Anthropology of Science and Technology


Anthropology of Science and Technology

This group is for those scholars interested in issues surrounding "Cyborg Anthropology" (see below) and the Anthropology of Science.

Members: 93
Latest Activity: Nov 23, 2015

Discussion Forum

CFP: Caring for a Connected Humanity: eHealth and the Transformation of Health care in the Global South

12th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries – 19-22 May 2013, Ocho Rios, Jamaica Deadline: 26th November 2012CHAIRS: Vincent Duclos, Department of…Continue

Tags: America, technologies, Latin, Asia, health

Started by Norman Schräpel Oct 13, 2012.

CfP Designing Global Health Technologies in the Global South - 4S/EASST Annual Meeting in Copenhagen, October 17-20, 2012

Panel Organisers: Richard Rottenburg ( and Norman Schräpel ( - Institute of Anthropology and Philosophy, University of Halle…Continue

Started by Norman Schräpel Jan 25, 2012.

Comment Wall


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Comment by Josh Reno on November 23, 2010 at 6:05pm
To Vita,

With two critics to draw your fire (if you'll allow me to "deploy" a military metaphor), I wanted to count myself an ally of your reading of Latour's (early) work. You are not the only one to draw out some of the problematic implications of his militaristic tropes. Donna Haraway expresses similar concern with Latour's "monomaniacal focus on mobilization" (1996: 280) in Modest-Witness@Second Millennium. However, your interlocutors are right to point out that his approach (and language) began to shift somewhat during the 'science wars' and after, in part through dialogue with Haraway, Hacking and others. You might take a look at We Have Never Been Modern and Pandora's Hope as examples.

I think Wallis and Adam are right to point out that Latour's intention might be to advocate agentive symmetry between humans and non-humans, but that doesn't mean he succeeds. Perhaps ANT, in the final analysis, brackets the literary agency of the person writing the description, the one who - godlike - gives voice and bestows agency to other beings can only ever be a human. Perhaps this is the remaining vestige of a Greimasian semiology, which begins from the standpoint of a literary scholar, one who reads a text to decide which are the significant actants that make a difference in the plot.

The point is, we can't merely dismiss your critique by saying that Latour claims to be doing the opposite. Like the American military in Vietnam, we can wonder whether he is winning every battle but somehow losing the war.

Comment by Wallis Motta on November 23, 2010 at 5:33pm
Hi Vita!
To your last post in actor-network-theory... I get from it that you have not read "We've never been modern" and other texts about ANT. You cannot from only reading Laboratory Life get what ANT is about. The whole purpose of ANT (or attempt) was actually to grant agency to materials and (non-humans). If you read Latour's writings about Pasteur this might clarify things for you. In a sense it is an alternative theory to that of Alfred Gell, in order to think about the agency of objects, and attempts to look at it relationally. I do not think you can blame Latour of being "human" centric as you think he is, while sure there can be many criticisms to his approach.
Comment by Adam Leeds on November 23, 2010 at 5:28pm
Hi Vita,

In many ways I find this a most peculiar criticism of ANT, especially the notion that there is an overemphasis on human agency. One of the central thrusts of Latour's work, and one that he is most often and vociferously criticized for, is his insistence that humans and non-humans must equally, at least in principle, be taken as actors. (It is precisely because of this that microbes or experimental setups, for instance, can be enrolled.) Do you mean your criticism in some other way that I don't understand?

Latour explicitly links this claim to a series of ontological propositions: that, in for instance, we shouldn't view action as a transparent relation whereby an instrument transmits a force originating in an actor toward an object, but rather that action is a property of the network, that every node in the network mediates, alters, transforms, deflects the forces that act upon it. That everything, human or not, in the network is thus a mediator not an instrument. For this reason Latour eschews language like "an actor is connected to a network": actants are narrative categories (the word and inspiration comes from Greimas' narratology), not some pre-existing type of thing, which are individuated in the process of trying to account for the work that the network as a whole accomplishes. Additionally, he appeals to the particular qualities of many non-human mediators to account for the stability, solidity, and resistance to human capacities of society and the world in general. I wonder to what extent this responds to your accusation that he "overestimates the human capacity to select one's arc of activity"?

On the other hand, I am entirely with you on the claim that there is real cultural superficiality here, and I've been wondering whether the major reason why is that symbolic orders are difficult if not ultimately impossible to localize within a network.
Comment by Haris Agic on November 18, 2010 at 4:17pm
Hi again Vita,
I think I understand what you mean with "cultural superficiallity of ANT simply makes me cold" but I would still like to hear from you how you reson about this. I'm stuck a bit in my own thinking and need a little stimulus:))
Comment by Haris Agic on September 10, 2010 at 11:38am
Hi Vita,
n thnx!
I'm familiar with Gusterson beautiful work but I have not read anything by Konrad and will check this one out, thank you. The Max Planck things seems interesting as well.

