[Call for Papers] Infrastructures of Collaboration: Lessons Learned from Collaborative Failures

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Call for Papers for the Society for Cultural Anthropology Biennial Meeting

Infrastructures of Collaboration:
Lessons Learned from Collaborative Failures

We are happy to announce that this panel is now full and all panelists have been notified.


  • Angela VandenBroek, Anthropology PhD Student, Binghamton University
  • Amy Robbins, Anthropology PhD Candidate, Binghamton University

Call for Papers

As Marilyn Strathern (2006) has noted, recent decades have seen increasing calls to encourage spaces for collaboration. In this regard, collaboration is valorized for its pragmatism, as well as for the creative or innovative results it will produce via boundary-crossing. This is the conviction animating various calls for collaboration, including C.P. Snow’s classic The Two Cultures (1993 [1960]), and more recent art-science collaborations in the UK studied by James Leach (2011, 2012). Anthropologists such as Leach and Anthony Stavrianakis (2015), however, are pausing to ask about the purpose of such collaborative experiments, in the process demonstrating that idealizations of collaboration often fail amid the constraints of collaborative infrastructures.

Following Stavrianakis, this panel is organized around infrastructural issues, such as technologies of communication, the organization of labor, material arrangements of workspaces, professional habitus, and the accountabilities institutions are beholden to, that are more fundamental to the success or failure of collaborative engagements than individual personality and socialization. As anthropologists seek to collaboratively engage experts that are already negotiating these infrastructural milieu, we must address how ethnography might navigate infrastructural issues that shape and restrict collaborative relations.

We seek papers that reflect on lessons learned from infrastructural issues in collaborative case studies and how these lessons might expand upon current collaborative methodologies in anthropology.

Please submit abstracts to akvbroek@gmail.com by Tuesday, January 12.

Friends on Facebook for 46 Years: Experiencing Technical Difficulty Differently

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Where did the 46 Years come from?

You didn’t become Facebook friends 46 years ago. So, where does the number come from. It isn’t random. It is a result of how time is calculated in computing.

Unix Time is how most programmers calculate and store time. It is the number of seconds (not counting leap seconds) since the Unix epoch, January 1, 1970, 00:00:00 UTC. Unix time is incredibly useful on the Internet because it allows you to store time independent from timezones. (If you are not sure why timezones strike fear into the hearts of programmers, watch Tom Scott explain why on Computerphile.)

So, say you want to see exactly how many years it has been since two people became friends on Facebook. Instead of trying to subtract dates like this (shudder):

Now: December 31, 2015 13:00:00 EST
Date Friended: June 14, 2008 8:00:00 EST
December 31, 2015 13:00:00 EST minus June 14, 2008 8:00:00 EST =
¯ \ _(ಠ_ಠ) _ / ¯  Years

You would use a programming function that some other wonderful programmer (or team of programmers) has painstakingly put together and maintained to convert these messy times into Unix time stamps to store and use throughout your website or application. In PHP the function is strtotime(), string-to-time. You put in an English date and it gives you the number of seconds since the Unix epoch (January 1, 1970 00:00:00 UTC).


Tweeting Sweden: Technological Solutionism, #RotationCuration, and the World’s Most Democratic Twitter Account

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Screenshot of article title page.I have a new publication out in the Theorizing the Web special issue of the open access journal Interface. Check it out! I also recommend reading the rest of the issue, which is a must read for anyone who missed these talks at Theorizing the Web 2014.


The Curators of Sweden began in 2011 when two official governmental agencies, the Swedish Institute and VisitSweden, gave a Swedish citizen full and seemingly unfettered control of the official Twitter account of the Swedish government. Every week since then, a new Swedish citizen has been given access to write as @sweden, to curate Swedishness for the Internet. From this project, others have extracted the technology of #RotationCuration to develop similar projects, representing cities, states, countries and ethnic groups. However, in comparison to the Curators of Sweden, these #RotationCuration projects have been failures with small follower counts, minimal press coverage, and the inability to recruit curators.

I argue that the reduction of the Curators of Sweden to its technology, i.e. #RotationCuration, is a form of technological solutionism that impoverishes our understanding of the project and is ultimately the reason behind the failure of #RotationCuration as a solution for democratic engagement with branding and group identity. To this end, I will contextualize the Curators of Sweden into the history of Swedish Modernism and Swedish nation branding that shaped the creators’ choices in design, development, and platforms to demonstrate the complex milieu that has led to @sweden’s success.

No More Lemons! H2BAA 2015 Re-Design

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I recently did an interview for the ACI Blog Index and their questions about my website got me thinking: How to be an Anthropologist has not had a fresh redesign in years! So, I thought it was high time for a complete redesign.

