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Methods for Multispecies Anthropology

Thinking with Salmon Otoliths and Scales

Heather Anne Swanson

This article proposes that multispecies anthropology and its curiosities about non-humans constitute a ‘minor anthropology’ that poses challenges not only to anthropological categories, but also to anthropological methods. Through attention to Pacific salmon, I probe why and how anthropologists might explore the ways non-humans know and enact worlds via collaborations with natural scientists. Working with biologists, I examine salmon scales and otoliths, or ear bones, whose crystallization patterns act as a kind of fish diary, recording a fish’s migrations and relations. I take up these methods with an anthropological eye, asking how one might use such practices to learn about multispecies encounters that classical ethnography often misses. Lastly, I demonstrate how anthropologists can engage natural science tools while remaining alert to the politics of knowing.

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Data Moves

Taking Amazonian Climate Science Seriously

Antonia Walford

Drawing on fieldwork with researchers and technicians involved in a scientific project in the Brazilian rainforest, this article explores specific aspects of climate science in the Amazon. It suggests that taking science seriously anthropologically requires an investigation into the relation between endo-anthropology and exo-anthropology. This is done recursively by exploring a particular way in which what is 'inside' and what is 'outside' are achieved and negotiated in the scientific practice under study. Researchers and technicians 'do' some crucial distinctions with data, and the article points to the importance of the flux of data and the boundaries and sides that emerge from the control of that flux.

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Environmental Expertise as Group Belonging

Environmental Sociology Meets Science and Technology Studies

Rolf Lidskog and Göran Sundqvist

What is environmental expertise? The background to this question is that many scholars consider environmental expertise crucial for discovering, diagnosing, and solving environmental problems but do not discuss in any depth what constitutes expertise. By investigating the meaning and use of the concept of expertise in three general theories within environmental sociology—the treadmill of production, risk society, and ecological modernization— and findings from science and technology studies (STS), this article develops a sociological understanding of environmental expertise: what it is and how it is acquired. Environmental expertise is namely about group belonging and professional socialization around specialized skills; that is, it concerns both substantial competence and social recognition. The implications of this general view on expertise are then used to enrich theories in environmental sociology.

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Raw Data

Making Relations Matter

Antonia Walford

This article takes scientific ‘raw data’ as its ethnographic object in order to investigate the co-implication of nature and culture in scientific knowledge practices. The article traces out some of the activities that are involved in producing numerical climate data from the Brazilian Amazon. Although science and technology studies (STS) makes a strong case for associating relationality with certainty, the article argues that a particular form of data, ‘raw data’, complicates this association. It further argues that scientific data is not simply composed out of relations, but is a relation itself. The article ends with a brief reflection on the possible repercussions of shifting from thinking of science as producing multiple natures and cultures to thinking of it as producing the potential for relations.

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The Ontological Turn

Taking Different Worlds Seriously

Andrew Pickering

In this article I discuss different scientific and non-modern worlds as they appear in a performative (rather than representational) idiom, situating my analysis in relation to the recent ontological turns in science and technology studies (STS) and anthropology. I propose an ontology of decentered becoming that can help us take seriously the multiplicity of ‘found’ ontologies. A key concept is that of ‘islands of stability’, which enables a comparative transition between the worlds of science and shamanism. This offers an opportunity to reflect back critically and politically on modernity, while highlighting the problems of anthropological translation that surface in a performative apprehension of non-modern worlds. In conclusion, I touch on scientific and nonscientific worlds (complexity theory, cybernetics, Taoism, Zen) that do not center themselves on islands of stability.

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Internal Others

Ethnographies of Naturalism

Matei Candea and Lys Alcayna-Stevens

'Naturalism' is invoked with increasing frequency by anthropologists as a distinctively Western ontology which posits a shared unitary nature, upon which are overlain multiple 'cultures', 'perspectives', or 'worldviews'. But where, if at all, is this ontology to be found? Anthropologists working outside Europe and America have in various ways been urging colleagues to challenge 'our' naturalism in order to be able to take seriously alternative ethnographic realities. In the meantime, anthropologists and STS scholars who study European or American settings ethnographically have increasingly been arguing that 'we' were never (quite) naturalist to begin with. This double move shores 'naturalism' up as a conceptual object, but renders it ethnographically elusive, a perpetually receding horizon invoked in accounts of something else. This introduction explores this paradox and presents the subsequent articles' various experiments with what might seem an impossible task: the ethnography of naturalism itself.

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Maryon McDonald

In Social Anthropology, we are perhaps wearily aware now of certain dualities – nature and culture and subject and object amongst them - that ought long since to have been taken out of our analytical tool kits and treated ethnographically instead. Unsurprisingly perhaps, important elements of this were first effected by anthropologists studying Europe and then later refined and elaborated, albeit sometimes in a less ethnographic vein, by that largely ANT-fed beast known as STS (Science and Technology Studies) or more recently by AST (Anthropology of Science and Technology). At the same time, space has been made within both the social and natural sciences for the mutual articulations by which each might not simply incorporate the other but both can imagine themselves to be composing, together, some new middle ground.

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Mobilizing Transport

Media, Actor-worlds, and Infrastructures

Gabriele Schabacher

The article deals with the relationship between media and transportation infrastructures and analyzes their links to the concept of mobility. It examines the assumption that infrastructure systems themselves are mobile, in the sense that they develop and have to be maintained constantly. According to such a perspective, they are to be considered not primarily as “structures,“ but as specific processes of mobilization (infrastructuring) that constitute the basis for mobility in the sense of transport and movement. Drawing on historical knowledge of transportation, it will be shown that a broad understanding of traffic as exchange, communication, and transportation has narrowed in the twentieth century, whereby the originally implied idea of transport as transformation became suppressed. Recent approaches in mobility studies, Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) can be combined in a fruitful way to unfold the specific dynamics of infrastructure as a process of mobilization (Callon) and technical mediation (Latour).