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Critical reviews of media, technology, literature, and performances. These are not intended to be book reviews of STS scholarship, but STS-based reviews of cultural works, including material culture, outside of our field.

Book Review: Cotton and Race Across the Atlantic: Britain, Africa, and America, 1900-1920

Dr Jonathan Silver / 20 July, 2017

According to Jonathan Silver, Cotton and Race Across the Atlantic: Britain, Africa and America 1900-1920 makes a significant contribution to the global history of cotton and our understandings about the long durée of capitalism.

Renewable energy for STS scholarship: the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies

Lucy Suchman / 09 January, 2017

title At least one thing that members of the field of STS can look forward to in the new year is the 4th STS Handbook, available from MIT Press in hardcopy beginning February 1st. The latest in a series that began in 1977 (with subsequent volumes published in 1995 and 2008), the 2017 edition exemplifies work in a transdisciplinary field that is at once well established and in ongoing transformation. The 36 chapters of the Handbook are the product of the work of 121 authors – a rich set of collaborations that includes new as well as longstanding STS scholars. 4S’ agreement with MIT Press includes reasonably-priced access to downloads of individual chapters, as well as to the full Handbook.

Betwixt and Between Augmentation and Automation: Some Reflections after Watching “Sully”

Phaedra Daipha / 19 December, 2016

title With insights from the new movie "Sully", Phaedra Daipha sheds light on the vanishing role of the human operator in high risk decision-making environments.

‘Hard’ Surveillance and ‘Soft’ Surveillance: The Quantified Self at Work

Christopher O'Neill / 12 December, 2016

title In the past few years we have seen the entry of Quantified Self technologies into workplaces. Firms like Humanyze and VoloMetrix have experimented with "white collar surveillance" technologies that resemble the post-Taylorist workplace surveillance techniques that emerged in Europe in the 1910s and 20s. Christopher O'Neill examines these and other forms of workplace surveillance in a recent article in ST&HV.

Bicycling Renaissance: a Bike Boom of Old (With Lessons for the New)

Jesse Gant / 28 March, 2016

title The rapid industrialization and urbanization, the flood of new technology and information, the growth of big business and big fortunes, and the ticking clock of a century’s end manifested in a palpable, and often chaotic, sense that society was changing quickly. Technology, of course, was at the heart of that transformation and Americans fell in love with more than one far-fetched idea about how a piece of technology would radically reorient their lives ... Although they don’t move as quickly as trains, cars, or pneumatic tubes, bicycles in the 1890s did hold great promise. Enthusiasts embraced a vision of the future in which bicycles made cities seem smaller, cleaner, and healthier and in which individuals felt liberated.

Things Worth Categorizing

Yelena Gluzman / 21 March, 2016

title Four months later, I’m still thinking about Løchlann Jain’s index cards. I came across them at last year’s 4S conference in Denver: dozens of cards laid out on a table, each card covered with a series of tiny, colorful sketches. The cards were there to be peered at and handled, and mounted lights and magnifying glasses allowed for an intimate examination of the texture and detail in each. The mise-en-scène of the cards figured them as specimens, and us as naturalists. Yet the task of the naturalist—to organize specimens into coherent relations—was also the work being done by the cards themselves.

Top of the Heap: Elly Teman

Hannah Gibson / 01 February, 2016

title The top of my heap this past summer has been stacked with a list of documentary films on topics related to the anthropology of reproduction while preparing syllabi for the coming year. I find that students engage much closer through film than through reading only, and that incorporating films in my courses makes for lively discussion. Thus, I am constantly on the lookout for new films to add to my collection. Most of the films I use are available on YouTube, Vimeo, or the director’s website, so I ask the students to watch the film on their own the week before a specific class. They submit a paragraph the night before class about their reaction to the film and its connection to class readings, or in response to a question I pose regarding the film. In class we discuss the film together with the lecture and readings for that day; this gives them a lot of vivid examples to illustrate theoretical concepts and to make cross-cultural comparisons. Some of the films below are ones I have not yet seen or have not yet been able to obtain a copy of. Others are “musts” on my list for any course on the anthropology of reproduction or for a section on reproduction for a medical anthropology course. I am listing them according to some of the topics I like to cover in my class.


Linguists first used the term backchannel to refer to the spontaneous responses and signals that provide interactivity to what is only apparently a one-way communication. Social media users have adopted the term to refer to the unofficial, multi-directional online conversation that parallels formal academic exchange at a lecture or conference. The Backchannels blog is intended to have a similar relationship to scholarly discourse in STS. It provides an outlet for alternative-format scholarly communications, publishing shorter, timelier, media-rich communiques of interest to the global STS community. The editors welcome proposed contributions.