You will notice that the tag-line has changed from “When life hands you lemons and two degrees no one understands, apparently you go get a doctorate!” The original tagline for H2BAA was “When life hands you lemons and two degrees no one understands, make some creative lemonade.” I wrote that line while I was working in IT and solidifying my personal brand as an anthropological web designer/developer. It reflected my experience at the time trying to convince employers that anthropology was a useful skill that was applicable to their needs. When I returned to school in 2013, I changed the end to “apparently you go get a doctorate!” to reflect my new path. However, it has been three years, nine months, and four days since I started this blog and my situation and experience has changed a lot, especially in the last year. So, I thought it was time for a new tagline, something that conveyed what I talk about here on H2BAA and represented who I am today. I settled on the following:

if ( $anthropology_ma && $web_dev_career ) { phd(); }

It is written with the syntax of the scripting language I use most often: PHP. In English it reads something like, “if you have an anthropology MA and a web development career, then PhD.” This pretty much sums up me and this blog, where I write about the intersection of anthropology and web development. For me, it also expresses the inevitability of doing this PhD program that I felt after taking the path I did through anthropology and web development, as my training for both left me questions that could only be answered with the kind of extensive focus that a PhD allows. The new tagline lost the cute lemons though, so I decided to take them out of the design. (Sorry, lemons! I still love you. You are forever archived even if you are not featured anymore.)

Aligned Anxieties: Rethinking Critiques of the Internet through the Anxieties of Web Professionals

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The following is a paper I gave at the 2015 Theorizing the Web Conference on April 18. Below you will find: my presentation with audio, the video of the entire panel, and the backchannel conversation from Twitter. Thank you to the Theorizing the Web committee for putting on such a great conference and to the rest of the panel (Emma Stamm, Daniel Luxemburg, Burcu Baykurt and presider, Sands Fish) for their thought provoking contributions. To read the abstract for this paper head over to the abstract post.

Presentation with Audio


#TtW15 Abstract Post

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I will be presenting at Theorizing the Web again this year! More information on this great conference: Theorizing the Web  2015. If you can’t make it, the conference will also be streamed online.

aligned anxieties

Aligned Anxieties

Rethinking Critiques of the Internet through the Anxieties of Web Professionals

Angela Kristin VandenBroek



It Knows the World: What the Wolfram Language Can Teach Anthropologists about the Problematic Nature of Ontological Approaches (#AAA2014)

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Here is the prezi (with audio) of my presentation from the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting for 2014.

It Knows the World: What the Wolfram Language Can Teach Anthropologists about the Problematic Nature of Ontological Approaches

As anthropologists have become deeply entangled in debates of ontology, Wolfram Research developed a new multi-paradigm programming language that knows the world. Wolfram Language is knowledge-based, meaning that “unlike other programming languages, the philosophy of the Wolfram Language is to build as much knowledge—about algorithms and about the world—into the language as possible” (Wolfram 2014). The language, with its built-in knowledge, can recognize handwriting, visualize celebrity gossip, make pop art, determine the author of a text, and identify prose from poetry (Wolfram 2014). Each of these feats is accomplishable without requiring the programmer to engage with data or algorithms directly and requiring only a handful of commands. The language is being heralded as the answer to dealing with big data, accomplishing artificial intelligence, and overcoming alienation in programming. However, despite the immense potential of the language, it also introduces new inequalities into programming and the Internet. Wolfram Research takes for granted the situatedness of the language’s understanding of the world and seems to conflate its epistemology—what it knows and how—with ontology—the infinitely complex entanglement of being and becoming. If taken up, as is predicted, the Wolfram Language will have the potential to bury alternative epistemologies and build immense swaths of the digital world in its own image. By engaging the Wolfram Language’s implications, I will demonstrate how the abuse of ontological thinking, particularly the pluralization of the ontology and the conflation of ontology and epistemology, has serious implications for thinking and making in the world and in anthropological theorizing.

“Why I signed” (the petition AGAINST academic boycott of Israeli institutions)

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I have signed the petition against the academic boycott of Israeli institutions by the American Anthropological Association. After signing, I felt as if I had taken my stand and have since mostly stayed away from the contentious spaces of debate that are populated largely by pro-boycott anthropologists at this year’s meeting. I had hoped that scholars who had signed the anti-boycott petition and were more advanced in their careers and more entangled with research in this area would bring to the table a better explanation than I could. I also felt that if the boycott came to pass, that I would not fight it as it is better than no action at all and likely would not have devastating effects (either positive or negative).

I chose to write this post, however, after observing the Twitter feed under the hashtag #AAA2014, reading the Inside Higher Ed article, and listening to the buzz around the conference hotel. I do not feel that my anti-boycott stance has been represented in the discourses of the AAA. So, I sat down this morning at my laptop before heading out to put into print why I signed the “Anthropologists Against the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions” petition. (more…)