Museum of Contemporary Commodities – Exhibition Rd, Kensington 24-27 Aug.

Next week, in advance of the RGS-IBG annual conference, the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) will join the other museums in South Kensington on Exhibition Rd. MoCC is the brainchild of artist-activist-researcher Paula Crutchlow and promises to build on the provocative and inspiring work undertaken as part of the project over the last three years. I strongly encourage anyone in London next week to pop into the Royal Geographical Society to take a look.

I’m very privileged to be on Paula’s PhD committee. This is fantastic work – even if you cannot make it to Exhibition Rd, please do look at the MoCC website.

Museum of Contemporary Commodities: valuing what we buy today as the heritage of tomorrow

Museum of Contemporary Commodities at the Royal Geographical Society, London.The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) is an art-geography research and exhibition project investigating the deep links between data, trade, place and values that shape our everyday lives. This lively set of digital activities will be hosted in the Pavilion at RGS-IBG. Staffed by our friendly MoCC Invigilators, you will be able to browse the most valued exhibits, take our quiz, add something to the museum yourself and consult with the updated Mikayla 3.0 – our networked talking doll guide to all things MoCC. Two research and conversation events will also contribute to our continuing public conversations around the deep connections between data, trade, place and values.

All the events are free to attend. All are welcome. Please join us to re-value contemporary commodity culture one thing at time!

Exhibition open: Thursday 24 August-Sunday 27 August 2017, 10.00am-4.00pm

Additional events on Friday 25 August:

Data walkshop with data activist Alison Powell, LSE: 10.00am-12.30pm
Building on MoCC walkshops in Finsbury Park and Exeter, Alison will be investigating data mediations in the direct vicinity of the RGS-IBG through a process of rapid group ethnography. No experience necessary. Please book here.

Our Future Heritage: curating contemporary commodity cultures: 2.00pm-4.00pm
A public conversation event hosted in the Museum of Contemporary Commodities shop-gallery space at the RGS-IBG. With contributions from: MoCC co-founders Paula Crutchlow and Ian Cook, Senior Curator V&A Corrinna Gardner, Cultural Geographer Merle Patchett, Music Sociologist Lee Marshall, and researcher, publisher and curator D-M Withers. Please book here.

MoCC was co-founded by artist-researcher Paula Crutchlow from Blind Ditch and Geographer Ian Cook from and University of Exeter. The project is being developed in partnership with Furtherfieldand a growing number of artists, academics, technologists and members of the public.

Our early prototypes and events have been kindly supported by All Change Arts, Islington Turkish, Kurdish and Cypriot Women’s Group, Islington Council, Exeter City Council, Art Week Exeter, Exeter Scrapstore, Exeter Phoenix, Exeter CVS, St Sidwells Community Centre, Exeter Library, Art Week Exeter. With many thanks to the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) for their support with this 2017 exhibition. MoCC is funded by Arts Council England, University of Exeter and the Economic and Social Science Research Council.

To find out more, please visit or follow MoCC on Twitter at @moccofficial and on Instagram at @moccguidemikayla

Reblog> No dogs, no Indians: 70 years after partition, the legacy of British colonialism endures

Stamp commemorating Indian independence

I found this piece on The Conversation, with reference to the play No dogs, no Indians by Siddhartha Bose (see the video below), by Gajendra Singh, a colleague at Exeter, an interesting and helpful intervention into the partition stories the Beeb is currently running. Definitely worth a read.

No dogs, no Indians: 70 years after partition, the legacy of British colonialism endures

The 70th anniversary of the end of Britain’s Empire in India and the birth of the post-colonial states of India and Pakistan have led to a renewed interest in the portrayal of this distant and under-explored past in British arts and the media.

It does not always make for good history. In the stories told on film, radio and television – from the film Viceroy’s House, to BBC One’s My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947 and Radio 4’s Partition Voices – complexity and context are downplayed in favour of “British” stories of colonialism, anti-colonial movements and partition violence.

Something of an antidote to this was offered by Siddhartha Bose, the London-dwelling, Bombay-raised Bengali poet and playwright, in an evening of readings, performance and discussion as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival’s own commemoration of the 70th anniversary of partition.

Bose is not a historian and does not pretend to be one, but the evening made for more interesting and innovative public history than that of efforts elsewhere. The event entitled No Dogs, No Indians: A Legacy that Lingers Long, after Bose’s recently published play, attempted to take the audience on a journey into the emotional worlds of urban life in colonial and post-colonial India.

