Tag Archives: anthropology

We Are More Than Our Brains

an outline of a human head and a brain inside of it made from neon lights.

image source.

NPR launched a new show this month called Invisibilia that “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” The show’s hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller are great personalities and the show is beautifully edited in a way that doesn’t reach the Reggie Watts-esque soundscape of Radiolab nor does it stick closely to the dry public radio persona that has been lampooned countless times. I was, however, really disappointed when I learned that the huge topics under investigation in this show would only be understood through “psychological and brain science.” There are a lot of different disciplines that can be brought to bear on huge topics like “ideas” so why are we getting another show that confuses humans for brains? (more…)

On Researcher Betrayal: Exposing Youth Technology Practices to Parents

A family gathered for dinner.

The other day I met a friend’s extended family over dinner, including their two sons of about middle school age, and we all had a discussion about young people’s use of technology. Some pundits argue that young people do not have standards of privacy at all in the digital age. In spite of this, studies find that youth do care about privacy but perhaps in ways that are different from adults – for example, they prefer to be visible online to peers and some public audiences but not always to parents and other family members. Over the course of dinner, however, I realized that researchers occupy a complicated position between adults and the youth they study. Parents assert the need to control standards of privacy for their children, and researchers could, accidentally, jeopardize young people’s private spaces by exposing them to their families in ways that may not encourage real dialogue. (more…)

Producing Consumers: A Follow Up to Robin James

Today’s post is a reply to Robin James’ post, which raises questions stemming from the observations made in Jodi Dean’s recent post on “What Comes After Real Subsumption?


Image c/o Aldor

Image c/o Aldor

This might be a tad “incompatible” with the existing discussion because while the discussion so far has focused mainly on a Marxist approach to a series of philosophical questions, I want to take an anarchist approach to an anthropological re-reading of the initial question: “what comes after real subsumption?” That is, I think some of the subsequent questions might be more answerable if we interrogate their anthropological facets. Particularly, I want to focus on what is considered feedstock for production and what is identified as the act of consumption which, by definition, must yield a waste that capitalists sort through in an effort to extract more surplus value. Pigs in shit as it were.  (more…)

The Promise of Praxis

“The primacy of contemplation over activity rests on the conviction that no work of human hands can equal in beauty and truth the physical kosmos, which swings in itself in changeless eternity without nay interference or assistance from outside, from man or god.” –Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition

Praxis Exploding, Image c/o Paramount Pictures

Praxis Exploding, Image c/o Paramount Pictures

I’ve been thinking a lot about methods lately. I want to spend a few paragraphs considering the current state of affairs for social scientists interested in science and technology as their objects of analysis. What kind of work is impossible in our current universities? What kinds of new institutions are necessary for breaking new ground in method as well as theory? Think of this post as an exercise in McLuhan-style probing of institutions of higher learning. I’m going to play with a lot of “what-ifs” and “for instances.” None of this is particularly actionable, nor am I even interested in proposing anything that would be recognized as “realistic” or even “pragmatic.” Mainly, I’m interested in stepping back, considering the state of our technosociety, and asking what kinds of questions need asking and what kinds of science is being systematically left undone. (more…)

Technocultures: The Digital Boarderlands (Part 2)

Stacks of Kente and cotton cloth sit in piles, waiting to be stamped with Adinkra patterns. Note the “pixelated” patterns in the center stack.

In part 1 I opened with a run down of the different kinds of “digital divides” that dominate the public debate about low income access to technology. Digital divide rhetoric relies on a deficit model of connectivity. Everyone is compared against the richest of the rich western norm, and anything else is a hinderance. If you access Twitter via text message or rely on an internet cafe for regular internet access, your access is not considered different, unique, or efficient. Instead, these connections are marked as deficient and wanting. The influence of capitalist consumption might drive individuals to want nicer devices and faster connections, but who is to say faster, always on connections are the best connections? We should be looking for the benefits of accessing the net in public, or celebrating the creativity necessitated by brevity. In short, what kinds of digital connectivity are western writers totally blind to seeing? The digital divide has more to do with our definitions of the digital, than actual divides in access. What we recognize as digital informs our critiques of technology and extends beyond access concerns and into the realms of aesthetics, literature and society. I think it is safe to say that most readers of this blog think they know better: Fetishizing the real is for suckers. The New Aesthetic, a nascent artistic network, is all about crossing the boarder between the offline and the online. Pixelated paint jobs confuse computer scanners and malfunctioning label makers print code on Levis. The future isn’t rocket-powered, its pixelated. Just as the rocket-fueled future of the 50s was painstakingly crafted by cold warriors, the New Aesthetic of today is the product of a very particular worldview. The New Aesthetic needs to be situated within its global context and reconsidered as the product of just one kind of future. (more…)

