Ep. #32 ‘Hula Hoops not Bicycles’: Genevieve Bell talks Anthropology, Technology & Building the Future

“We were bringing the voices of people that didn’t get inside the building, inside the building and making them count. And I took that as an incredible responsibility, that you should give those voices weight and dignity and power.”
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We are excited to announce that this is the FIRST EPISODE OF OUR STS SERIES! The goal of the STS (science and technology studies, or science, technology and society – your pick!) Series is to explore the ways that humans, science and technology interact. While we have released some STS episodes in 2018, we still had some left in the bag from the 4S Conference PLUS many new ones as well. Let’s go!

Genevieve Bell, Director of the Autonomy, Agency and Assurance (also known as the 3A) Insitute and Florence McKenzie Chair (which promotes the inclusive use of technology in society) at the Australian National University, Vice President and Senior Fellow at Intel Corporation, and ABC’s 2017 Boyer Lecturer, talks to our own Jodie-Lee Trembath about building the future and a question at the heart of STS inquiry: “what is important to humans and how we can make sense of that to unpack the world that we live in?”. They begin by reflecting on the Acknowledgement of Country that we begin every podcast episode with and the power that comes from realising our positions, then discuss being an anthropologist in Silicon Valley, learning how to ‘translate’ anthropology to different audiences, predicting the world in 10 years time and the importance of rituals (especially when finishing your PhD!).

For more about 3AI, check out their website: https://3ainstitute.cecs.anu.edu.au
Or check out their LinkedIn page: https://au.linkedin.com/company/anu-3a-institute


For me, the notion of always being acutely aware of where you are located in time and space is a powerful way of being and to me the ability to do that in Australia is a big thing. Part of why that is an important one to me is the, I’ve spent the last 30 years living in the United States. And that’s a place that also has history with Indigenous people and colonial forces. It also has existing Indigenous communities throughout the nation. And people don’t acknowledge that. And there’s never a notion of a Welcome to Country or an Acknowledgement of Country.

“The hierarchies were very different, so everyone had a cube…Because everyone had the same office, you couldn’t assume who people were on the basis of the first pass, right, so it imposed a kind of … levelling effect”

“In Silicon Valley…there is this idea that everything is possible. And you’re always looking forward and moving forward, right. And moving forward: try an idea and if it doesn’t work, pick up the next one, move on.”

“But the reality is, of course, you can’t pretend the past didn’t happen, and I think that would be my critique frequently of Silicon Valley as it’s an amazing capacity to erase history. And on the one hand that can be really liberating, on the other hand I think that’s definitely dangerous, cause you erase the lessons you learnt and you don’t remember that things have a history”

“So one of the things I think my time there taught me well and I am absurdly grateful for, was that it in some ways made me a much, I think a better anthropologist, and certainly a better scholar because I had to explain what I did to people who knew nothing about it. So you couldn’t rely on jargon, you couldn’t rely on shorthand. You couldn’t say, ‘well, you know, that would be what Bourdieu would have to say about it. Or let me tell you about Foucault’ … You couldn’t use any of that because they’d be like, ‘what?’ They didn’t do in text citations. They didn’t think that way. That was shorthand that made no sense to them. And it meant you actually had to be able to unpack your ideas and make them comprehensible to people who weren’t in your field.”

“Mum was really clear that you should always be working to make the world a better place. That you actually had a moral obligation to make the world better than the one you found it. And not for yourself but for others.”


For more on Brewarrina, the town with the fish weirs: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jul/10/fish-traps-brewarrina-extraordinary-ancient-structures-protection

If you’d like to read a bit about Genevieve’s mother, who is also an anthropologist, see this biography of Diane: http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/biogs/WLE0596b.htm

Genevieve mentions doing fieldwork and ‘deep hanging out’ at Intel, for a quick definition of what this is, give this a read: http://cyborganthropology.com/Deep_Hanging_Out

To become more versed in the English “Yeah, nah”/”Nah, yeah” Life Hacker has got you covered: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/06/the-difference-between-yeah-nah-and-nah-yeah/

To read more about the Cybernetics Conferences:
C. Pias (2016) ‘Cybernetics: The Macy Conferences 1946-1953: The Complete Transactions’, University of Chicago Press.

The article Genevieve mentions called ‘For God’s Sake, Margaret’ is available to read here: http://www.alice.id.tue.nl/references/bateson-mead-1976.pdf

And don’t forget our new Facebook Group ‘The Familiar Strange Chats’ is now online. You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/254414971880221/ 

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and theAustralian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Shownotes by Deanna Catto

Image ‘Silicon Valley from above’ by Patrick Nouhailler (2013) available at:

One thought on “Ep. #32 ‘Hula Hoops not Bicycles’: Genevieve Bell talks Anthropology, Technology & Building the Future

  1. Pingback: Ep#62 Job Fantasies, Working with Others, Extractive Calls & Reciprocity Revisited:This Month on TFS | The Familiar Strange

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