Emergent Forms of Life: Anthropologies of Late or Postmodernities
by Michael M.J. Fischer
[Fischer, Michael M. J. 1999. “Emergent Forms of Life: Anthropologies of Late or Postmodernities.” Annual Review of Anthropology 28 (1):455–78.]
Really good overview of social theory and anthropology of the po-mo 1990s, and brief encapsulation of general social theory in the twentieth century
- “Emergent forms of life’ acknowledges an ethnographic datum, a social theoretic heuristic, and a philosophical stance regarding ethics.
- The ethnographic datum is the pervasive claim … that traditional concepts and ways of doing things no longer work …
- The social theoretic heuristic is that complex societies … are always compromise formations among … emergent, dominant, and fading historical horizons.
- The philosophical stance toward ethics is that “giving grounds” for belief comes to an end somewhere and that “the end is … a sociality of action, that always contains within it ethical dilemmas or … the face of the other.” (456)
Anthropologies of late modernity … provide challenges for all levels of social, cultural, and psychological theory, as well as for ethnographic field methods and genres of writing. There are three key overlapping arenas of attention.
- The continuing transformation of modernities by science and technology,
- The reconfiguration of perception and understanding, of the human and social sensorium, by computer-mediated and visual technologies and prostheses.
- The reconstruction of society in the wake of social trauma caused by world war and civil and ethnic wars; collapse of command economies; massive demographic migrations and diasporas; and postcolonial and globalizing restructurings of the world economy, including the production of toxics and new modalities of long-term risk.” (457-458)
- “The general social theories of modernity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have to do with the dynamics of class society and industrial processes (Karl Marx); with bureaucratic, psychological, and cultural rationalization (Max Weber); with repression and redirection of psychic energy from gendered and familial conflicts (Sigmund Freud, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno); with abstraction of signs and tokens of exchange (CS Pierce, F Saussure, Georg Simmel, Thorstein Veblen); and with the complexification of the conscience collective with the division of labor (Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss).
- In contrast, general theories of the postmodern or late modern era stress the processes and effects of the “third industrial revolution” (electronic media, silicon chip, molecular biology), as well as of decolonization, massive demographic shifts, and the cross-temporal and cross-cultural referentiality of cultural forms.” (458)
- “computer-mediated communication provides also a design studio for social theory. It provides materials for thinking about a conjuncture of two kinds of science that can no longer do without one another: (a) explanatory structures that are breaks with normal experience, that can only be arrived at through the prostheses of instruments, experiments, models, and simulations, and (b) experiential, embodied, sensorial knowledge that acts as situated feedback.” (469)
- “No longer is it possible to speak of modernity in the singular. …
- “The rubric “alternative modernities” acknowledges the multiple different configurations that modernities have taken and the recognition that modernization and globalization are not homogenizing processes.” (470)
- “Among the important makers of these alternative modernities are the tremendous disruptions of the second half of the twentieth century: World War II, the struggles for decolonization, the collapse of the Soviet empire and its command economies, civil wars in Africa and Cambodia, and the “disappeared” in Argentina.” (471)
- Composing ethnographically rich texts on emergent forms of life generated under late- and postmodernities that can explore connections between changing subjectivities, social organization, modes of production, and symbolic or cultural forms, is a challenge that the anthropological archive is increasingly addressing. … The new is never without historical genealogies, but these often require reassessment and excavation of their multiplicity.
Anthropologies of late modernity (also called postmodernity, postindustrial society, knowledge society, or information society) provide a number of stimulating challenges for all levels of social, cultural, and psycho- logical theory, as well as for ethnographic and other genres of anthropological writing. Three key overlapping arenas of attention are the centrality of science and technology; decolonization, postcolonialism, and the reconstruction of societies after social trauma; and the role of the new electronic and visual media. The most important challenges of contemporary ethnographic practice include more than merely (a) the techniques of multilocale or multisited ethnography for strategically accessing different points in broadly spread processes, (b) the techniques of multivocal or multiaudience-addressed texts for mapping and acknowledging with greater precision the situatedness of knowledge, (c) the re- working of traditional notions of comparative work for a world that is increasingly aware of difference, and (d) acknowledging that anthropological representations are interventions within a stream of representations, mediations, and unequally inflected discourses competing for hegemonic control. Of equal importance are the challenges of juxtaposing, complementing, or supplementing other genres of writing, working with historians, literary theorists, media critics, novelists, investigative or in-depth journalists, writers of insider accounts (e.g. autobiographers, scientists writing for the public), photographers and filmmakers, and others.”
Continue reading Fischer – Emergent Forms of Life
The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace
by Vincent Mosco
[Mosco, Vincent. 2005. The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace. MIT Press.]
- “computers and the world of what came to be called cyberspace embody and drive important myths about our time. Powered by computer communication, we would,according to the myths, experience an epochal transformation in human experience that would transcend time (the end of history), space (the end of geography), and power (the end of politics)” (2-3).
