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Undergraduate course

Anthropological Research Agendas: Anthropology of technology: system, network, platform

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Level of Study

Bachelor

Teaching semester

Irregular

Objectives and Content

This course gives a comprehensive introduction to a specific area of contemporary anthropological investigation. Current research trends and recent theoretical developments are explored through critical discussions with emphasis on anthropology's evolving engagement with the selected field. The course offers a unique opportunity to be acquainted with diverse aspects - methodological, epistemological and theoretical - of the research process, aspects that lie at the very basis of anthropological analysis and practice, and of ethnographic production.

Theme Autumn 2021:

Our everyday lives (learning, work, play, communication) are mediated by technologies which we apprehend in their individual instances: my computer, my phone, or my car. The anthropology of technology has long been interested in the study of such individualized technical artifacts: their meanings, politics and capacities to extend human powers to act in the world. More recently, the anthropology of technology also considers how technical artifacts are connected to one another and to the social relationships they mediate. A computer is an artifact but also a link in a vaster interdependent structure that includes other computers, server farms, data centers and clouds, electricity grids, programming languages, etc. - all of which have to fit together through protocols and procedures and be constantly maintained and repaired. How are such interconnected structures built over time and how do they shift in response to social and political pressures? Is the reverse true: do technological structures format and transform the societies in which they emerge? How do we describe and analyze the shape and limits of these interconnected structures? What sorts of agendas do we design into or surrender to them: should technologies save work? Ameliorate social inequality? Make political and moral decisions for us?

In this course, we will map out the ways in which technology is embedded in culture, society and political economy, paying special attention to three main forms of technological interconnection that have loomed large in late 20th and early 21st century: system (and/or infrastructure), network and, lately, platform. We will explore the post-World War II trajectory from system to platform, focusing on information technology and its later digital incarnations (especially machine learning and artificial intelligence) in the contemporary capitalist political economy. System, network and platform illustrate the entanglements between technology and capitalism but they are also analytical tools that can help us conceptualize and narrate ethnographically the shifting boundaries between natural and artificial, real and virtual, human and machine. By their very scale and complexity, such forms bring into sharp focus the utopian (or dystopian) potential of technology to radically change social relationships, cultural imaginaries and political repertoires. The course is grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical framework that combines anthropology, the field of science and technology studies, and cultural political economy.

Learning Outcomes

A student who has completed the course should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:

Knowledge

  • provide an overview of the field of study addressed in the course, with particular reference to its history and theoretical and methodological debates in social anthropology

Skills

  • explain the current state-of-art of research in the field of study addressed in the course
  • explain the various methodological and theoretical considerations that must be taken in order to further develop the field of study

General competence

  • apply key concepts and perspectives from the course and its field of study independently, in the understanding and analysis of local and global processes
  • apply an understanding of the correlation and difference between empirical data, theory and analysis in text production

Required Previous Knowledge

None

Access to the Course

Open

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, seminars, presentations

2-4 hours per week

5-10 weeks, 24-26 hours in total

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

Submission of one essay (1500 words +/- 10%).

Only with an approved assignment will students be allowed to take the exam.

Approved compulsory assignment is valid for 1 semester.

Forms of Assessment

Take home exam, 7 days. Words: 3000 (+/- 10 %)

Grading Scale

A-F

Assessment Semester

Assessment in teaching semester.

Course Evaluation

All courses are evaluated according to UiB's quality assurance system.

Exam information

  • Type of assessment: Take-home examination

    Assignment handed out
    11.10.2021, 09:00
    Submission deadline
    18.10.2021, 14:00
    Withdrawal deadline
    27.09.2021
    Examination system
    Inspera
    Digital exam