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From Technical Rationalities to Sociotechnical Relationalities

Wed, August 20, 11:00am to 1:00pm, Intercontinental Hotel, Moliere


In this presentation I discuss the practice of 'hacking' with a focus on its constitutive ties of technical, moral, political, and economic nature. Based on ethnographic research among hardware and software engineers at 'hackerspaces' in China, Japan, and the United States I address the emergence of a form of computing expertise at the intersections of established institutional contexts of science and engineering practice and transnational collaborations around Free Software development and Open Source hardware engineering. Drawing from classic and contemporary social theory, I discuss a relational approach to ethnographic research, intersecting anthropology and STS to activate renewed forms of engagement with our co-participants within and beyond academic settings.

One of the main questions I pursue concerns the conditions of participation in transnational technical collectives. What are the skills, political orientations, and moral dispositions which are desired and fostered by collaborative groups of developers and engineers in Free Software and Open hardware? And what does the difference between disparate dispositions speak to the question of gender and power imbalance, as well as socioeconomic and cultural differences that crosscut the distributed work around collaborative technologies? In order to tackle these questions, I focus on the cultivation of engineering skills, political orientations, and forms of ethical reasoning in the context of career trajectories and project histories. The shift in focus from technoscientific rationalities to relationalities, I contend, is meant to enable new forms of ethnographic engagement by reshaping the relationship between anthropology and STS in respect to our forms of attending to our research co-participants.


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