This special issue of the Cambridge Journal of Anthropology entitled ‘Witnessing: truths, technologies, transformations’ is guest edited by Liana Chua and Omri Grinberg.
Nicholas Parlato, Gail Fondahl, Viktoriya Filippova, and Antonina Savvinova
In the struggle of Russia's Indigenous northerners for greater control over their ancestral lands, the spatiolegal formations known as Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTPs, using the Russian acronym) have become their most effective tool. TTPs have assumed diverse characteristics across Russian regions in response to the evolution of federal and sub-federal law and of center-periphery relations at national and regional scales. In the Sakha Republic (Iakutiia), TTP formation is entangled with wider territorial politics and economic trends, which have led to the precarious but powerful advancement of Indigenous rights. This article explores this evolution by comparing the creation of two neighboring TTPs, formed eight years apart under distinct political and legislative conditions. A combination of local efforts, subnational legislative and economic initiatives, and reaction to federal overstep have compelled the improvement and systematization of Indigenous rights in the republic.
Nuclear Waste Management and its Challenges for Nature-Culture-Relationships
Over the past decades, industrial societies have produced a range of substances whose effects humans increasingly identify as toxic—a prominent example is radioactive waste and the question of its disposal. This fabricated “object of modernity” not only calls for the knowledge of the natural sciences, it also affects society at large in its immense challenge of figuring out how to dispose of this material and altogether “detoxify” society from its hazardous activity. The contribution develops a heuristic perspective on toxic objects, exemplified by analyzing documents with a focus on how different societal actors in Germany problematize high-level radioactive waste (HLW) in the context of finding a repository site. The perspective on toxic objects aims to strengthen a more nuanced view of “modern” relationships between human action and material activity with regard to hazardous socio-chemical fabrications as a consequence of an objectified nature.
Research Participants Redefining the Field through Mobile Communication Technology
Based on fieldwork with migrants and border populations in Central America and the story of a young Congolese woman in particular, this article discusses how research participants’ use of mobile communication technology provokes a redefinition of the ethnographic field. Increasingly popular trajectory research often sets out to follow migrants, yet a focus on migrants keeping in touch with researchers at their own initiative and discretion, following them, reveals entanglements of selective on- and offline engagement and self-representation. Critical exploration of research participants’ differentiated use of digital technology for navigating a social environment that includes the researcher herself not only transforms our understanding of the field in empirical, ethical, and methodological terms, but also counteracts potentially voyeuristic and life-threatening practices of following people on the move.
The Repatriation of Human Remains from European Collections as Potential Sites of Reconciliation
This Forum contribution builds on the ethnographic engagement with restitution projects as places of transcultural encounter. Based on data collected in 2019 during repatriation ceremonies in Berlin and Leipzig, I show how a responsibility for human remains that was shared between European museums and Australian Indigenous custodians set in motion processes of healing, both among Indigenous groups and those working with these collections in Europe. I further argue that ethnographic museums change in these processes from supposedly passive exhibition spaces to spaces of socio-critical engagement. Finally, I explore the decolonial potential of such collaborative engagements with heritage within and beyond European borders that are motivated by provenance research and repatriation practices.
Cultural heritage in Cyprus has been a contentious issue throughout the island’s tumultuous history. The official partition of the island in 1974, after years of conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, has resulted in the destruction and neglect of heritage sites on both sides of the Cypriot ‘border’. However, in recent years there has been an increase in organisations that aim to use heritage as a tool to unite both communities. This contribution examines the work of one such organisation, the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage in Cyprus (TCCH).
Strategic uses of abajo and arriba in the construction of the Venezuelan socialist State
The spatial expressions of egalitarian and hierarchical political relations, respectively along the horizontal and vertical axis, are visually illustrated in a broad cross-cultural perspective. The dichotomy between los de abajo (those below) and los de arriba (those above) is explored in contemporary Venezuelan politics, using ethnographic and visual evidence. The socialist party, which presents itself as representative of los de abajo, has been increasingly criticized for being los de arriba both by the opposition and by grassroots PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela; United Socialist Party of Venezuela) activists who denounce the persistence of hierarchical dynamics through metaphors such as paracaido (para-shooter) and poner la escalera (holding the ladder).
A Critical Disability Studies perspective
This article explores the portrayal of disability through the Disability Service web pages of Welsh universities in order to understand their potential impression on disabled applicants. The method of Qualitative Content Analysis enables consideration of multiple dimensions including use of language, terminology and photography, as well as discussion of academic, cultural, social and logistical aspects of student life. The development of a primarily concept-driven coding frame enables consideration of the absence of certain criteria as well as the frequency and prominence of others. The ensuing discussion considers, from a Critical Disability Studies perspective, the sector's portrayal of the construct of disability. This article proposes a call to action to challenge deficit-based interpretations of disability and advocates an affirmative stance towards disability in higher education policy and practice.
AI, Humanoids, and Immortality
This article investigates new ethnography on AI development relating to imaginaries of technoscientific forms of immortality. As a Think Piece in Analytics, it engages in a somewhat experimental comparative endeavor as I set concepts from the ethnographic field of transhumanism in a comparative relation to concepts developed in the anthropological theory of Christianity, mainly Dumont's concept of the ‘individual-in-the-world’. I argue that through such a comparison we can understand recently developed ideas about the (technologically) immortal human being in a new light. The article points to how technoscientific immortality echoes core cultural themes, but it also considers a major difference in the perception of the social. When death is made redundant, the question of how sociality is reproduced moves center stage.
Human-Centrism, Posthumanism, and AI
Nandita Biswas Mellamphy
More and more scholarly attention is being paid to the challenges of governing artificial intelligence and emergent technologies. Most of the focus remains on questions of how to preserve the human-centeredness of increasingly advancing machine-driven technologies. I problematize discourses of “human-centered AI” that prioritize human control over nonhuman intelligences as a solution for the challenges posed by emergent technologies like artificial intelligence. Posthumanism provides a compelling theoretical basis for this line of questioning and for reimagining alternative ethical constructs. I outline and consider three distinct scenarios in which (a) humans are at the center of command and control, (b) humans and nonhumans share control, (c) human oversight is completely removed. I suggest that more attention could be given to critical and speculative ways of reimagining the concepts of “human,” “nonhuman,” and human/nonhuman relations.