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Keynote abstracts


Keynote 1. Engineering Collectives: Technologies of Life and Loss in a High Arctic Terrain

By Kirsten Hastrup, Professor of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

Technology is high on the anthropological agenda. Anthropology itself emerged along with the modernist moment around 1900, riding on a wave of new technologies of transport, communication, and recording. The question addressed in this presentation is how anthropology may contribute to a rethinking of technology as an ingrained part of the engineering of collectives at multiple scales.

This will be discussed through a case from the High Arctic, showing the indeterminate nature of technology. The first section unpacks the engineering of landscapes by animal and human agents carving out new terrains. The second section addresses the engineering of relations through materials made available by shifting natures. The third section deals with the engineering of futures, through legal technologies and other imaginaries that give vent to a new sense of progress. The general ambition is to challenge received notions of technology as separate from sociality. 

Keynote 2. Taking Things Seriously; or how to embrace the ‘non-human turn’ in ethnographic encounters.

By Marianne Lien, Professor of Anthropology, Oslo University

What do we talk about when we talk about things? What is the basis for conceiving of collectives as being ‘shaped by technology’?  A conventional approach to technology is to see it as  a thematic cluster  that gathers scholars with a shared interest in specific, often uncharted innovations that set other things motion, that is technology as a’ field apart’.  But what if we approach technology as a heuristic for thinking more deeply about the dynamic worlds humans inhabit? In this paper I propose a holistic approach to technology that, rather than seeing it merely as an expression of the so-called ‘non-human turn’, embraces technology as an integrated aspect of human lives. Drawing on my own research on salmon domestication, as well as ongoing fieldwork concerning colonizing processes in the Scandinavian North, I shall argue that an ethnography that takes things seriously might yield novel insight into life’s predicaments and cultural change, and challenge the idea of technology as a thing apart. 

Keynote 3. Retro-Robotics: Technology, Nostalgia, and Japan’s Tomorrow

By Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan.

The Meiji period (1868-1912) in Japan marked a 180-degree shift from a feudal-like regime to an imperial nation-state. The new slogan fueling modernization was wakon yōsai (Japanese spirit, Western technology). At that time, the “West”—that is, western Europe and the United States—was perceived by change agents as repositories of the kind knowledge, science, and advanced technology that the country needed in order to build an empire. That early experiment in what has been called “scientific colonialism” failed tragically in 1945. What a difference a century makes! Today, Japan has been nicknamed the “robot kingdom” in recognition of the pathbreaking technological advances spearheaded by Japanese companies since the 1960s. However, as I argue, the vision of society that robotics is designed and deployed to reinforce is a nostalgia-infused picture of an ethnically—that is, phenotypically and culturally—homogeneous nation-state. It is a vision that recycles whitewashed rhetoric from the Meiji period—the proposed revision of the postwar constitution being a case in point. Using advertisements and public relations media produced by the government ministries, and popular books (many by roboticists) promoting human-robot coexistence, I describe, analyze, and interpret what I refer to as “retro-robotics” and “retro-tech,” or the application of advanced technology in the service of ethnic nationalism.