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Welcome to Cyberia: Notes on the Anthropology of Cyberculture [and Comments and Reply]

Author(s): Arturo Escobar, David Hess, Isabel Licha, Will Sibley, Marilyn Strathern, Judith
Sutz
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Jun., 1994), pp. 211-231
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological
Research
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CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, June I994
? I994 byThe Wenner-Gren Research.All rightsreserved
FoundationforAnthropological 0OII-3204/94/3503-OOOI$2.50

Significantchanges are takingplace in both the charac-

Welcome to Cyberia
teroftechnologyand ourunderstanding ofit. Computer,
information,and biological technologies are bringing
abouta fundamentaltransformation in the structureand
meaningofmodernsocietyand culture.Not onlyis this
transformation clearlysusceptibleto anthropologicalin-
Notes on the Anthropology
of quirybut it constitutesperhaps a privilegedarena for
Cyberculture advancinganthropology'sproject of understandinghu-
man societies fromthe vantage points of biology,lan-
guage,history,and culture.This paperreviewsthe types
of culturalanalysis that are being conducted today on
by ArturoEscobar the social nature,impact, and use of new technologies
and suggestsadditional contexts and steps toward the
articulationof an "anthropologyof cyberculture."'l
As a new domain of anthropologicalpractice, the
studyof cybercultureis particularlyconcernedwith the
Significant changesin thenatureofsocial lifeare beingbrought cultural constructionsand reconstructionson which
aboutby computer, information, and biologicaltechnologies, to
theextentthat-some argue-a new culturalorder,"cybercul- the new technologiesare based and which theyin turn
ture,"is coming into being.This paperpresentsan overview of help to shape. The point of departureof this inquiry
thetypesofanthropological analysesthatare beingconductedin is the belief that any technologyrepresentsa cultural
theareaofnew technologiesand suggestsadditionalstepsforthe invention,in the sense that it bringsfortha world; it
articulation ofan anthropology ofcyberculture. It buildsuponsci-
ence,technology, and societystudiesin variousfieldsand on crit- emergesout ofparticularculturalconditionsand in turn
ical studiesofmodernity. The implicationsoftechnoscience for helps to createnew ones. Anthropologists mightbe par-
bothanthropological theoryand ethnographic researchare ex- ticularlywell preparedto understandthese processesif
plored. theywere to open up to the idea that science and tech-
nologyare crucial arenas forthe creationof culturein
ARTURO ESCOBAR is AssociateProfessorofAnthropology at today's world. Anthropologistsmust ventureinto this
SmithCollege(Northampton, Mass. OIO63, U.S.A.). Bornin worldin orderto renewtheirinterestin the understand-
I95I, he was educatedat theUniversidad del Valle (Cali, Colom-
bia) (B.S.,I975), CornellUniversity (M.S., I978), and theUniver- ingand politicsofculturalchangeand culturaldiversity.
sityofCalifornia,Berkeley(Ph.D., i987). He taughtin theLatin
AmericanStudiesProgramoftheUniversity ofCalifornia,
Santa
Cruz,beforejoiningthefacultyat Smithin I989. His researchin- Modernity,Technology,and the Social
terestsare theanthropology ofdevelopment, ofsocial move-
ments,and ofscienceand technology. Amonghis publications Sciences
are (coeditedwithSonia Alvarez)The MakingofSocial Move-
mentsin LatinAmerica:Identity,Strategy, and Democracy New trendsin the social studyoftechnologyare dramat-
(Boulder:WestviewPress,i992) and Encountering Development: icallychangingconventionalnotionsin the field.In con-
TheMakingand Un-makingof theThirdWorld(Princeton:
Princeton UniversityPress,in press).The presentpaperwas sub- ventionalapproaches,technologyis narrowlyidentified
mittedin finalformI VIII93. with tools or machines and the historyof technology
withthe historyofthese instrumentsand theirprogres-
sive efficacyin contributingto economic development
and well-being.As a formof "applied science," technol-
ogy is held to be autonomous fromsociety and value-
neutral;since it is seen as neithergood norbad in itself,
it cannot be faultedforthe uses to which humans put
it.2The underlyingtheoryis thatscience and technology
induce progressautonomously-a beliefrepresentedby

i. David Hess andJennifer Terryprovidedme withusefulinforma-


tionon aspectsofthispaper;I thankthemfortheirhelpand sup-
port.Froman etymological theterms"cyberculture,"
perspective,
"cyberspace," "cyberocracy,"andthelike,aremisnomers. In coin-
ingtheterm"cybemetics," NorbertWienerhadin mindtheGreek
work for "pilot" or "steersman"(kybernmtes); in otherwords,
thereis no Greekrootfor"cyber."Giventhewide acceptanceof
the prefix"cyber,"I will use cyberculturehereas an elementof
analysis.
2. This posturewas modifiedby the technology assessmentthat
emergedin the earlyI970S and has since become an important
field.As criticsobserve,however,moreoftenthannotthepurpose
oftechnology assessmentis not the reorientation
oftechnologies
buttheadaptationofhumanstotheactualorpotentially dangerous
effectstheassessmentreveals(Sanmartin and Ortii992).

21T1
2I21 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, June1994

the metaphorof "the arrowof progress."The arrowof regulated according to flexible technosocial arrange-
progress,which pervades studies in a varietyof disci- mentswhich,withincertainstructuralconstraints,con-
plines,embodiesan evolutionarydeterminismthatgoes, stitute social closure around concrete developments.
roughly,fromscience to technologyto industryto mar- Some researchershave gone beyond this to assert that
ket and,finally,to social progress.Prominentexceptions natureand machines have become importantactors in
to this technologicalimperativeare foundin the work the historical processes that determinetechnological
ofradicalcriticsoftechnologicalsocietyfromHeidegger change.3
and Ortega y Gasset to Marcuse, Illich, Mumford,and Besides the methodologicaldecision to look closelyat
Ellul. the technologiesthemselvesand the systemsthat sur-
Scholarsofmanypersuasionsarguethatthe eventsof round them-a step with which anthropologistscould
the I96os heraldeda new understandingof science and certainlysympathize-social constructivismhas intro-
technology.The emergenceof "big science," the spread duced severalsuggestiveconceptualinnovations.One of
of consciousness about the negative effectsof nuclear these is the notion of "interpretiveflexibility,"which
and industrialtechnologiesand the concomitantrise of refersto the fact-long known to anthropologists-that
appropriate-technology movements,and the appearance differentactors ("relevant social groups," in the con-
of a class of expertsin science and technologypolicy structivists'parlance)interprettechnologicalartifactsin
and assessment were among the factorsthat led to a different ways. The purposeofanalysisis seen as identi-
new questioningof the traditionalview of science and fyingthevarioussocially relevantgroups,thevariability
technologyas independentof socioeconomic and politi- in theirinterpretations of the technical entityin ques-
'cal contexts(Sanmartlnand Lujan I992). New views be- tion, and the mechanisms by which such variabilityis
gan to be craftedbothwithintechnoscientific communi- reduced and closure achieved around a given option.
ties and in the social sciences. In the latter arena, an This would explain why particular technologies are
entirefieldof teachingand researchtook shape around adopted and not others.The result of all this research
two different but interrelatedprojects:science and tech- is a multipath and multilevel evolutionarymodel of
nologystudiesand science, technology,and societypro- technological change. In Callon and Latour's "ac-
grams.These projectshave become institutionalizedin tion-networktheory," research and development are
various forms,including associations such as the Na- similarly studied in terms of the way in which
tional Association forScience, Technology,and Society actors-human and nonhuman-struggleto identifythe
(NAST), the Society forSocial Studies of Science (4S), problemto be solved (San Martlnand Lujan I992).
and the Society forPhilosophyand Technology (all in Despite its importance and visibility, social con-
the United States). structivismhas aroused controversyand critique.That
Science, technology,and societyprogramsalreadyex- the constructivistsseek to explain why technologies
ist in many universitiesof the world, albeit with no arise and certain social constituenciesprevail but not
unifyingorientationbeyond the aim of analyzing sci- the effectsof specific technologies on people, power
ence and technologyas complex enterprisesshaped by structures,and communitiesis seen by some as an easy
socioeconomicand politicalprocesses.Science and tech- and perhapsirresponsibleformof relativism;theyalso
nologystudies(STS), moregenerally,attemptto explain remain silent on the "irrelevant"social groupswhich
the implicationsofthe constitutionofscience and tech- are neverthelessaffectedby technology(WinnerI993a).
nologyas dominantformsof knowledgeand practicein In a more philosophical vein, according to the same
modernculture.The analysis sometimes leads to con- critic,the constructiviststake for grantedthe deeper
siderationofethical and political questions to "help ori- culturalbackgroundthat shapes technologicalinterpre-
ent our understandingof the place of technologyin hu- tationand practice.To look at interpretive flexibilityis
man affairs"(WinnerI993a:364). It is widely held that appropriate"up to a point,"but withouta parallelanaly-
science and technologystudies have radically altered sis ofthe meaningsthatparticulartechnologicalaccom-
past approaches to technology,displacing the linear plishmentshave forpeople it "soon becomes moral and
view of technologicalchange and openingup powerful political indifference"(WinnerI993a:372). From a dif-
researchprogramsthat are resultingin a veritabletheo- ferentperspective,it is said that social constructivism
reticalrenewal.At the heartofthisrenewalis the meth- underplaysthe role of science in technologicaldevelop-
odology of social constructivism,cultivatedespecially ment and minimizes the effectof otherfactorsin that
by sociologistsand historians;in orderto studyscience processsuch as the economy,the media, and the public
and technologyas social constructs,scholarshave taken sector(Sanmartlnand Ortl I 992). At the veryleast,anal-
to researchlaboratories,technologyinterestgroups,and
historicalarchiveswith new eyes. Constructivistsdem- 3. This in no way pretendsto be an exhaustiveaccountof the
onstratethat,contraryto the technologicaldeterminism constructivist
approach,whoseproponents do notnecessarilycon-
ofpast times,contingencyand flexibilityare the essence stitutea homogeneousgroup.Amongthe most-citedworksby
of technological change; by showing that social pro- these authorsare Knorr-Cetina and Mulkay (i983), Latourand
cesses are inherentto technologicalinnovations,they Woolgar(I979), Bijker,Hughes,and Pinch (i987), Latour(i987,
i988), and Woolgar (i988, i991). Other importantnames associated
deal a fatalblow to the alleged separationof technology withconstructivism
are Michael Callon,H. M. Collins,Thomas
fromsocietyand of both of these fromnature.The gen- Hughes,and JohnLaw. For reviewsof theseworks,see Winner
eral belief is that science and technologysystems are (I993a) and Medina (i992).
ESCOBAR The Anthropologyof CybercultureI 2I3

ysis oftechnosocialclosuremust be supplementedwith processesofcapital and knowledgeforthe simultaneous