Thanks again - alot...
... and keep the height! (whatever it may mean to you:))
Comment by Haris Agic on September 9, 2010 at 8:41am
Hi people!
I am conducting anthropological study of biomedical practices of implantation of mechanical hearts into the bodies of the chronically ill and the dying (end-stage heart failure) with aim of prolonging their lives. My aim is to examine the role of medical technology in our lives in a domain where boundaries are easily transgressed and blurred - such as a modern university hospital that practices implantation of artificial hearts. I aim to investigate and understand the social and cultural implication of these practices - biomedical miracles - as well as to expose their origin in global system of neoliberal forces of Medical Industrial Complex.
I am not an expert on Haraway, although I have read some fo her stuf and it is I find it to be both amazing, bold and, yet, empiricaly unrooted. I have also been flirting a bit with the STS school, especially ANT and Bruno Latour and the way he describes machines as actors (actants). My approach, however is rather ol' school one where I assume the practices of treating advanced heart failure to be a contemporary manifestation of what we all know as 'ritual healing'. Everything in these practices resembles the Ndembu rituals described by Turner half a century ago, with one huge difference - that of the establishment of medical technology and its role in these rituals. New technology replaces the old techniques of magico-ritual character, although this same - secular and "evidenc-based" technology - is considered to bring miracles and is often spoken of with language of devotion. Yet these miracles seem always to call for new ones to either carry on their legacy one step further into the desired path of perpetual progress or to solve the shortcommings of the former - in this way they always seem to open up a whole fields of new practices. For instance, heart- and lung machine (technology a) gave incentive to open sternum heart surgery (technology b) while the parallel development of imunosupressive drugs (technology c) made it possible to perform heart transplantations (technology d) wich found itself "short of donor hearts" and thus called for mechanical ones (technology e) etc. What comes next? Well that is one of the things I wish to find out with my research. If anyone would find this topic interesting, if you are curious to find out more, or if you should have some great inputs and ideas please don't hesitate to contact me.
Keep the height!
Comment by Liliana Gil Sousa on December 29, 2009 at 2:38pm
You changed the group description! It seems proper to me (though I haven’t read much about the Cyborg Anthropology program in recent books and papers on the theme). I also agree with you in the straight relationship between science and technology. Actually, because of the influence of funding on the research lines, some authors prefer to talk about technoscience rather than “Science” – the grail of romantic, unitary and fundamental knowledge… We must forge an anthropology of social sciences to understand what makes STSs so popular today. Unfortunately, Vita, what I said was just a hint; I can’t elaborate a lot more. Somehow, studies on science – historical and sociological, which produces no technology, no immediate profit compared to the other fields – have been getting much attention here in Portugal, for the last two/three years. There are increasing numbers of research projects (supported by the government, universities and some private institutions), conferences, books, exhibitions, courses… on History of Science, Philosophy of Science, Art and Science, Bioethics, etc. I don’t neglect the real importance of science in our everyday life, but it looks like we’ve been blindfolded and, in a jiff, someone took the veil off and everyone went hysterical. Ahah, probably I’m exaggerating. Remember that we are in the [eclectic and resistive] periphery; we are more like consumers and mergers of theory, not producers. I can imagine the same happening in Britain a decade ago... This is begging for ethnography, isn't it?
Comment by Liliana Gil Sousa on December 26, 2009 at 6:49pm
Hi Beck and Vita,
Your discussion impelled me to add a comment, I hope it helps.
Science is not about cyborgs. Science is an institution and a way to know the world, informed by contextual metaphors and ways of seeing. Probably “Cyborg Anthropology” as suggested by Downey, Dumit and Williams (all americans, I think) – the practice that seeks to examine “ethnographically the boundaries between humans and machines and our visions of the differences that constitute these boundaries” (1995: 342) – would be a better name for the group. In what concerns of anthropological accounts on technology along the twentieth century, well, think about material culture and some reflections on art. I can see some continuity in there, in the issues raised. But certainly academy is not intellectual-fashion-free, and we must understand the agenda and its relationships with fund policies and other variables to grasp the “anthropology of science and technology” phenomenon (this is very interesting too).
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m totally on STSs, cyborgs and those mad pop scenes. Let’s just try to stay critic. :)
Comment by Beck J on October 22, 2009 at 3:52am
Hi Vita

Yes I understand what you "may" mean by science an technology and am prepared to run your encapsulation - if that is the right word - I am trying to talk posh but alas I am from East London and cannot, at least for the time being. However perhaps I was not clear enough. I was more interested in the other part of your subject - that is .... the anthropology of . . . .what . . . (Benedictine monks begin chanting) The use of this terminology intrigues me nearly as much as much as the debate over cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics. Nevertheless, I think it would be great if you could provide a context for what you mean here by "an" or "a" anthropology of science and technology. I ask this because technology as a concern of anthropology has either been largely ignored, neglected or purposely avoided by social and cultural anthropologists throughout the twentieth century - not to say there has been no work. To see it reanimated via the disparate halls of UCL is simply too intriguing. What has changed in terms of - lets say "technology" that begs ones application of the art of anthropology? Although I am cynical about most of the "anthropological" stuff coming out of Europe at the moment I am genuinely interested in what my long ago cousins think? What ails ye in ol London town that needs such a paultice Emily my darling? A Paultice is a form of technology too. So how goes it will you help us out with some direction or shall we sail yonderless for ageless?
Comment by Beck J on October 15, 2009 at 11:40am
I am just wondering whether the name really fits with your description. I am totally into the post human thing but want to look beyond S & T?

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