Héctor Beltrán is a sociocultural anthropologist who draws upon his background in computer science to understand how the technical aspects of computing intersect with issues of identity, race, ethnicity, class, and nation. He completed his PhD in Anthropology (2018) and MA in Folklore (2012) at UC Berkeley and holds a BS in Computer Science and Engineering from MIT (2007). Before coming to MIT, he was a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Irvine. Beltrán’s current book manuscript, Code Work: Hacking Across the US/México Borderlands, follows the lives of Mexican hackers as they navigate the political and economic unevenness of North America’s computer programming sector. The ethnographic research and writing for this project has been funded by the School for Advanced Research, The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, American Council of Learned Societies, Social Science Research Council, Ford Foundation, UC-Mexus, and UC Berkeley Institute for the Study of Societal Issues. Beltrán is currently also working on an anthropological history of the intertwining development of computer science and hacking in modern México. At MIT, he teaches classes on subjects such as: the cultural dimensions of computing; practices of hacking from the Global South; and Latinx and Latin American identities, politics, and social movements.
My current book manuscript, Code Work: Hacking Across the U.S./México Borderlands, investigates emerging forms of hacking and tech entrepreneurship by moving between key physical sites in México and the US. This project aims to unpack the specific ways people immersed in code worlds construct models for (and against) technology-driven capitalism as they project their livelihoods into the future. At one level, I comparatively analyze how communities positioned on separate sides of the U.S./México border make small modifications to established expert models, promoting everyday practices of hacking and entrepreneurship. On another level, I focus on the ways these tech communities coalesce by participating in events aimed at empowering a transnational Latinx collective. I thus highlight the striking ways “hacker-entrepreneurs” navigate seemingly contradictory domains as they contest (and construct) new forms of racialization, racism, and capitalism across the techno-borderlands.
I am currently collaborating with colleagues in México on a wide-ranging historical study of Mexican cultures of computing. Combining archival research and oral historiography, we highlight the developers and users behind early computing platforms as well as their roles and contributions to the field of computer science. We focus on how agendas and cultural practices have changed over the last 60 years, as university programs strive to keep curricula up-to-date with latest computing infrastructures, while also inculcating an unofficial hacking ethos among students. By re-focusing on the voices and bodies behind these cultures of computing, we aim to connect the history of machines with constructions of identity, class, gender, and nation.
“The First Latina Hackathon: Re-coding Infrastructures from México.” Forthcoming with Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, and Technoscience.
“Code Work: Thinking with the System in México.” American Anthropologist 122(3): pp. TBD.
21A.504J / STS.086J / WGS.276J
Cultures of Computing
Examines computers anthropologically, as artifacts revealing the social orders and cultural practices that create them. Students read classic texts in computer science along with cultural analyses of computing history and contemporary configurations. Explores the history of automata, automation and capitalist manufacturing; cybernetics and WWII operations research; artificial intelligence and gendered subjectivity; robots, cyborgs, and artificial life; creation and commoditization of the personal computer; the growth of the Internet as a military, academic, and commercial project; hackers and gamers; technobodies and virtual sociality. Emphasis is placed on how ideas about gender and other social differences shape labor practices, models of cognition, hacking culture, and social media.
Hacking from the South
Using anthropological perspectives to propose critically reflexive modes of participation in existing socio-technical systems, students draw on ethnographic case studies to understand how practices and definitions of "hacking" are grounded in specific political and cultural contexts. With a focus on the Global South (Africa, Caribbean, Middle East, Asia and Southeast Asia, Oceania), examines the relationship between international development and technological empowerment by interrogating assumptions associated with particular locations and peoples, especially those constructed as peripheral to geographic centers of power.
|2018||University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellowship. U.C. Irvine, CA.|
|2017||Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies. New York, NY.|
|2017||School for Advanced Research Mellon Residential Scholar Fellowship. Santa Fe, NM. (accepted residence; declined stipend)|
|2016||Institute for the Study of Societal Issues Graduate Fellows Program. U.C. Berkeley.|
|2015||Social Science Research Council Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship. New York, NY.|
|2015||The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Dissertation Fieldwork Grant. New York, NY.|
|2015||University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (U.C.-Mexus) Dissertation Research Grant.|
|2012||Ford Foundation Multi-year Predoctoral Fellowship. Washington, D.C.|