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Science, Technology, and Society

Science, Technology, and Society

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The Cold War period saw a dramatic expansion of state-funded science and technology research. Government and military patronage shaped Cold War technoscientific practices, imposing methods that were project oriented, team based, and subject to national-security restrictions. These changes affected not just the arms race and the space race but also research in agriculture, biomedicine, computer science, ecology, meteorology, and other fields. This volume examines science and technology in the context of the Cold War, considering whether the new institutions and institutional arrangements that emerged globally constrained technoscientific inquiry or offered greater opportunities for it.

The contributors find that whatever the particular science, and whatever the political system in which that science was operating, the knowledge that was produced bore some relation to the goals of the nation-state. These goals varied from nation to nation; weapons research was emphasized in the United States and the Soviet Union, for example, but in France and China scientific independence and self-reliance dominated. The contributors also consider to what extent the changes to science and technology practices in this era were produced by the specific politics, anxieties, and aspirations of the Cold War.

Contributors
Elena Aronova, Erik M. Conway, Angela N. H. Creager, David Kaiser, John Krige, Naomi Oreskes, George Reisch, Sigrid Schmalzer, Sonja D. Schmid, Matthew Shindell, Asif A. Siddiqi, Zuoyue Wang, Benjamin Wilson

Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement

For decades, social movements vied for attention from the mainstream mass media—newspapers, radio, and television. Today, some say that social media power social movements, from Iran’s so-called “Twitter revolution” to the supposed beginnings of the Egyptian revolution on a Facebook page. Yet, as Sasha Costanza-Chock reports, activists and organizers agree that social media enhances, rather than replaces, face-to-face organizing. The revolution will be tweeted, but tweets alone do not the revolution make. In Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! Costanza-Chock traces a broader social movement media ecology. Through a richly detailed account of daily media practices in the immigrant rights movement, he argues that social movements engage in transmedia organizing. Despite the current spotlight on digital media, he finds, social movement media practices tend to be cross-platform, participatory, and linked to action. Immigrant rights organizers leverage social media creatively, alongside a range of tools from posters and street theater to Spanish-language radio, print, and television.

Drawing on extensive interviews, workshops, and media organizing projects, Costanza-Chock presents case studies of transmedia organizing in the immigrant rights movement between 2006 and 2012. Chapters focus on the mass protests against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill; coverage of police brutality against peaceful activists; efforts to widen access to digital media tools and skills for low-wage immigrant workers; paths to participation in DREAM activism; and the implications of professionalism for transmedia organizing. These cases show us how transmedia organizing helps strengthen movement identity, win political and economic victories, and transform broader consciousness.

Pirates, Protest, and Politics in FM Radio Activism

The United States ushered in a new era of small-scale broadcasting in 2000 when it began issuing low-power FM (LPFM) licenses for noncommercial radio stations around the country. Over the next decade, several hundred of these newly created low-wattage stations took to the airwaves. In Low Power to the People, Christina Dunbar-Hester describes the practices of an activist organization focused on LPFM during this era. Despite its origins as a pirate broadcasting collective, the group eventually shifted toward building and expanding regulatory access to new, licensed stations. These radio activists consciously cast radio as an alternative to digital utopianism, promoting an understanding of electronic media that emphasizes the local community rather than a global audience of Internet users.

Dunbar-Hester focuses on how these radio activists impute emancipatory politics to the “old” medium of radio technology by promoting the idea that “microradio” broadcasting holds the potential to empower ordinary people at the local community level. The group’s methods combine political advocacy with a rare commitment to hands-on technical work with radio hardware, although the activists’ hands-on, inclusive ethos was hampered by persistent issues of race, class, and gender.

Dunbar-Hester’s study of activism around an “old” medium offers broader lessons about how political beliefs are expressed through engagement with specific technologies. It also offers insight into contemporary issues in media policy that is particularly timely as the FCC issues a new round of LPFM licenses.

The Secret World of Videogame Creators

Rank-and-file game developers bring videogames from concept to product, and yet their work is almost invisible, hidden behind the famous names of publishers, executives, or console manufacturers. In this book, Casey O’Donnell examines the creative collaborative practice of typical game developers. His investigation of why game developers work the way they do sheds light on our understanding of work, the organization of work, and the market forces that shape (and are shaped by) media industries. O’Donnell shows that the ability to play with the underlying systems—technical, conceptual, and social—is at the core of creative and collaborative practice, which is central to the New Economy. When access to underlying systems is undermined, so too is creative collaborative process.

