Spencer Kaplan

Spencer Kaplan headshot 2021

Welcome! I’m a PhD student in the Yale Department of Anthropology, where I study technology, finance, and media in North America and Europe. I’m interested in how human selves are fashioned and cultivated through technology and finance. How do cultural beliefs about what it means to be human, and what it means to be a better human, animate the designs of cutting-edge technologies and markets? And as developers wrestle with the technical, ethical, and legal questions of their work, what long-standing cultural debates might they actually be joining? Besides anthropology, I engage with science and technology studies, media studies, ethics, and critical theory. My ethnographic work has brought me in contact with art collectors, Wall Street bankers, and, most recently, NFT enthusiasts in Berlin.

My research is motivated by previous experience working in technology startups and management consulting. I received an MPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and a BA in International Studies and Economics from the University of Chicago.

During the 2022-2023 academic year, I am coordinating the Yale Department of Anthropology’s Ethnography and Social Theory Colloquium. I am also a Student Fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project.

Email | LinkedIn | Department Page | CV

Research Projects

Interfaces of Art Collecting

What does it mean to collect art when today’s art markets are increasingly global, speculative, and technologically mediated? How do individuals use art collecting as a strategy of self fashioning? What kinds of selves do they present when they present their art, and what becomes of art in the process? To date, I have pursued these questions in various sites, including East Asia and the Arab Gulf, where entrepreneurs and royals make record-breaking acquisitions of European artworks. They often present their acquisitions alongside work by local artists in museums they’ve built for community members and visitors alike to view.

You can find some of my writing on this here.

I am currently revisiting art collecting in light of surging interest in blockchain and NFTs. I am following NFTs to Berlin, where the city’s thriving culture and technology scenes support a unique community of NFT enthusiasts.

Financializing Identities