Automating inequality – Virginia Eubanks and interlocutors [video]

Still from George Lucas' THX1138

This Data & Society talk by Virginia Eubanks on her book Automating Inequality followed by a discussion with Alondra Nelson and Julia Angwin is excellent. This seems like vital empirical analysis and insights that flesh out what is, perhaps, frequently gestured towards by ‘critical algorithm studies’ folks – ‘auditing algorithms’, analysing what’s in the black box, how systems function and what is their material and socio-economic specificity and what then can we learn about how particular forms of actually existing automation (and not simply abstract ideals) function.

Eubanks talks for the first 20-ish minutes and then there’s a discussion that follows. This is really worth watching if you’re interested in doing algorithm studies type work and in doing ‘digital geographies’ that don’t simply lapse into ontology talk.

Investigating Space(s): Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches: Virtuality and Socio-Materiality IRS Spring Academy

Facial tracking system, showing gaze direction, emotion scores and demographic profiling

I will be a ‘keynote’ at the IRS Spring Academy this year, which is concerned with ways of addressing ‘virtuality and socio-materiality’. Other speakers and contributors to the Spring Academy include: Annett Heft, Brian J. Hracs, Gertraud Koch, Daniel MaierDaniela Stoltenberg and Matt Zook.

I’ll be talking about ways of theorising space and spatial experience for ‘digital’ things. I’ve copied my abstract below, as well as the details of the Spring Academy.

This is a really good opportunity for PhD students – it is free (including travel and subsistence, as far as I can tell) and there are lots of interesting things going throughout the week. I encourage people to take a look, consider applying and/or sharing with others who might benefit from this opportunity.

My talk:

Worrying realities: spatial theory and digital geographies

As practitioners of a ‘spatial science’ geographers frequently espouse forms of ‘spatial’ theory, yet the ambiguities of mediation through technologies produces enduring disagreements over the nature of that mediation. While prominent geographical theorists have asserted a relational nature of space on the one hand, on the other –binaries of ‘real’/’virtual’ worlds remain common currency in the study and theorisation of ‘digital geographies’. There is a sense in which geographers concerned with ‘the digital’, or ‘the virtual’, continue to both worry and worry about the nature ‘reality’. This talk addresses forms of theorising and problematising ‘the digital’ for geographical research. Rather than asserting a ‘correct’ form of theory, the concern here is to attempt to tease out productive ways to theorise whatever it is that we variously address as ‘cyberspace’, ‘the digital’, mediation and ‘the virtual’. The aim is to think about what it means to ‘do theory’ in relation to such concerns. Thus while there is necessarily an abstract side to such discussions, the kinds of theorising addressed will be grounded in examples taken from contemporary research and popular culture.

IRS Spring Academy 2018

In the past two decades the interdisciplinary field between spatial and social sciences has undergone an extraordinarily dynamic development with a high potential for innovation. On the one hand, many social-scientific disciplines performed a “spatial turn” and became more interested in integrating spatial concepts and terminology. On the other hand, disciplines like human geography or spatial planning, understand space less as an exclusive object of analysis and instead emphasize a “spatial perspective” as a shared ontological ground. This has opened up a broad “trading zone” within which novel conceptualizations of space and spatiality are negotiated in an inter-disciplinary field. Against this background, the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS) together with different academic partners and supported by the Volkswagen Foundation organizes a series of three successive Spring Academies entitled “Investigating Space(s): Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches”.

Each event focuses on different aspects of the emergent thriving field. The opening event, on “Temporality and Procedurality”, already took place in 2017. Part 2 on “Virtuality and Socio-Materiality” is addressed with this call for applications and will take place from 22 to 25 May 2018. Part 3 on “Topologies” will follow in 2019.

The IRS Spring Academy (Part 2) is organized with the participation of the collaborative project “Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society”, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

See the full website and the call for participation (PDF).

Retooling ‘the human’ – animal constructions and technical knowledge

A crow using a stick as a tool

A really interesting review, by Emma Stamm, of what seems like an equally interesting book: Ashley Shew’s Animal Constructions and Technical Knowledge. Full review on Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective.

