Author Archive

From the politics of giving back to the politics of standing with

Kim TallBear speaks against “giving back” with research. Giving back, she argues, implies a boundary that has two clear sides and renders one side in need of receiving, but without questioning or softening that sky high boundary.

What should count as research risk? Should they include “ontological risk?”

If we try to account for different standpoints, we spread ourselves too thin. Rather, one can speak as an individual standing with, rather than as a representative of a people. This can be speaking to further the claims of people, while refusing to be held to some imperial standard of perfect representation.

A too short rendering of her helpful words.

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Splitting me apart, drawing me back together at the 4S panel on Feminist Postcolonialism

At 4S, a senior scholar gives a talk on improper subjects of science, Iranian-American women, Indian-American women. She explains to us that they are conflicted and incoherent, split between loyalty to their “dominant” cultural affiliation and their “home” culture. Which women is she speaking for? Doesn’t this repeat the mistake that Kimberle Crenshaw’s intersectionality attempts to move beyond? Being black and woman is not only being a member of two communities. It is being a coherent person of one’s own, I would even prefer cyborg, but it is to be vulnerable to two sets of violence, and become vulnerable in new combinations of ways that don’t make for two merged kinds of life but rather a kind of life all its own. I am confused as to why the scholar asks questions that postcolonial and feminist STS people have been working on for almost two decades, but seems to insist on working with standpoint theory and only reaching just barely beyond it to graze intersectionality. In doing so, she speaks up for me, the subject accused of incoherence in the audience, without my consent or being concerned with the understandings of scientific personhood that I’ve been building as a good enough way to make it through my impropriety.

Who speaks for the gendered postcolonial subject? Why? And what projects are they up to? (To riff off of historian and postcolonial STS scholar Kavita Philip)

Just after, Deboleena Roy of Emory gave a fantastic talk on looking at technologies that shape certain Indian women’s bodies at specific times and specific places. “We’re looking at situatedness, local effects in contact zones of empire.” She points to how epigenetics research is beginning to show the compiled, biological effects of ongoing stress, violence, and injustice on the body. Specific bodies with specific injuries, with stories that might put them in affinity and solidarity with others but that also must be regarded in their specifics.

When someone tells you to put innovation in a funding application



Given the association between innovation and masculine Silicon Valley cultures, I totally feel for humanistic scholars who feel like they need to invoke that language to get support for their work. We need critical inquiry into cultures of “innovation.”

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When someone says his or her argument isn’t political

Via the tumblr phdstress, via el–ee

When someone says his or her argument isn’t political.

This exact thing happened at 4S 2012 during a talk claiming that synthetic biology experimenters recombining the materials of human life can be understood as practicing queer kinship. True the two hold in common the reconstruction of relations, especially geneological ones, between living things. But, some audience members feeling like Britney here commented, queer kinship is also about conviviality and care between often vulnerable people, not the hacker oriented celebration of catalyzed evolution that the synthetic biologists were practicing. When the audience membered queried the stakes of making queer kinship and synthetic biohacking commensurable, the speaker answered that her project was not a politically engaged one.

If you’re going to build your project on queer kinship theories in anthropology and feminist philosophies of knowledge, then you need to take on board the assumption that your project — just like your synthetic biologists’ projects — are political.

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Mitt Romney or Silicon Valley designer?

“Work with really nice people whose goal it is to make things and not to take things. Because there are people out there who just want to take things.”

This quote from is attributed to Evan Sharp, the designer-founder of Pinterest. It reminded me of Mitt Romney’s 47% comment that almost half the country just wants entitlements, and Bill O’Reilly’s post-election analysis that Obama won because enough people out there just want “things.”

Not all designers talk like this, but that thought this was worth highlighting on their homepage suggests that this kind of makers-takers discourse has wide hold, The question is how attributions of making and taking are being made, and I’m sure it is subtly different in different places but when “making” requires social, cultural, and financial capital, you tell me you don’t see some familiar gender / race / class lines being reinscribed.