questionsabout the suitabilityofthepersonaland social productionof value and life.5The spreadof the written
practicesinformedby the technologiesunder consider- word,the preeminenceof the machine, the controlof
ation-questions that, again, the constructivistsseem timeand space, and the biologicaland biochemicalrevo-
to overlook(MedinaI992). lutions of the past ioo years produced unprecedented
Some of the critiquesreviewedabove are considered biotechnicalarrangementswhich todayfindnew forms
in other anthropological,philosophical,and poststruc- of expressionin cyberculturalregimes.
turaliststudiesofscience and technology.Foranthropol- Althoughthe relation between science, technology,
ogists,inquiryinto the natureofmodernityas the back- and culture has remained insufficiently theorized(Le-
ground for current understanding and practice of court I992), science and technologyor, better,techno-
technologyis of paramountimportance.In this anthro- science has been central to the modernorder.Heideg-
pologyis closer to the philosophythan to the new soci- ger'streatmentoftechnologyas a paradigmaticpractice
ologyof technology.Cybercultureis in factfosteringa ofmodernityremainsexemplaryin this regard.Science
freshreformulationof the question of modernityin and technology,forHeidegger,are ways of creatingnew
waysno longerso mediatedby literaryand epistemolog- realities,new manifestationsof being. Modern science
ical considerations.Whetherour era is postmodernor necessarilyconstructs("enframes")natureas something
modifiedmodern("late," "meta-," or "hyper-,"as some to be appropriated, somethingwhose energymust be re-
have proposed)is a question that cannot be answered leased forhuman purposes. This is "the dangerin the
priorto investigationofthe presentstatusofscience and utmostsense" to the extentthat enframingleads to de-
technology.To the extentthat science and capital still structiveactivitiesand, particularly,to the destruction
functionas organizingprinciplesof dominantsocial or- of other,more fundamentalways of revealingthe es-
ders,some insist,we have not yettaken leave ofmoder- sence of being ("poiesis") which Heideggersees present
nity,despite the unprecedentedmodes of operationde- in the artsand in certainEasternphilosophies.Technol-
veloped by both of these principlesin recentdecades.4 ogyforHeideggeralso has an importantontologicalrole
According to Foucault (I973), the modern period in thattheworldbecomes presentforus throughtechni-
broughtwith it particulararrangementsof life, labor, cal links of various kinds; it is throughtechnicalprac-
and language embodied in the multiplicityof practices ticesthatthe social characteroftheworldcomes to light
throughwhich life and society are produced,regulated, (Heidegger i962). More recently, some philosophers
and articulatedby scientificdiscourses. In what ways have judged technical rationalitythe primarymode of
does cyberculture continueto act on these domains?Are knowingand being, thus reversingthe traditionalpri-
thesystemsthataccountfortheproductionoflife(body, macy of science over technologyand theoryover prac-
self,nature),labor (production,the economy),and lan- tice (Medina and SanmartlnI989, Mitcham I99o).6
guage (discourse,communication,the speakingsubject) For these philosophers,the priorityaccorded science
beingsignificantly modified?WhetherFoucaultian bio- and theoryover technical creativityhas led modems to
politics and disciplinarygrids are being supersededby believe that they can describe nature and society ac-
technology and genetic engineeringis a matter for cordingto laws. Ratherthan as the effectof practices,
heated debate. Anthropologistsmightbecome guests of natureand society appear as objects with mechanisms
honorin this debate. and are thereforetreated instrumentally(Medina and
Modernityhas been characterizedby theoreticians SanmartlnI989). The new technologiesseem to deepen
suchas Foucault(I973), Habermas(I987), and Giddens thesetrendsin ways thatare best visualized by contem-
(I989) in termsofthe continuousappropriation oftaken- poraryscience fiction.New science-fictionlandscapes
for-granted cultural backgroundsand practices by ex- are populated with cyborgsof all kinds (human beings
plicit mechanisms of knowledge and power. With mo- and otherorganismswith innumerableprosthesesand
dernitymany aspects of life previouslyregulated by technological interfaces)moving in vast cyberspaces,
traditionalnorms-health, knowledge,work,the body, virtualrealities,and computer-mediated environments.7
space,and time-were progressively appropriated bydis-
coursesof science and the accompanyingformsof tech- 5. This imbricationof capital and life is capturedin Foucault's
nical and administrativeorganization.Organic and me- notionof"bipower,"whichhe explainsin termsoftwoprocesses:
an anatomo-politics ofthehumanbody,effected bythenormaliza-
chanical models of physical and social life gave way to tionand disciplining ofeveryday life,and a bio-politicsofpopula-
models centeredon the productionand maximizationof tion,effected by planning,regulatory, and administrative mecha-
life itself,includingthe coupling of the body and ma- nisms (i980:I35-59). See also Guattari(i992) and Deleuze and
chines in new ways in factories,schools, hospitals,and Guattari(i987).
familyhomes. There began an intimateimbricationof 6. The philosophy oftechnology tookoffin theseventiesandeight-
ies (see Mitchami990). Important in thisregardwerethecreation
of Carl Mitcham'sPhilosophyand TechnologyStudiesCenterin
4. That therecenttransformations ofbiologicaland technological New York,a similargroupat theUniversidad Polit6cnicade Valen-
arrangements are not the resultof a radicalshiftin culturaland cia (INVESCIT),and the SocietyforPhilosophyand Technology.
epistemological but a deepeningoftheprocessofmod- 7. A genreofsciencefictionknownas "cyberpunk"
structures has beenon the
emizationand creationoflife-worlds thatstartedin thelate i8th risesincethe I984 publicationofWilliamGibson'sNeuromancer,
century is thepointofdeparture oftherecentcollectionIncorpora- considered thepointoforiginofthecyberspatial era.Foran intro-
tions(Craryand Kwinteri992). The pointhas also been madeby ductionto cyberpunk, see McCaffrey (is9i). While some see in
Rabinow (Igg2a). cyberpunk a veiledcritiqueoftheReaganyears,thewayin which
2I4 1 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, June1994

But while science-fictionwritersand technologybuild- tutionof a new order-which we cannot yet fullycon-
ers are generallyuncriticalofthese trends,it remainsto ceptualize but must try to understand-through the
be seen to what extentand in what concreteways the transformation of the rangeof possibilitiesforcommu-
transformations envisionedby them are in the process nicating,working,and being.Modernityconstitutesthe
ofbecomingreal. This is anothertask forthe anthropol- "backgroundof understanding"-the taken-for-granted
ogyof cyberculture.8 traditionand way of being in termsof which we inter-
pretand act-that inevitablyshapes the discoursesand
practicesgeneratedbyand aroundthe new technologies.
The Nature of Cyberculture This backgroundhas createdan image of technologyas
a neutral tool for releasing nature's energyand aug-
While any technologycan be studied anthropologically mentinghuman capacities to suit human purposes(Hei-
froma varietyof perspectives-the ritualsit originates, deggerI977). This backgroundmust be made explicitas
thesocial relationsit helps to create,thepracticesdevel- a steptowardsreorientingthe dominanttradition.Some
oped around them by various users, the values it fos- see theultimatepurposeofthisreorientationas contrib-
ters-"cyberculture"refersspecificallyto new technol- utingto the democratizationof science and technology
ogies in two areas: artificialintelligence (particularly and to the developmentof technologiesand technoliter-
computerand information technologies)and biotechnol- ate practicesbettersuitedto human use and humanpur-
ogy.9It would be possible to separateout these two sets poses than the presentones (Winogradand Flores I986,
oftechnologiesforanalyticalpurposes,althoughit is no WinnerI993a, Medina I992).
coincidencethattheyhave achieved prominencesimul- Given this brief presentation,anthropological re-
taneously.While computerand informationtechnolo- search might be guided by the following overall in-
gies are bringingabout a regime of technosociality quiries:
(Stone i99i), a broad process of socioculturalconstruc- i. What are the discoursesand practicesthat are gen-
tion set in motion in the wake of the new technologies, erated around/bycomputersand biotechnology?What
biotechnologiesare givingrise to biosociality(Rabinow domainsofhuman activitydo these discoursesand prac-
I992a), a new orderforthe productionof life,nature, tices create?In what largersocial networksof institu-
and the body throughbiologicallybased technological tions,values, conventions,etc., are these domains situ-
interventions.These two regimes form the basis for ated? More generally, what new forms of social
what I call cyberculture.They embody the realization constructionof reality("technoscapes") and of negotia-
thatwe increasinglylive and make ourselvesin techno- tion of such construction(s)are introducedby the new
bioculturalenvironmentsstructuredby novel formsof technologies?How do people routinelyengage techno-
science and technology. scapes, and what are the consequences of doing so in
Despite this novelty, cybercultureoriginates in a termsof the adoption of new ways of thinkingand be-
well-knownsocial and cultural matrix,that of moder- ing? In what ways do our social and ethical practices
nity,even though it orients itself towards the consti- changeas the projectof technoscienceadvances?
2. How can these practices and domains be studied
themovementhas grownandbeenpresented bythemediais trou- ethnographically in various social, regional,and ethnic
bling;see,forinstance,thelead storyon cyberpunk and "theelec- settings?Whatestablishedanthropologicalconceptsand
tronicunderground" in the February8, I993, issue of Time. See methodswould be appropriateto the studyof cybercul-
also Mondo 2,000, perhapsthe most visibleprintedmediumof
cyberpunk, and its User's Guide to the New Edge (i992). For a ture?Which would have to be modified?How, forin-
criticalanalysisofthesetrends,see Rosenthal(i992). stance,will notionsof community,fieldwork,the body,
8. The literature on cyberspace andvirtualrealityproducedbytheir nature,vision,the subject,identity,and writingbe trans-
chroniclers andpractitioners is characterizedbythegrandiosity of formedby the new technologies?
itsclaims.Two examples,bytwoprominent designers, ScottFisher
and MyronKruger, maysuffice:"The possibilitiesofvirtualreali- 3. What is the backgroundof understandingfrom
ties,it appears,areas limitlessas thepossibilitiesofreality.They which the new technologiesemerge?More specifically,
can providean interfacethat disappears-a doorwayto other which modernpractices-in the domains of life,labor,
worlds" (Fisher,quoted in Rheingold I99I:I3 I). More interesting, and language-shape the currentunderstanding, design,
fromKruger:"We are incredibly attunedto the idea thatthe sole and modes of relatingto technology?What continuities
purposeofourtechnology is to solveproblems.It also createscon-
ceptsand philosophy.We mustmorefullyexplorethisaspectof do the new technologiesexhibitin relationto the mod-
our inventionsbecause the next generationof technologywill ern order?What kinds of appropriations, resistances,or
speaktous,understand us,andperceiveourbehavior.Itwillenter innovationsin relationto moderntechnologies(forin-
every home and office. . . . We must recognize this if we are to stance, by minoritycultures) are taking place which
understand and choose what we become as a resultof what we mightrepresentdifferent approachesto and understand-
have made" (quote in Rheingold I99I:II3, emphasis added). Some
likenthe currenttransformation to the industrialrevolution,al- ings of technology?What happens to non-Westernper-
thoughthistime"fuelednotbyoil butbya newcommodity called spectivesas the new technologiesextendtheirreach?
artificialintelligence" (Kurzweil I990:I3). 4. What is the political economy of cyberculture?In
9. It is not apparentwhycomputerand information technologies what ways,forinstance,are the relationsbetweenFirst
bothfallunderthe rubricof artificialintelligence.To the extent
thatcomputers can be thoughtofas today'sdominantintellectual and Third World restructuredin the light of the new
technologies, it is valid to proposethat "all informatics may be technologies?What new local articulationswith forms
thoughtof as artificialintelligence" (L6vy i99i:8). ofglobalcapital based on hightechnologyare appearing?
ESCOBAR ofCyberculture
The Anthropology 12I 5

How do automation,intelligentmachines,and biotech- nization and generalized acculturation,cosmopolitan


