The Evolving Role of Anthropologists in the Technology Industry
Thirty years ago, a few intrepid anthropologists began to use the tools of ethnographic inquiry to critically examine the assumptions underlying the design of new technologies. (Your speaker, however, was neither old nor intrepid enough to be among them.) Over the ensuing years, the utility of ethnographic research in technology design, development and deployment became more broadly accepted. Today, a decent number of anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists can be found working in the technology industry. Very often, this work is glossed as “User Experience Research” or “User Experience Design.” This label is both a blessing and a curse. It has established a recognizable job title in which anthropologists can be seen and recognized as legitimate participants in a vibrant industry. At the same time, it has a tendency to pigeon-hole the kinds of contributions that anthropologists might be asked to – or even allowed to – provide. As this talk will discuss, the potential contributions of social scientists – particularly anthropologists – extend well beyond just “User Experience.” With the advent of artificial intelligence, in particular, the technology industry is undergoing a significant shift in how it thinks about the relationship between humans and technology. The questions being raised by this shift are begging for a deeper anthropological engagement, both in industry and academia.
Flamenco and the Rediscovery of Islamic Spain
In Flamenco, proponents of this movement found a musical form imbued with the experience of the Moors, forced into exile from their Iberian home in the 17th century, a music therefore with both Arabic and Spanish roots. Seeking to reclaim a history of cross-Mediterranean kinship that had been erased, first by the Spanish Inquisition, and then by a nationalist historiography, the Andalucistas came to see this musical form as a receptacle of buried memory.
In their writings, the pioneering figures of this movement, including Gil Benumeya and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, returned again and again to this music, tracing out each line and curve of its emotional geometry. These lines and curves invariably led to the south and east, to the Arabs, Jews, and Gypsies whose historical experience on Iberian soil resonated in the cry of the Flamenco singer and the strum of the guitar. Through an exploration of this tradition of historical reflection on Spain’s entwinement with the Middle East, Hirschkind hopes to contribute to a discussion on the place of aesthetic, and particularly musical, sensibilities in shaping our relation to the past.