New Book Review: Reclaiming Media Ideologies

Are smartphones and social media destroying our capacity for human connection? New technologies can upend existing social orders, but are equally a product of the conditions—here, late capitalism—in which they are produced. Two divergent approaches offer insight into how cultural and economic contexts shape media practice.

Sherry Turkle. 2015. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. New York: Penguin Press. 436 pages.

Daniel Miller. 2016. Social Media in an English Village. London: University College London Press. 234 pages.

Daniel Miller, Elisabetta Costa, Nell Haynes, Tom McDonald, Razvan Nicolescu, Jolynna Sinanan, Juliano Spyer, Shriram Venkatraman, and Xinyuan Wang. 2016. How the World Changed Social Media. London: University College London Press. 260 pages.


[Turkle’s] diagnoses provide a language for addressing ways smartphones and social media distract many people, offering a “friction-free” engagement that promises freedom from boredom but not from loneliness. And if conversation is what’s lost, then conversation can cure, in the tradition of the open-ended conversation of psychoanalytic therapy, the “talking cure.” Turkle offers two main approaches to reinstating talk, one concerned with design and the other with practice. She advocates, first, designing technologies that do not exploit human psychological vulnerabilities, such as notifications that demand continual attention. I agree that design could offer a means to redress features that are disruptive, but these features — like the interfaces that enable the “machine zone” — are essential to the business model of most mobile platforms. Redesigning them would entail tech companies relinquishing lucrative revenue streams. On the contrary, a broader critique is required of the social and economic context in which media technologies are produced, such as in Silicon Valley and other elite tech hubs.

This article in Anthropology Now is available for free download to the first 50 users here:

Upcoming talk: When Social Media are the News, Bard College

Thursday, April 20, Bard College, NY

What does it mean for the public sphere when social media become a news platform in their own right? I’ll be discussing how the merger of social media with the news media has troubling consequences for politics and shared understandings of reality.

A decade ago, social media—that is, social network sites like MySpace and Facebook—were taking off among teens and fan communities. News consumption in the US was shifting as well, as cable news outstripped network shows and print circulation declined. Only a few years later, Facebook and Twitter became widespread, perhaps losing their cool among young people. As social media coalesce into a new mass medium, these platforms integrate news stories into spaces previously envisioned for leisure and friendship. Planned changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm cultivated this process further. By 2015, breaking events like the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris unfolded online in a new way, sparking the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag and public memorials across Europe hours later. Reading news websites was already part of daily practice among young people I studied in Berlin in the late 2000s, but by 2015, social media became the place to encounter and experience news stories. This shift is reshaping how the news circulates, facilitating viral “fake” news and disinformation regimes. Social media contribute to reconfiguring the meaning of public and private, but what is at stake when social media are the news?

Time: 6:00 pm
Location: Olin, Room 202
Contact: Jonah Rubin

Speaking at XX+UX at Tumblr in December!

Excited to be on a panel at Tumblr HQ on designing social spaces free from harassment:

XX+UX @ Tumblr: Designing and Fostering Safe Online Communities


Haters, trolls, bots, and fake news sites are gaming social media platforms for their own advantage and driving away people who want to participate in positive, constructive dialogue. At Tumblr, we’ve been cautious about introducing new modes of communication—but at what cost?

How can social platforms and media publishers create a forum for free and open communication while protecting the participants from bad actors? How can product designers design systems that encourage good behavior and allow for effective, impartial moderation?

Join us Tuesday at Tumblr HQ for a panel discussion with community trust and safety experts, designers, and academics on these issues and strategies for building platforms that enable positive, productive conversations online.

Can’t wait? Ask or vote on questions ahead of time

Take Critical Design at The Brooklyn Institute this September!

I’ll be teaching my course on critical and ethnographic approaches to design, especially technology design, this September in Brooklyn:

Critical Design: Interface and Imagination
Jordan Kraemer

The Brooklyn Commons, 388 Atlantic Ave in Boerum Hill

Is design the new core competency? From user experience research to sustainable development, professional labor and productivity is increasingly framed in the language of design, while design fields are growing rapidly in industry and academia alike. This is partly a product of “design thinking,” an alternative approach to interacting with the world through the tools of design. In these contexts, design purports to approach diverse facets of human life in terms of innovative problem-solving, whether it be resource management in the Global South, urban development, home furnishings, or the latest tech gadgets and platforms. But what does it mean to approach the world in terms of design, and who is designing what and for whom? What is at stake in framing labor in terms of design? What norms become encoded in interface design, for example, and how does this shape technology-related practices?