nologytransform the laborprocess,the capitalizationof science and technologyare now viewed in termsoftheir
nature,and the creationofvalue worldwide?If different real or potentialcontributionto the formationofhybrid
groups of people (classes, women, minorities,ethnic culturesand to processes of self-affirmation of theirse-
placed in new technologi-
groups,etc.) are differentially lective and partiallyautonomous adoption.'3 There is
cal contexts,how can anthropologiststheorizeand ex- also hope thatadvances in biotechnologymightbe used
plore this orderingof technoculturalconstruction?Fi- by local groupsin biodiversity-rich regionsof the world
nally, what are the implications of this analysis for a to defendtheirterritories and articulatenovel economic
culturalpolitics of science and technology? and cultural strategies.As David Hess (I993) argues,
however, the effectof cosmopolitan technologies on
ThirdWorld groupsremains insufficiently understood,
The AnthropologicalProject particularlyfromthe vantagepoint of the culturalpoli-
THEORETICAL FORMULATIONS
tics thattheyset in motion,includingissues ofcultural
destruction,hybridization,and homogenizationand the
Interestin science and technologyon the partof social/ creationofnew differences throughformsof connected-
culturalanthropologists has been growingsteadilyin re- ness fosteredby the new technologies-another aspect
centyears.Steps have alreadybeen takentowardsbuild- of what ArjunAppadurai(i99i) calls "global ethno-
ing an institutionalpresence for the anthropologyof scapes." Work on these issues is advancing rapidly,
science and technologywithinthe AmericanAnthropo- particularly in connectionwiththeredefinition ofdevel-
logical Association.'0 Several panels related to science opment(Hess I993, EscobarI994).
and technologyissues were held at the I992 and I993 Anthropologicalreflectionon the relation between
AAA meetings."Topics ofinterestto anthropologists in cultureand technologyis ofcoursenot new. The impact
recentyears have included ethnographiesof scientists, of Westerntechnologieson cultural change and evolu-
studiesofreproductiveand medical technologies,topics tion has been a subject of studysince the early ig9os.14
in genderand science,ethicsand values, and science and Questions of technologicalcontrol and political econ-
engineeringeducation. The more fashionablestudies of omyhave been broached.Nevertheless,studiesofmate-
computerand biological technologies,virtual reality, rial culture and technologyhave sufferedfromdepen-
virtualcommunities,and cyberspaceare attractingin- dence on what a reviewerof the field recentlycalled
creasingattention.An effortto theorizethe anthropol- "the standardview oftechnology"(based on a decontex-
ogyof science and technologyis also underway.'2 tualized teleologythat goes fromsimple tools to com-
Althoughmost anthropologicalscience and technol- plex machines).Only with modernscience and technol-
ogy studies have taken place in highlyindustrialized ogy studies has the possibilityarisen of seeing science
countries,increasingattentionto issues in ThirdWorld and technologyin relationto complex technosocialsys-
contextscan be expected,giventhatthe globalizationof tems. This "lays the foundationonce again forfruitful
culturaland economic productionrelies moreand more communicationamong social anthropologists, ethnoar-
on the new technologies of informationand life. chaeologists,archaeologists,and studentsofhumanevo-
Whetherit is in the domains of biotechnology-driven lution"(Pfaffenberger I 992: 5I 3). It also fosters
exchange
development,information,or warfare,the encounter betweenanthropologistsand otherdisciplinesinvolved
between North and South continues to be heavily in these studies such as philosophy,cognitivescience,
mediated by technologies of many kinds. Recently, and linguistics.
the impact of technologies such as television and In the FirstWorld,attemptsat articulatingan anthro-
videocassetteson local notionsofdevelopmentand mo- pological strategyexplicitlycenteredon new informa-
dernityand theireffecton long-standingsocial and cul- tion,computer,and biologicaltechnologieshave just be-
tural practiceshave been approachedethnographically gun.An importantprecursorin thisregardwas Margaret
(Abu-Lughod I990, Dahl and Rabo I992, GarciaCan- Mead's work in the contextof the emergenceof cyber-
clini I990). Once seen as producingworldwidehomoge- netics duringWorldWar II and up to the middle of the
i960s.15 At the beginningof the I99Os, it is possible
io. The firststep was taken at the i992 annual meetingof the
Societyforthe Social StudiesofScience,wherea groupofAmeri- I3. The case ofthe Kayapoin the Amazonrainforest,who have
can anthropologists (Michael Fischer,Sharon Traweek,Rayna becomeadeptat usingvideocameras,airplanes,andrevenuesfrom
Rapp,DavidHess,Lisa Handwerker, ShirleyGorenstein, andDavid goldminingin theirstruggleforculturalautonomy,is alreadybe-
Hakken)metto discussstrategies a Committeeon
forestablishing cominglegendary.
Scienceand TechnologywithintheAAA. This processis detailed I4. Among the best-known studies is Godelier's (I97I) work on
in thei992 editionoftheSocial/Cultural Anthropology ofScience theeffectsoftheintroduction ofsteelaxes on AustralianAborigi-
and Technology Newsletter, editedbyDavid Hess. nes andtheBaruyaofPapua New Guinea.Foran excellentdiscus-
i i. Panelsat the i 992 meetings includedcyborg anthropology, cul- sion ofearlierstudies,see Hess (I993).
turalperspectives on computing, culturalbarriersto technological I5. Mead was an activeparticipant in the Macy Conferences on
innovation, virtualcommunities, consequencesof interactive in- Cybernetics(Mead ig50-56) as well as a centralfigurein the
formation technology forcultureand education,and cyborgsand foundingof the AmericanSocietyforCybernetics(Mead i968).
women(in honorofDonna HarawayJ. The life of this illustrious"cyberneticsgroup,"which included
12. Fora directory andbibliography ofanthropological scienceand besidesMead Gregory NorbertWie-
Bateson,Heinz von Foerster,
technology studies,see Hess (i992), Hess and Layne(i992), Pfaf- ner,and KurtLewin,amongothers,is chronicledin a recentbook
fenberger (I992), and Hakken(n.d.). (Heimsi99i). It shouldbe pointedout thattheMacyConferences
2I6 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, JuneI994

to identifythree different proposals. The first,by the ginningto be articulated,most notablyin visual anthro-
anthropologistDavid Thomas, builds upon the growing pology.Given the importanceof vision forvirtualreal-
literatureon the notions of "cyberspace"'16 and "cy- ity,computernetworks,graphics,and interfacesand for
borg"-broadly speaking,a mixtureof human and ma- imagingtechnologies-fromsatellite surveillance,war-
chine.ArguingthatadvancedformsofWesterntechnol- fare,and space explorationto medical technologiessuch
ogy are bringingabout a "rite of passage" between as tomography and the visualizationofthefoetus(Hara-
industrialand "postorganic"societies,between"organi- wayI988, deLandaI99I, Cartwright
andGoldfarbI992,
cally human and cyberpsychicallydigital life-forms as DudenI99o)-it is notsurprising
thatthebranchofan-
reconfiguredthrough computer software systems," thropologymost attunedto the analysis of visualityas
Thomas (I 99 I: 3 3) calls on anthropologiststo engage a culturaland epistemologicalregimehas been the first
"virtualworlds technologiesduringthis early stage of to reactto uncriticalcelebrationofcyberspatialtechnol-
speculation and development," particularlyfrom the ogies(e.g.,Benedikti99i, Rheingoldi99i). Claimsby
pointofview ofhow these technologiesare sociallypro- cyberspace designers that the new technologies will
duced. Fromprint-basedparadigmsof visual literacyto "make the body obsolete, destroysubjectivity,create
the virtualworlds of digitizedinformation, we are wit- new worldsand universes,changethe economic and po-
nessing a transitionto a new postcorporealstage that liticalfutureofhumanity,and even lead to a posthuman
has greatpromiseforcreativesocial logics and sensorial order"areforthese criticsat bestwishfulthinkingmoti-
regimes.Cyberspaceaffordsunprecedentedpossibilities vated by the seductiveness of virtual realityand like
foranthropologistsin termsof realizingthis promise. technologies and at worst misguided effortsat engi-
The second project,"cyborganthropology,"formally neeringsocial reality(Grayand Driscoll I992:39). So,
launched with a two-panelsession held at the annual theyargue,is the seeminglyexclusive focus on a cybor-
meetings of the AAA in San Francisco in December giansocietymediatedbyhuman-machineinteractions.18
I992, takes science and technologystudies,in particular Ratherthan suggestingthat a whole new anthropologi-
feministones, as a point of departure.While its domain cal subdisciplineis needed, Gray and Driscoll preferto
is the analysisofscience and technologyas culturalphe- speak of "anthropologyof, and in, cyberspace." From
nomena, the main goal of cyborganthropologyis the this perspective,anthropologistswould studytechnolo-
ethnographicstudyof the boundariesbetween humans gies in the culturalcontextsfromwhich theyoriginate
and machinesthatare specificto late-2oth-century soci- and in which they operate, including their continued
eties. Believingthat "anthropos"as the subject and ob- links to the dominantvalues of rationality,instrumen-
ject of anthropologymust be displaced, the emerging tality,profit,and violence. It is no coincidence, these
cyborganthropologists arguethathuman and social real- writerscontinue,thatvirtualreality-one of the recent
ityis as much a productofmachines as ofhuman activ- developmentsat the heart of the cyberspatialmove-
ity,thatwe should grantagencyto machines,and that ment-has been and is likelyto continueto be circum-
the propertask foran anthropologyof science and tech- scribedby militaryand economic interestsand that,de-
nologyis to examine ethnographically how technology spite its much-touted potential for liberatory and
servesas agentof social and culturalproduction.'7 humanizingpurposes, the militaryand profit-oriented
Criticalpositionsregardingthese two projectsare be- applicationswill undoubtedlyremain dominant.Their
prescriptionis for examining these technologiesfrom
theperspectiveofhow theyallow variousgroupsofpeo-
tookplace in the contextofthe Cold War,thefirstwave ofcom- ple to negotiatespecificforms
putertechnology, and thedevelopment ofgeneralsystemstheory.
of power,authority,and
Today'shistoricalandepistemological contextsarequitedifferent. representation.
i6. The term"cyberspace"-first coinedbyWilliamGibson(1984) The anthropologyofcyberculturesimilarlyholds that
and introducedto intellectual,artistic,and academic circlesin we can assume a priorineitherthe existence of a new
Benedikt'scollectionCyberspace:TheFirstSteps(i9I (-refersto era nor the need fora new branchof anthropology.In-
thegrowing networksand systemsofcomputer-mediated environ-
ments.As a spatialized,computer-mediated networkof interac- deed, the discipline is in principlewell suited to what
tions,cyberspace is seen as "enablingfullcopresenceand interac- must startas a rathertraditionalethnographicproject:
tionofmultipleusers,allowinginputand outputfromand to the to describe,in the mannerof an initial culturaldiagno-
fullhuman sensorium,permitting situationsof real and virtual sis,what is happeningin termsofthe emergingpractices
realities,remotedata collectionand controlthrough telepresence, and transformations associated with risingtechnoscien-
and total integration and intercommunication with a full range
of intelligentproductsand environments in real space" (Novak tificdevelopments.However, given that these develop-
i99i:225). For introductions to the conceptof cyberspace,see ments are increasinglyunprecedentedsites of articula-
Rheingold(i99i) and Stone (i99i, i992). For a presentation of tions of knowledge and power, it is also pertinentto
globalcomputernetworks,see Dertouzos(i99i) and Cerf(I991). raise the question of the theoreticaladequacy of estab--
A briefreviewof recentguides to the Internetis foundin the
ChronicleofHigherEducation,Decemberi6, i992, p. Ag. i8. ForRoseanneStone(I99I, i992), theemphasison "postcorpo-
I7. This description is based on the paperpresentedat the panel rality"arisesfromthetraditional male discomfort
withthebody.
"CyborgAnthropology i: On the ProductionofHumanityand Its This bias will be corrected,Stone believes,when morewomen
Boundaries," by GaryLee Downey,JosephDumit,and SarahWil- participatein the designofvirtualand cyberspatial
technologies.
liams(i992). Paperswerepresented on suchtopicsas theparticipa- Althoughthis is beginningto happen,the resultsremainto be
tionofwomenin high-energy physicsin Japan,medicalimaging seen. Fromanotherangle,it can be arguedthatthe emphasison
technology, science-fictionfandom,computer-assistedpsychother- transcending the bodyin the cybercontextis anotheraspectof
apy,"low-techcyborgs"(cyborgs in theThirdWorld),reproductive disembodied"virtualtheorizing"thatat timeshas tenuouslinks
technology, and culturalconstructions ofbiotechnology. withreality(Tsugawai992).
ESCOBAR The Anthropologyof Cyberculture 22I7

