Speculative Anthropology


Many many years ago I wanted to be an archaeologist.  When I was in college the archaeology classes were in the anthropology department and there seemed something outdated about anthropology.  Taking a outsider or imperialist perspective on ‘native’ cutlures in an attempt to find out – what it means to be ‘human.’ I never did take a class and ended up studying Philosophy and Computer Science.

These days though, I hear and read about anthropology more  and more as it relates to technology (both high tech and low/ancient tech), and non human agents (think Eduardo Kohn). Rather than a detached descriptive engagement with a subject, perhaps influenced by the media of writing, film, an audio recording, anthropology is much more engaged with bracketing or providing a framework around the possibilities of human experience.

There is a speculative sense to Anthropology.  How does a human change when placed in a VR world of combat, in a VR world of meditation? How do traditional categories and ontologies become upended.  What does it mean to talk about the anthropology of non-human communities – such as robo trading bots. or AIs.  These are more augmentations of the human or human epiphenomena than non-human, but how can we reinterpret what it means to be human using anthropological methods on these technologies.

Another area that fascinates me is the anthropology of computer code. What power structures and ontological structures does code contain? How do they frame not only social relations between people but relations between code and people and code and code (and by code I mean any sort of automated system)?   What world views does computer code, and lambda calculus in general embody and how is this different from other codes – such as the model of the atom or genetics?