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Paradoxical Infrastructures: Ruins, Retrofit, and Risk

Cymene Howe, Jessica Lockrem, Hannah Appel, Edward Hackett, Dominic Boyer, Randal Hall, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Albert Pope, Akhil Gupta, Elizabeth Rodwell, Andrea Ballestero, Trevor Durbin, Farès el-Dahdah, Elizabeth Long, Cyrus Mody
SUMMARY: In recent years, a dramatic increase in the study of infrastructure has occurred in the social sciences and humanities, following upon foundational work in the physical sciences, architecture, planning, information science, and engineering. This article, authored by a multidisciplinary group of scholars, probes the generative potential of infrastructure at this historical juncture. Accounting for the conceptual and material capacities of infrastructure, the article argues for the importance of paradox in understanding infrastructure. Thematically the article is organized around three key points that speak to the study of infrastructure: ruin, retrofit, and risk. The first paradox of infrastructure, ruin, suggests that even as infrastructure is generative, it degenerates. A second paradox is found in retrofit, an apparent ontological oxymoron that attempts to bridge temporality from the present to the future and yet ultimately reveals that infrastructural solidity, in material and symbolic terms, is more apparent than actual. Finally, a third paradox of infrastructure, risk, demonstrates that while a key purpose of infrastructure is to mitigate risk, it also involves new risks as it comes to fruition. The article concludes with a series of suggestions and provocations to view the study of infrastructure in more contingent and paradoxical forms.

A Pedagogy of Its Own: Building a UX Research Program

Elizabeth A Rodwell
SUMMARY: While there is insufficient scholarly literature on UX pedagogy in general, there is a particular lack of work on how to construct a UX Research degree program, rather than one in UX Design. Therefore, this article examines what the requirements for such a program would be, the impediments to building it, and whether a distinct program emphasizing research is necessary. Based on my experience working as a UX Researcher and as an Assistant Professor teaching UX/Applied Anthropology, I argue that the industry would benefit from interdisciplinary UX Research programs that harness the strengths of several departments to teach the skill set involved in this role.

The machine without the ghost: Early interactive television in Japan

Elizabeth A Rodwell

SUMMARY: This article is part of an ongoing ethnography of the Japanese television industry focusing on its attempts to experiment with live, interactive content that was manipulable via smart devices, laptops, and remote controls. Based on 18 months of fieldwork in the Japanese television industry in four major TV network offices and two production companies, it also incorporates interviews with more than 30 broadcast company employees. I use two case studies of early interactive television programming to discuss the strategies producers have used to create community and promote identification among audiences of these shows: ‘Arashi Feat. You’ was a live music event that courted a large audience through the involvement of a massively popular boy band and promoted the idea of ‘turning viewers into users’ by allowing them to play musical instruments along with the band. ‘The Last Award’ allowed participants to submit and evaluate each other’s videos live through a dedicated user interface. Through these examples, I argue that participation alters the nature of television spectacle and results in changes to the way producers address and inscribe audiences as cocreators of content. The rhetoric used by interactive television accordingly defaults to ‘we’ and ‘us’ and features accessible and relatable celebrities as surrogates for the audience.

Ambiguous Assessment: Critiquing the Anthropology Graduate Admissions Process

Elizabeth A Marks
SUMMARY: This article presents a survey of admissions processes employed by 43 American anthropology departments. Motivated by a desire to begin a dialogue about how candidates can be better prepared to submit an application, and to assess how individual departments make admissions decisions, I conducted a survey of faculty within these departments using both email and a web-based survey tool. Additionally, I spoke to prospective doctoral student users of a particular online forum–– to assess their understanding of the process and their confidence about admissions. Herein, I further attempt to explain why a transparent admissions process is in the interest of anthropology graduate programs, and suggest how we can emulate efforts made by our colleagues in the humanities to improve the experience for both applicants and faculty.