lished concepts in light of theirhistoricaland cultural particularlyin the areas ofartificialintelligenceand bio-
specificity. technology.Even thehuman genomebecomes an impor-
One ofthemost fruitful insightsis thattechnoscience tant area forcapitalistrestructuring and, thus,forcon-
is motivatinga blurringand implosion of categoriesat testation. The reinvention of nature and culture
various levels, particularlythe modern categoriesthat currently underway-effectedby/withinwebs ofmean-
have definedthe natural,the organic,the technical,and ing and productionthat link science and capital-must
thetextual.The boundariesbetweennatureand culture, thereforebe understoodaccordingto a political econ-
betweenorganismand machine are ceaselessly redrawn omy appropriateto the era of cyberculture. Anthropolo-
accordingto complex historical factorsin which dis- gists need to begin in earnest the study of the social,
courses of science and technologyplay a decisive role economic,and political practicesrelatedto the technol-
(HarawayI991 ). "Bodies," "organisms,"and "communi- ogies throughwhich life,language,and labor are being
ties" thus have to be retheorizedas composed of ele- articulatedand produced.
mentsthatoriginatein threedifferent domainswithper-
meable boundaries: the organic, the technical (or
ETHNOGRAPHIC DOMAINS
technoeconomic),and the textual (or,broadlyspeaking,
cultural).While nature,bodies, and organismscertainly As I have said, the general questions to be raised by
have an organic basis, they are increasinglyproduced the anthropologyof cybercultureinclude the following:
in conjunctionwith machines, and this productionis What new formsof social constructionof realityand of
always mediated by scientificnarratives ("discourses" negotiationof such constructionsare being created or
of biology,technology,and the like) and by culturein modified?How are people socialized by their routine
general.Cyberculturemust thus be understoodas the experienceofthe constructedspaces createdby the new
overarchingfieldof forcesand meanings in which this technologies?How do people relate to their techno-
complex productionof life, labor, and language takes worlds (machines, reinventedbodies, and natures)?If
place.Forsome(HarawayI99I, RabinowI992a), while people are differentlyplaced in technospaces(according
cyberculture can be seen as the impositionofa new grid to race, gender,class, geographicallocation, "physical
ofcontrolon the planet,it also representsnew possibili- ability"),how do theirexperiencesofthesespaces differ?
ties forpotent articulationsbetween humans, nature, Finally,would it be possible to produce ethnographic
and machines. The organic,these criticssuggest,is not accounts of the multiplicityof practices linked to the
necessarilyopposed to the technological.Yet it must new technologiesin various social, regional,and ethnic
also be emphasizedthatnew knowledgeand powercon- settings?How do these practicesrelateto broadersocial
figurationsare narrowingdown on life and labor,as in issues such as the controlof labor,the accumulationof
theHuman Genome project;indeed,the new genetics- capital, the organizationof life-worlds,and the global-
linked to novel computertechniques,its promisemost ization of culturalproduction?
eagerlyvisualized in the image of the biochip-might One can begin to think of these questions in terms
proveto be the greatestforceforreshapingsociety and ofpossible ethnographicdomains and concreteresearch
life ever witnessed. Nature will be known and remade strategies.Some clues concerningthese domains may
throughtechnique; it will be literallybuilt in the same be foundin currentresearchprojects.Several domains
way thatcultureis, with the difference thatthe making ofethnographicinvestigationcan be distinguishedas an
ofnaturewill take place throughthe reconfiguration of initial approximation,to be refinedas the researchad-
social lifeby micropracticesoriginatingin medicine,bi- vances:
ology,and biotechnology(Rabinow i992a). Evelyn Fox i. The productionand use of new technologies.Here
Kellersimilarlypointsout thatthe relationbetweenna- anthropologicalresearchwould focus on scientistsand
tureand cultureis likely to be radicalLyreconceivedto experts in sites such as genetic research labs, high-
the extentthat molecular biologyis creatingthe sense technologycorporations,and virtualrealitydesign cen-
of a "new malleabilityof nature." This is easily seen ters,on the one hand, and the users of these technolo-
in the discourseon geneticdiseases (Keller I992b). The gies, on the other.Ethnographiesin this domain would
"rightto normal genes" mightwell become the battle generallyfollow in the footstepsof the handfulof eth-
cryofan armyofhealthexpertsand reformers deploying nographiesofmodernscience and technologyconducted
practicesof biosocial transformation of a scope not wit- to date (Latourand WoolgarI979, MartinI987, Visvana-
nessed since "the birthof the clinic" two centuriesago than I985, Latour I988, Traweek I988, Kondo I990),
(Foucault I975). science and technologytheorizing,particularlyin rela-
The corollaryof these analyses is the need to pay at- tion to anthropology(Hakken n.d., Pfaffenberger I992,
tentionto the social and culturalrelationsofscience and Hess and LayneI992, Hess I993), andfeministstudies
technologyas centralmechanismsforthe productionof ofscienceandtechnology(HarawayI989, I99I; Jacobus,
lifeand culturein the 2Ist century.Capital, to be sure, Keller,and Shuttlewort1990; Wajcman199I; Keller
will continueto play a crucial role in the reinventionof I992a), although they would have to be resituated
life and society. The worldwidespread of value today, withinthe conceptual space of the anthropologyof cy-
however,takes place not so much by the directextrac- berculture.A handful of ethnographicstudies of this
tion of surplusvalue fromlabor or conventionalindus- kind are alreadyunderway.'9
trializationas by the further capitalizationofnatureand
society throughscientificresearch and development, ig. These includeDeborahHeath's studyofa molecularbiotech-
2I8 | CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, JuneI994

A salient aspect of researchin this domain is the eth- not only forunderstandingwhat these new "villages"
nographicstudyof the productionof subjectivitiesthat and "communities" are but, equally important,for
accompanies the new technologies.That the computer imaginingthe kinds ofcommunitiesthathuman groups
is "an evocative object," a projectivemedium for the can create with the help of emerging technologies.
constructionof a varietyof privateand public worlds, Again, researchin this area is just beginning.We can
has been shown by SherryTurkle (i984). As the com- anticipateactive discussion on the propermethods for
puter culture spreads, Turkle shows in a pioneering studyingthese communities,includingquestions of on-
study,more and more people come to think of them- line/off-line fieldwork,the boundaries of the group to
selves in computerterms.Computersare changingno- be studied,interpretation, and ethics.22
tions of identityand the selfin ways that are little un- A variantofthis line ofresearchis what Laurel (i990:
derstood. Cybercultureis indeed creating a host of 9I-93) has termed"interface anthropology." The cre-
veritable"technologiesof the self" that go beyondthe ation of human-computerinterfaceshas been treated
view of self as machine, and the cultural productivity narrowlyas a problemof engineeringdesign which at-
of these notions can only be assessed ethnographically. tempts to match the tasks to be performedwith the
Virtualworlds,forinstance, such as the use of anony- tools at hand. Yet the key question of the distinctuser
mous computerrole-playinggames (MUDs) as therapeu- populationsforwhom the technologiesare intendedis
tic media, can be a way of moving out of the self and oftenignoredor inferredfromstatistical information,
intotheworldofsocial interactions.Althoughtheseme- and the criticalquestion ofwhat the technologyin ques-
dia are frequentlythoughtofnegatively,Turkle's (i992) tiondoes to users and what it allows themto do is never
recentworkindicatesthattheycan become instruments raised.Children,teachers,computergame designersand
for reconstructingidentities in interactiveways and users, fictionwriters,architects,communityactivists,
sources of knowledgeabout otherculturesand the out- and othershave different needs and approachesregard-
side world.There is also a global componentto the pro- ing these basic questions. An "interfaceanthropology"
ductionofsubjectivitiesthatneeds to be explored.What thataddressesthis lack would focus on user/contextin-
is the meaningof the globalizationof Nintendo,forin- tersections,finding"informants"to guide the critical
stance,in youthcultureworldwide?How are computer (not merelyutilitarian)explorationof diverseusers and
games "consumed" in societies that have different cul- contexts.23
turalcodes? 3. Studies of the popular cultureof science and tech-
To the extentthat the reconstructionof space entails nology,includingthe effectof science and technology
thereconstruction ofthe body,this also needs to be the- on the popularimaginary(the set ofbasic elementsthat
orized. How is the body being reconfiguredand reim- structurea given discourse and the relations among
agined throughinscriptionsat the level of the relation them)and popularpractices.What happens when tech-
between body and machine? What would be a post- nologiessuch as computersand virtualrealityenterthe
structuralistunderstandingof the body in cyberspace, mainstream?The emergenceof a "technobabble"(Barry
if this understandingis to avoid the trappingsboth of I992) is only the tip of the icebergwith regardto the
thefrontier (thebodythatcan or cannotbe transcended)
and ofhumanism(thebodyone can "remake")?A fruit- WholeEarth'LectronicLink(WELL),locatedin theSan Francisco
ful theorizationof posthumanitymightlie in this area Bayarea,withsubscribers frommanypartsof the UnitedStates.
of inquiry.If new technologiesaffordopportunitiesfor The WELL maintainsongoingdiscussionson themeaningofvir-
the reproductionof life throughmachines, must the tual communities,virtualreality,multimedia,and the like. An
computerbe included in the ensemble of reproductive ethnography oftheWELL is in progress(BessingerI993).
22. Questionsofethicsare significantin virtualcommunities, in-
technologies?What would "female body" mean froma cludingthepossibilityofassumingdifferent personas,therelation-
feministperspectiveon these matters?20 shipbetween"virtual"and "real"personas,thedisclosureofone's
2. The appearance of computer-mediated communi- socialmarkers, suchas one's gender,race,and class,andthepossi-
ties,such as the so-calledvirtual communities and, gen- bilityof "lurking"(observinga community withoutmakingone's
presenceknownto thoseobserved).Thereis a richsetofconcerns
erally,what one ofthe most creativecomputerenviron- to be exploredherebyanthropologists (see BessingerI993). Ques-
ment designershas called "the vibrantnew villages of tions of exchangeof information betweenanthropologists from
activitywithinthelargerculturesofcomputing"(Laurel variouspartsofthe worldand betweenanthropologists and those
I990:93).21 Anthropologicalanalysis can be important theyworkwithin the fieldtake on a novel dimensionwiththe
advanceof electronicnetworks.In some situations,virtualcom-
munitiesbecomepartof "the field"ratherthanmerelyan exten-
nologylaboratory(i992), BarbaraJoans'sethnography of virtual sionofit. An effort to connectanthropologists andothersthrough-
realitydesigners(i992), and David West'sresearchin progress on out the world electronically to discuss the kinds of questions,
virtualrealityusers(personalcommunication; forinformation on ideas,books,conferences, etc.,thataremostrelevantforanthropol-
thisproject,contactDavid Westat "dmwest@stthomas.edu", or ogyis underwayunderthedirectionofArjunAppaduraiandCarol
at theWELL). Breckenridge ofthejournalPublic Culture.
2o. These thoughts on thebodyareJenniferTerry's(personalcom- 23. Walker(X990) distinguishes fivephasesin the historyofuser
munication). interfaces:(i) knobsanddials,(2) batch(a specialistcomputer oper-
.2I. Virtualcommunities areformedbygroupsofpeoplewhorelate atorrunning a stackofjobs on punchedcards),(3) timesharing, (4)
to each othermainlythrougha computermediumsuch as elec- menus,(5) graphics,windows.The nextphase will take the user
tronicmail and specializednetworkssuch as Peacenet,Econet, directly"inside"the computer, throughthe screento cyberspace,
and a largevarietyof academic,community, and business-based so to say.This will be a three-dimensional space such as theone
bulletinboardsand conferencing systems,usuallylinkedthrough achievedbyvirtualrealitytoday.The hope ofdesignersis thatit
Internet, Bitnet,and Usenet.A unique on-linecommunity is the will replacemorepassiveviewingwithactiveparticipation.
ESCOBAR of Cyberculture1.29
The Anthropology

changesthatare takingplace at thislevel. FortheArgen- face-to-face interaction.This mightinclude researchon


tinianculturalcriticBeatrizSarlo(i992), theprincipal talk,interaction,and technologyin work (Goodwin and
need in this regardis to examine the aestheticand prac- Harness Goodwin i992) and leisure contextsand on the
tical incorporationof technologyinto daily life.At the shapingand reshapingof social and culturalboundaries
level ofthe popularsectors,the technologicalimaginary both between a given computer-mediatedcommunity
elicits a reorganizationof popular knowledgesand the and othercommunitiesand within such communities.
developmentof symbolic contentsthat,while undeni- A particularaspect of this area of research is hyper-
ablymodern,differsignificantly fromthose intendedby text-a computertextdesignedto be recreatedor trans-
scientists.This has to be takeninto account in the study formedthroughcollaborativeacts involvingone person
of the technoliteratepracticesthat enable people to re- and an originaldatabase or manyusers performing oper-
late actively to new technologies (Penley and Ross ations upon a given text or texts-to the extentthat it
i99i). Since the mid-ig8os,ethnographicstudiesofpop- is the virtualenvironmentof the hypertextthat allows
ular culture(FiskeI989, Willis i990) have been grap- a "matrix" of knowledgeableusers to interact(Barrett
plingwith some of these issues. The imbricationofcul- I989, Piscitelli I99I).25
tural forms with social questions can be studied A barelyexploredquestion in this domain is the hy-
ethnographically; it can also be gleaned fromliterature pothesizedtransitionto a postscripturalsocietyeffected
and other popular productions,as the work of Sarlo by informationtechnologies.If writingand its associ-
(i992), Seltzer(i992), and Jenkins(i992) demonstrates.24 ated logical modes of thoughtreplaced oralityand its
4. The growthand qualitativedevelopmentofhuman associated situationalways ofthinking,the information
computer-mediatedcommunication,particularlyfrom age would be markingthe abandonmentof writingas
the perspectiveof the relationshipbetween language, the dominantintellectualtechnology.In the same way
communication,social structures,and culturalidentity. thatwritingincorporatedorality,information would in-
While computer-mediated communicationsharesmany corporatewriting-but only afteran importantcultural
featureswith otherformsof mediated communication mutation.Theoretical and hermeneuticalknowledge-
well studiedby linguistsand linguisticanthropologists, so closely linked to writing-would likewise enterinto
such as telephoneand answeringmachine messages,it a periodofdecline or,at least, ofconversionto a second-
also differsin importantrespects. Human interaction aryform.New ways ofthinkingdeterminedbythe oper-
throughcomputersmust be studied not only fromthe ational needs ofinformationand computationwould be
perspectiveof the transcultural/transsituational princi- instituted.Time would no longerbe circular(as in oral-
ples and discourse strategies(Gumperz i983) govern- ity)or linear (as with the historicalsocieties ofwriting)
ing any typeof human interactionbut also in termsof but punctual. Punctual time and the accelerationof in-
thespecificityofthe communicativeand linguisticprac- formationwould entail that knowledgebe not fixed,as
tices that arise fromthe nature of the media involved. in writing,but evolving,as in an expertsystem (Levy
Threedimensionsofthe processofconstructionofcom- i99i). Werethesemomentouschangesto take place,
puter-mediated communicativecommunitiesare partic- theywould pose difficultquestions foranthropology, so
ularly relevantin this regard(Celso Alvarez, personal dependenton writingand hermeneuticalinterpretation.
communication,i992): (a) the relationshipbetweenma- One thingseems certain:despitewidespreadarguments
chines and social subjects as producersof discourse at to the contrary,electroniccommunicationhas effected
thethresholdofthe birthofan international"cyberliter- basic changesin languageexperiencesand the construc-
ate" society; (b) the question of the creationand distri- tion of events. "What is at stake are new languagefor-
butionofand access to the "authorized"or "legitimate" mations that alter significantlythe networkof social
computer-mediatedcommunication codes and lan- relations,that restructurethose relationsand the sub-
guageswhose masteryand manipulationgrantsparticu- jects they constitute"(Poster i990:8). The understand-
lar groupsof practitionerssymbolicauthorityand con- ingofthese changesdemandsventuringintounexplored
trol over the circulation of cyberculture;(c) the role domains of analysis.
of computer-mediatedcommunication in establishing 5. The politicaleconomyofcyberculture. Anthropolo-
linksbetween,givingcohesion to, and creatingcontinu- gistshave paid close attentionin recentdecades to the
ities in the interactionalhistoryofgroupmembers,side analysis of communities in historical and global con-
by side with telephoneconversations,regularmail, and texts(Wolfi982, Roseberry i992). Cyberculturepre-
sents new challenges forthe continued articulationof
24. Seltzer'sbookexamines"theanthropology ofboyhoodandado- an anthropologicalpolitical economy. What has been
lescenceat the turnof the centuryand the social and cultural variouslycalled "the silicon order,""microchipcapital-
technologies for'themakingofmen"' (p. 5) fromtheFoucaultian ism," and "the informationeconomy" entails profound
perspectiveof the productionof subjectivitiesand docile bodies.
Sarlo'sbook deals withthe introduction of moderntechnologies
in Argentina in thei9.2S and I93Os. One ofSarlo'sstrongestpoints 25. Alvarezclaimsthatthecharacterization ofcomputer-mediated
is that,in historicalmomentsat whichnewtechnologies areintro- communicative groupsas "virtual"communitiesis a misnomer,
duced,as in thepresent, ofa certainoriginal
thereis thepossibility sincefromtheperspective theyare"real"
oflinguisticinteraction,
popularconstruction in connectionwiththem.Penleyand Ross's communities. A questionabouttheadequacyofthemodelofcon-
book examinesthe enablingpracticesof groupssuch as hackers versationfordealingwith computershas been posed by Walker:
andscience-fiction fans.Jenkins's advocacyofthestudyof"textual "Whenyouareinteracting witha computer youarenotconversing
poaching"byscience-fiction writersandbycomputeruserspoints withanotherperson.You areexploring anotherworld"(I990:443).
in thesame direction. Heremightlie some challengesforlinguisticanthropology.
2.201 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, June1994