This course takes design, especially interface design, as an object of study through empirical and critical analysis. This is not a course in the subdiscipline of “critical design” per se, but rather a sociological and anthropological study of design and related theories and practices. We will read works by Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, Gilles Deleuze and other theorists, in conversation with emerging literature in critical studies of design, such as the work of Lucy Suchman, Paul Dourish, Natasha Dow Schüll, Dawn Nafus, and Keith Murphy. In this class, students will not only explore contemporary critical design literature and key theoretical backgrounds, but will also engage critically with the creation, use, and understanding of user experience, interface, and design aesthetics.

Held Thursdays, 6:30-9:30pm
Starts September 8, 2016
Lasts 4 weeks
Costs $315

Enroll at the Brooklyn Institute’s website.

Teaching Feminist STS at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

I’m excited to be joining the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research this fall as an Associate Faculty member! The Brooklyn Institute is a New York-based center for public education and scholarship, offering liberal arts courses in non-traditional settings. I’ll be teaching an introductory seminar on feminist technology studies in November and December at Singularity & Co. bookstore in Brooklyn. Find out more or enroll here:


Life, Digitally: Feminist Studies of Technology

Jordan Kraemer
Singularity & Co, 18 Bridge St. in DUMBO

More than thirty years ago, feminist scholar Cynthia Cockburn surveyed the dearth of women in engineering and technology jobs in the early 1980s. Despite the women’s movement of the 1970s and the massive influx of women into the workforce, women remained distressingly underrepresented in tech fields—a situation that has changed remarkably little since. Grand narratives of progress often presume that inequality will disappear as science and technology drive society forward toward some egalitarian future. But as Cockburn noted, technology is as much a product of unequal, gendered social relations as it is salvation from them: “Our industrial technology also has the imprint and the limitations that come of being both the social property and one of the formative processes of men… The masculinity of technology, men’s proprietorial grasp of machinery, has to be seen as a product of social rather than biological history.” Feminist theory provides alternative lenses to examine questions of power, selfhood, materiality, embodiment, and sentiment in relation to emerging technologies, calling attention to fundamental inequalities that mutually shape technology and social life. In this course, we will read the work of scholars such as Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, Lucy Suchman, Judy Wacjman, Katherine Hayles, Susan Stryker, and others to consider how gender (in concert with race, class, sexuality, and disability) structures technologies such as artificial life, digital worlds, infrastructure, data, and bodily technologies.

There will be no class on November 24 due to Thanksgiving

Held Tuesdays, 6:30 – 9:30pm
Starts November 17, 2015
Lasts 4 sessions over 5 weeks
Costs 315

#bydesign at #AAA2014: design, inequality, and cultural difference

Thanks to everyone on our panel Accidentally By Design: Producing Difference and Inequality Through Technological Designs at this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in D.C. If you missed it, you can peruse the Storified version of tweets with the hashtag #bydesign that my co-organizer Angela VandenBroek created for us — thanks Angela!


Public lecture at Wesleyan University: What do mobile phones mobilize?

I’m giving a talk next week, Monday Oct. 13, for a weekly public lecture series at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Humanities on the theme of mobilities. My talk looks at forms of mobility and selfhood that inform mobile phone design and use in Berlin:

What Do Mobile Phones Mobilize?

In what sense are mobile phones, and related devices, mobile? Mobile phones, and mobile computing generally, facilitate particular kinds of mobility—especially elite, cosmopolitan, voluntary forms of movement and circulation—due in no small part to their user interface design. But what counts as movement, culturally speaking? How are mobile devices mobile in relation to the body? When are they characterized instead by locatability, for example, in relation to location-based services? This talk takes up these questions to consider how circles of friends in Berlin interact with the interface design of mobile technologies, especially smartphones, which expect a singular, indivisible subject as the user. Everyday mobile phone practices often challenge implicit norms built in to mobile devices, with implications for sociality, mobility, and experiences of urban space.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2014  |  6 P.M.

announcing my new postdoc position (+ AAA panel in December)

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m joining the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University this year as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow. This year’s theme is Mobilities, and I’ll be continuing my work on constructions of mobility and sociality in social and mobile media. I’ll be giving a public lecture on my research in October (details TBA).

In addition, Angela VandenBroek and I have co-organized an invited session for the annual American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings in December, in D.C., on technology, design, and inequality (Accidentally by Design: Producing Difference and Inequality Through Technological Designs). The session is being sponsored by CASTAC, through the General Anthropology Division.

Ethics of User Experience Research: What anthropology can tell us about Facebook’s controversial study

Ethics of User Experience Research: What anthropology can tell us about Facebook’s controversial study. Where is the line between industry user research and academic human subjects research? And what rights do—or should—users have over how their (our) data is used? As user research becomes an established part of technology design, questions of research ethics become even more pressing. Read more on the CASTAC Blog.