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Downey publishes two books on anthropology

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 29 - April 23, 1998

Gary Downey, director of the Center for Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Tech, is co-editor of Cyborgs and Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies, (SAR Press 1998).
The book is the product of an advanced seminar at the School of American Research, an anthropology think-tank. It explores pathways through which anthropological research accepts critical participation and intervenes in emerging sciences and technologies without the comforts of either progressivist enthusiasm or oppositional pessimism.
Fieldwork sites include a pre-natal sonogram clinic, an inner-city AIDS clinic, a molecular biotechnology lab, a conference on Marfan syndrome, a center for brain-imaging technology, a particle-physics lab, an undergraduate engineering program, and the advanced seminar that gave rise to this volume.
In an early review, George Marcus of Rice University, co-author of the well-known Writing Culture, calls the book "a collection of first-order significance." "Virtually all of the U.S. scholars who have pioneered anthropology's entry into the arena of science and technology studies are included," Marcus said. "This will certainly be a landmark publication for anthropologists."
In May, Routledge, a prominent New York publisher, will publish Downey's ethnographic investigation of the body/machine interface as The Machine in Me: An Anthropologist Sits among Computer Engineers. Drawing on interviews, observations, and personal interaction with engineers, Downey documents the everyday power of technology's dominant image in our society, a force often regarded as monolithically progressive. The Machine in Me challenges readers to examine how deeply connected we are to the machine and how beneficial it might be for us to understand ourselves and machines as partially configured of the other--we as part machine, machines as part human. In this way, we might better see both the power and limitations of technology, Downey argues.
MIT professor Louis Bucciarelli, author of Designing Engineers, wrote, "Downey has produced a most provocative analysis of the still-emergent culture of CAD/CAM--machine and maker, students and users--based upon extensive field work, often as a participant. More than an engaging ethnography, he provides a refreshing critique of contemporary social studies of technology and society, moving beyond networks, impacts, agents, and actors to author a most compelling story."
Paul Rabinow of the University of California, Berkeley, author of Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology, said, "Engaged in earnest and honest dialogue with the engineers he studies and works with, Gary Lee Downey shows us from the inside what working within a technology means to the lives of these scientists. Downey proposes--hope against hope--a vision of what a different world of technology and business might be. Admirable."