changes in capital accumulation, social relations,and biotechnologyin the name of efficientand rationaluse.
divisionsof labor at many levels. Local communitiesand social movements are enticed
What is the relationshipbetween "information"and to participatein these schemes as "stewards"ofnatural
"capital"? Is it appropriateto postulate, as some do and social capital. Communities (or theirsurvivors)are
(Posteri990), theexistenceofa "modeofinformation"finallyacknowledgedas rightfulownersof"the environ-
akin to a mode ofproduction?How can we theorizethe ment" only to the extentthattheyagreeto treatit (and
articulationbetweeninformation, markets,and cultural themselves)as capital (O'Connor I993). The whole issue
orders? The shift to new informationtechnologies of "intellectualpropertyrights"linked to Third World
markedthe appearance of more flexible,decentralized naturalresources-including the patentingby multina-
laborprocesseshighlystratifiedby gender,ethnic,class, tional corporationsof seeds and plant varietiesand sub-
and geographicfactors.This "post-Fordistregime"(Har- stancesderivedfromstocksused by ThirdWorld"tradi-
vey i989) elicits novel articulationsof global capital tional" societies-is emerging as one of the most
with local cultures;we are witnessing"the production disturbingaspects of the ecological phase of capital
of cultural differencewithin a structuredsystem of (ShivaI993, Kloppenburg i99i). Whatare theimplica-
global political economy" (Pred and Watts I 992: i 8). In tions of these developmentsforstudies of materialcul-
what specificways are these global processes mediated tureand biological anthropology? Anthropol6gists have
and constitutedlocally? What happens to local notions maintained that the transformationof ecosystems by
of developmentand modernityas new mechanisms of capital is mediatedby the culturalpracticesof the spe-
local-globalinteractiontake shape? cific societies in which such appropriationtakes place
The appearance of a "society of control" (Deleuze (Godelier i986). Today, genetic engineering,molecular
I993b) and of cyberocracy, or "rule by way of informa- biology,and thenew sciences ofnaturalproductsqualify
tion" (Ronfeldti99i), calls for institutionalethnogra- the concept of "mediation" in such a way as to make
phies conducted fromthe perspectiveof the political established anthropologicalinsights no longer suffi-
economy of information.What are the major institu- cient.26
tional sites withinwhich and fromwhich key informa- Finally,the restructuring of the macroeconomicand
tional categoriesand flows are created and circulated? political relations between rich and poor countriesin
What perspectivesof the world do these categoriesrep- the wake of cyberculturemust be considered.As some
resent,and how do they enact mechanisms of ruling argue, high technologyis resultingin a "new depen-
that depend on certaingroups' relationto the mode of dency" of technology-poorcountrieson the leaders in
productionof information?These ethnographieswould the innovationof computer,information, and biological
move fromcomputer-mediated productionof informa- technologies(Castells I986, Castells and Laserna I989,
tion to its receptionand use, investigatingat each level Smith I993). ThirdWorld countries,accordingto these
the cultural dynamics and politics that "information" writers,must negotiatethis dependencythroughaggres-
sets in motion. sive technologicalmodernizationcoupledwithsocial re-
As is information,science and technologyhave be- form.Froman anthropologicalperspective,this sugges-
come crucial to capitalismin that the creationof value tion is problematic;it amounts to the continuationof
todaydependslargelyon scientificand technologicalde- thepost-WorldWar II policies of "development"which
velopments.The concreteformsof the scientificappro- have had for the most part deleterious effectson the
priationoflifeand laborby capital exhibitnovel features economies and cultures of the Third World (Escobar
such as the ever-tighterimbricationof academy and in- I994). Like development,technologiesare not culturally
dustryin the biotechnologicalfield (Rabinow i992b). neutral.
These new forcesare bringingabout a "biorevolution" Are theredifferent possibilitiesforThirdWorldsoci-
in the ThirdWorld: "New technicalforms. . . will sig- eties-other ways ofparticipatingin the technocultural
nificantlychange the contextwithinwhich technologi- conversations and processes that are reshaping the
cal change in the Third World is conceptualized and world?How can social movementsin Asia, Africa,and
planned.We suggestthat the clusterof emergenttech- LatinAmericaarticulatepolicies thatallow themto par-
niques generically called 'biotechnology' will be to ticipatein cybercultures withoutfullysubmittingto the
the Green Revolution what the Green Revolutionwas rules of the game? Will most social groupsin the Third
to traditional plant varieties and practices" (Buttel, Worldbe in a positioneven to know about the possibili-
Kenney,and Kloppenburgi985:32). Plant genetics, ties afforded by the new technologies?An especiallyim-
industrial tissue culture, and the use of genetically portantquestion is whetherThird World govemments
manipulated microorganismsrepresentunprecedented will be interested in constructingthe technological
interventionsin the context of Third World develop-
26. It is no coincidencethatthe WorldBank,throughits Global
ment.Corporationsare alreadyin the lead withregardto Environment Facility(GEF), is leadingefforts
forthe conserva-
researchand development.As the analysis of corporate tion of biologicaldiversity.In Latin America,Colombia,Brazil,
behaviorby these researchersshows, the prospectsfor andMexicoalreadyhaveGEFprojectsfortheirtropicalrainforests.
theThirdWorldare ominous,because corporationssim- OtherGEF projectsarein themakingin themostbiodiverseenvi-
ply do not care about ThirdWorldinterests. ronments oftheworld(all ofthemin theThirdWorld).The strug-
In the case of regionswith high biological diversity, gle betweencorporations, social movements,and statesoverthe
resourcesoftheseareasis intense;it is thebasisfora multibillion-
the biophysical milieu (nature) is increasinglyrepre- dollarindustry.So is the struggleoverthepatentingofgenesand
sentedas a reservoirof value in itselfto be exploitedby life-forms.
ESCOBAR The Anthropology
of CybercultureI 22I

"imaginaries"thatwill be requiredforaccess to thenew and stylesofcompetence(Medina i992). Whetheror not


technologiesfromthe perspectiveof more autonomous this positionis viable or even useful,new languagesare
design (Sutz I993): "there will not be a genuine social needed that allow differentgroups of people (experts,
transformation without transforming the relation be- social movements,citizens' groups)to reorientthe dom-
tween society and the technologiesit incorporates"(p. inant understandingof technology.Some of these lan-
I38). To startpayingattentionto Third World techno- guages are being craftedwithin science itself(ecology,
logical innovationis a firststep towardsgaining"tech- feminist science, non-Western scientific traditions).
nological self-esteem." A more general question is One such new languagewhich is rapidlyachievingpres-
whetherthe new technologiescan be conceptualizedin tigeis the languageof complexity.
ways thatdo not reduce them to theirrole in economic Accordingto thosedevotedto thisenterprise, develop-
development,and anotheris what cyberculturesmean ments in thermodynamicsand mathematicsduringthe
fromdifferent ThirdWorldperspectives. past 2o years (the thermodynamicsof irreversiblephe-
Of special importancein discussing these issues in nomena and the theoryof dynamical systems)forced
the ThirdWorldis the role of women in the electronics scientiststo recognizethat the separationbetween the
industryworldwide.The developmentof cyberculture physicochemicaland the biologicalworlds,betweenthe
rests,in many ways, on the labor of young women in "simple" and the "complex," and between "order" and
NorthAmerican,Japanese,and Europeanelectronicen- "disorder"is neitheras sharp nor as greatas was once
claves in Southeast Asia, Central America, and other thought.The discoverythat "inert" matterhas proper-
partsof the Third World (Ong I987, Mies i986). There ties that are remarkablyclose to those of life-formsled
is everyreason to believe that electronicswill continue to the postulate that life is a propertynot of organic
to be favoredin industrialschemes in the ThirdWorld matterperse but ofthe organizationofmatterand hence
underthe aegis ofmultinationalcorporations,and there to the concept of nonorganiclife (de Landa i992). In a
is also everyreason to believe that youngwomen will similarvein,scientistsbeganto pay attentionto thefact
continueto be seen as the "ideal" labor forceby these thatsimple systemssuch as a simple chemical reaction
industries.The effectsof this process on the dynamics and a mechanical pendulum can generate extremely
of genderand cultureare enormous,as the few studies complex behaviors,while extremelycomplex systems
ofmaquiladoras and sweatshopsconductedto date have can give rise to simple and easily quantifiablephenom-
shown. Feminist anthropologyand political economy ena.27The realizationthat eventspreviouslyconsidered
have a greatdeal to contributeto this fundamentalas- outside the purview of science because they could not
pect of the constructionof cyberculture. be describedby systemsof linearequations were in fact
Anthropologists can contributeto in-depthstudies of centralto the universe led this group of scientiststo
the class, gender,and race aspects of the makingof cy- launch the theorizationof complexityas the crucial sci-
bercultureand challenges to it, including analyses of entificresearchprogramforthe last decades of the 2oth
technoscientificelites, on the one hand, and of the po- centuryand many decades to come.28
tentialof individuals,groups,and social movementsto Much as the designersofthenew technologiesbelieve
articulateparallel or alternativetechnologies,ways of thattheyare changingthe world,so the scientistswork-
knowing,and social relationsof science and technology ing on the developmentof the science of complexity
(Darnovsky,Epstein,and Wilson i99i). Anthropological have no doubt that theyare on the thresholdof a great
studiesofcyberculturescan help us to imaginecontexts scientificrevolution.Insteadofemphasizingstabilityin
in which possibilitiesforrelatingto technoculturethat nature and societies, they emphasize instabilitiesand
do not exacerbatethepowerimbalancesin societymight fluctuations;in lieu of reversiblelinear processes,non-
emerge. linearityand irreversibility are placed at the heart of
scientific inquiry. Similarly, "conservative systems"
(physicalsystemsconsideredin isolationfromtheirsur-
RethinkingTechnology?Anthropologyand roundings)have givenway to "self-organizing" systems,
Complexity staticequilibriumto dynamicequilibriumand nonequi-
librium,orderto chaos, fixedelementsand quantitiesto
Technological innovations and dominant world views patternsand possibilities,and predictionto explanation.
generallytransformeach other so as to legitimateand
27. The examplesmostcommonlygivenaretheso-calledchemical
naturalizethe technologiesofthe time.Nature and soci- clockforthefirsttypeofsystemand solitonsandtsunamisforthe
etycome to be explainedin ways thatreinforcethe tech- second.
nological imperativesof the day, making them appear 28. Researchon complexity has been spearheadedbythe SantaFe
the most rational and efficientformof social practice. Institute,establishedmostlyby physicistsand economistsin the
In the modern age, this mutual reinforcement has re- mid-ig8os.However,some of the basic ideas go back severalde-
cadesto workdonein systemsscienceand systemsphilosophy in
sulted in the universalizationof the European techno- the I950S and I96os, ecology,biology,mathematics, and theearly
scientificimaginary.For some, the visualization of a theoriesofself-organization (suchas Prigogine and Stengersi983).
post-technoscientificsocietywould depend on the abil- Mostoftheseprecursors areoverlookedin theotherwiseinforma-
ity to set limits to this technological imperative; it tiveaccountof the historyand workof the Santa Fe Instituteby
Waldrop(i992). An introduction to complexityforreaderswith
shouldbe a matterof studyingclosely the reach oftech- some yearsof college science is foundin Nicolis and Prigogine
noscience,decidingwhich domains should be defended (i989). Usefulintroductions to chaos and self-organizationare de
fromit, and demarcatingappropriatetechnicaldomains Landa (i992), Hayles (i99i), and Kauffman (i99i).
222 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, June1994

