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Department of Anthropology
5 The Green
311A Eaton Hall
Medford, MA 02155
PhD in Anthropology, University of California at Irvine
MA in Anthropology, University of California at Irvine
SM in Comparative Media Studies, MIT
BA in Literature, Yale University
Computing and algorithms; sound and music; knowledge and attention; taste and classification; media technologies; science and technology studies
Scholarship & Research
I study how people who make technology deal with cultural materials. My current book project, Computing Taste, draws on several years of ethnographic research and interviews with US-based developers of algorithmic music recommender systems — services like Pandora Radio, which provide personalized listening recommendations to users. Where popular critical accounts presume that engineers inevitably misunderstand culture, I instead examine how they theorize about culture and technology — what they are and how they should interact. These theories can have broad consequences, as they shape how influential algorithmic systems are built. Because many engineering practices are protected by corporate secrecy, I am also interested in developing new ethnographic techniques for accessing and examining the cultural worlds of engineers.
My research focuses on musical and sonic technologies because they embody many of the contradictions between commonsense ideas about the cultural and the technical: music and sound are often considered subjective, expressive, embodied, and cultural, but they always seem to be tangled up with technologies that are presumed to be the opposite. I am starting a new project studying the production of "machine listening" systems — techniques for teaching computers to hear. In related work along other axes, I have also written on the history of the player piano and the history of computational methods in sociocultural anthropology.
2015. "Bastard Algebra." In Data, Now Bigger & Better! Bill Maurer and Tom Boellstorff, eds. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
2011. "'This is Not a Copy': Mechanical Fidelity and the Re-enacting Piano." Differences, special issue The Sense of Sound, Rey Chow and James A. Steintrager, eds. 22(2–3).
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