#anthropology roundup: “Interview: John Postill on his new book The Rise of the Nerds….


I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. John Postill about his new book, The Rise of Nerd Politics (Pluto Press).

This new book, The Rise of Nerd Politics (Pluto Press), is analytically rich and wrestles with the problem of defining and categorizing this transnational field of politically-active technologists. You unify your techpol nerds in terms of the acronym “clamp” which includes those interested in the application of computing, law, art, media, politics. I think you go a great job of mixing the micro-cultural and the macro-universal in developing your theory. But what is the geographical limit of such a “field” based approach?

Thanks Adam, I’m glad you found it rich. My first attempt at finding a conceptual home for the transnational people I now call “techno-political nerds” (or “techpol nerds” for short), that is, those political actors who are passionately interested in the intersection between technology and politics, was the notion of a “space” of nerd politics subdivided into four main overlapping “fields”, namely digital rights, data activism, social protest and formal politics.

But then I found that calling them “fields” didn’t quite capture the alternation between dispersed (or unfocused) phases in their trajectories (which are better described as dispersed spaces) and phases that are focused around a given contention which I call, following the sociologists Fligstein and McAdam (2011), strategic action fields. Towards the end of the writing process, I found by chance a classic text by another sociologist, Anselm Strauss (1978) on “social worlds” which fitted very nicely with the nerd materials. So I ended up calling it the nerd politics world and subdividing it into four porous “spaces” of political action, with the understanding that those spaces can sometimes morph into dynamic action fields and then back to relatively quiet spaces. For instance, for a while the Snowden relevations of 2013 galvanised the whole space of digital rights around the issue of mass surveillance and privacy. Come to think of it, I wish I’d made this point about the alternation between space and field modes more clear in the book! (see Postill 2017).

While working through document collections in dozens of university and governmental archives, online FOIA document repositories, and through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, I have amassed a collection of letters from anthropologists and other scholars corresponding with the CIA. Sometimes scholars write asking for reports, maps, or other documents they hope can be released into the public domain, in other instances anthropologists write sharing information relating to their work or that of colleagues, or they write inquiring about employment possibilities. One example of this is this linked correspondence, in which CIA’s Director of Central Intelligence, Stansfield Turner, responds to correspondence and clippings sent along from anthropologist Felix Moos—a long time anthropologist-CIA interlocutor, and future architect of the post-9/11 PRISP initiative, connecting anthropologists and other academics with CIA.

Sokal Squared is Satire

It is a joke.

I agree that the Sokal Squared project is ambitious in its scope to the point of being mean-spirited. Their findings are easy fodder for alt-right assholes. One wonders about their stated beneficent motivation despite a report somewhere claiming that two of the three authors self-identify as the type of left-wing liberal who in other contexts would celebrate the identity politics challenged by the very project. They are trying for reform–they are from Portland for fucks sake–or maybe they are jerks. I don’t know. Or care. Its funny shit.

Anthropology in Norway – a potted history

Taking a few steps back, I used the invitation to write an essay about anthropology in Norway as a pretext for delving slightly more deeply into the beginnings – from Eilert Sundt to Gutorm Gjessing –  than what is usual. In many renderings of the history of Norwegian anthropology, the time before the mid 1950s

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