My passion is as an anthropologist of passions, brains, games, bodies, drugs and facts. I love engaging with just how strange we all are in doing what we love and how much we love and live by what we think of as knowledge. My research and teaching constantly ask how exactly we came to think, do and speak the way we do about ourselves and our world. What are the actual material ways in which we come to encounter facts and things and take them to be relevant to our lives and our futures?
I am Director of the Institute for Social Sciences, Chair of Performance Studies, Professor and former director of Science and Technology Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Davis. I am also on the faculty of the Cultural Studies PhD program. I’m also in the process of launching an undergraduate program in Data Studies, helping undergrads learn to think critically and computationally about data.
My most recent book is on pharmaceutical marketing and clinical trials called Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health (Duke University Press, 2012). Previously I wrote about neuroscientists making brain images, Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity (Princeton University Press, 2004). As the first ethnographic study of brain imaging, it helped define a new field of anthropology of neuroscience, one that engaged with the ongoing concerns of neurosciences and social scientists alike about the relationship between human nature and the brain. I have also co-edited three books: with Gary Lee Downey, Cyborgs & Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies; with Robbie Davis-Floyd, Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots, and with Regula Burri, Biomedicine as Culture. For ten years I was an editor of the journal Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry.
My new projects are entangled:
Gaming studies: With Colin Milburn, Kriss Ravetto and others, I helped found the ModLab through the Davis Humanities Institute. Our work is also funded by IMMERSe, Mellon, and an Interdisciplinary Frontiers grant at UC Davis. We are interested in both studying gaming and developing games and interfaces. I’ve been running workshops on rethinking your research through game design, and I’m developing a game on fracking. I’ll be teaching “Roleplaying Games and Society” in Spr 2017 with Taylor Bell.
Immersive Visualization: I am currently studying how immersive 3D visualization platforms are transforming science at the KeckCAVES. I quickly went from observation to participation and am co-PI on a major grant funding the KeckCAVES and another one bringing dancers and scientists together in it. Together with faculty and graduate students in performance studies we are also engaged in bringing choreographers, theatre improv, and other performance and media artists into engagement with these technologies.
Crazy Computers and Logical Neuroses: the early period of computing 1940-1960 fascinates me for how many people then felt that computers were logical and therefore irrational. Because computers did exactly what they were told and didn’t know if they were going in endless loops they were ideal to model the craziness of humans, our emotions, neuroses, psychoses, and politics. I think that diagrammatic thinking is a key element of this, so I am working on a history of flow charts, and fascinated by the growth of the alternate notion that computers are logical and therefore ideally rational, suitable for simulating intelligence but not emotions. Along with a short paper on “neuroexistentialism,” a more extensive treatment called “Plastic Diagrams: Circuits in the Brain and How They Got There” in the volume on Plasticity and Pathology. This has led to a renewed set of collaborations and participation with neuroscientists, presenting at a Neuroeconomics workshop and a Consciousness conference, and a paper published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience called, “Plastic Neuroscience: Studying What the Brain Cares About.”
Anatomies and Bodyminds: anatomy (including physiology) is a surprisingly diverse field, once one surveys the way that different medical and biomedical systems teach it, as well as so-called alternative medicines (e.g., massage therapies, energy practices, chiropractic, hospice), and body movement practices like dance traditions, contact improvisation, feldenkrais, and meditations. I am currently working on papers on “Don’t know where you are going: Anthropology and Improvisation,” and published a practice-as-research paper with Kevin O’Connor on “The senses and sciences of fascia.” I’ll be teaching “Tightwire Walking and Thinking” in Spr 2017 with Ante Ursic.
My immersive research approach means that on any day of the week I’m programming in a 3D version of python, helping students learn excel, lecturing on drugs, giving a neuromuscular massage treatment, analyzing the writings of cyberneticians, dancing in a contact improv jam, finding ways to make classes more game-like, and all too often sitting in meetings.
And yes, I drink a lot of coffee, for its health benefits and because it may help me see ghosts!