Wesleyan portrait of Mitali  Thakor

Mitali Thakor

Assistant Professor of Science in Society

Allbritton Center, 211
860-685-3142

Assistant Professor, Anthropology

Allbritton Center,
860-685-685-

Assistant Professor, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Allbritton Center, 211
860-685-685-

mthakor@wesleyan.edu

Visit Professional Website

BA Stanford University
PHD Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mitali Thakor

Research interests: policing, computer vision, child pornography, content moderation, digital STS, queer studies of the child, robotics, prosthetics, sex work

Current Research:
My current book project, Facing the Child: The Digital Policing of Child Pornography, argues that the digital detection of child pornography has launched a critical turning point in the role of technology companies in relationship to law enforcement: under the auspices of child protection and securitization, the responsibility and labor of policing has shifted over toward technology companies and away from traditional, formal police bodies. I argue that technology companies and law enforcement are turning to technoscientific solutions to address what is mistakenly seen as solely a digital problem. In addition, I show that the regulation of child pornography has laid the infrastructure for the detection of other violent images and videos, fake news, and problematic accounts, as evidenced in the recent rush to fight “Deep Fakes.” Offering a detailed ethnography of computer science labs and police practices, Facing the Child tracks the entry of corporate experts, computer scientists, and graphic designers into the policing network of child abuse detection and subsequent ‘scientification’ of policing through the adoption of new technologies.

Talks & Interviews:

Black Box Labs:
I am the Co-Director of Black Box Labs, an STS laboratory at Wesleyan University, along with Prof. Anthony Ryan Hatch. I am the lead researcher on two projects:

  • The Limits of Protection? Digital Privacy, Content Moderation, and Policing Child Sexual Abuse Material
  • Animating Intimacy: Care Robots and Futures of Care

Future Research:
My second project is on care robots and animate companions. The demand for service robots has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of the primary sites for development of such robots is in eldercare nursing. Eldercare robots seem to promise a continuation of care otherwise not possible under broken medical infrastructures in the US. These robots purport to stave off loneliness, provide a watchful eye to alert family members and emergency medical personnel, and enhance clients’ therapeutic care by engaging memory recall and language skills. This project is based on fieldwork in the U.S. into the design and use of “animate companion” commercial robots in caregiving settings. Recent work in STS has rightly critiqued the use of robots as stopgaps or “surrogates” within the labor system of racial capitalism (cf. Atanasoski and Vora 2019; Semel 2021). However, following Casteñeda and Suchman’s (2014) call to imagine other forms of kinmaking through animal-child-robot objects, I consider here how animate companionship with carebots might generate new relational configurations marked by co-produced pleasure and humor rather than merely extractive forms of care. Commercial carebots often take other-than-human form, as pet animals or caricatured children. How does the material form of robots matter in supporting the production of a caring, companionate relationship? Approaching caregiving as motivated by curiosity rather than curative ideologies, I suggest that animate companionship provided by robotic pets and children opens up opportunities for human-nonhuman intimacies that rely on artificiality, intimacies that are strategically possible only because of their performative and contrived material forms.

Mitali Thakor (she/her/hers) is an assistant professor in the Science in Society Program with affiliations in Anthropology and FGSS. Her current book project, Facing the Child (MIT Press), is an ethnography of artifice, evidence, and the global policing of child pornography. Her second project is a multidisciplinary study of robotic and animate companions in eldercare, childcare, and other spaces of intimate companionship.

Mitali Thakor earned her Ph.D. from MIT's Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, & Society, was a postdoctoral fellow in the Sexualities Project at Northwestern University, and earned her B.A. in Anthropology and Feminist Studies from Stanford University. Mitali is also a professional birth doula. You can read more about her work at http://www.mitalithakor.com and on Twitter at @mitalithakor.

Academic Affiliations

Office Hours

Fall 2022 office hours: Wednesdays 1-2:30 and by appointment on Tuesdays & Thursdays

COVID policy: Please schedule office hours here: calendly.com/mthakor. Please do not show up in person without scheduling ahead of time. I request that you wear a mask. Office hours can also be scheduled on Zoom or as an outdoor walk (pending my schedule).

Office hours time slots are reserved for current students and advisees. If we have not met before, please email me first before scheduling on Calendly.

Courses

Fall 2022
SISP 265 - 01
Anthropology of Science

SISP 357 - 01
AI, Algorithms, & Power

Spring 2023
CHUM 312 - 01
Technologies of Care