Read the full article.


glitches image of a 1990s NASA VR experience

A bit of nostalgia… ‘practising tomorrows‘ and all that.

Lots of things to crit with the benefit of hindsight, which I’m sure some folks did – I mean, the peculiar sort of aesthetic policing implied is funny and the fact that none of the folk used as talking heads can imagine a collaborative form of authorship is quite interesting. This programme came out in 1990, around the same time Berners Lee is pioneering the web – a rather different, perhaps more “interactive” vision of ‘multimedia’ – insofar as with the web we can all contribute to the creation as well as consumption of media [he writes in the dialog box of the “Add New Post” page of the WordPress interface]…

A slightly geeky thing I appreciate though is the very clear visual reference to the 1987 Apple Computer ‘video prototype’ called ‘Knowledge Navigator‘ (<–follow the link, third video down, see also), which I’m certain is deliberate.

Making space for failure – article by Harrowell, Davies & Disney

statue of a man holding his head with his right hand

An article about making space for failure in research in The Professional Geographer caught my eye in a Twitter post today. I’ve copied the title and abstract below, with a link to the article.

Making Space for Failure in Geographic Research

The idea that field research is an inherently “messy” process has become widely accepted by geographers in recent years. There has thus far been little acknowledgment, however, of the role that failure plays in doing human geography. In this article we push back against this, arguing that failure should be recognized as a central component of what it means to do qualitative geographical field research. This article seeks to use failure proactively and provocatively as a powerful resource to improve research practice and outcomes, reconsidering and giving voice to it as everyday, productive, and necessary to our continual development as researchers and academics. This article argues that there is much value to be found in failure if it is critically examined and shared, and—crucially—if there is a supportive space in which to exchange our experiences of failing in the field.

I really value the honesty that Elly Harrowell, Thom Davies and Tom Disney bring to their accounts of how hey dealt with perceived failures in their own research. It makes me think about all sorts of things from my own research.

First, it makes me think of my own shambolic and fairly short PhD fieldwork experience. In 2008, when doingwhat was  my first ‘proper’ fieldwork I was visiting lots of different labs and research centres, driving all over ‘Silicon Valley. I attended ‘meet-ups’ and open lectures at various tech campuses as a way of networking and recruiting participants. Two memorable things stand out: first – locking myself in a toilet in a large multinational tech company HQ and being unable to get out without someone calling security for me; and second, leaving my ethics forms in a different bag and then getting roundly told off by a research participant – which led onto an interesting discussion about their own research ethics.

If you are able to laugh at yourself I think it helps. This is something I’m honestly not that good at and remembering these things can be painful. However, as Harrowell, Davies and Disney all outline in their article – failure can be productive, it can lead to different insights and reveal things for and about your research you might otherwise not appreciate.

Second, the article reminded me of a theme in my PhD research, which I didn’t really pursue – lots of the people involved in tech R&D I interviewed talked about the hidden nature of failure, that it’s an important part of their work but that, because it doesn’t lead to reward, via papers and patents, it doesn’t really get discussed or made present. The sad thing about this is that several people talked about seeing projects at other institutions that repeated their own ‘mistakes’ or ‘failures’ several years later.

This is a common theme and there’s been some commentary about this in terms of ‘scientific progress’ – in the sense that if you don’t know that other people have tried something and it didn’t work then you may well unknowingly repeat an experiment that will fail. About eight years ago this was a theme also brought up in worries about the metricisation of scientific recognition and publications and a journal was proposed and set up called the Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine.

One of the key arguments for ‘open’ research, I think, is that, if set in the right context, it offers a space for failure. Two key parts of that ‘right context’ stand out for me: First, if you are not punished (in terms of reward and recognition and wider measurements such as the UK REF) for saying ‘we tried this and it didn’t work’ more people might publish ‘negative results’. Second, others need to be able to access that information and ‘open’ research promises a means of facilitating that…

Read the article: Making Space for Failure in Geographic Research

Putting the philosophy of geography into practice – RGS-IBG 2017

conference session with someone holding up a sign saying 'dis-agree'

There are two sessions at the RGS-IBG conference this year concerned with putting the philosophy of geography into practice. These sessions have a diverse range of speakers and paper topics that address both the pleasures and the problems of ‘doing theory’ in geography – both for research and in teaching.

