The Madness is in Our Nature

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Recently I returned to Quito after a short trip to the UK, where I attended the aptly named CAOS (the Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability) conference at UCL. I also got some much needed guidance from my supervisors (Dr Evan Killick and Professor James Fairhead), and spent some wonderful time with friends and family, who I have dearly missed while I have been away on my fieldwork. While I was there, a close friend told me he had been reading my blog and that he loved the first three I had posted because they were thoughtful, open and honest, but the rest seemed to just be ‘basic journalism’. I think he is right. After the first few (for a number of reasons) I just didn’t have the time or energy to put too much of myself into what I was writing. I am going to try rectify that a little here by reflecting on something that Professor Bruno Latour talked about at CAOS (where he was the keynote speaker); something that really struck a chord with me… “The Four Ways to be Made Mad by Ecological Mutations.”


Sexual Microaggressions: The New (Covert) Oppression

In 2007, Sue introduced the idea of microaggressions- small remarks or statements that carry harmful, derogatory, and/ or discriminatory implications against a group of individuals based on their identity, whether or not those implications are intended or not. Initially this concept was utilized to understand racial microaggressions, but in 2011 Kevin Nadal applied the microaggression framework to sexual orientation. While the concept of microaggressions first appeared in the counseling field, social scientists have begun to utilize this concept to understand the new, more subtle forms of oppression towards people of color, non-heterosexual identified individuals, women and gender non-conformants, among others. What is most important in their analysis, yet often only mentioned in passing, if at all, is the reasoning behind these microaggressions: hegemonic power.


Wikipedia Zero: Socializing Knowledge, but Threatening Net Neutrality?


Image by Omaranabulsi

I visited Nepal earlier this year. It was my first visit since three years earlier and I was completely taken aback by just how many people appeared to own a smartphone: even in remote areas of the country that are some of the least developed regions of the world. Upon some research, my suspicions that mobile devices are the fastest spreading technology in developing countries were confirmed. I did wonder the extent to which cell phones can be useful in aiding development, in that most people used it for simple talking and texting functions. Data, while available, is ridiculously expensive for a nation with a GDP of just less than 20 billion dollars.

So imagine my surprise when I read around 20 Wikipedia articles on my phone only to discover that not a single rupee had been deducted from my pre-paid account for this activity. That is how I learned about Wikipedia Zero: an initiative by the Wikimedia Foundation to provide information free of cost to mobile users in the Global South. Launched in 35 countries so far, the initiative’s official claim is: “We created Wikipedia Zero so that everyone can access all the free knowledge on Wikipedia, even if they can’t afford the mobile data charges.” So in principle, it sounds like a positive philanthropic effort to make a wide-range of information available to those who cannot otherwise afford it. Why would anyone be opposed to this idea?

Well, it happens to cross paths with some of the greater current concerns of the Global North: paying mobile carriers more money to provide a particular internet service at a different rate than all other services seems to tread on violating Net Neutrality. Currently in the United States, Net Neutrality is a topic of grave concern to many, especially given that the FCC will finally be voting on this issue on February 26, 2015. While the concerns are completely valid within the context of opposing the loss of Internet freedom due to corporate monopoly of cable companies in the U.S., they lose value when applied to a context in which people in developing countries receive tangible intellectual benefits from the supposed violation. Unfortunately, the concerns are grave enough that certain governments have begun to take notice. In May 2014, the government of Chile deemed Wikipedia Zero, and similar services by Facebook and Google, illegal.

And the ruling almost makes sense for Facebook and Google; both are corporations serving some kind of a for-profit agenda. Fighting against corporate giants profiting from varying Internet surcharges is in line with the spirit of protecting Net Neutrality. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is a Non-Profit Organization that is run almost entirely by the masses: its servers are paid for by public donations and the average user creates majority of the content. Information from a single source can be dangerous, and since Wikipedia is the only online encyclopedia available for free in these countries, some opponents argue that the free knowledge it is providing can be biased. Perhaps it is – to the extent that any information online is biased – but not necessarily a political or corporate bias. Every article might represent the bias of each of its contributor, and inaccuracies all over the site are famously common. However, are those critiques strong enough when observing from a global scale with regards to how inaccessible information generally is in parts of the Global South?

Or considering how the initiative has led to the site representing voices that would otherwise never be heard of by global mainstream media? For example, to Ram Prasad Joshi writing from the Western Hills of Nepal, where electricity isn’t an everyday occurrence, Wikipedia Zero was a unique platform. To the rest of the world, his articles are information from a unique source we would otherwise never be privy to.

Within a Western context, I am an avid supporter of Net Neutrality; however, the way it is painted as black and white in mainstream discourse overlooks certain situations in which a seeming violation can actually help foster long-term global development. In an age where all of the world’s knowledge is a screen tap away, Wikipedia Zero is making an effort to distribute its access equally throughout the globe. The initiative is too harshly criticized for merely turning knowledge into the first resource that is gradually becoming globally socialized.

Further Readings:

Wikipedia Zero: All the world’s information, no Internet access needed

What is Net Neutrality?