In its investigation of the flaws of anthropocentrism, Animal Constructions implies a deceptively straightforward question: what work does “the human clause” do for us? —  in other words, what has led “the human” to become so inexorably central to our technological and philosophical consciousness? Shew does not address this head-on, but she does give readers plenty of material to begin answering it for themselves. And perhaps they should: while the text resists ethical statements, there is an ethos to this particular question.

Applied at the societal level, an investigation of the roots of “the human clause” could be leveraged toward democratic ends. If we do, in  fact, include tools made and used by nonhuman animals in our definition of technology, it may mar the popular image of technological knowledge as a sort of “magic” or erudite specialization only accessible to certain types of minds. There is clear potential for this epistemological position to be advanced in the name of social inclusivity.

Whether or not readers detect a social project among the conversations engaged by Animal Constructions, its relevance to future studies is undeniable. The maps provided by Animal Constructions and Technical Knowledge do not tell readers where to go, but will certainly come in useful for anybody exploring the nonhuman territories of 21st century. Indeed, Animal Construction and Technical Knowledge is not only a substantive offering to philosophy of technology, but a set of tools whose true power may only be revealed in time.

Reblog> WIAS Workshop: Academic Labour, Digital Media and Capitalism 31/01/18

Glitched screenshot of Antony Sher in Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man

Saw this via Phoebe Moore:

WIAS Workshop: Academic Labour, Digital Media and Capitalism

by Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies

This workshop marks the publication of the special issue “Academic Labour, Digital Media and Capitalism” in tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. We will hear presentations by experts who have contributed to the issue: guest editor Thomas Allmer (University of Stirling), Karen Gregory (University of Edinburgh) and Jamie Woodcock (LSE).

Modern universities have always been embedded in capitalism in political, economic and cultural terms. In 1971, at the culmination of the Vietnam War, a young student pointed a question towards Noam Chomsky: “How can you, with your very courageous attitude towards the war in Vietnam, survive in an institution like MIT, which is known here as one of the great war contractors and intellectual makers of this war?” Chomsky had to admit that his workplace was a major organisation conducting war research, thereby strengthening the political contradictions and inequalities in capitalist societies.

Today, universities are positioning themselves as active agents of global capital, transforming urban spaces into venues for capital accumulation and competing for international student populations for profit. Steep tuition fees are paid for precarious futures. Increasingly, we see that the value of academic labour is measured in capitalist terms and therefore subject to new forms of control, surveillance and productivity measures. Situated in this economic and political context, the new special issue of tripleC (edited by Thomas Allmer and Ergin Bulut) is a collection of critical contributions that examine universities, academic labour, digital media and capitalism.


Workshop presentations:

Anger in Academic Twitter: Sharing, Caring, and Getting Mad Online
Karen Gregory, University of Edinburgh

Digital Labour in the University: Understanding the Transformations of Academic Work in the UK
Jamie Woodcock, LSE

Theorising and Analysing Academic Labour
Thomas Allmer, University of Stirling

The workshop will be chaired by WIAS Director and tripleC co-editor Christian Fuchs. WIAS invites everybody interested to attend this afternoon of talks and discussions tackling the question of academic labour in the age of digital capitalism. A coffee break is provided.

Thomas Allmer is Lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Stirling, Scotland, UK, and a member of the Unified Theory of Information Research Group, Austria. His publications include Towards a Critical Theory of Surveillance in Informational Capitalism (Peter Lang, 2012) and Critical Theory and Social Media: Between Emancipation and Commodification (Routledge, 2015). For more information, see Thomas’ website.

Karen Gregory is a Lecturer in Digital Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, a digital sociologist and ethnographer. She researches the relationship between work, technology, and emerging forms of labour, exploring the intersection of work and labor, social media use, and contemporary spirituality. She is the co-editor of the book Digital Sociologies (Policy Press, 2017).

Jamie Woodcock is a fellow at the LSE and author of Working The Phones. His current research focuses on digital labour, the sociology of work, the gig economy, resistance, and videogames. He has previously worked as a postdoc on a research project about videogames, as well as another on the crowdsourcing of citizen science. Jamie completed his PhD in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and has held positions at Goldsmiths, University of Leeds, University of Manchester, Queen Mary, NYU London, and Cass Business School.

