Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Networked Spirits and Smart Séances: Aura and the Anthropological Gaze in the Era of the Internet of Things

2015 has been declared the year of the “Internet of Things”, the promised (or threatened) era when our commodities communicate among themselves. But even the most optimistic prognostications cannot conceal deep ambivalences about objects and agency. How do we think about our things when they communicate and act independently of us? How do we frame our relationships with them? How do we articulate distributed intelligence? And how are others imbricated in those relationships? Yet, anthropologists have been asking these questions for some time, and, in this essay, I revisit some ghosts of anthropology's past in order to prompt spectral evocation of these anthropological futures. Through revisiting anthropological fascinations with the nineteenth-century séances, phantasmagoria, commodities and auras, this essay looks to nineteenth-century confusions not only to reflect on the confusions of the present, but also to gesture to possible futures where our lively things might help us challenge suspect dichotomies of human and non-human.

In History and Anthropology

And also (in draft form) on my personal page.