This is not an esoteric and navel-gazing exercise in bolstering a sense of disciplinarity or individual eminence but rather a means to discuss the relations between the everyday practises of doing geography and the, sometimes-maligned, theoretical-methodological techniques we variously employ in geographical research and teaching.

Please find below the list of papers with links to the sessions in the online conference programme.

Session 1:Putting philosophies of geography into practice in research‘ (session 88), Wednesday, Session 3 (14:40 – 16:20), Skempton Building, Room 307.

Performance, theory and economy in geography
Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)

This intervention examines the variety of relationships between performance and theory in geography. It outlines three different performances of theory in geography. One is theories of space that might be understood as a core concern of the discipline although not always expressed in geographical scholarship. Another is attempts to find space and place in forms of philosophy and theory ‘beyond’ geography. A final performance is the movement (or lack thereof) of theory through space and time, into and out of geographical scholarship. These theoretical performances each have different implications for what is understood of as geography and geographical knowledge. The intervention then moves on to examine how theorisations of performance itself cut across these three different approaches with a variety of implications for constructions of contemporary geographical knowledge. This is examined through the example of the changing parameters of ‘economic geography’ and approaches to economy in geography.

Transdisciplinarity and Translation
Keith Harris (University of Washington, USA)

This paper focuses on the problem and potential of collective knowledge production by revisiting the notion of transdisciplinarity as it was practiced by the Centre d’études, de recherches et de formation institutionnelles (CERFI). CERFI was social science research collective founded by Félix Guattari in 1967 as a practical outgrowth the Fédération des groups d’études de recherches sur la functionnement des institutions (FGERI), which he had established two years earlier in an effort to gather and intensively share research from independent research groups focused not only on psychoanalysis – Guattari’s own domain as the co-director of the La Borde psychiatric clinic in the Loire Valley – but also from “teachers and professors, urban planners, architects, economists, filmmakers, [and] alternative military service teachers” (Dosse 2010, 76; cf. Morford 1985 and Fourquet 1982). The journal Recherches (1966-1983) was the vehicle for disseminating CERFI’s and other FGERI groups’ work, and was staunchly transdisciplinary in its attempt to challenge various disciplines to articulate their research trajectories in a way that neither repeated the jargon unique to each discipline nor diluted the complexity of the research for the alleged benefit of readers from other disciplines (an approach that Guattari and Gilles Deleuze adopted in their own coauthored work). Instead, the journal was envisioned as a place where different disciplines could create “‘distinctive oppositions’ rather than remaining in antagonistic structures of mutual misunderstanding” (Guattari 1966, 3, my translation). The paper also addresses Guattari’s concept of transversality (Guattari 2015), which underpins these groups’ commitment to transdisciplinarity, and explicitly address how the contemporary activity of translating such work – in particular, my current efforts to co-translate CERFI’s research on urban problems and problematization that was published in Recherches 13 (Fourquet and Murard 1973) – extends the process of collective knowledge production both spatially and temporally, and opens up new avenues for contemporary interventions, discussions, and connections across disciplines.

Combining post-human, participatory and situated philosophies of geography: a humble research practice?
Samantha Saville (Aberystwyth University, UK)

In this paper, I explore what kinds of research practice are suggested when combining insights from posthuman philosophies and ethical leanings of participatory, co-produced, situated knowledges. I argue that one potential conceptual framework these directions could lead to is the notion of a ‘humble geography’. Through examples from my doctoral research in Svalbard, in which a humble geographic practice emerged and developed, I sketch out some ideas as to how such philosophies play out ‘in the field’ and indeed afterwards when ‘writing-up’, re-presenting and re-producing knowledges. The humble approach I outline sits at odds with traditional senses of academic authority and with rising pressures to sell oneself and work as highly impactful, important, in short anything but humble. In this way, there is scope to join thinking with the emerging ideas of slow scholarship, activist and gentle geographies.