Washington Post Article: “Wikipedia’s ‘complicated’ relationship with net neutrality”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons 

The Digital Collapse of Distance, and a Terrestrial Pulling-Apart

Satellite Earth Image

It can be pretty difficult, sometimes, to justify your commitment to ‘ethnographic’ methods. Partly, perhaps, because most people don’t quite know what being ethnographic means. But also because ‘being ethnographic’ is often devalued by the very people with whom British social scientists are increasingly encouraged to engage as part of the ‘Impact’ agenda. I do not think I am alone among doctoral students in having struggled to explain to the ‘technical’ and policy experts I encountered during my research quite what ethnography is, and why anyone would bother with it – or listen to someone who had. Soundbites from Bronislaw Malinowski (whose Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Coral Gardens and their Magic constitute the ultimate methodological reference point for many anthropologists)[1] such as ‘ethnography is about researching from “the native’s point of view” and attending to the “imponderabilia of everyday life”’ are (in addition to sounding uncomfortably dated) unlikely to convince someone who is not already on board. Ethnography quite simply produces ‘data’ (or, more appropriately, ‘narratives’) that are not formalized enough for the tastes of many who occupy powerful positions in business, development and government (but see this for an alternative view). Unless, of course, you accept, with Edward Said (and more recently David Price) that ethnography – and the ‘area expertise’ derived from its practice – is implicated in both earlier colonial, and contemporary American, military expansion. So what (if any) kind of relationship might there be between the type of knowledge produced by ethnography, and the wider power structures in which a researcher operates?


Why are we obsessed with what teens are doing on social media?



‘They’ are prime movers we can observe to spot future trends; like rejecting Facebook. ‘They’ are doing something problematically or exotically different to us. For example sexting or hacking. Or ‘they’ are being radicalised by the Internet. ‘They’ are teenagers. We are not similarly fixated by other social groups such as pensioners in this way. What lies behind our obsession with teenagers? (more…)

“Today we honor the best and whitest”

student-panelThis article is making its way through my news feed again, despite the fact that it is more than 2 years old.  Fresh comments, fresh outrage from the community.  Students experiencing race-based standards give interviews on NPR about how these standards make them feel and think while they are inside the classroom.  To date my favorite casual observational comment about having different standards for different sets of students based on their race is, “based upon their race?  The only race is human”.  IF these standards a way for the public education policy to attempt to acknowledge the reality of racial differences then they are misunderstanding the way structural differences are reproduced.   Racism Without Racists, by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva tackles the topics of racism and social stratification through a paradoxical lens of how people see themselves as racialized beings. (more…)

Electioneering, Facebook-style.

By Flohuels (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

What do you think was the most-discussed topic on Facebook in the UK last year? The World Cup? Cat videos? Ice buckets? The Kardashians? Sociology Lens?… Amazingly, it’s none of those. It was, according to someone who ought to know, Elizabeth Linder – Facebook’s Politics & Government Specialist for Europe – Politics. (more…)

Ubiquity and Privilege Checking




In my last post I discussed the problems with juridical changes and practice in real life, problematized ubiquity amongst communities that are at odds with solidarity and posed questions about challenging privilege. Today’s post continues that conversation by asking how does one create change around ideologies? Those who work in the health and human services, who are educators and the like, know that change does not come just from juridical amendments. Change is only created through education and practice: not when certain laws are, finally, deemed as “unconstitutional.” (more…)

Knit Happens: Doing Masculinity in a Female Knitting Space

"Purl3". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Purl3″. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

In college, I double majored in both women and gender studies as well as sociology, It was not until the spring of my sophomore year, however, that I was introduced to the sociological theory of doing gender, by West and Zimmerman. Since then, I have utilized their theory, along with concepts of “undoing,” “redoing,” and most recently, Kristen Schilt’s concept of “doing heteronormativity.”

When I was considering what I should write for my post this week, I was inspired by George Byrne’s post of an old paper that he wrote during his undergraduate studies. Rather than posting an old paper however, I went back through my old papers and stumbled upon a paper that I wrote on doing gender, examining a series of observations I made of men doing their gender and masculinity in a female space– a knitting warehouse– and below I offer a summary of my paper’s finding, as well as a my newest understanding of my previous work based on my new understanding of doing, undoing, redoing gender, masculinity, and heteronormativity. Not only is gender ever only done, but gender is constructed as a result of power structures.


Do heterodox economists make heterodox markets?

Another surprise economics bestseller goes out of stock at Amazon...

Another surprise economics bestseller goes out of stock at Amazon…

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, studying financial knowledge and practice has become more and more common for sociologists and anthropologists. But the methodological and theoretical approach that has set the terms of engagement for many of these post-crisis scholars predates the crash by at least a decade. Associated predominantly with Michel Callon, Donald MacKenzie, and their students, the social studies of finance emphasizes the extent to which as Callon puts it, ‘economists contribute toward enacting the realities they describe.’ Perhaps the most widely cited example of such economic ‘performativity’ comes from MacKenzie’s work on the Black-Scholes option pricing model. MacKenzie suggests that the model (implicated by trader-turned-professor Pablo Triana in the financial crashes of 1987 and 2008), while initially rather poor at pricing options in the 1970s, came to be so widely used as a prosthetic pricing tool at the Chicago Board of Exchange that pretty soon, market prices were close to the model’s predictions even when the necessary assumptions did not hold. In other words, over the last few decades, ‘the typical assumptions of finance theory have become empirically more realistic.’ The debates around performativity have at times turned nasty, and Callon et al. have come under fire from the Karel Williams’ and Julie Froud’s Manchester group, who have critiqued the ‘narrow technical’ focus of performativity scholars, calling for studies of the performativity of elite discourses around finance which provide justifications for action or inaction in the wake of the crisis.