Author Archive

Dharma in California?


Do you love yoga, curry, and henna? Should you be worried about Hindu education in California? It depends. Who’s allowed to salute the sun? What’s cooking? Who’s teaching whom? And how?

A range of Hindu-centric religious groups have come together to make a gift of $8 million dollars, with several million more rumoured to be in the pipeline for the largest Indian Studies Centre in North America. The most vocal institutional support for this Sangh-affiliated push for a Hinduism-based curriculum reform seems to come from a small group of supporters of “faith-based” learning. Faith-based history is understood by its proponents as superior to a historiography of religion that draws from documents of conflict, hegemony, politics, and culture to craft an understanding of religion that places on par with other socially-shaped forces. The rise of faith-based initiatives accompanies a backlash against what the right wing considers the corrupting influences of Marxism, feminism, and post-colonialism.

In the first week of December 2015, UC Irvine students invited signatures in support of their request for review of these donations:

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Collaboration and Authorship

Do you collaborate? What have your experiences been like? Are you struck by the ways in which humanists cite Foucault’s “What is an Author?” and enjoy demolishing (in theory) the myth of the heroic-male-solo-author, and then proceed (in practice) to make sure that the infrastructure of academic productivity rewards only the solo author performance?
Here’s one of the many articles that have appeared on this topic in academic publication outlets:

Friends With Benefits

Written by two philosophers, this essay has a title that’s a bit annoying (for its adolescent humor – really, is collaboration like an experiment in alternative sexual practices? Does that make scientists promiscuous, and humanists traditional monogamists?), and fails to mention that Helen Keller was a socialist from the deep South (complicated political economic considerations would be required to wrap that around the “wise blind girl” image). But it’s a useful think-piece and might be a spur to generating discussion. For example, their concluding point applies nicely to both the labor of teaching and of writing:
“We have to actually care when others don’t grasp our point … We cannot do this by ourselves.”
It’s a pretty simple point. But the infrastructures of humanist academia tend to work against recognizing it. So collaboration remains in the space of invisibilized labor. The work of rendering opaque that which should be transparent might also be called the work of mystification.

What would the labor of de-mystification look like?

Kurt Vonnegut, “burn this letter”

I was shocked by the casual sexism and racism in Vonnegut’s personal letter:

He uses a derogatory racial term for East Asians, refers to the Taiwanese woman as a “mistress” of a famous white male writer (a person who I believe was actually a famous writer herself, and married to the Director of the Writer’s Workshop, a less well-known writer internationally than she was). And he refers to the (apparently common practice) of famous (male) visiting writers casually sleeping with (presumably young female) undergraduates , warning his friend that their parents were still watching.

I guess it shouldn’t be shocking to remember that so many DWMs were prejudiced, and that most people thought nothing of using racial slurs and sexist objectification. But the casual & sexist use of the racist term used by American military in Vietnam was especially jarring.

Zelda has done some really great work on sexism in art (like her piece Galileo in America, where Galileo’s daughter challenges some of Brecht’s famous reliance on the invisible labour of women).

It also made me think about Vonnegut’s instruction to burn the letter — clearly he knew he was talking trash; finding this is sort of like seeing those thousands of personal emails exchanged (on gmail!) by Petraeus and other high-placed security officials. It isn’t just electronic media that has shown up the imaginations of the private-public divide to be a figment of our Victorian imaginations.



The Engineer as Milkman

The farmer and the cowman should be friends./Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends./One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow, But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends. … /The farmer is a good and thrifty citizen, no matter what the cowman says of things./You seldom see ’em drinkin’ in a bar room /Unless somebody else is buyin drinks.

Oklahoma! Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1943


Early this morning (Sunday, September 9), an Indian milkman-engineer passed away in Anand, Gujarat. He was a friend of dairy farmers, but he came out of the brand new profession of the mid-twentieth century: he was trained as a nuclear engineer at the University of Michigan. If India had a Rodgers-Hammerstein duo, they would be working on a sequel, The Engineer and the Farmer should be Friends.