Disruptive interventions: Art practice and the generation of politically complex cultural geographies
Veronica Vickery (University of Exeter, UK)

Current commentaries on art-geographies tend to focus on questions of inter-disciplinarity, rather than the potential for art practice-as-research to be generative of politically complex cultural geographies. Reflecting on the way that human-scaled landscape events can be haunted by deep-time Earth forces, I undertook a series of live-art-to-camera performances, leading to a productive theoretical engagement bringing new materialisms into dialogue with landscape studies. This work demonstrates the unpredictability and riskiness of researching through a critical arts practice. It also shows how these conditions, or disruptive interventions, can be generative of new ways of (body)knowing in the world; ways of knowing which in this project serve to confront the violence and contradictions of a fast changing enviro/geopolitical landscape. I propose that landscape is inherently violent, and that as such, landscaping practices are always politically differentiated and situated. It is a violence in which there can be no innocent place of on-looking; we are all mutually implicated in landscape and landscaping-practices, and indeed, the ghosts of our own vulnerabilities are never far away. Therefore, working from within an art practice—as geographical research—can contribute a perspective of political complexity and generative encounter, in which unexpected collisions, between things, practices, and bodies function to produce spatial connections beyond contemporary analysis.

Critical Realism, Spatial Relations and Social Science Research
Alan Patterson (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)

Arguing for a critical realist approach, this paper draws upon the work of Bhaskar, Sayer, and others to focus on the relational nature of causality, and the significance of this for undertaking ‘real world’ research – i.e. human geography!
The paper addresses the often ambiguous and ill-defined role of ‘space’ in social science research. Only rarely are the causal mechanisms and structures which result in spatial differentiation explicitly considered. Where attempts have been made to consider such factors this is often undertaken in a simplistic fashion, as though concrete reality was simply the result of an unproblematic ‘mapping out’ of abstract processes. These approaches are considered to be inadequate and the discussion takes up the question of the importance of spatial structures to the understanding of causal processes, and examines the implications of this for the design of social science research. In particular, an original ‘relational’ view of causality is presented (which sees reality as forged only when social objects are concretised in a specific set of spatial and temporal relations) which has the potential to resolve the incipient aspatiality of abstract research. It is concluded that the use of intensive case study methods, contextualised within a theoretically informed research design, is a fundamental requirement in order to obtain adequate explanations of complicated social phenomena.

Session 2: ‘Putting philosophies of geography into practice in teaching‘ (session 119), Wednesday, Session 4 (16:50 – 18:30), Skempton Building, Room 307.

Thinking media through the urban: Practicing geography beyond classroom and discipline
Scott Rodgers (Birkbeck, University of London, UK)

This paper addresses two linked questions. How might philosophies of geography be put into pedagogical practice beyond the classroom? And how might this pedagogical practice be negotiated, when the classroom in question lies beyond the discipline of geography? In recent years I have designed and taught a final year undergraduate module titled The Mediated City. This module, directed at media studies as well as general arts and humanities students, encourages an approach to media forms as they emerge through everyday experiences of urban environments and urban living. In so doing, the course interfaces with the ordinary modalities of Birkbeck students, who attend classes at night, tending to work during the day, and in so doing traverse all manner of London spaces. My discussion will centre on an alternative assessment used in this module, in which students build up a compilation of encountered ‘urban media’ examples including text, photos, audio, video, maps and other elements, combining the use of mobile media technologies with a personal blog. Through this coursework, students practice geographical forms of knowing through ordinary urban encounters. In opening themselves to the ordinary and unexpected, they are invited to challenge representational knowledge narrowly conceived. But for the first time in their studies, they are also asked to reckon with the more formal representational knowledge of geography-as-discipline. I will argue that in provisionally deploying geographical philosophies, beyond classroom and discipline, openings are created that challenge media centrism, encouraging students to see and experience media as inherent to their everyday worlds.

Teaching critical GIS historically
Matthew Wilson (Harvard University, USA / University of Kentucky, USA)

In the nearly twenty-years since the publication of Nadine Schuurman’s dissertation on critical GIS, there have been sustained and wide-ranging conversations around what it means to practice criticality with and about geographic information systems. For a new generation of GIScience practitioners and scholars, there is an open question around the role of an historical approach to technical training that has deep roots in early 20th century approaches to Anglophone cartographic education. More recently, advancements by feminist critiques of GIS and mapping have inspired renewed contextualization of mapping techniques, offering either/both social and historical contingencies and implications in critical GIS practice. The point, I argue, is not to teach students a singular history or origin story of geospatial innovations and techniques, but to assist students in understanding that there were many ways forward in the development of GIS and that an historical approach should inspire further tinkering and experimentation — beyond a pervasive ‘recipe-book approach’ within more conventional GIScience pedagogy. In this presentation, I overview and reflect upon both successful as well as more challenged efforts to forward a critical GIS approach in undergraduate teaching and chart an agenda of continued debate and inquiry into the role and responsibility of GIS in the discipline of Geography.

