Category Archives: Guest blogger

Othered by Anthropology: Being a Student of Color in Anglo-cized Academia

[Anthrodendum welcomes guest blogger Savannah Martin.]

It is both impressive and depressing how frequently scholars of color are Othered by anthropology. For many, the tales of alienation are too numerous to count; we are made to feel strange so regularly that the process becomes disquieting in its familiarity. Sometimes subtly, sometimes conspicuously, all the time we are reminded that we don’t really belong here.

During a roundtable at one of my first non-biological anthropology conferences, I was drowned in the creeping feeling of “otherness” that until that point in my graduate studies had only been an insidious “drip, drip drip,” of “you don’t really belong here.”

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The Automation and Privatization of Community Knowledge

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about community, who we are as a community, what keeps us connected and together, and how community knowledge is stored and distributed. As an anthropologist, my research focuses in part on automation and algorithmic impact on society, in particular, on our relationships and how we maintain them towards common cooperative goals. As such, when technology begins to change our relationship to our local locale (as it has been doing increasingly over time with each new capability), I pay attention to how this changes our physical and social structures, and our relationships to them and to each other.

Recently, Apple Computer, Inc. has branded the privatization of the idea of the commons, by renaming the retail Apple stores as “Town Squares“[1]. In Apple’s definition, these “Town Squares” are where people will gather, talk, share ideas, and watch movies, all within Apple’s carefully curated, minimalist designed, chrome and glass boxes. In this scenario, Apple’s “Town Square” is tidy, spartan, and most critically, privatized. This isn’t new behavior, however, what is new is the context within which Apple is able to do this, from both inside of shopping malls, and from retail locations on Main Streets. Applin (2016) observed that private companies are collecting and replicating community through their networks and communications records [2]. Madrigal (2017) observes that  “the company has made the perfect physical metaphor for the problem the internet poses to democracy” [3]. This article provides a discussion of what happens and what we forfeit in these hybrid gathering places between Internet usage and privately owned spaces; and how these hybrid spaces have become enabled in the first place.

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Paying with Our Faces: Apple’s FaceID

In early September, Apple Computer, Inc. launched their new iPhone and with it, FaceID, software that uses facial-recognition as an authentication for unlocking the iPhone. The mass global deployment of facial-recognition in society is an issue worthy of public debate. Apple, as a private company,  has now chosen to deploy facial-recognition technology to millions of users, worldwide, without any public debate of ethics, ethics oversight, regulation, public input, or discourse. Facial-recognition technology can be flawed and peculiarly biased and the deployment of FaceID worldwide sets an alarming precedent for what private technology companies are at liberty to do within society.

One of the disturbing issues with the press coverage of FaceID during the week of Apple’s announcement, was the limited criticism of what it means for Apple to deploy FaceID, and those who will follow Apple and deploy their own versions. What does it mean to digitize our faces and use the facsimile of our main human identifier (aside from our voices) as a proxy for our human selves, and to pay Apple nearly $1000 U.S. to do so?

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Artificial Intelligence: Making AI in our Images

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Sally Applin

Hello! I’m Sally Applin. I am a technology anthropologist who examines automation, algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the context of preserving human agency. My dissertation focused on small independent fringe new technology makers in Silicon Valley, what they are making, and most critically, how the adoption of the outcomes of their efforts impact society and culture locally, and/or globally. I’m currently spending the summer in a corporate AI Research Group where I contribute to anthropological research on AI. I’m thrilled to blog for the renowned Savage Minds this month and hope many of you find value in my contributions.

There is so much going on in the world that it is challenging to choose a single topic to write about—floods, fires, hurricanes, politics—as anthropologists in 2017, we are spoiled for choice. However, as a warm up for the month ahead, I thought I’d start with a short piece on automation and agency to frame future pieces which will address these topics. The following is a letter I wrote yesterday morning to the House of Lords in the UK, who issued a call for participation on the governance and regulation of Artificial Intelligence, a topic with great importance to me. If done well, AI will benefit many, and if overlooked, or done in haste or without forethought, there could be catastrophic outcomes from poorly designed algorithms, and automation and limitations that permanently alter society as we know it.

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“To Peace, Because the Awful Alternative is the End of All Life”: Build Bomb–Explore Space(s)–Save World! (Part 2)

This two-part post is a collaborative authorship between Taylor R. Genovese and Martin Pfeiffer, a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. For more on Martin’s work see his blog Deus Ex Atomica and his personal Twitter account @NuclearAnthro.

In Part 1, we analyzed nuclear weapon and defense industry advertisements from 1950-1964 to demonstrate the fundamentally, and publically imagined, imbrications of spaces exploration and U.S. military supremacy. In Part 2 we continue with a deeper theoretical examination of technoutopian spaces imaginaries. Although in this post we make use of colloquialisms like “Space Race,” “Ocean Race,” and “Earth Race,” we do not accept the real-world separations they imply. We argue, as per our discussion in Part 1, that these spaces explorations were fundamentally aspects of the same underlying colonial and militarist processes.

