Some interesting papers: mothering with social media, archaeologies of e-waste, and performing tasks with wifi

Just wanted to flag some more interesting papers that have recently come out.

First, Robyn Longhurst‘s fantastic work on mothering with Skype and other social media has been really productive of some great papers and the latest in Social & Cultural Geographies is no exception. There’s some really lovely empirical work here and some interesting discussion of method too. I will be giving this paper to some of my students precisely because of this methods discussion. Good stuff!

Mothering, digital media and emotional geographies in Hamilton, Aotearoa New Zealand

This article traces a line between two literatures that can usefully be drawn into deeper conversation: geographies of digital media, and geographies of emotion. Its broad theoretical aim is to ascertain what insights might be gleaned by increasingly bringing together these two literatures. The more specific and primary aim, however, is an empirical one and that is to offer a materially grounded example of 35 mothers who live in Hamilton, Aotearoa New Zealand who use digital media to communicate with their children. Particular attention is paid to the capacities of different digital media, both individually and combined, to help facilitate, but certainly not guarantee, different emotions. The research is informed by a feminist geographical reading of theories of digital media and emotion. Findings illustrate that increasingly mothers are making use of digital media, both singularly and collectively, to increase the chances of a particular desired emotional outcome with their child or children. This article concludes that bodies, devices, screens, sounds and images comingle to mediate emotions over time and space.

Second, Sy Taffel has written another interesting article (following on from the paper he contributed to our theme issue of Culture Machine in 2012) concerning the desirable and undesirable materialities of electronic devices, not least when they are discarded and thrown away. This paper is part of an interesting forum convened by Angela Piccini. (You’ll find Sy’s piece between pp. 78-85):

Archaeologies of Electronic Waste

The toxicity and volume of electrical waste (commonly referred to as e-waste) forms one material legacy of contemporary digital culture which emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the deleterious material impacts of technological assemblages upon human and ecological systems, and asks serious questions about the sustainability and ethical orientation of current technocultural systems. Globally, around 50 million tonnes of e-waste are generated each year, and this waste is considered to be toxic due to the presence of a “witch’s brew” of substances which are highly hazardous to humans and other biotic systems. Whilst there exist inter-, supra-, and national laws and conventions mandating that most OECD nations (the US being a notable exemption) cannot legally export hazardous wastes to non-OECD nations, there exists a vibrant illegal market in exporting e-waste which is systematically mislabelled as working second-hand electronics goods for sale in emerging markets, with an estimated 50–100 shipping containers of illegally exported e-waste arriving daily in Hong Kong. This short essay seeks to sketch several ways that media archaeology and archaeologies of media provide productive apertures through which to consider issues surrounding e-waste, whilst contextualizing how media archaeology fits within the broader field of materialist media studies.

Thirdly, and by no means least, Sung-Yueh Perng has written a really thoughtful and interesting article on how the apparently ‘immaterial’ infrastructure of wi-fi is enrolled in ‘human-signal assemblages’ through which are performed the intricacies of everyday life. Again, some really lovely empirical work here and a nuanced synthesis of empirics and theory – with an interesting reading together of Adrian Mackenzie’s work on wireless communications, Ingold’s refrain of the ‘taskscape’ and the technocultural spatial imaginaries that have emerged in Taipei around these technologies.

Performing Tasks With Wi-Fi Signals in Taipei

This article examines the process of constructing, repairing, and improvising “human–signal assemblages” by drawing on in-depth interviews and virtual ethnography regarding the engineering of Wi-Fi connectivity in Taipei, Taiwan. It is demonstrated that spatial, temporal, infrastructural, and embodied orchestrations of Wi-Fi signals both reinforce and challenge prescribed ways of conducting daily tasks. Continuity and change, enacted by attempts to incorporate Wi-Fi signals into daily urban life, are explored by discussing a wide range of practices performed by government entities, local companies and initiatives, and users themselves. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which machines, the city landscape, discourses, maps, and signs grow and multiply, as well as intersect and intervene with each other at various levels, locales, and stages of establishing Wi-Fi connections. The article thus argues for the importance of “machine juggling” as a skillful performance that mends, maintains, and improvises Wi-Fi-enabled urban everyday rhythms.

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