The science of complexity has also replaced i gth- strictedto complexity.Maturana,Varela,and coworkers
centuryphysicswithmodernbiologyas a model; it stud- (Maturana and Varela I987, Varela, Thompson, and
ies physicalphenomenaas complexbiologicalprocesses Rosch 1991) have made self-organization(the auto-
and employskindsofanalysisthatare based on the con- poiesis of the living)the cornerstoneof theirtheoretical
creteand the heterogeneousratherthan on the abstract, biologyand epistemology.Foucault's (I972) conceptual-
the homogeneous,and the general.Whereas Cartesian ization of discursiveformationscan likewise be seen as
epistemologyand Newtonian science sought to model a theoryof the self-organizing characterof knowledge
theorderofthingsaccordingto laws, the science ofcom- systems.Perhapsthe most thoroughview of the perva-
plexity-althoughstill searchingfora generallaw ofpat- sive characterofself-organizing processesis the workof
tern formationfor all nonequilibriumsystems in the Deleuze and Guattari(I987; Deleuze I 993a). Whetherit
universe-espouses a pluralistic view of the physical is in the domains ofinertmatter(geology),the sciences,
world,webs ratherthanstructures,and connectionsand political economy, or the self, what these researchers
transgressions instead of neat boundariesisolatingpris- findat workis "machinic" processes,stratifications and
tine systems. territorializations that develop into the structureswe
The popularityachieved by fractalsand chaos theory know.3'
(a relativelysmall subset of complexity)in the mid- Technologyhas been essential to the appearanceand
I980s helped immenselyto put these developmentson consolidationof modernstructures.Modern structures
themap forthe largerpublic. Chaos became the signifier belong with the line, boundary-making, disciplinarity,
formany things,few of which perhapshad to do with unity, and hierarchicalcontrol. Fractals, chaos, com-
the actual scientificwork going on. This popularity plexity,nomadologywould perhaps dictate a different
raises an importantquestion recentlytaken up by a dynamicsand arrangementoflife:fluidity,multiplicity,
groupof literarytheorists:the extentto which science plurality,connectedness,segmentarity,heterogeneity,
and culture intertwinein the production of popular resilience;not "science" but knowledgesofthe concrete
imaginaries. Chaos theory,according to these theo- and the local, not laws but knowledge of the prob-
rists (Hayles iggia, b), echoes and participatesin cul- lems and the self-organizing dynamics of nonorganic,
turalcurrentssuch as poststructuralist theoryand post- organic,and social phenomena.Thereis some awareness
modernism.The birthof chaos and complexityis not among scientistsof complexitythat they are reversing
independentofthe historicalfermentwhichgave rise to a centuries-olddualisticattitudeofthe West,the binary
"thepostmoderncondition":a worldthatwas becoming logic, the reductionistand utilitariandrive.Some have
at once more chaotic and more totalized, with small attempteda link with Easternthought(Varela,Thomp-
eventshavinggreateffectson the economy and the so- son, and Rosch i99i). These scientists (in contrastto
cial orderand withtheworldwidespreadofinformation. the poststructuralist philosophers)still, however,place
"Chaos" must thenbe seen as a forcethatis negotiated too much emphasis on orderand generallaws and have
at diverse sites within the culture,including science, perhapstoo quickly joined in the intellectualgame of
poststructuralism, and postmodernism;it is partof the applyingthe ideas of complexityto social phenomena
postmoderncondition,whetherreflectedin literature, such as economies,social orders,evolution,and the rise
the human sciences, or the science of complexity.29 and fallofcivilizations.Their tendencyto produceover-
Be that as it may, the science of complexityhas al- encompassingtheoriesthatwould link thephysical,bio-
readydevelopedan impressivevocabularyand theoreti- logical, social, and culturalworlds withoutmakingex-
cal corpus (Nicolis and Prigogine i989:5-78). At the plicit the epistemological processes and assumptions
heart of complexityis the idea of self-organizing phe- involved in this endeavor is troubling (see Winner
nomena generatedby complex systems under certain g993b).32
conditions.30The idea of self-organizationis not re- Complexity,in otherwords,needs to be anthropolo-
gized,but at the same time it may offerinsightsto an-
29. Anotherattemptat relatingcomplexity chaos)to
(particularly
thehumansciencesis Argyros's (199I) critiqueofdeconstruction. systemsthushave a historicaldimension(an "ontogeny," in Ma-
30. The conceptofself-organization simpleandtheo- turanaand Varela'sterminology).
is intuitively
reticallycomplex.An initialperturbation mightlead certainsys- 3I. Deleuze and Guattariopposethetree-the mastertropeofthe
temsintoa typeofnonequilibrium and chaoticbehaviorwhichis modemworld-to therhizome.In contrastto thetree,therhizome
not,however,total disorder.In fact,recurrent patternsand self- assumesdiverseforms,branchesin all directions, andformsbulbs
organizing behaviormay appeararoundcertainstates(attractors), andtubers.Ithas different principlesofconnectionandheterogene-
turning partof the system'senergyinto an orderedbehaviorof a ity;it is multiple,givingriseto its ownstructure butalso breaking
new type(a dissipativestructure).This structure is characterized downthatstructure accordingto the "lines offlight"it contains.
bythebreakingdownofprevioussymmetry andtheappearanceof "We are tiredof trees,"theywrite."We shouldstopbelievingin
multiplechoices.In otherwords,self-organizing systemscan de- trees,roots,and radicles.They'vemadeus suffer too much.All of
velopdifferentpatternsout ofthesame initialconditions.Beyond arborescent cultureis foundedon them,frombiologyto linguis-
a certainpoint,these systemscan undergobifurcations towards tics" (I987:I5).
multiplestatesorsolutions;a givensolutionis dictatedbychance 32. See theSantaFe InstituteStudiesin theSciencesofComplexity
and cannotbe predictedbeforehand. Anysubsequentevolutionof and,foran applicationofcomplexity theoryto economics,Ander-
thesystem,however,will dependon thechoicemadeat a bifurca- son,Arrow,and Pines (i988). Workin complexitycontinuesat a
tionpoint.Bifurcation pointsmarkthe system'spassagetowards rapidpace,includingareassuchas artificial life,adaptivecomputa-
complexity:theyrepresentinnovationand diversification, since tionalmodels,autocatalysis, neuralnetworks,cellularautomata,
theyentailnew solutionsor pathwaysforchange.Self-organizing emergence, and coevolution.
ESCOBAR The Anthropology
of Cyberculture| 223

thropology. Anthropologicalquestionshave hardlybeen again reaching,as in the anthropologyof this century,


tackled within the science of complexity,with the ex- prematureclosure around the figuresof the other and
ception of a reformulationin progressof the theoryof the same. These questions, and cyberculturegenerally,
evolution to account for the role of learningand self- concernwhat anthropologyis about: the storyof life as
organization(in addition to natural selection) and the it has been lived and is beinglived at this verymoment.
articulationof a more complex concept of adaptation. Whatis happeningto lifein the late 2oth century?What
In fact,the Santa Fe Institute sees a good part of its is comingin the next?
workas theunderstanding ofcomplexadaptivesystems.
Althoughthereis some interestin culturalcomplexity,
the question has not been broached to any significant
degree.Anthropologists,
Comments
it can be argued,have generally
been attunedto the complexityof lifeand have resisted
reducingit to magical formulasand laws. Nevertheless, DAVID HESS
fromthe igth centurythroughMalinowski,Boas, Bene- Departmentof Science and TechnologyStudies,
dict,and Levi-Straussto Geertz,the tendencyto reduce RensselaerPolytechnicInstitute,Troy,N. Y.
the manifoldcomplexityof culturalrealityto neat de- 12180-3 590, U.S.A. 23 XI 93
scriptionsof institutions,patterns,structures,or exem-
plars has persisted.Only in recent years has this ten- Escobar's essay is a welcome addition to the rapidly
dencybeen modifiedwith the developmentof formsof growingfieldofanthropological/cultural/feminist/anti-
analysis that emphasize partiality,finallyabandoning racist/anticolonialist/etc. studies of science and tech-
any pretenseat generallaws or objectiveaccounts. nology.In just a few shortyears,studies of science and
Can the complexityenterprise-seeminglyso differ- technologywithin American anthropologyhave gone
entfromconventionalscience,yetso clearlyentrenched froma somewhat backwater status to somethingof a
in scientificculture-help to reorientthe prevailingun- fad. At any moment,the predictablebacklash/critique
derstandingof technology?The perspectivethat com- will probablyappear,perhapsin this journal. So far,the
plexityscientistsare attemptingto bringto the scien- field seems to be in the phase of programmaticstate-
tificcommunityand the public is indeed powerful,and ments and introductory edited volumes, both of which
its influenceis likely to grow. Its implicationsforthe are probablyhelpfulat this point because theyserve to
reorientationof technosciencehave yet to be explored, connect and position what is still not even, to use the
and this is true of poststructuralist theoryat this level STS phrase,a "cocitation cluster."
as well. Is it possible to destabilize (destratify,deterrito- Escobaris in an especiallygood positionto contribute
rialize)moderntechnosocial,politicoeconomic,and bio- to the process of mapping because of his expertisein
social systemsas Deleuze and Guattari(I987) propose? global political economy and developmentpolitics. I
The widespreadarticulationand adoptionoftechnologi- findthe sections of his essay on those topics the most
cal understandings and policies thatmightcontributeto exciting,and I look forwardto readinghis forthcoming
people's autonomous lives and self-organizingexperi- book. He has also done a crediblejob ofpointinganthro-
ences are at best many years in the future.If we are to pologiststo some of the useful(although,as he and oth-
believe those workingon new ways of understanding ershave noted,simultaneouslyproblematic)theoretical
the universe and social life-whether in science or in developmentsin the more generalfield of science and
the humanities-a social "nomadology" of technology technologystudies beyond anthropology.Those inter-
maybe possible. Perhapsthe languageofcomplexitysig- ested in exploringthis area in more detail mightwant
nals thatit is possible fortechnoscience(s)to contribute to consult, in addition to reviews alreadylisted, those
to thedesignofformsoflivingthatavoid the most dead- by Hakken(I993), Heathet aL (I993), Hess (n.d.),and
eningmechanismsforstructuring lifeand the worldin- Traweek(I993).
troducedbythe projectofmodernity.It is not a question I wish to build on Escobar's paper by focusingon the
of bringingabout a technosocialutopia-decentralized, questionof labels, institutionalization,and boundaries/
self-managed, empowering-but one of thinkingimagi- exclusions. As I understandit, the various versions of
nativelywhethertechnosciencecannot be partiallyre- "cyborganthropology"or the "anthropologyof cyber-
orientedto servedifferent culturaland politicalprojects. space" emergedin a historicalcontextin which panels
on science and technologywere being rejectedby AAA
programcommittees.The renamingand repositioningof
Anthropologywithout Primitives? the fieldvia the cyberpanels,togetherwith legitimation
fromincreasingnumbersofseniorpeople,helpedchange
Anthropology,it continues to be said (e.g., Trouillot thatsituation.My understanding fromdiscussionswith
I99I), is still enframedwithin the orderof the modern the panel organizersis that the term "cyborg" was
and the savage, the civilized self and the uncivilized meantnot onlyas an ironicoxymoron(an anthropology
other.If it is to "reenterthe real world" and "work in of the post- or technohuman)but also as a pointerto-
thepresent"(Fox I99I), it will have to deal withthe wardaffiliationwithfeminist,ethnic,and culturalstud-
steadyadvance ofcyberculture. Cyberculture, moreover, ies perspectives on contemporarytechnoscience. In
offersa chance foranthropologyto renewitselfwithout otherwords,the termwas meantto broadendisciplinary
224 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, fune I994

