and methods of knowing (i.e. epistemologies), are necessarily based in human values, cultural norms, power structures, and historical context. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar famously deconstruct the notion of scientific objectivity in their 1979 anthropological study of Laboratory Life. In this vein, Emily Martin illuminates the gendered ways in which biologists depict the egg-sperm relationship within the reproductive process. And a few months back, I argued that to be a Quantified Self requires quite a bit of qualitative interpretation and decision making. In short, Big Data, statistical techniques, and laboratory procedures produce knowledge that is equally as biased as storytelling or ethnographic interpretation. Sorry, Enlightenment. (more…)
As the American Sociological Society Annual Meeting approaches, I want to take this opportunity to give some theoretical attention to the language of digital technologies. The following is perhaps an overly verbose way of asking what to do with heavily integrated but problematic vocabularies? The timing here is significant, as I believe the meetings next weekend will include a lot of dualist language that we, as a discipline, aren’t quite sure what to do with.
George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin. And yet, Martin, a 17 year old boy, is dead. Killed by Zimmerman’s lethal gunshot. Protestors have taken to Twitter, Facebook, and the streets. Here, I want to try to make sense how this case is far more complex legally than it is morally. In what follows, I argue that both bodies and laws are technologies—or more specifically—materialized action, and that the intersection of their imbedded values and assumptions afford justices processes which feel, at a visceral level, generally unjust. (more…)
Over the weekend, I noticed that Facebook hashtags are now linked. “What!? When did this happen??” I quickly asked my network.
This simple shift opens avenues for deeper discussions about the social media ecology of which I wrote a few weeks back. In particular, it shows the relational nature of the ecological system, and the back and forth multiply influential relationship between humans and technologies, all of which shape each other in a multiplicity of ways.
By social media ecology I refer to all of the media on and through which users are Social (in the capital “S,” linked and connected sense of the word introduced by Whitney Erin Boesel and Nathan Jurgenson). As social media increasingly integrates into the flow and logic of everyday life, users draw on a variety of digital tools to meet a diverse set of needs. The social media ecology refers to the set of tools users draw on, and the ways in which these tools, and their users, are connected and/or compartmentalized. (more…)
Earlier this month Geoffrey Miller (@matingmind), the now infamous professor of evolutionary psychology, punched out a really awful tweet. He said this:
His message is blaringly ironic, coming from a man who clearly lacked the willpower to think through the statement before making it public #truth. Although he later deleted the tweet, his followers had already created screen captures and sent the image into a spiraling journey of virality.
I don’t want to spend my post today harping on Miller’s particular indiscretion. Others have been busy doing just that, quite eloquently, for the past week and a half. Instead, I want to talk about Fatness as a moral stigma, and the ways in which Miller’s tweet first, exposed the moral nature of body size and in turn, offered Fat Activists an opportunity to publicly reject Fatness as a marker of immorality. This was facilitated, I argue, by the affordances of new technologies coupled with determined and conscientious social actors. (more…)
Over the past few months there’s been a lot of hoopla around the “mass exodus” of teens from Facebook, with particular reference to Facebook’s decreasing cache of cool. Despite several refutations to the mass-exodus hypothesis, people—academics and non-academics alike— still ask me all the time: “So Jenny, what’s up with all the kids leaving Facebook? I hear it’s not cool anymore.”
Now let me be clear; I am not cool. I hold no pretense of being cool, and hence have no business making any sort of objective hipness-rating on anything. Seriously. I just used the word “hip.” I am, however, a social scientist, and I want to take a moment to talk about some data—an area in which I am qualified. (more…)