Open access, closed systems: independent online journalism in Japan
Elizabeth A Rodwell
SUMMARY: This article is part of an ethnography of Japan’s ‘independent’ journalism movement, with a focus on the establishment and dissolution of the Free Press Association of Japan (FPAJ). Based on 13 months of fieldwork within this organization and other internet news broadcasters (i.e., the Independent Web Journal, Our Planet TV), I argue that the conventional taxonomies applied to journalists and journalistic praxis do not easily apply to Japan. Even in the period of heightened political activism following the March 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster, the country’s stalwart kisha (press) club infrastructure proved too great an obstacle for comparatively informal challengers such as the FPAJ. While resistance movements and protest groups have made much use of the internet here, as in other parts of the world, the FPAJ’s attempt to provide direct streaming access to official sources of information largely failed to attract official sources to its press conferences and to generate consistently newsworthy material. The FPAJ attempted to argue that anyone in Japan could be a journalist, but its eventual bankruptcy and dissolution ultimately wound up serving the argument for a professional and official journalistic class put forward by the colleagues whose monopoly over the information they were fighting against.

Television is Not a Democracy: The Limits of Interactive Broadcast in Japan
Elizabeth A Rodwell
SUMMARY: During the post-Fukushima era (2011–2013) in Japan, television and journalism faced crises of public doubt and were forced to devise strategies to reengage skeptical mass audiences. For some within the major television networks, allegations of willful or enforced news censorship were best responded to by reimagining television news as interactive and participatory. Based on in-studio fieldwork, this chapter explores how the democratic ambitions of an interactive news show called The Compass were obstructed by conventional media practices and the ingrained habitus of broadcast professionals. Juggling a television and internet livestream broadcast with Skyped-in guests, live audience chat, social media input, user polls, and more, the program attempted to foster greater intimacy and transparency but was ultimately canceled as its agenda classed with the gatekeeping function of television.

Artificial Speech is Culture: Conversational UX Designers and the Work of Usable Conversational Voice Assistants
Elizabeth A Rodwell
SUMMARY: As conversational voice assistants (CVAs) like Alexa, Siri, and Google Home have become ubiquitous in some parts of the world, lab-based reception studies have captured perceived failures in their usability or accounted for ways that these devices reproduce problematic (often racialized and gendered) cultural conditions. But examining these devices solely as end products fails to account for the ways that UX design, like other expert labor, is a social practice born of daily workplace negotiations and inevitable compromises. This U.S. and Japan-based study argues that anthropological methods are critical to our understanding of conversation design and device training processes and explores why we must go beyond quantifying device usability to examine the work of the usability professionals themselves. For the conversational user experience (CUX) designers and researchers I interviewed and with whom I am conducting ongoing fieldwork, current technology frustrates their capacity to design for systems that go beyond being tools to also be enjoyable conversation partners. In some cases, the process of creating this category of AI turns the canonical literature on computers as social actors on its head, by identifying conscious intentions on the part of designers to replicate human personality and use it to drive the interactions we have with CVAs. It also suggests that the end users who most successfully adopt these tools are frequently those who best reproduce the culture of UX designers themselves.

Online trolling and its perpetrators: Under the Cyberbridge
Elizabeth A Rodwell
SUMMARY: Throughout this book, I found myself wondering when and if ethnographic research on trolling was going to be included—for example, the beginning of Chapter 5 (p. 65) states that little has been done in the way of research from the trolls’ perspectives. It was not until the final pages of the book (p. 170) that important work by Coleman (2014) on this topic was mentioned; the authors would have done well to nod to the body of anthropological work on online communities and trolls.

What do Japanese Internet Trolls think of Trump?

Elizabeth A Rodwell
SUMMARY: Elizabeth Rodwell braves the depths of 5chan to find out why Japanese internet trolls are obsessed with Trump.

Trolling and the Alt-Right in Japan (Part 1)
Elizabeth A Rodwell
SUMMARY: Elizabeth Rodwell on trolls, 2chan, nationalism, and the Japanese version of the Alt-Right.

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