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“To Peace, Because the Awful Alternative is the End of All Life”: Build Bomb–Explore Space(s)–Save World! (Part 1)

This two-part post is a collaborative authorship between Taylor R. Genovese and Martin Pfeiffer, a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. For more on Martin’s work see his blog Deus Ex Atomica and his personal Twitter account @NuclearAnthro.

Introduction

Beginning in 1966, millions of people around the world (including the authors) have settled in front of the warm glow of a television or movie screen to watch an intrepid crew of space explorers venture through the cosmos—not for reasons of invasion or extraction, but for the more virtuous purpose of simply going where no human has ever been. We are of course talking about watching Star Trek. As we grew up and learned more about human “space exploration,” our understandings remained consistent with the dramatic imaginary of Star Trek: that adventuring into the cosmos is an inherently noble goal, pursued by good people, for inherently noble reasons. Space was the “final frontier” and humanity strode out into that glittering darkness as a matter of destiny, not conquest. Formal education during our college years initially added little nuance to our opinions about human space exploration. Sure, the space race was part of the Cold War “competition” with the Soviet Union, but “space exploration” remained pure and good in our minds.

Graduate school, that Eater of Dreams, began to change our conceptualizations as we dug deeper into these subjects. As part of Martin’s coursework at UNM, he has engaged in ethnographic and archival research including collecting nuclear weapon laboratory and defense advertising from Physics Today and Scientific American between the years of 1950-1964. Meanwhile, Taylor spent his MA years ethnographically investigating humanity’s changing perceptions of the cosmos, particularly in how the rapid commercialization of space affairs was shifting our cosmic goals from exploration to exploitation. As we brought our separate research endeavors into conversation with each other, we began to realize the imbricated natures of U.S. projects and discourses of nuclear weapons and space development.

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Shitting in Space: Engagements with Cosmic Taboo

Last December, I was asked an interesting question on Twitter: “How much poop is on the moon?” After a quick, panicky, existential reevaluation centered on whether my mountain of student loan debt was justified by having the ability to answer questions centered on feces, I began to do some research. Interestingly, the precise answer was easy to find.

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Casting into the Cosmos: Magic and Ritual in Human Spaceflight (Part 2)

In Part 1, I wrote a gonzo ethnography about my experience at a rocket launch in Florida. For Part 2, I will be utilizing historical records, museum didactic text, and astronaut testimony to illustrate that magical and ritualistic practice is heavily engaged with in spaceflight operations. One may speculate that with the extreme emphasis on the (perceived) empiricism of Western science in the realm of outer space affairs, there would be no room for the subjective—let alone magic, ritual, and religion. However, one of the themes that became apparent to me throughout my research is that there exists an enormous amount of mysticism within the field of human spaceflight. Some rituals are performed within the confines of accepted Western religious dogmas, while some fall into the realm of how some anthropologists understand magic and witchcraft.1 The first mystical component to human spaceflight is what writer Frank White has coined “the overview effect.” The term refers to the spiritual oneness that many astronauts report feeling after reaching outer space and seeing our planet from orbiting altitude, with many developing environmental and social justice viewpoints.2 Furthermore, many astronauts report that their time in space was filled with spiritual experiences, including temporal shifts, floods of emotion, and feelings of being a part of something larger than themselves. For a recent example, take what astronaut Ron Garan reports in the beginning of his autobiography:
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Casting into the Cosmos: Magic and Ritual in Human Spaceflight (Part 1)

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Taylor R. Genovese.

Field Notes – September 8, 2016 (Cape Canaveral, Florida):

I see the light and smoke first. The radiant fuel pours out of the rocket’s engines and the glow is absolutely blinding—like the brilliant ball of light at the end of a welding tool. I have to squint and look away from the base of the rocket as if I am staring directly into the sun. Then the sound comes. Roaring ripples of sound, reflecting off the Banana River and ricocheting off of buildings before finally kicking me square in the chest. The reverberations rock through my body as this asteroid-interceptor spacecraft, nestled on top of a cylinder of explosives begins to pick up speed—punching through the thick atmosphere of our planet. Within a few seconds, it is nothing but a small point of light high in the eastern sky—in a few more seconds, it has vanished.

I walk down the observation gantry and sit in the cool grass while other spectators begin to file out of the enclosure. I look up into the reverent afterglow of the rocket’s exhaust—the contrails swirling and slithering into sublimely beautiful colored shapes in the high winds of the stratosphere.

A mother and her son walk by. The mother asks her child what he thought of the launch. Clutching a toy rocket, he looks up at his mother and replies unabashedly and honestly:

“I have never seen quite a beautiful sight.”

These were my initial thoughts and feelings while experiencing my first rocket launch last summer. I scribbled these words down quickly and haphazardly, like the furious sketches of an artist attempting to capture a street scene that is moving quicker than their hand ever could. My hurried writing defiantly disobeyed the straight lines in my notebook; I didn’t want to look away from the rocket’s splendor. This was the first time I felt I had participated in a magical or religious encounter. In this two-part post, I would like to engage with magic, witchcraft, and ritual in human spaceflight—not only in a reflexive manner from my own field experience (Part 1), but also by historically and anthropologically analyzing the recorded rituals of astronauts and cosmonauts (Part 2).

