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The Digital as Para-world: Design, Anthropology, and Information Technologies

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Abstract

a number of scholars have noted the persistent lacuna in anthropology’s engagement with questions concerning technology. This is striking for a number of reasons. First, for better and for worse, technology has long played a central role in the delineation (however ill-conceived) of ‘primitive’ versus ‘advanced’ civilizations: “To the extent that anthropologists have recognized Homo faber as a kind of social archetype and stressed the use of tools as one subset of cultural artifacts, technology has always been present in the anthropological repertory. But in ‘classical’ cultural and social anthropology it has been undertheorized” (Glick 1997: 464). Less controversially, the vast reconfigurations of social order across the globe that are directly or indirectly attributable to technological development make the absence of such engagement especially conspicuous. It could also be argued that significant scholarly treatment of technology as a field of cultural inquiry has occurred in derivative academic disciplines (particularly science and technology studies), some of which draw heavily upon anthropological antecedents such as ethnographic practice (e.g. Traweek 1988) and postcolonial critique (Prakash 1999). Perhaps most significant, however, is the suggestion that “[t]echnology is a science; and because technical facts are facts of human activity, it is a human science, a branch of anthropology” (Sigaut 1994: 42 2). It is from this perspective that technology can be understood as a key point of intersection between design and anthropology.

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