horizonsratherthan to exclude voices and limit fields logical analysis now being undertakenin the field of
ofdiscourse.I thinkmostparticipantsin thisratherspir- social studiesofnew technologies.Escobarappropriately
ited dialogue on the nature of cyborologywould agree pointsto the paramountimportanceof inquiryinto the
thata narrowfocuson cutting-edge science and technol- natureof modernityas the backgroundforthe current
ogy (especiallywhen it is definedin disciplinaryterms understandingand practiceof technology.He identifies
such as computersand biotechnologies)runsthe riskof a set of importantquestions in the political economy
leavingout of the discussion otherrelatedareas of cru- of cyberculture, forexample, the articulationof global
cial importance:to name a few, the environmentand capitalwithlocal cultures,local notionsofdevelopment
the environmentaljustice movement,religion-science- and modernity,new mechanismsof local and global in-
medicinehybrids,appropriationsand counterappropria- teraction,and the restructuring of macroeconomicand
tions in the flows of cosmopolitan culture and local political relations between rich and poor countriesin
knowledge(includingareas coveredin the classical an- the wake of cyberculture.In particular,he calls atten-
thropologicalstudies of ethno-knowledgesand material tion to the various possible ways in which ThirdWorld
culture),reconstructionsand new uses of conventional societies may participatein the technoculturalprocess
technologies (especially in the development context, that is reshapingthe world and asks whether social
the so-called low-tech cyborgs),new managerial tech- movementsin Asia, Africa,and Latin America can de-
nologies in the workplace,and new reproductivetech- velop strategiesthat will allow them to participatein
nologies (perhapsincluded under biotechnologies).Fur- cyberculturewithout submittingto the rules of the
thermore,discourse on the new can easily eclipse game imposed by the developing countries. In high-
much-neededstudieson the veryold social technologies lightingthesequestions,so rarelyattendedto in thefield
ofexclusionthatcontinueto operatethroughoutthepa- ofsocial studiesof science and technology,especiallyin
triarchal,Eurocentricworld of cyberspaceand techno- Latin America,Escobar suggeststhatresearchbe under-
science.As all ofus know onlytoo well, formanypeople takento answerthem.Froma broaderperspective,Esco-
in the worldmost of Cyberiais a distantSiberialocated bar remarksthat technoscienceis increasinglya point
well above the global glass ceiling. of articulationof power and knowledge and therefore
Largelyout of a concernforquestions of exclusion,I new conceptsare needed to make clear its historicaland
have tended to use more inclusive termssuch as "the culturalspecificity.His ideas on what mightconstitute
anthropology/cultural studies of science and technol- an anthropologyof cybercultureare suggestiveand in-
ogy," sometimes even "of knowledge and artifacts."I sightful.
have also helped connect researchersby joining with
othersin subdisciplinaryinstitutionbuilding,which in
the arcane virtualkinshipterminologyof the new AAA WILL SIBLEY
now seems to be at a "General AnthropologyDivision II90 Cedar Ave., Shady Side, Md. 20764, U.S.A.
committee"level ratherthan a bonafidesubdisciplinary 7 XII 93
"section" level. For many of the people who have been
involvedin the effort, the developmentof a disciplinary My commentsin responseto Escobar's elegantlyency-
site is a troubledbut welcome forumforthe exchange clopedic article must be viewed as only a modest and
of ideas. Yet, although people may speak in terms of homely complement. The article greatlyexpands my
an "anthropologyofX" or an "X anthropology"or work understanding ofrecentresearchand findingsbyanthro-
on subdisciplinarycommittees,theyare not necessarily pologists.Since I findmyselfin agreementwith the ma-
advocatinga specificsubdisciplinaryprogram.Many of jor thrustsof the article,my remarkswill reflectthe
us are more interestedin cross-disciplinarycoalition small partthat my own careerdevelopmentmay repre-
buildingand theorizing,includingworkingas/alongside sent in the directionof goals Escobar proposes.
technoscienceactivists.I am especiallyinterestedin the Escobarnotes thatuntil recentlyfew culturaland so-
activist/engaged componentin some of the recentproj- cial anthropologists have interestedthemselvesmuch in
ects, and I hope this directionwill continue to receive how technologyshapes and is shaped by the societal
prominencein any discussion ofthefield(e.g.,Downey, and culturalcontextin which it develops and changes.
Dumit, and Traweek n.d.). Escobar,as an engaged,Latin I agree,surmisingthat the strongerinterestin technol-
Americanintellectualwith an interestin development oqgyon the part of archaeologistsis in part,at least, a
and politicaleconomyissues, promisesto playan impor- reflexof the factthat the archaeologicalassemblagere-
tantrole in the ongoingdialogue. veals much about technologybut oftenmuch less about
the societies and culturescarriedby the personsmaking
the materialremains.
ISABEL LICHA Lookingbackward,I regretnow thatI did not pursue
Centrode Estudios para el Desarrollo, Universidad more aggressivelyin printsome of my own interestsin
Centralde Venezuela, Apartado Postal 6622, technology,beginningthreedecades ago with my study
Caracas,Venezuela.I3 XII 93 in Page, Arizona, of dam builders at the Glen Canyon
site. In a paper presentedduringthe annual meetingof
The major achievementof this article is the overview theAmericanAnthropologicalAssociation (SibleyI96I)
thattheauthorhas constructedofthekindsofanthropo- I describedthe ways in which the technologiesinvolved
ESCO BAR The Anthropology | 22
ofCyberculture 5

in buildinga major dam influencedthe social relation- While thereis dangerin oversellingone's wisdom,I be-
ships developed by the dam builders. The purposive lieve thatanthropologistsshould riskparticipatingmore
manner in which dam workers built and maintained fullyin public and policy debates about technologyand
criticalsocial relationshipswith key individualsspread its potent role in organizingand shaping human life.
overthebroadgeographicallandscape fordam workwas Not all anthropologistsneed to involve themselvesin
quite contrastivewith the constructionof social nets public engagementsand missionizing,but we should
by,forexample,urban workerswith the same skills. hold those who choose such a route in esteem equal
In the late I970S I workedformore than a yearin the to that which we have traditionallyaccorded to "pure
Facilities RequirementsDivision of the U.S. Environ- researchers."
mental ProtectionAgency (EPA) in Washington,D.C.,
as a "sewer anthropologist."The Division managed a
$5 billionfundforassistingmunicipalitiesin rebuilding MARILYN STRATHERN
theirsewer systemsunder the provisionsof the Clean DepartmentofAnthropology,University
WaterAct. In my workforthe EPA (describedin partin of Cambridge,
Cambridge,U.K. 25 XI 93
SibleyI979) I was made aware ofthe reciprocallinkages
between the developmentof sewer systems and con- I welcome this plea foran anthropologisationof com-
duits and the residentialdemographyofhuman popula- plexity. It carries with it the acknowledgementthat
tions.I was also introducedto the political side of sew- complexityneed be neitherdenigratednorpraised.Both
ers-the political problems and processes entailed in happen.Anthropologists are castigatedforbeingcompli-
puttingsuch technologicalproductsin place and into cated (whentheyshould be simple),obscure(whenthey
use. Somewhat later,I presenteda paper (Sibley i982) should be clear),and thus in a worldoftheirown (when
on theretentionin a Midwesterncountyofa "low-tech" theyshould be in "the real world"). At the same time,
system(septic tanks) to achieve social goals (exclusive- anthropologistswould oftenwish to be subtle (rather
ness,segregation, exclusion ofindustryand high-density thancrass),to have pluralperspectives(ratherthanuni-
housing).More "modern" conventionalgravitysewers taryones), and to followthroughinterrelationsbetween
were being promotedboth by developersand by public phenomena (ratherthan rely on stereotype).There is
health officersconcerned with threats to health re- rhetoricattachedto the conceptof complexitythatper-
sultingfroma high rate of failureof septic systemsal- haps a "science" of it would clarify.
readyin place. However, and this is Escobar's intriguingtale, a sci-
One otherincidentmay exemplifythe recencyof cul- ence ofcomplexityalreadyexists,and it is thathe would
turalanthropologists'interestin technology-an inter- see anthropologised.Certainlythereis an aspect ofsuch
est whichI believe is relatedto and a reflexofthe legiti- alreadyformulatedconcernsthatanthropologists would
matingof researchwithin our domestic frontiers.The do well to play back. My own plea would be to reinforce
manifoldbarriersto research abroad have broughtan- the message thatwe not confusecomplexitywith scale
thropologistsnow doing research at home closely in or, if we wish to preservethe hybrid,that we observe
contactwiththeirfellowhumansin a societyconstantly the different workingsof each.
confrontedby potent and rapidly changing technolo- There is nothingnecessarilytrivialisingor aggrandis-
gies-for example, the computer-basedtechnologies ing about being complicated/subtle.Yet we are accus-
which Escobar discusses at length. The legitimacyof tomed to imaginingthe complex as itselfone end of a
domesticresearchas a route to the Ph.D. is reallyquite scale. To thinkthatone can move "from"the simple to
recent.In I970 I guided and encourageda Ph.D. candi- the complex (as in developmentaltheories)or that one
date in his study of Alaskan carpenters'social adapta- can reducethecomplex"to" the simple (as in appeals for
tions to carpentrywork in a physical environment communicationalclarity)belongto the same modernist
which caused theirwork to be intermittent. Had I not rhetoricas imagininga historicalmove fromstatus to
been a senior facultymember in the departmentin- contractin theorganisationofrelationships(anthropolo-
volved,I thinkit would have been difficult ifnot impos- gists talk of simple and complex societies) or reducing
sible forthe studentto pursuethis dissertationresearch. societyto the behaviourofindividuals(whereit is soci-
Today, only two decades later, many students in the etyitselfthat is complex and individualsseem less so).
most prestigious graduate schools pursue domestic This is not of course to say that scale has no signifi-
work. cance. As JohnLaw has observed(personalcommunica-
Finally,I offera commenton a complex set of issues tion),theinterestingquestionis thepointat which scale
touchedupon gentlyby Escobar: should anthropological is made significantand thus^works to sortphenomena/
researchabout technologysimplytheorizeand describe, knowledgeby their different implications.It is one of
or should it be prescriptive?Anthropologistscomplain the importantclarifying devices which Latour(I993) as-
fromtime to time that theirfindingsare not listenedto cribesto a world that thinksitselfmodern.
bydecisionmakers.Is thisnot in partbecause theyhave But were we to locate complexitynot in its effects
failedto resolveforthemselvesthe question ofwhether (how the worldappears)but in the instrumentthatpro-
theyremain"pure" and "scientific"or enterthe policy duces that effect(human perception),then the anthro-
arena,offering both theirfindingsand the implications pologistwould commentthatthereis no social lifethat
of those findingsforpublic policy and social change? is not complex,as indeed mightothers(see Munron.d.).
226 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, fune I994