Drawing on extensive fieldwork in game studios in the United States and India, O’Donnell stakes out new territory empirically, conceptually, and methodologically. Mimicking the structure of videogames, the book is divided into worlds, within which are levels; and each world ends with a boss fight, a “rant” about lessons learned and tools mastered. O’Donnell describes the process of videogame development from pre-production through production, considering such aspects as experimental systems, “socially mandatory” overtime, and the perpetual startup machine that exhausts young, initially enthusiastic workers. He links work practice to broader systems of publishing, manufacturing, and distribution; introduces the concept of a privileged “actor-intra-internetwork”; and describes patent and copyright enforcement by industry and the state.

Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision

When architects draw even brick walls to six decimal places with software designed to cut lenses, it is clear that the logic that once organized relations between precision and material error in construction has unraveled. Precision, already a promiscuous term, seems now to have been uncoupled from its contract with truthfulness. Meanwhile error, and the always-political space of its dissent, has reconfigured itself.

In The Architecture of Error Francesca Hughes argues that behind the architect’s acute fetishization of redundant precision lies a special fear of physical error. What if we were to consider the pivotal cultural and technological transformations of modernism to have been driven not so much by the causes its narratives declare, she asks, as by an unspoken horror of loss of control over error, material life, and everything that matter stands for? Hughes traces the rising intolerance of material vagaries—from the removal of ornament to digitalized fabrication—that produced the blind rejection of organic materials, the proliferation of material testing, and the rhetorical obstacles that blighted cybernetics. Why is it, she asks, that the more we cornered physical error, the more we feared it?

Hughes’s analysis of redundant precision exposes an architecture of fear whose politics must be called into question. Proposing error as a new category for architectural thought, Hughes draws on other disciplines and practices that have interrogated precision and failure, citing the work of scientists Nancy Cartwright and Evelyn Fox Keller and visual artists Gordon Matta-Clark, Barbara Hepworth, Rachel Whiteread, and others. These non-architect practitioners, she argues, show that error need not be excluded and precision can be made accountable.

Politics, Ecology, and Infrastructure at the Panama Canal

In this innovative book, Ashley Carse traces the water that flows into and out from the Panama Canal to explain how global shipping is entangled with Panama’s cultural and physical landscapes. By following container ships as they travel downstream along maritime routes and tracing rivers upstream across the populated watershed that feeds the canal, he explores the politics of environmental management around a waterway that links faraway ports and markets to nearby farms, forests, cities, and rural communities.

Carse draws on a wide range of ethnographic and archival material to show the social and ecological implications of transportation across Panama. The Canal moves ships over an aquatic staircase of locks that demand an enormous amount of fresh water from the surrounding region. Each passing ship drains 52 million gallons out to sea—a volume comparable to the daily water use of half a million Panamanians.

Infrastructures like the Panama Canal, Carse argues, do not simply conquer nature; they rework ecologies in ways that serve specific political and economic priorities. Interweaving histories that range from the depopulation of the U.S. Canal Zone a century ago to road construction conflicts and water hyacinth invasions in canal waters, the book illuminates the human and nonhuman actors that have come together at the margins of the famous trade route. 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal. Beyond the Big Ditch calls us to consider how infrastructures are materially embedded in place, producing environments with winners and losers.

Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe

In this book, Clapperton Mavhunga views technology in Africa from an African perspective. Technology in his account is not something always brought in from outside, but is also something that ordinary people understand, make, and practice through their everyday innovations or creativities—including things that few would even consider technological. Technology does not always originate in the laboratory in a Western-style building but also in the society in the forest, in the crop field, and in other places where knowledge is made and turned into practical outcomes.

African creativities are found in African mobilities. Mavhunga shows the movement of people as not merely conveyances across space but transient workspaces. Taking indigenous hunting in Zimbabwe as one example, he explores African philosophies of mobilities as spiritually guided and of the forest as a sacred space. Viewing the hunt as guided mobility, Mavhunga considers interesting questions of what constitutes technology under regimes of spirituality. He describes how African hunters extended their knowledge traditions to domesticate the gun, how European colonizers, with no remedy of their own, turned to indigenous hunters for help in combating the deadly tsetse fly, and examines how wildlife conservation regimes have criminalized African hunting rather than enlisting hunters (and their knowledge) as allies in wildlife sustainability. The hunt, Mavhunga writes, is one of many criminalized knowledges and practices to which African people turn in times of economic or political crisis. He argues that these practices need to be decriminalized and examined as technologies of everyday innovation with a view toward constructive engagement, innovating with Africans rather than for them.

