I am an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Rhetoric. Before joining WPI, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. My work is animated by an intellectual curiosity with how ideas travel across time and space, and generate diverse practices of acting, seeing, and being in the world. I am especially intrigued by situations in which people come to ask new questions about themselves and others, in ways that require reconsideration of past experiences and imagining of future possibilities. Such situations, I believe, capture an important aspect of human condition—the intertwining trajectories of power and authority, on the one hand, and creativity and innovation, on the other.
The book that I am currently preparing for publication discusses a similar situation among young Muslims in Turkey. Titled "What is the Language of Islam?," it presents an ethnographic analysis of how Muslims navigate religious texts and traditional interpretations within the framework of secularism and modern science. This analysis draws on my doctoral research funded by the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.
In my new research, I turn ethnographic lenses towards technologists and examine the ethical implications of their work as designers and maintainers of socio-technical systems. The questions I ask include: What counts as a "social and ethical issue" from technologists' perspective? In what ways do they engage with questions of social complexity, diversity, and inequality? How, if at all, are their perspectives informed by insights from social scientific and humanistic inquiry? As an extension of this interest, I am participating in several transdisciplinary initiatives at WPI, including a research project on robots in the future workplace and another one on social design in development engineering.
I teach a range of courses on ethics, rhetoric, religion and culture, and science and technology studies. Inspired by WPI's ethos of project-based learning, my classes are structured around team projects that help students see themselves and their classmates as active participants in the process of knowledge production and dissemination. I also work with students on their Professional Writing senior capstone projects on science communication and intercultural design. In addition, I serve as an instructor for Worcester's Clemente Course in the Humanities.
The Worcester Business Journal reported on WPI receiving $3 million from the National Science Foundation to study human-robot interaction in the workplace. Eight WPI researchers are involved: Cagdas Onal (principal investigator), Yunus Telliel, Jeanine Skorinko, Winston Soboyejo, Jing Xiao, Pratap Rao, Soussan Djamasbi and Jane Li.