- “it is when technologies such as the telephone and the computer cease to be sublime icons of mythology and enter the prosaic world of banality—when they lose their role as sources of utopian visions—that they become important forces for social and economic change” (6).
- “cyberspace is a mythic space, one that transcends the banal, day-to-day worlds of time, space, and politics to match the “naked truth” of reason with the “dancing truth” of ritual, song, and storytelling (Lozano 1992: 213). Indeed,cyberspace is a central force in the growth of three of the central myths of our time, each linked in the vision of an end point: the end of history, the end of geography, and the end of politics” (13).
- “the real power of new technologies does not appear during their mythic period, when they are hailed for their ability to bring world peace, renew communities, or end scarcity, history, geography, or politics; rather, their social impact is greatest when technologies become banal—when they literally (as in the case of electricity) or figuratively withdraw into the woodwork” (19).
Continue reading Mosco—The Digital Sublime
Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science
by Thomas F. Gieryn
[Gieryn, Thomas F. “Boundary-work and the demarcation of science from non-science: Strains and interests in professional ideologies of scientists.”American sociological review (1983): 781-795.]
The definition of “science” and what can be considered “scientific” is not stable–instead, it is a flexible designation created by scientists to suit particular contexts.
boundary-work – “attribution of selected characteristics to the institution of science for purposes of constructing a social boundary that distinguishes some intellectual activities as “non-science”” (782).
scientists do boundary-work for three specific reasons
- when the goal is expansion of authority or expertise into domains claimed by other professions or occupations, boundary-work heightens the contrast between rivals in ways flattering to the ideologists’ side
- when the goal is monopolization of professional authority and resources, boundary-work excludes rivals from within by defining them as outsiders with labels such as “pseudo,” “deviant,” or “amateur”
- when the goal is protection of autonomy over professional activities, boundary-work exempts members from responsibility for consequences of their work by putting the blame on scapegoats from outside” (791-792).
The demarcation of science from other intellectual activities-long an analytic problem for philosophers and sociologists-is here examined as a practical problem for scientists. Construction of a boundary between science and varieties of non-science is useful for scientists’ pursuit of professional goals: acquisition of intellectual authority and career opportunities; denial of these resources to “pseudoscientists”; and protection of the autonomy of scientific research from political interference. “Boundary-work” describes an ideological style found in scientists’ attempts to create a public image for science by contrasting it favorably to non-scientific intellectual or technical activities. Alternative sets of characteristics available for ideological attribution to science reflect ambivalences or strains within the institution: science can be made to look empirical or theoretical, pure or applied. However, selection of one or another description depends on which characteristics best achieve the demarcation in a way that justifies scientists’ claims to authority or resources. Thus, “science” is no single thing: its boundaries are drawn and redrawn in flexible, historically changing and sometimes ambiguous ways. Continue reading Gieryn—Boundary Work
Reverse Engineering Social Media: Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism
by Robert Gehl
[Gehl, Robert. 2014. Reverse Engineering Social Media: Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.]
Continue reading Gehl—Reverse Engineering Social Media
Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human.
by Tom Boellstorff
[Boellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.]
- The virtual is not new—we have always been virtual because we interact through the mediating lens of “culture.” SO being virtual is being human.
- Virtual /actual binary rather than “real”
- What makes SL so different (as opposed to social platforms) is the use of techne in a “third place.”
- We are starting a new Age of Techne. Humans (homo faber) have always used craft to create, but virtual worlds create a new way to do this (homo cyber).
- Techne – human practice that engages with the world and creates a new world as well as a new person: homo cyber
Great summary written by John Postill: http://johnpostill.com/2009/07/13/summary-of-boellstorff-2008-coming-of-age-in-second-life/ Continue reading Boellstorff—Coming of Age in Second Life
A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century
by Donna Haraway
[Haraway, Donna. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149–81. London/New York: Routledge.]
Context: 1984, Reagan and the Star Wars Missile Defense System ($84 billion) – radical feminism and a call toward the ‘natural’
- AN IRONIC DREAM OF A COMMON LANGUAGE FOR WOMEN IN THE INTEGRATED CIRCUIT
- a call to use irony/blasphemy as a method within feminism
- four-part definition: a cyborg is a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of lived social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (149)
- international women’s movements have created “women’s experience” which is an essentialist fiction – the cyborg is concurrently fiction and lived experience, so…
- Haraway makes an argument “for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings” (150)
- because, “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs” (p. 150).
- The cyborg does not require the nature/culture binary – so one no longer appropriates and incorporates the other.