Africans and the Global Uranium Trade

Uranium from Africa has long been a major source of fuel for nuclear power and atomic weapons, including the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In 2003, after the infamous “yellow cake from Niger,” Africa suddenly became notorious as a source of uranium, a component of nuclear weapons. But did that admit Niger, or any of Africa’s other uranium-producing countries, to the select society of nuclear states? Does uranium itself count as a nuclear thing? In this book, Gabrielle Hecht lucidly probes the question of what it means for something--a state, an object, an industry, a workplace--to be “nuclear.”

Hecht shows that questions about being nuclear--a state that she calls “nuclearity”--lie at the heart of today’s global nuclear order and the relationships between “developing nations” (often former colonies) and “nuclear powers” (often former colonizers). Hecht enters African nuclear worlds, focusing on miners and the occupational hazard of radiation exposure. Could a mine be a nuclear workplace if (as in some South African mines) its radiation levels went undetected and unmeasured? With this book, Hecht is the first to put Africa in the nuclear world, and the nuclear world in Africa. By doing so, she remakes our understanding of the nuclear age.

Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America

The essays in this volume study the creation, adaptation, and use of science and technology in Latin America. They challenge the view that scientific ideas and technology travel unchanged from the global North to the global South—the view of technology as “imported magic.” They describe not only alternate pathways for innovation, invention, and discovery but also how ideas and technologies circulate in Latin American contexts and transnationally. The contributors’ explorations of these issues, and their examination of specific Latin American experiences with science and technology, offer a broader, more nuanced understanding of how science, technology, politics, and power interact in the past and present.

The essays in this book use methods from history and the social sciences to investigate forms of local creation and use of technologies; the circulation of ideas, people, and artifacts in local and global networks; and hybrid technologies and forms of knowledge production. They address such topics as the work of female forensic geneticists in Colombia; the pioneering Argentinean use of fingerprinting technology in the late nineteenth century; the design, use, and meaning of the XO Laptops created and distributed by the One Laptop per Child Program; and the development of nuclear energy in Argentina, Mexico, and Chile.

Contributors
Pedro Ignacio Alonso, Morgan G. Ames, Javiera Barandiarán, João Biehl, Anita Say Chan, Amy Cox Hall, Henrique Cukierman, Ana Delgado, Rafael Dias, Adriana Díaz del Castillo H., Mariano Fressoli, Jonathan Hagood, Christina Holmes, Matthieu Hubert, Noela Invernizzi, Michael Lemon, Ivan da Costa Marques, Gisela Mateos, Eden Medina, María Fernanda Olarte Sierra, Hugo Palmarola, Tania Pérez-Bustos, Julia Rodriguez, Israel Rodríguez-Giralt, Edna Suárez Díaz, Hernán Thomas, Manuel Tironi, Dominique Vinck

Public Knowledge about Radiation Health Effects after Chernobyl

Before Fukushima, the most notorious large-scale nuclear accident the world had seen was Chernobyl in 1986. The fallout from Chernobyl covered vast areas in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Europe. Belarus, at the time a Soviet republic, suffered heavily: nearly a quarter of its territory was covered with long-lasting radionuclides. Yet the damage from the massive fallout was largely imperceptible; contaminated communities looked exactly like noncontaminated ones. It could be known only through constructed representations of it. In The Politics of Invisibility, Olga Kuchinskaya explores how we know what we know about Chernobyl, describing how the consequences of a nuclear accident were made invisible. Her analysis sheds valuable light on how we deal with other modern hazards—toxins or global warming—that are largely imperceptible to the human senses.

Kuchinskaya describes the production of invisibility of Chernobyl’s consequences in Belarus—practices that limit public attention to radiation and make its health effects impossible to observe. Just as mitigating radiological contamination requires infrastructural solutions, she argues, the production and propagation of invisibility also involves infrastructural efforts, from redefining the scope and nature of the accident’s consequences to reshaping research and protection practices.

Kuchinskaya finds vast fluctuations in recognition, tracing varyingly successful efforts to conceal or reveal Chernobyl’s consequences at different levels—among affected populations, scientists, government, media, and international organizations. The production of invisibility, she argues, is a function of power relations.

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