Northwestern Events Calendar


Anthropology Career Diversity Series: Mary L. Gray, 2020 MacArthur Fellow, Microsoft Research: "Far Afield: Anthropology as Industrial Punk Intervention

When: Monday, November 16, 2020
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM Central

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Nancy Hickey   (847) 467-1507

Group: Anthropology Department

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Foundational mathematics, economics, and physics, inform most of what we recognize as Big Tech’s toolkits: computer science, data science, and engineering. Electrical and mechanical engineering programs spit out software and hardware development long before anyone building these systems recognized their deeply social and cultural implications. Strapping networks to these systems—connecting groups of people via electronic devices—did not create a social life for these technical systems. Technologies, like the internet, surfaced something long understood by anthropologists: We make sense of our humanness as we imagine, craft, and animate tools to build—or destroy—the world around us. This talk will consider the place of anthropological theory and practice in the tech sector. Rather than approach anthropology as an academic or applied mode of inquiry involved in making technologies ‘user-friendly,’ I’ll ask folks to consider: How might we see our training as distinctly poised to complement, critique, and intervene in the crafting of sociotechnical systems that now, more than ever (perhaps) require context—deep knowledge of social and cultural conditions? What do we want to do with anthropology in the face of systems and interfaces typically built with no regard for the material realities they will enter? I will also offer some concrete advice for those wondering if there is a way to bridge the academy and larger social worlds through anthropology (spoiler alert: I think so).

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