TechnoCultures: Technology as Achievement and Corruption (Part 1)

An Ashanti enstooling ceremony, recorded (and presumably shared) through cell phone cameras (marked).

The “digital divide” is a surprisingly durable concept. It has evolved through the years to describe a myriad of economic, social, and technical disparities at various scales across different socioeconomic demographics. Originally it described how people of lower socioeconomic status were unable to access digital networks as readily or easily as more privileged groups. This may have been true a decade ago, but that gap has gotten much smaller. Now authors are cooking up a “new digital divide” based on usage patterns. Forming and maintaining social networks and informal ties, an essential practices for those of limited means, is described as nothing more than shallow entertainment and a waste of time. The third kind of digital divide operates at a global scale; industrialized or “developed” nations have all the cool gadgets and the global south is devoid of all digital infrastructures (both social and technological). The artifacts of digital technology are not only absent, (so the myth goes) but the expertise necessary for fully utilizing these technologies is also nonexistent. Attempts at solving all three kinds of digital divides (especially the third one) usually take a deficit model approach.The deficit model assumes that there are “haves” and “have nots” of technology and expertise. The solution lies in directing more resources to the have nots, thereby remediating the digital disparity. While this is partially grounded in fact, and most attempts are very well-intended, the deficit model is largely wrong. Mobile phones (which are becoming more and more like mobile computers) have put the internet in the hands of millions of people who do not have access to a “full sized” computer. More importantly, computer science, new media literacy, and even the new aesthetic can be found throughout the world in contexts and arrangements that transcend or predate their western counterparts. Ghana is an excellent case study for challenging the common assumptions of technology’s relationship to culture (part 1) and problematizing the historical origins of computer science and the digital aesthetic (part 2). (more…)

On Performative Internet Memes: Planking, Owling, & Stocking


The author, planking

The author engaging in an activity that might be considered "planking." Circa 2009

In the Spring semester of my third year of college I had a stats class that really took the life out of me. One day I elected to take a brief nap in a dorm lounge. The picture above was taken shortly after I laid down, and subsequently posted on Facebook. Out of context, it appears as though I am planking- an internet meme in which individuals are photographed intentionally laying face-down in strange places. It has popped in an out of the global media for almost a decade but resurfaced over this summer into a world-wide activity. It has since inspired similar activities including owlingBatmanning, and stocking. I will refer to the entire trend collectively as “performative memes.” Unlike Anthropology Major Fox or lolcatz, these memes are about performing a certain embodied act, not producing an image for visual consumption. All around the world, friends are taking pictures of each other doing strange stunts and posting them on the internet. What exactly are we doing -socially- when we engage in performative internet memes?


Amber Case: Cyborg Anthropologist (a critique)

Here, Amber Case states something commonly repeated on this blog: we are all cyborgs. As such, she calls herself a cyborg anthropologist, similar to how we conceive of the study of technology and society as Cyborgology (perhaps without such strict disciplinary terms – but that is another discussion).

However, there is much disagreement between Case’s usage of the term and how I (and others) on this blog define a cyborg.

First, Case argues in the video above that the human cyborg is a recent invention. A product of new technologies that compress our mental capacities over time and space. On this blog, however, we tend to use the term much more broadly. For instance, one fundamental technology that structures other technologies built upon it is language. Post-structuralist thinking has long taught us about the power of language to drive what and how people think, how selves are formed, how power is enacted, and so on. Other technologies, such as spatial organization (think the architectural technologies of the amphitheater or panoptic prison) have profound impact on the mental processes of humans. The human mind has never been independent of technology, and, as such, we have always been cyborgs.

My second disagreement surrounds Case’s argument that (more…)