Consuming Habits: Drugs in History and Anthropology

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For a cyborg anthropologist, all fields are valid. Knowledge, tools and spaces are all sites of examination. Knowledge is treated as a social actor, modifying relations and stratifying knowledge systems. Tools are examined as much as people are, as people with different tools and access to sites of knowledge have different powers and opportunities available to them. In a time where the use of Facebook is common, and cell phones live in everyone's pockets, technology is a more of a decision making process for the general person more than something that is critically looked at.

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Technologies have become so omnipresent that they have seeped into almost every nook and cranny of physical and social lives in many countries. A cyborg anthropologist has the ability to leverage both new and old methods to take a step back and look at these changes on a longer scale. Examining actors in the digital cannot be done with traditional tools. A different set of knowledge and capabilities is needed in order to both save time and gain the necessary data required to understand what's going on in different groups. Partnering with a developer is a common occurrence for those researching the web, as the social web has extremely valuable but large datasets.


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Cyborg Anthropology takes the theory and methodology of traditional anthropology and applies it to technology, non-human objects, and global cultural systems involving information and communication. Time and space, interfaces, and the construction of value are important topics. Mobile computing and connectivity are also central. The web is full of timestamped information, and is a field all its own. Technically, a lot of an anthropologist's work in coding and time stamping is done, but the transient nature of this data requires archiving.

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Future anthropologists will benefit from learning code or partnering with technologists. Anthropologist danah boyd has done this well, specifically at Microsoft Research. The term "cyborg anthropology" is an oxymoron that draws attention to the human-centered presuppositions of anthropological discourse by posing the challenge of alternative formulations. While the skin-bound individual, autonomous bearer of identity and agency, theoretically without gender, race, class, region, or time, has served usefully and productively as the subject of culture and of cultural accounts, alternate accounts of history and subjectivity are also possible".

Cyborg anthropology explores a new alternative by examining the argument that human subjects and subjectivity are crucially as much a function of machines, machine relations, and information transfers as they are machine producers and operators. From this perspective, science and technology affect society through the fashioning of selves rather than as external forces.

For example, the establishment of anthropological sub-jects and subjectivities has depended upon boats, trains, planes, typewriters, cameras, telegraphs, and so on. How the positioning of technologies has defined the boundaries of "the field" as well as the positioning of anthropologists within it has been a notable silence in ethnographic writing.

It is increasingly clear that human agency serves in the world today as but one contributor to activities that are growing in scope, that are complex and di-verse, and yet are interconnected. The extent of such interconnectedness has been made plain both by the decline of challenges to capitalist hegemony and by the empowerment of information technologies, the latter through the combined agencies of computer and communications technologies".

How are we to write, for example, without using human-centered language? And if writing is a co-production of human and machine, then who is the "we" that writes? Humans have always developed technologies to help them survive and thrive, but in recent decades the rapid escalation and intensification of the human-technology interface have exceeded anything heretofore known.

From satellite communications to genetic engineering, high technologies have penetrated and permeated the human and natural realms. Indeed, so profoundly are humans altering their biological and physical landscapes that some have openly suggested that the proper object of anthropological study should be cyborgs rather than humans, for, as Donna Haraway says, we are all cyborgs now. New diagnostic technologies, from genetic tests to brain imaging, and new therapeutics from antidepressants like Prozac to organ transplants, create new ways of living and deciding that are at once exciting and troubling.

For instance, testing for the BRCA-1 breast cancer gene, which identifies an increased risk of cancer in some women, often restructures a woman's relationship to the healthcare system, to her family, and to her self.

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Taking the test can lead to losing insurance coverage and to accelerated treatment choices like prophylactic mastectomy; in other words, identification of genetic risk can result in the woman being treated as if she already has breast cancer. The most developed cyborg anthropological work in women's studies concerns reproduction, addressing everything from technologies of conception and prenatal diagnosis and treatment Rapp , to the technologization of birth, to the commodification of disability and pregnancy loss Layne.

For example, Rayna Rapp's long-term fieldwork among genetic counselors and her attention to racial, class, and religious differences in how women make choices given uncertain information about amniocentesis constitute outstanding examples of simultaneous attention to technology, its mediators, and its implications for women. In the contemporary world, there is almost no such thing as normal labor, as giving birth without the assistance of prenatal testing, hospitals, electronic fetal monitoring, drugs, and forceps is generally considered unsafe, despite the demonstrated safety of midwife- attended out-of-hospital births.

The mothers and children whose lives are structured and whose bodies and development are altered by birth technologies can be fruitfully analyzed as cyborgs who demonstrate the full range of ambiguity and possibility that concept encompasses. Various chapters in Cyborg Babies probe these ambiguities, asking whether the sense of control provided to women and practitioners by the routine application of such technologies compensates for the very real physical damage they often do.

Exemplary ethnographies in the wider arena of cyborg studies include Emily Martin's work on immunological science; Deborah Heath's work on the science and activism around Marfan's Syndrome; Diana Forsythe's studies of artificial intelligence and expert systems; Joseph Dumit's studies of brain imaging practices; and Karen-Sue Taussig's work on genetics clinics in the Netherlands. Much work needs to be done to expand cyborg anthropology to address non-middle-class and non-Western issues such as the multiple effects of pollution, pesticide use, and bio-engineering in agricultural production and racial and gendered exclusions from access to cyborg technologies.

The strength of cyborg anthropology is its ability to combine attention to scientific practices and working technologies with critical analyses of technophilia cultural fascination with high technologies , social control, and hegemonic and popular appropriations of technology. Its weakness is that the same fascinating lure of science and technology keeps its practitioners focused on the cyberdazzle of the newest technologies, Big Science, and Western market power.

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