‘Geography is what Geographers do’: a Wittgensteinian reprieve
Pauline Couper (York St John University, UK)

The assertion that “Geography is what Geographers do” has been both cited and criticised for so long (e.g. Putnam, 1957; Bird, 1973; Pacione, 1987; MacDougall, 2003) that it has become something of a disciplinary cliché. When considered a definition or description of Geography the criticisms have some justification. This paper instead takes the phrase as a prompt for thinking through ‘what geographers do’ in the everyday practices through which the discipline is brought into being. It draws on Wittgenstein’s later philosophy (Philosophical Investigations, On Certainty) and the work of subsequent philosophers of education (Burbules, Smeyers) to foreground the ‘rough ground’ of everyday acts in which we exercise geographical judgment. A disconnect exists between this rough ground and the structural separation of research and teaching through funding and assessment mechanisms that provides context for (and so shapes) our work. The paper then considers the implications for geographical pedagogy, the ways in which students co-constitute the life of the discipline, and for the organisation of Geographical university education and its departments.

Theory generation in the classroom
Sam Kinsley (University of Exeter, UK)

The generations of theory in human geography are not only performed in conferences, research group meetings and conference panels but also in the classroom. This is a paper concerned with how those generations are made present. By performance of ‘generation’ I mean both the practical generating of theory, through scholarship and research, and the cultural, discursive and temporal generations of scholars themselves. The aim therefore is to sketch out how such performances may function in the classroom. In particular, I want to think through how we might tackle the ways the dialogical relations between generations in the generating of theory may lead to helpful and unhelpful ‘traditions’ (following Scott 2014) and signal how attention to this may be fruitful for the pedagogy of critique.

“Invisible Images: Ethics of Autonomous Vision Systems” Trevor Paglen at “AI Now” (video)

racist facial recognition

Via Data & Society / AI Now.

Trevor Paglen on ‘autonomous hypernormal mega-meta-realism’ (probably a nod to Curtis there). An entertaining brief talk about ‘AI’ visual recognition systems and their aesthetics.

(I don’t normally hold with laughing at your own gags but Paglen says some interesting things here – expanded upon in this piece (‘Invisible Images: Your pictures are looking at you’) and this artwork – Sight Machines [see below]).

Stiegler on holiday…

Eddie Murphy in the pool in Beverly Hills Cop 2

The usual round of posts by academics on social media about writing during the summer 'holiday' (made more frenzied by Andrew Adonis' remarks)  has made me think of Stiegler's 2012 interview in Philosophie magazine, in which he says:

To deprogram oneself necessitates keeping to very specific schedules, which are what Foucault, once again, described as techniques of the self, echoing Seneca. Holidays are a moment to practice such programmes. Myself, I use relaxation as a form of deprogramming. When I go on holiday, I work early and write all morning. Then, I swim, a lot, until that state when physical exertion stimulates a rush—because the brain produces a lot of endorphins. Swimming thus becomes a journey within oneself, during the course of which I run back through my memory of everything I wrote several hours earlier. Then I lie in the sun, drained, and I let my mind empty, since this is how unlikely thoughts can arise: something un-programmed emerges from all of this. Then I return to writing: I note all that has arisen — first in the water, then in the sun — all through rereading and annotating what I wrote in the morning.

Under the sun, I sense that this mass of hydrogen that has been combusting for several billion years is a cosmic programme that intervenes in my physiological programmes — muscles, brain, various organs — and which, in this intervention, produces a difference, a change of programme which allows me to write another kind of programme: a book in which I comment generally on other books.

Books, when they are good, are thus deprogramming programmes, unlikely programmes, like poems, in which there must be, wrote Paul Claudel, “a number that prevents counting”.

[My translation]

If only…


19 ‘AI’-related links

Twiki the robot from Buck Rogers

Here’s some links from various sources on what “AI” may or may not mean and what sorts of questions that prompts… If I was productive, not sleep-deprived (if… if… etc. etc.) I’d write something about this, but instead I’m just posting links.