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Actor Network Theory in Southern California

Some more opportunities to extend conversations across the humanities, social sciences, and informatics:

Dominique Boulier, who works with Bruno Latour’s group at Sciences Po, is visiting UC Irvine this week, on friday, May 18:

Latour will visit in UC Irvine in Spring 2013. He recently visited the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, where Nishant Shah organized his visit.

[Hmm, if I were Professor Latour and had to choose among a slew of international invitations in the middle of a busy term, I think I would choose CIS over UCI too. Of course that’s just speculation – I imagine there was no direct choice, but it’s a productive fiction to dwell on briefly: I’ve been struck by how many exciting conversations – those that touch on issues seemingly urgent and critical in those traditional intellectual tasks of analyzing pasts and imagining futures – happen these days in spaces that until very recently were marginalized and ignored by scholars in the metropole. I think this is a good change, historically speaking. How scholars in the industrialized North will deal with this change remains to be seen.]

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Response to Lilly on politics of ugly

A diagram of noses, from Civilizing Natures: Race, Resources, and Modernity in Colonial South India

Lilly, thanks for your great post on the politics of ugliness. This should be in the Response field, but my blogging skills are rusting; I couldnt get the images to load properly there. 18th and 19th century doctors, anthropologists, and others were obsessed with noses, especially of the “savage” world. And in the metropole, “intelligent” women were often synonymous with “ugly,” and there were medical theories that linked the two by chains of necessary entailment. And you could still see that in modern science (as for example the famous comments about Rosalind Franklin made by Watson and Crick; jokes about her tweedy clothes and supposed frumpiness effectively distracted people from the fact that she had the helix structure figured out before they did, according to some biographers).

Sianne Ngai’s work on ugly/aesthetics looks interesting; and Joanna Russ has, somewhere, a great essay on horror and gross stuff .. which is further afield, but you’ve opened up a great area of discussion for feminists in any field.



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Digital Literacy in the News

The Guardian is hosting a large digital literacy campaign. (Thanks for the reference via Nana and friends).

Yikes! All the gender, race, technology, and education bromides of yesteryear warmed over and gussied up in a 2012 all-you-can-eat buffet. They’re so clichéd that it would be insufferably dull to list pedantic critiques, so let’s play some party games:

1. Spot the girl-child-of-color receiving her digital training!

In both of the two main campaign-launch photos, the foreground, on the margin and slightly blurred, shows a white child; the center face, in sharp focus, is a girl (varies from Asian- to Afro- British). At first glance simply centering diversity (and contesting the digitial divide) in a standard techno-progress narrative, it also feeds the anti-immigrant / anti-Black narratives that see white British citizens’s education as somehow marginalised, or usurped, by people of color and immigrants. Here the Asian-geek stereotypes and the Afro-British centering would occupy different fear-filled roles in the racist narratives of improving British education. Hmm, a rather clever photo if your intention is to attract a range of left- and right- wing readers to this live blog on digital literacy…

2. Spot the deterministic story about inherent gender differences !

“Geek perception of computer science putting off girls, expert warns.” Groan. There’ve been almost two decades of critique of this model. The article hits all the major stereotypes – everything from spreadsheets to war games is said to be an automatic turn-off for girls – and, believe it or not, it actually ends on a “positive” note by naming Engineer Barbie among girl-encouraging initiatives.

3. Spot the story about university-industry partnerships!

Workers of the future must be digital, not analog. So there’s the warning to schools and universities to look sharp about training workers for real-world employment, or risk becoming dead-end educators. There are predictable quotes from Mercedes engineers and Education ministers about modernising education. The shiny rewards here are slightly more exciting than Engineer Barbie:successful education programmes are offered the chance to create students who will design the next generation’s scenes of Death Eaters flying across the river Thames – this is, surely, enough incentive to cross art, design, and computational pedagogy? Jokes apart, this reminds me of critiques (such as Zelda‘s, or The Simpsons‘) of art-school graduates who are tracked toward sweatshop-design-labour, and also of the untimely death of truly experimental interdisciplinary programmes like ACE.

