Archive | Topics for Discussion

Discarded ontologies

Blanca Callén Lancaster University,

Email: bcallenm@gmail.com

Behind the images and narratives of progress, effectiveness and innovation of electronics that make us believe in dematerialized technology without consequences (Gabrys, 2011:57), there is something dirty and ‘forgettable’ (Hird, forthcoming). That is electronic waste (e-waste).

Over the past November and December, I followed a group of informal waste pickers in Barcelona to study how they re-materialize and re-purpose discarded computers. What I found is that e-waste is not merely about dirtiness and forgettable materials. It is also about innovative everyday practices that compete to establish and negotiate different ontologies of value and functionality as waste moves across different legal regimes.

A common European Directive, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), currently regulates the Spanish system of e-waste management. …

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e-waste

The computer that you have in front of you right now will die sooner or later. And when it does you will get rid of it, perhaps, if you are well-behaved citizen, in one of the designated recycling drop-offs points your city council has created for technological equipment. That, however, won’t mark the end of your computer’s life. It will only mark the end of the first phase of its life as a valuable cultural and technological object.

After you dumpt it, you computer will start a second, and more complex, life as e-waste, most likely somewhere in India, China or Africa. You can see some pictures of what will likely be your computer limbo here and here, or here. …

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Invoking the Apocalypse: A Promenade with Pentti Linkola

 

Interview by Francisco Martínez (EHI, Tallinn Univ) & Larissa Vanamo (Dept of History, Univ. of Helsinki).

A democracy where there is freedom of consumption is the worst thing possible”
 The worth of an individual is smaller when there are a lot of humans”
Force and oppression are needed because life as such is a value”

A promenade with Pentti Linkola

Pentti Linkola is a Finnish fisherman and ornithologist. He was born in Helsinki in 1932 and lives in a 30 square meter wooden cabin in Sääksmäki (Ritvala).

We visited him together in March 2011. Despite our awareness of some general gossip about his temperament, he kindly attended to us for several hours. During this time we talked and took a walk. As a curious anecdote, he seems to have a particular notion of order and disorder.…

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Together Again: the link between transnational ties and photo archiving among Ghanaian families

Elad Ben Elul, Department of Anthropology, UCL

 

Photos from Ghanaian family reunions are distributed through Facebook. The elders are often recorded telling family tales.

Recent debates around the motivations for taking digital photos ask whether people document for memory or as tools for communication (Dijck 2008:58). However, this debate tends to dichotomise memory and communication while romanticising digitisation as a revolutionary force brought from beyond the cultural landscape. Moreover, digital archiving destabilizes traditional divides between storing and sharing and creates new forms of memory through ‘distributed storage’.

During my research with diasporic Ghanaian families living in London and their digital archives, it was essential to put photos and videos in their wider context of transnational communication and new media.…

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The Art of Being Infrequent: Erratic Cultural Consumption and the Attachments of Taste

Ana Gross, Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick

anagross@me.com

 

A number of years ago I conducted research amongst infrequent audiences to the Opera, Ballet and Theatre in London. I was working within the cultural policy arena, looking at identifying the dispositions, gestures and mechanisms which perpetuate infrequent and erratic patterns of attendance to such artforms. By that time, we were focusing the analysis on an understanding of cultural inequalities as being produced by qualitatively distinct social tastes. However, one could also explore such inequalities by trying to understand how they are being actively produced via the implementation of collective techniques, myths and ceremonies of pleasure (Hennion 2001), attachments which can contribute to explain from a micro perspective the quantitatively unequal exposure to culture across different social groups.…

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Sherlock Holmes: The Father of Material Culture?

Christopher Pinney, UCL

Sherlock Holmes was many things: cocaine addict, violinist extraordinaire, expert on Ceylonese Buddhism, master consulting detective, and accomplished amateur boxer. He was also a published anthropologist of sorts having (as is revealed in The Adventure of the Cardboard Box [1889]) published two short articles on the outer morphology of the human ear in the Anthropological Journal. But was he also a pioneer in Material Culture?

The firmest evidence for this proposition comes from the first chapter of The Sign of Four (1888). Titled “The Science of Deduction” there is much here that lays the ground for Alfred Gell’s later elevation of the Peircean notion of “abduction” as a key element in his theory of a new anthropology of art (Gell was an ardent Sherlockian). …

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Rethinking material relations: Happiness, wellbeing, and alternative indicators

Haidy Geismar, UCL and NYU

In 2006, the New Economics Foundation (nef) published the Happy Planet Index, a quantification of the “happiness quotients” of the world’s nations which considered life expectancy, the experience of wellbeing and, most importantly, ecological footprint as indicators of happiness,  displacing the usual measure of happiness: GNP or ability to consume endlessly. Surprisingly (or not) the UK, US and Australia were placed amongst the unhappiest nations of the world, Vanuatu the small Melanesian country where I have done research over the past 12 years, came top. By the second edition, Vanuatu was no longer top (due to data collection problems rather than unhappiness) but a widespread move to devise alternative indicators of wellbeing and to institutionalize them was well underway.…

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The Mobile Museum Pilot Project

Graeme Were, University of Queensland

The stores of Queensland museums are laden with ethnographic collections from Papua New Guinea, many of which originate from northern New Ireland. Few people there are able to gain access to these treasures even though New Irelanders hold great interest in learning more about their own cultural heritage through the artefacts museums hold on to.

The Mobile Museum project has been developed to partly redress this issue by utilising newly available digital technologies and resources. The project seeks to develop remote access to museum collections to objects physically located in Queensland and so offer the opportunity for New Irelanders to view their own cultural heritage as 3D digital objects. 3D digital objects offer the most complete documentation possible and allow for an analytical form of engagement using zooming, panning and rotation tools [in comparison to 2D images].…

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Material World Blog Community?

Haidy Geismar, NYU and UCL

I was interested to read a very brief, rather parochial, account of the world of anthropology blogging over at the site of Anthropology News, the journal of the American Anthropological Association, . Material World was singled out as an example of a “team blog” but the authors were worried that the free spirit of blogging might be lost with the fence of editors and the feel of an online journal. Following on from Danny’s point about open access, I’ve been thinking about the remit of Material World and what we, as editors, could do to contribute to some of the ongoing discussion about the public dissemination of anthropological, and other, ideas.

This prompted me to look a little more closely at our range of contributions, our diversity of contributors and our own editorial policies.…

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Open Access, Scholarship, and Digital Anthropology: a Discussion

Danny Miller, UCL

Although this site was started as a collaboration between Haidy in New York and Danny in London, from the beginning we were hoping to attract postings from a global interest in this genre of academic work. We do pretty well in this regard, with contributions from academics, students and others from many different countries, but we would still be happier if there was more coming from Brazil, West Africa, South and East Asia. By the same token we see this and other similar academic blogs as attempts to open up information about new academic and related work to as wide an audience as possible. Within which one of the key attributes of online posting is simply that it is free.

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