Computerized processes are everywhere in our society. They are the automated phone messaging systems that businesses use to screen calls; the link between student standardized test scores and public schools’ access to resources; the algorithms that regulate patient diagnoses and reimbursements to doctors. The storage, sorting, and analysis of massive amounts of information have enabled the automation of decision-making at an unprecedented level. Meanwhile, computers have offered a model of cognition that increasingly shapes our approach to the world. The proliferation of “roboprocesses” is the result, as editors Catherine Besteman and Hugh Gusterson observe in this rich and wide-ranging volume, which features contributions from a distinguished cast of scholars in anthropology, communications, international studies, and political science.
Although automatic processes are designed to be engines of rational systems, the stories in Life by Algorithms reveal how they can in fact produce absurd, inflexible, or even dangerous outcomes. Joining the call for “algorithmic transparency,” the contributors bring exceptional sensitivity to everyday sociality into their critique to better understand how the perils of modern technology affect finance, medicine, education, housing, the workplace, food production, public space, and emotions—not as separate problems but as linked manifestations of a deeper defect in the fundamental ordering of our society.
Catherine Besteman, Alex Blanchette, Robert W. Gehl, Hugh Gusterson, Catherine Lutz, Ann Lutz Fernandez, Joseph Masco, Sally Engle Merry, Keesha M. Middlemass, Noelle Stout, Susan J. Terrio
How do people whose entire way of life has been destroyed and who witnessed horrible abuses against loved ones construct a new future? How do people who have survived the ravages of war and displacement rebuild their lives in a new country when their world has totally changed? In Making Refuge Catherine Besteman follows the trajectory of Somali Bantus from their homes in Somalia before the onset in 1991 of Somalia’s civil war, to their displacement to Kenyan refugee camps, to their relocation in cities across the United States, to their settlement in the struggling former mill town of Lewiston, Maine. Tracking their experiences as "secondary migrants" who grapple with the struggles of xenophobia, neoliberalism, and grief, Besteman asks what humanitarianism feels like to those who are its objects and what happens when refugees move in next door. As Lewiston's refugees and locals negotiate coresidence and find that assimilation goes both ways, their story demonstrates the efforts of diverse people to find ways to live together and create community. Besteman’s account illuminates the contemporary debates about economic and moral responsibility, security, and community that immigration provokes.
In Militarized Global Apartheid Catherine Besteman offers a sweeping theorization of the ways in which countries from the global north are reproducing South Africa's apartheid system on a worldwide scale to control the mobility and labor of people from the global south. Exploring the different manifestations of global apartheid, Besteman traces how militarization and securitization reconfigure older forms of white supremacy and deploy them in new contexts to maintain this racialized global order. Whether using the language of security, military intervention, surveillance technologies, or detention centers and other forms of incarceration, these projects reinforce and consolidate the global north's political and economic interests at the expense of the poor, migrants, refugees, Indigenous populations, and people of color. By drawing out how this new form of apartheid functions and pointing to areas of resistance, Besteman opens up new space to theorize potential sources of liberatory politics.