We would be dealing with a generalorganisationalfac- ties,fromthe cyborgspersonseverywherealreadymake


ultyforthe productionand disposal of detail. Indeed,to out of theirdealings with one another;social relations
introducemy own clarification, I would preferto deploy are hybridphenomena.Indeed, of the many reasons for
the conceptof "complexity"forthatpropertyofpercep- anthropology to engagewith what Euro-Americansper-
tionwhich conservesthe detail ofphenomenaregardless ceive as science and technology,one is to querythe eth-
of scale. We see it in being able to see thingsclose to nocentric rhetoric that celebrates the joining of life
hand and faraway at the same time. We inscribeit in (body) and technology(machine) as though humanity
the effortit takes to writean ethnography, an effort
that were therebyto be transcended.
cannotbe measuredby whetherthe societyunderstudy This paper takes up an importantcritique,but to the
is allegedlysmall-scale or large-scale. democratisingmove of asking what effectcyberculture
Fromthatpointofview, the vocabularythatimagines will have on "the Third World" I would add a further
the instabilityand pluralismsto which decriptiveeffort one: thatwe do not turnthis into anotherfrom-simple-
gives rise as "transgressions"belongsto an olderpurifi- to-complexgame. Social life,as Haraway (I988) might
catoryimpulse,as ofcoursedoes theverydichotomising have said, only ever moves fromthe complex to the
of two kinds of science ("sorting"science into new and complex (fromthe concrete and heterogeneousto the
old). I would ratherpursue Escobar's otherformulafor concreteand heterogeneous).Cyberculturemightmake
analysis.Insofaras complexityis evidentin the concrete this newly evident;but by the same token,and forthe
and heterogeneous,then it is ubiquitous,as ordinaryas sake of argument,it would follow that therewas never
it is extraordinary. We simplymake it visible in those any pre-cyberculture.
descriptions/interventions that point to "the concrete"
and to "heterogeneity."Technologyis one ofthe devices
(makingthe world presentforus) that Euro-Americans JUDITH SUTZ
currentlyuse. Technologymakes explicitthe natureof Comision Sectorial de InvestigacionCientifical
the lived worldpreciselyin termsof the concrete(tech- CoordinadoraAcademica, Universidad de la
nologyworks)and the heterogeneous(it bringstogether Repu'blica,EduardoAcevedoI494/1OI,
different ordersof knowledge,mixes of materials and II200 Montevideo, Uruguay.I5 XII 93
personnel,and so forth[see Mol and Law n.d.]). Thus
the new reproductivetechnologiesmake explicita con- Perhaps the most valuable contributionof Escobar's
ceptualisationof kinshipas foundedin both natureand "Welcome to Cyberia" is its understandingof technol-
culture (see Franklin I993). Escobar's paper raises the ogy in general and new technologyin particularas a
question of the culturalspecificityof such devices. cultural construction.This provides good groundsfor
Now thatwe seehybrids
everywhere
(LatourI993:43), a generalanthropologicalapproach to the evolution of
it was probably inevitable to see hybridisationas a technologyand to the way in which society, through
higher-order fusingof technologyand culture as such. communitypower,popularconcerns,and prevailingval-
My only concernabout Escobar's otherwisefascinating ues, shapes the productionof technology.This point of
conceptualisationof cyberculture, a concernhe himself departureis particularlyimportantwithregardto under-
raises with regardto scientistsof complexity,is that it developedcountries.When it comes to new technologies
is scaled-up.That is, the neologism is presentedas an the underdevelopedworld importsalmost everything-
encompassingsummaryof concreteand heterogeneous fromdevices to needs, fromtechnical systemsto sys-
events-a gatheringtogetherof everything that appears tems of thought.Nevertheless,culturalinventionplays
new. Hence his hortation:"Anthropologistsmust ven- a determinantrole in the concreteway in which tech-
tureinto this world." Of course,except that,as he also nologyis perceivedand used.
implies,theyare alreadythere.They do not have to buy Many of the questions Escobar raises can be seen as
into the anticipatoryeffectof imaginingthat a culture crucialones fora researchprogramattemptingto under-
is about to be "created"by science and technology.That standtherelationshipbetweensocietyand particularso-
is a real-worldfantasy(like the real world, culture is cial groups and the intellectual and practical devices
always elsewhere). Rather they might recognise in that permanentlyalter their routines, their acquired
"technology" (an apparatus that at once makes the wisdom, theirhopes, and theirsense of belongingto a
workingsof thingsexplicitand is identifiableby how it community.It is not easy to foreseewhetherthe an-
works) the same figurethey are familiarwith in (say) swers to them will be universal or highly specific or
the "participantobserver":simultaneouslythe register whetherthey will at least clearly distinguishbetween
ofthe social lifethathe/shemakes visible and an inter- developmentand underdevelopment.For some technol-
ventionist in it, for every participantobservermust ogies, some featuresof the recipientsociety,and some
make social relations work. There is nothing "post- questions,the answersfora highlyindustrializedcoun-
human" about this complex figuration. tryand an underdevelopedone will probablybe remark-
Escobar argues that the issue is "the realizationthat ably similar. For otherstheywill probablybe verydif-
we increasinglylive and make ourselves in techno- ferent.
bioculturalenvironmentsstructuredby novel formsof For example, the discourses generated around/by
science and technology."Absolutely.But therealisation computers are probably almost identical around the
can only come fromexistingorganisationalcomplexi- worldwhile practicesdiffer.Elites and bureaucracies
ESCOBAR The Anthropologyof Cyberculture| 227

private and public-everywhere deeply believe that fashion.This is done at severallevels: geographical(First
computersare the veryembodimentof rationalityand Worldand ThirdWorld;regionalvariationsand intensi-
truth.Their discourse of infallibility-ultimatelywin- ties),technological(information, computer,and biologi-
ningthebattleagainstchaos-is universal.But theprac- cal technologies),and disciplinary(social and human
tice of these same elites could not be more different. sciences approaches,with anthropologysomewherein
In developedsituations,computersinvolvedan advance between). This approach has advantages (identifying
froma fairlyhighlevel ofmanual complexityto an auto- connections,effects,and mechanismsthatmightother-
mated one. Entryinto the informationera was quite wise remain invisible) and drawbacks (overgeneraliza-
smooth,prefiguredby social, economic, and technical tion, lack of depth). Strathernis right,however,when
evolution.In situations of underdevelopment,none of she points out that my account of cybercultureis
these typesof evolution heraldedthe new informatics, "scaled up," too encompassing,thus underminingthe
and thereforepractice carriesa heavy burdenreflected very principleof complexityit seems to invoke. The
in the inefficiencyand irrationalitythat persistalong- paperdoes not,however,tryto make a statementabout
side an impressive amount of computer technology. a "total truth";it is an attemptto come to termswith
When Escobar asks about the implicationsof the politi- new technologiesfromthe perspectiveof the historical
cal economyof cybercultureand the transformation of and geographicaleffectsof present-daycapitalism and
values associated with the emergence of information modernity.It is impossibleto neglectthe universalizing
technologiesfora culturalpolitics of science and tech- forceofmodernknowledgeand ofthe accumulationand
nology,he is in factaskingus to explorewith anthropo- circulationof capital. This forceis reflectedin techno-
logical tools two types of situation. Perhaps afterthe logical arrangementsas well as in the structuring of so-
questionshave been answeredforeach a synthesiscould cial labor.The challengeis to theorizesuch effectswith-
be produced showing an underlyingidentity.Surely, out overlookingthe manifoldformsthey take and the
however,wide differences would remain.Fromthe par- endless variationsin which theyoperate.
ticularlyappealingperspectiveof the constructionof a As one of a handfulof participantsin the collective
cultural politics of science and technology,one can effortto articulatean anthropologyof science and tech-
guess what these differences mightbe. nology,Hess is in an excellentpositionto contextualize
When people are too proud, too self-confident, too any contributionto this enterprise.Since I have not par-
close to blind faithin theirown technologicalomnipo- ticipatedin the meetingsof this groupduringthe past
tence,a culturalpolitics ofscience and technologymust fewyears,I welcome his clarifying remarkson my brief
stressthe assessment side, rejectthe motto "What can account of them. These early efforts,he says, were
be done must be done," and raise consciousness about meant to broadendisciplinaryhorizonsratherthan cre-
theneed forsocial meaningand usefulnessin the activi- ate new fields,and this is still the state of affairstoday.
ties of science and technology.When people combine He also warnsus not to overlookthe need forcontinued
blind admirationfor informationtechnologieswith a studies of well-knowntechnologies,particularlyin the
deep convictionthat thereis no room forany creative ThirdWorld.I agree. I am less in agreementabout the
exerciseofthem,culturalpoliticsmuststresstechnolog- dangershe sees in focusingon cutting-edgetechnolo-
ical self-esteem,fosterthe capacityforinnovationwher- gies.On the one hand,a numberofcomputerand biolog-
everit can be found,and encouragepreciselythe belief ical technologiesare already vastly dispersed; on the
that "What can be done must be done" as opposed to other,thereis a culturalparticularityabout these tech-
"What has been done elsewheremust be boughthere." nologies thatis importantto signal.As he insists,how-
Escobar'schallenge,primarilyaddressedto anthropol- ever,thisfocusshouldnot be at theexpenseofanthropo-
ogists,can be taken up by anyone involvedin research, logical studies of technologiesof otherkinds.
reflection,and action on science, technology,and soci- We also need, forinstance,more thoroughretrospec-
ety in this time of vertiginouschange,blurringof the tivelooks at anthropologicalstudiesofscience and tech-
boundariesbetweennatureand artifact,and shiftsin the nology.This is one of Sibley's strongpoints.The exam-
social actorscapable ofdecisivelyinfluencingthe "com- ple he gives of how sewer systems contributeto the
mon wisdom." It is a work program,and if it is carried shapingof population dynamicsin cities raises a more
out the answersmay suggestan alternativeway ofbeing generalquestion: the relationshipbetween technology
welcomed to cyberculture. and modernity.Rabinow (I989) has demonstratedhow
planningpractices in French and North Africancities
shaped the social productionof space, populations,and
subjectivities,becoming instrumentalin creatingmo-
Reply dernityas a cultural order.To what extentshould the
study of "practices of reason"-practices combining
truthand power-be incorporatedinto the anthropology
ARTURO ESCOBAR of science and technology?Does a physicist,for in-
Northampton, Mass., U.S.A. I5 I 94 stance,constitutea morelegitimatefocusofscience and
technologystudies than, say, the planner of a World
One of the featuresof "Welcome to Cyberia" is its em- Bank-sponsoreddevelopmentproject?Whatview ofsci-
phasis on looking at new technologiesin an integrated ence and technologywould underliesuch a belief?There
228 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 35, Number 3, fune I994

is a relationbetweenthe anthropology ofmodernityand therenever was a precyberculture, that social life has
the anthropologyof science and technologythat needs always been complex and technologyhas been part of
to be workedout. that complexity-which is not the same as sayingthat
One ofthe strongerpreoccupationsthatemergesfrom the new technologiesare not fosteringimportantcul-
the various comments is the differential treatmentof tural transformations. As scholarly constructions,the
science and technologyin First World as opposed to discourseon complexityand the anthropology ofscience
Third World societies. Hess's notion of "low-tech" cy- and technologyare attemptingto catch up with the vi-
borgsis a way of givingformto this difference;people brantcreativityof social and naturallife.In perhapsun-
in the Third World also "make cyborgs"out of their precedentedways, the new technologiesare facilitating
dealings with one another, as Strathernreminds us. this new look into life.
This, of course,takes place throughmultiple technolo- This latterpossibilityis adumbratedin the last writ-
gies, "high" and "low" (by which I do not mean more ingsof Guattari(I993), particularly in his notionof a
and less complex).The most generalpointin this regard postmedia society. Althoughhe acknowledgesthat in-
is made by Sutz. Again, she is in an excellent position formation,computer,and biological technologies still
to speak on this issue as the coordinatorof a Latin forthe most partreinforcethe alienatingand retrograde
America-wide researchprojecton technology.The his- systemsof capitalist modernity,he sees them as also
toricalcontext,she says,requiresthatwe developdiffer- providinggroundsfornew creative,self-referential sub-
ent ways oflookingat technologyin the ThirdWorldin jectivities.This, forGuattari,is a historicalpossibility
accordancewith the specificityof Latin Americanmo- thathas to be foughtfor;to become real, it requiresthe
dernity.Latin Americansubjectivitiesand structures- actualization of rightsto singularityand alterity,new
fromgovernmentand business groups to the popular typesofNorth-Southrelations,and a radical democrati-
classes-dictate different relations to technology.The zation of genderrelations.What he calls "ecosophical
conclusionis thatcriticalstudiesofscience and technol- practices" include a profoundtransformation of econ-
ogy will have to develop different politics in Firstand omies, urban and rural ecologies, science, and ways
ThirdWorldcontexts.The dominance of moderntech- of thinking-a question not of simple-mindedself-
nological imaginariesin the firstcase calls forcritical managementand autonomybut of a social complexity
studies and diagnoses; in the lattercase, studies might thatunderminesthe hegemonyof techno-capitalistval-
revealthe technologicalcreativitythatis always associ- orization.
ated with global technologiesas a way offostering more The developmentof this complexitycan be advanced
autonomoustechnocultures. by deterritorializations that make possible bifurcations
Strathernelaboratesher commentsaround the ques- ofexistingand potentialsingularitiesand the formation
tions raised in the last part of the paper-the scientific of diversecollectivesubjectivities.Here may lie yet an-
discourseon complexity.One of the featuresthatI find otherway of being welcomed to cyberculture.
most appealing in Strathern'swork is her remarkable
abilityto expose the groundon which anthropologists
stand. Everyanthropologicalinquiry,as she puts it in
The Genderof the Gift,should be accompaniedby "an
ethnography ofWesternknowledgepractices"(I988:xi).
This endeavor requires approachingcreations such as
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