- The cyborg is a fact of the present due to three current (1985 & 1991) breakdowns of traditionally held boundaries
- human/animal boundary
- animal rights, evolutionary science leading to an understanding of human animality
- More recently – non-human animal, interspecies transplants
- animal-human (organism)/ machine boundary
- authorship is in question – programs did not formerly write themselves, did not act autonomously, now they do as a matter of course
- more recently – ever growing efficiency of AI programs, anthropomorphization of technology, i.e. Siri
- physical/non-physical boundary (a subset of the previous)
- “sunshine machines” run on invisible waves – everywhere and nowhere, microprocessors are small almost to the point of invisibility, cruise missiles are transported undetectably on pickup trucks
- “Small is not so much beautiful as pre-eminently dangerous” (153).
- American socialists and feminists tend to see the world in terms of “deepened dualisms,” between mind and body, animal and machine, idealism and materialism
- they think that because technology is dominant, resistance must come in a return to the natural
- whereas, in a cyborg world, people would not “be afraid of joint kinships with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154)
- it could be possible to avoid the masculinist orgy of Star Wars apocalypse if we embrace this cyborg ontology instead of resisting/ignoring technological domination
- FRACURED IDENTITIES
- affinity politics instead of identity politics
- Identity politics don’t really mean anything: “there is nothing about being female that naturally binds women together into a unified category. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices” (p. 155).
- affinity politics create coalitions based on choice rather than identity
- examples – Chela Sandoval and “oppositional consciousness” and Katie King’s feminist taxonomies
- ‘women of color’ does not explicitly define who the group incorporates or excludes like ‘Chicana’ or ‘African-American’ would, thus it is a possible model for affinity politics
- Critique of Marx and MacKinnon
- It’s good that Marxist thought has emphasized the “daily responsibility of real women to build unities, rather than to naturalize them” (158) however, Marxism (and with it, socialist feminism) is an inherently Western concept and silences any anti-colonial understandings.
- Catherine MacKinnon deconstructs the idea of an essentialist ‘woman,’ as nothing more than a construction male desire – However, her non-existent woman is equally essentializing, using the same tools that she argued against.
- Most troubling is how neither Marxist nor radical feminism can account (or make room) for race.
- We should instead look at Julie Kristeva’s view that woman (like homosexual, and youth) is a socially constructed category, and leave behind all essentialist tendencies.
Continue reading Haraway—A Cyborg Manifesto
Entangled: An Archeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things
by Ian Hodder
[Hodder, Ian. 2012. Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things. John Wiley & Sons.]
- Ch. 1 Thinking About Things Differently
- the focus has changed from how things make society possible to the thing itself and its multiple connections. The gaze shifts to look more closely, harder at the thing, to explore how society and thing are co-entangled. That is the shift that I want to try to make in this book. (3)
- Themes about things
- Not isolated
- Since humans have been in existence we have affected the world on a large scale (Roberts 1998) so all things are to some degree human-made artifacts (4)
- Not inert – “stand against”
- Endure over Different Temporalities
- Objects and materials can endure over time spans considerably greater than individual human experience. (5)
- Appear as Non-things
- The TV is arguably one of the most transformative objects of the 20th century, and yet in our homes, as we watch our favorite programs, the TV itself becomes unnoticed. In fact we might even baulk at calling a TV a ‘thing’, since it is just the medium through which we see images. Unless we are TV repair mechanics, the box itself is of little interest and blurs into the background (6)
- The Forgetness of Things – we take for granted
- Ex. A watch is a thing, but not only has leather, metal, and glass parts that interact, but also temporal components: changes from early religious to Julian to Gregorian calendar…
- What is a Thing?
- an entity that has a presence by which I mean a configuration that endures however briefly (7)
- We have seen that things are not isolated. It is in their connections, and in their flows into other forms, that theur thingness resides. (8)
- Humans and Things
- Hodder justifies the separation of humans as a specific type of thing because: human dependence on things leads to an entanglement between humans and things that has implications for the ways in which we have evolved and for the ways in which we live in societies today. (10)
- a human is a thing, it is a thing of a particular kind, one that has developed a very large and complex nervous system, body and mind thoroughly dependent on other things to exist. …. In the same way that all living things depend on sunlight, air or water, soil and minerals, so too all sentient beings depend on things to bring their sentience into being. Humans are particularly dependent because their embodied nervous systems need activation by cultural and environmental cues.
- Knowing Things
- This book aims to look at the relationships between humans and things from the point of view of things. (10)
- it can be argued that the operational chains that produce artifacts are continuous sequences, arbitrarily divided up into actions, gestures, objects and residues. (11)
- QUESTIONS: how can we define an entity as a bounded essence? Where do we draw the objective boundaries around a thing? Is my computer just the unplugged processor box? Or is it also the connections that allow it to work? (11)
- Conclusion: The Objectness of Things
- So I have argued that entities (bounded essences) and objects (that stand up against humans) can only be known by humans through their character as things (that gather humans and other things into heterogeneous mixes). So, from such a perspective, we ‘make’ things. (13)
Continue reading Hodder—Entangled