Modern Times

Anthropology 21A-334

Artifact Project (long version)

Modern Times

Artifact Project

Interview Project

Anthropology of Truths

      Artifact Projects are attempts to teach and learn about the embeddedness of objects in the world and the world in objects. The emphasis is on details and non-obvious connections, as well as on the many dimensions with which we can analyze -- the world in artifacts ( symbolic, labor, professional, material, technological, political, economic, textual, bodily, historical) -- the artifact in the world ( context, educational, political, mythological, symbolic, labor, professional, material, technological, economic, textual, bodily).

      Artifact: Artifact as an "it." What is it? (This is an exercise in specificity). How can it be conceptualized? What is it to different groups of people and individuals? How is it situated in the world and how is the world situated in it?

      Here is a hastily put-together, quite incomplete, yet apparently excessive list of possibly relevant aspects of any artifact (whether it be a grain of rice, a mouse, a mouse pad, an ad about a mouse, you, a fact of life, a book, a statistic, an event, a story...).

      At the end of each set of potential questions is: How do these help constitute it? This question means, how do the answers to these questions matter to what kind of artifact this is? These are only hints, but remember that almost any answer provides a cluster of new artifacts (try not to go more than three levels down). The object of this project is to explore the real complexity of "specificity" and "situatedness". These words only mean something in the context of knowledges and matter, and in contests over what matters. In these contexts they allow us to get at the world in an effective and affective way; they help show us how the world matters and how it might be otherwise.

      How is the world in the artifact?

      Symbolic dimensions (What are the many different ways in which it can be taken as a symbol? What parts of it can be taken as symbols? How do these symbols mean in the world? Where do they mean? What are the histories of these symbols? To what have they been attached?

      Labor dimensions (Where was it produced? How was it produced? Are there stages in its production? Where has it traveled to and from? Who produces it? What are the histories of its production?

      Professional/Epistemological dimensions (How is knowledge of the artifact and its production demarcated and professionalized? What kind of professionals are involved in making expert decisions regarding its development, production, and dissemination? In funding each of these stages? In projecting its future use? What kinds of controversies of this knowledge are happening? Who is involved? In what kinds of institutions do they work? What are the political-economic histories of this?

      Material dimensions (What materials are involved in these production processes? Where have these materials come from? What are the labor dimensions of their production? What are the global, economic, and political dimensions of their use? What are the histories of these materials? How do these help constitute it?

      Technological dimensions (What kinds of technologies and machines enable it to be produced? What kinds enable these other dimensions to be sustained? What sorts of information technologies are involved? What are the political, economic, bodily, labor and historical dimensions of these technologies? How do they help constitute it?

      Political dimensions (What sorts of politics are these dimensions involved in? What kinds of local, national and international bodies claim jurisdiction over it? In approving it (e.g. lobbyists, patents, corporate sponsorship, etc.)? What are the histories of regulations concerning it? How do these regulations help constitute it?

      Economic dimensions (How is it involved in a world marketplace? What kinds of capital, debt, credit, and labor relations are involved in producing, marketing, and acquiring it? What is the history of those relations? Who is involved at each stage and how are differences in power situated? How do these help constitute it?

      Textual dimensions (What texts are involved in the production of it? What texts refer to this process? What kinds of texts? Who produces them and who reads them? Where and in what institutions? What are the histories of these texts? What kinds of textual associations can be made?

      Bodily/organic dimensions (How are our bodies related to it? Are there particular ways in which we think of ourselves that also involve or sustain this artifact? What kinds of bodies and bodily relations are involved in producing it? How are these bodies and relations gendered? Are there racial markings or other group identifications which help construct these bodies? What are the histories of all of these relations? How do these help constitute it?

      Historical dimensions (What concepts refer to it? What are the histories of these concepts? Was it invented, when and by whom? Are there different and competing versions of its histories? Who tells these histories? How has it traveled historically? Repeat the above dimensions for each aspect of its history. How do these help constitute it?

      How is the artifact in the world?

      Context and situatedness (Where does it appear in the world? How does it appear and next to what or in what? What activities or ways of life enable one to come across it? What kinds of audiences are it addressed to? Who is excluded in these addresses? When can it appear? What is the rhythm of its appearance? How does this matter?

      Educational dimensions (How does it appear in our socialization? When do we learn about it in school? In the rest of life? What kinds of people/bodies get to learn about it? How much do we learn about it? What aspects of it are avoided? What are the histories of teaching about it? How does this matter?

      Political dimensions (How is it understood in terms of political positions in the world? How can we articulate the ways it is understood with political discourses? How is it hegemonic (in what ways can we see it as marshaling our consent to dominant orders? What kinds of legislation affect it? How do political considerations make use of it? What are the political positions as seen through the lens of this artifact (they often vary by artifact and moment)? How does this matter?

      Mythological dimensions (What roles does it play in fantasies? What kinds of national narratives make use of it? How does it appear in entertainment? What other grand narratives, stories and strong associations involve it (e.g. progress, risk, joy, fear, science, militarism, success, decline, horror, self-improvement, financial security, nuclear family, motherhood, fatherhood, independence, adolescence, democracy, origin stories, stories of difference, privilege, death, pornography, sports...)? How do these matter?

      Symbolic dimensions (How does this object serve in symbolic systems? What kinds of metaphors is it involved in? What sorts of ideas, metaphors, movements, ideologies, etc., are associated with it? For whom are these relevant , to whom do they matter, what contests over meaning are they involved in? What are the histories of these meanings and contests over meaning? How do they matter?

      Labor dimensions (How is it used? What forms of labor and work is it associated with? What forms of labor and work incorporate it or make use of it? Is it used up? If not, how is it passed on, transferred, communicated? What routes do these processes take? What kinds of actors (human and non-human) are involved and what kinds are excluded?

      Professional/epistemological dimensions (What kinds of knowledge count in talking about it? How does emotional attention fit in? What forms does knowledge about it take (e.g. journalism, academic papers, commonsense, tabloids, computers, etc.)? What facts can we tell about it? What discourses of authority claim competence over them? How is it articulated by medical , legal, governmental, religious, psychological, engineering, military, economic, academic, new age, and educational professionals?

      Material dimensions (How do the materials of the object appear? How are they disposed of? What hazards are considered among these materials? What are the historical, scientific, and political dimensions of these materials?

      Technological dimensions (What technologies are joined with it? What sorts of machines does it work with? What kinds of machines are articulated to it? Who has access to these machines and technologies? What are the histories of them?

      Economic dimensions (The artifact as commodity: how is it marketed, purchased, consumed? Where and by whom? What are the economic statuses and positions of those who are associated with it? Who sells it? How are costs calculated? How are risks calculated? By whom and when? How do these matter?

      Textual dimensions (What texts refer to it? What kinds of textual associations are involved? Who produces and who reads these texts? What kinds of institutions are involved in these processes? What are the histories of these processes and institutions? How are these texts funded? How does this matter?

      Bodily/organic dimensions (What kinds of bodies and bodily relations make use of it? How are these bodies gendered, racialized and differently abled? What kinds of ways of life are involved? How do these matter?

      How can the artifact be divided up? What are the parts of it? Treating each part as an artifact, repeat the above analysis...

      Revised Assignment