4.  Spot the Hollywood script !

Yeah, of course, Mark Zuckerberg features in this feel-good story. And there’s the predictable Brilliant-libertarian-geek-versus-Stodgy-Government accompanying story: “What governments don’t seem to understand is that software is the nearest thing to magic that we’ve yet invented.” Not far behind is the summons to change the world by coding it:  “All you need to change the world is imagination, programming ability and access to a cheap PC.” Voilå: ICT4D! Just 3 short steps from hollywood to academic script.

I could go on. There are, of course, good intentions and some nice ideas buried somewhere here, but for the most part, this is vacuous stuff. Party-game jokes aside, it’s depressing, and no laughing matter, that debates on science education in a supposedly progressive newspaper are still framed in such clichéd ways, when they could draw on years of critical work from STS, science education, and popular movements (ranging from the Levellers to Creative Commons). More food for thought for us : we’re in fields that are now becoming more interesting and complex in their insights on these questions, but, apparently, as our understanding improves, we grow more and more distant from the things that get called “real world pragmatics” – those issues that drive the apparent constraints of recession economics. We could easily pick holes in every term in the previous sentence. But also, more practically: I think that more public funding for these purportedly esoteric areas would actually result in measurably better results in many of the areas the Guardian cares about, as well as some of the areas we care about. But sketching that out is a difficult and challenging task (and not one that our careers easily allow time for).


Assange: Geek God or Sexist Despoiler?

We’ve all been following the wikileaks story, so here’s an invitation to conversation. On the face of it, the issue should be at the heart of all that is Feminist Technoscience. A sexist geek helping data to live free?  Most of us are rolling our eyes and waiting for the world to catch up with the fact that data lives in networks that are always already public and private, that there have been long histories of sexist men with power-lust on all sides of geo-politics,  that technological tools have long been part of a democratization of power, embodying all the contradictions of democracy itself , and that Assange himself (neither Neo nor Caligula, just an everyday misogynist geek, ‘cept David Fincher hasn’t yet made a movie about him) is not astonishingly new.

There have been many good reasons for us to withhold comment: the odd incompleteness of media reportage (there are always pieces missing, but this one’s remarkable for being almost all gaps, despite the sheer abundance of data at the heart of the story); the silliness of the op-ed pieces both in support of Assange (“He’s Neo! We’re in The Matrix !”) and against (“He’s a hacker ! They have no respect for authority!”).

If rendering Assange heroic or evil is not interesting, most of what remains worth following in the media coverage is the historical context. Two interesting contexts are (1) the historical effects of leaking secret documents on the emergence of geo-political terrain-grabs, as in the examples here and (2) the historical effects of narratives of rape, as here and here .

But then, we’re not in the business of just observing historical context here, are we? Here’s the part that I think needs more feminist technoscientific comment: If he is a sexist (all evidence points to “yes”), or a rapist (much evidence points to a possibility), does that mean his intentions toward data are depraved?

Hanging out with the South Asia/Technoscience crowd

STS/ South Asia : Forging a collaborative transnational conversation

I’m posting some comments made at the Roundtable discussion at the UT Austin STS-South Asia conference in May 2010. Many participants described it as “the best conference I’ve ever been to.” Indeed, the whole seemed to add up to even more than the sum of its excellently designed parts.  Itty Abraham and the UT_South Asia staff  produced this very special event with  warmth and hospitality; the participants then took everything to another level, simultaneously familiar and unprecedented, stimulating and challenging.

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Summer Encounters with Art / Technology

The Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga has an exhibit called Enjoy Your Time by UCI artist Connie Samaras. Connie cites a range of influences, including science fiction, urban political economy, and the history of art as historical/archival/ political practice. The exhibit makes these connections come alive in disturbing, dystopian, but tentatively hopeful, critical ways. Here are some thoughts on the work: more »

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