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TAL + SM: The Stories Bones Tell

This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 4
by Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. We’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text.

In our fourth episode of the TAL + SM collaboration Ryan and Adam chat with Dr. Kristina Killgrove about her strategies for engaging popular, interdisciplinary audiences through writing.  We also explore Kristina’s strategies for choosing content to cover in her blog, Powered by Osteons, and end by considering some ways research has been changing in terms of crowdfunding and open access data.

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TAL + SM: Anthropology and Science Journalism, A New Genre?

Click here to check out the podcast

This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 3
by Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. We’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text.

In our third episode of the TAL + SM crossover series, we explored SAPIENS’ approach to producing anthropological content for popular audiences. Ryan and Adam were joined by the digital editor of SAPIENS, Daniel Salas, to discuss the implications of using anthropology to engage the public through journalism. The episode focused on the questions How do you reconcile scientific and anthropological writing, and is this mixture a new genre? Is there a balance to be found between producing timeless “evergreen” stories versus current events focused content for audience engagement?

Be sure to check out the first and second episodes of the TAL + SM collaboration: Writing “in my Culture” and Anthropology has Always Been out There. Continue reading

TAL + SM: Anthropology has Always been Out There

This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 2
by Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins, with Leslie Walker

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. For this series we’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text. That means each week for the month of June we’ll bring you two dialogues – one podcast and one blog post – with innovative anthropological thinkers and doers.

You can check out the the second episode of the collaboration titled: Anthropology has Always been Out There, here.

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This Anthro Life + Savage Minds: Writing “in my Culture”

A podcast and blog walk into a bar…

 

This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 1
by Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. In this series we’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text.

You can check out the the first episode of the collaboration titled Writing “in my Culture” here. Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 7

Conclusion: It’s all fun and games…

As I mentioned in the first post of my series, anthropologists and ethnobiologists have played an outsized role in studying and popularizing ayahuasca and Amazonian shamanism, and more recently, attending to its internationalization. This history affords anthropologists a stake in discussions of drug policy issues pertaining to the subjects; one might even suggest it requires their participation as a matter of ethical concern. One topic of interest among scholars and activists right now is whether and how to regulate ayahuasca practices within a framework of increasing legalization and legitimation in the global north. Some scientists and activists seem to believe that legality alone will bring increased transparency and safety by eliminating the need for practitioners and participants to navigate in what is effectively a criminal underground. However, the assumption of legality among the practitioners and participants of the new ayahuasca churches, particularly Ayahuasca Healings, sheds light on numerous other problems that legalization alone will not solve—in fact, may exacerbate. These include the misappropriation of indigenous culture, the hyper-commodification of spirituality, and a rapid increase in demand for the vine, which is already being overharvested in some areas. Continue reading

Black flags from Rome: Mafia and Isis, as before Mafia and Al Qaeda

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Stefano Portelli. Stefano is a cultural anthropologist with a doctorate in Urban Studies, his primary fieldsites are a barrio of Barcelona and the Ostia neighborhood of Rome, where the issue of mafia is crucial. Starting September 2017, he will be a Marie-Curie fellow for Leicester University’s Department of Geography.

Black flags from Rome: Mafia and Isis, as before Mafia and Al Qaeda
by Stefano Portelli

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre of January 2015, some social networks mostly based in Southern Italy published an uncanny piece of news, that bounced back on the web immediately after the much more deadly attacks in November. The Sicilian mafia boss Totò Riina, from the maximum security jail where he is secluded since 1993, was reported answering to the fear of terrorism spreading across Italy, by suggesting that if the Italian state really wanted to defeat Isis, they should release him from prison, and let him do. “Ci penso io” is a sentence that could condense the mafioso’s claim of being able to deal with the Islamic state: a very ambiguous formula in Italian, as anthropologists know. It entails taking charge of somebody else’s problem through one’s connections and savoir faire, but without disclosing the means. It creates a relation of gratefulness tinged with admiration – the basis for dependency and patronage.

The piece of news was certainly a hoax, as some of the websites themselves suggested. Still, that same January some newspapers echoed it in a more ‘respectable’ form, by quoting an interview with an anonymous secret agent, who literally said: “Terrorist leakings are much more difficult in the South [of Italy], where there is somebody who controls or even manages the territory”. A title was “Half of the country is safe (under the Mafia)”, the other “Isis only fears the Mafia”. In November the idea gained even more popularity, when the online version of an influential weekly magazine built a whole article on it, quoting another source from the intelligence community who declared that “the real protection” for Italy against Isis is “the indirect one wielded by criminal organizations”. “The Mafia succeeds in opposing terrorism”, was the title. The thesis was promptly rejected by an Italian left-wing journalist, but its very presence in public discourse reveals a rather unexplored consequence of the terrorist threat. Fear quickly evokes national cohesion, but can reach the point of crossing the boundary of what is publicly admitted, into the realm of the unspeakable, and of the obscure.

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