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 study how human selves are fashioned and cultivated through technology. How do cultural beliefs about what it means to be human, and what it means to be a better human, animate the designs of emergent technologies and markets? And in turn, how do technical concepts and models configure our understanding of the world and the beings inhabiting it? Besides anthropology, I engage with science and technology studies, media studies, ethics, and critical theory. My ethnographic work has brought me in contact with machine learning researchers, blockchain/Web3 proponents, and Wall Street bankers.
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.
What is “bringing your full self to work”? How have we come to see aspects of our identities, particularly those aspects that are marginalized, as sources of human capital? Plenty of research on diversity and inclusion has debated its business value and the extent to which experiences of marginality help employees perform in the workplace. But how does framing diversity as human capital transform how people understand their identities and cultivate themselves? My work in this space has focused on LGBTQ-identified employees at some of Wall Street’s largest banks.
I published my research findings in a peer-reviewed article:
Kaplan, S. (2022), “Bringing Your Full Self to Work”: Fashioning LGBTQ Bankers on Wall Street. Anthropology of Work Review, 43: 5-15. (Available open-access)
I also published a shorter piece on this topic in Anthropology News.
As technologists reckon with the social consequences of their work, how do they place moral values alongside numerical ones? How are values like trust, fairness, and privacy reformulated using the concepts and models of fields like computer science, statistics, economics, and cryptography? What determines which values are valuable?
Machine learning research has emerged as my primary site for pursing these questions. In particular, I am following the current turns to “Human-Centered AI” and “AI Alignment” among US university and corporate machine learning researchers. What is the human in Human-Centered AI? And what is a value towards which AI can be aligned?
I previously studied trust among blockchain/Web3 proponents who claim to circumvent it using what they call trustless technologies. During ethnographic fieldwork in Berlin, I encountered multiple forms of trust relations at work across various media, from the chain itself to face-to-face interactions. Some of these trust relations seemingly contradict the “trustless” ideology of Web3, yet they enable the very existence of a Web3 community.
I presented initial findings at the Web3 Workshop. There, I argued for the importance of physical place in the production and experience of virtual technologies like NFTs. You can read that talk here. I have presented elsewhere and have an article in preparation.