Christian Fuchs is Professor at the University of Westminster. He is the Director of the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) and Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies (WIAS). His fields of expertise are critical digital & social media studies, Internet & society, political economy of media and communication, information society theory, social theory and critical theory. He co-edits the open-access journal triple:Communication, Capitalism & Critique with Marisol Sandoval.

CFP – Beyond measure, ephemera journal

Generative Artwork Forkbomb, by Alex McLean, glitched

This looks interesting…

Beyond measure

submission deadline 1 March 2018

PDF icon CfP Beyond measure.pdf

Issue editors: Nick Butler, Helen Delaney, Emilie Hesselbo and Sverre Spoelstra

Measurement is a central task of capitalist organization. From the days of the industrial factory, when labour first came to be measured in hours, through to the time-motion studies under Taylorist regimes, measurement has involved the optimization of surplus value extraction from labour. During the 20th century, these techniques of measurement were complemented by more intrusive forms of quantification such as the use of psychological testing in the human relations school.

The will to quantify continues today with balanced scorecards and activity-based costing (Power, 2004), the discourse of employability (Chertkovskaya, et al., 2013), the monitoring of work in the service economy (Dowling, 2007), and the performativity of economics (Callon, 1998). At the same time, others point to the impossibility of measuring affective work and immaterial labour (Hardt and Negri, 2000). More generally, ‘trust in numbers’ (Porter, 1995) – based on a longstanding infatuation with the ideal of objectivity (Stengers, 2000) – is becoming characteristic of a totally quantified society in which we keep track of our diet, fitness, sleeping habits, and menstrual cycles via digital tracking technologies (Charitsis, 2016).

Quantification also lies at the heart of knowledge production in the business school (Zyphur et al., 2016). Ever since the early influence of Paul Lazarsfeld (1993) in the post-war years, management science has been preoccupied with the measurement of ‘objects’, ranging from things that are straightforwardly measurable (e.g. the height of employees in leadership positions) to things that are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify (e.g. charisma, authenticity, ethics). Despite a half-century of criticism directed at the positivist tradition in the social sciences, management science still holds to the McNamara fallacy: ‘If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist’. The politics of measurement in management theory and practice – and its link to the logic of capitalist exploitation – therefore deserve sustained critical scrutiny.

For this ephemera special issue, we invite papers that explore the stakes of measuring organizations and their members – especially in contested zones of quantification. For instance, what happens when employees are measured not just in terms of productivity but also their health and well-being (Cederström and Spicer, 2015)? What happens when leaders are measured not just in terms of bottom-line performance but also their authenticity or spirituality (Ford and Harding, 2011)? Closer to home, what happens when academics are measured not just in terms of the quality of their scholarship but also their citation rate and H-index (Nkomo, 2009)?

But we are also interested in what is beyond measure – that is, the relation between organizing and the immeasurable. Here, religion and spirituality come into view. One may think of themes such as the call for a ‘higher purpose’ in work, the role of faith and spirituality in business, and the presence of organizational figures who defy measurement (idols, spirits, ghosts, monsters, etc.). Deleuze (1995: 181) famously said that the idea that organizations have a soul is ‘the most terrifying news in the world’. For us, this is no longer news but perhaps all the more terrifying for it.

Efforts to quantify aspects of our organizational lives give rise to new and complex ethical questions around work, identity and politics. We therefore invite submissions that may include, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • Measuring organizations, management and leadership
  • The excessive, the limitless and the infinite
  • Big data and algorithmic management
  • The quantified self and digital measurement technologies
  • The turn to ‘objectivity’ in the social sciences
  • Zero and nothingness
  • The performativity of measures
  • Value theory and the immeasurability of labour
  • The reevaluation of values
  • Faith and spirituality in business
  • Time-motion studies and their contemporary equivalents
  • Death and ‘the great beyond’ in organization
  • The use of psychometric instruments in management theory and practice
  • Commensuration and incommensurability in organizational theory and practice
  • The politics of performance audits
  • Measuring the immeasurable

Deadline and further information

The deadline for submissions is 1st March 2018. All submissions should be sent to one of the special issue editors: Nick Butler (nick.butler@sbs.su.se), Helen Delaney (h.delaney@auckland.ac.nz), Emilie Hesselbo (emilie.hesselbo@fek.lu.se) or Sverre Spoelstra (sverre.spoelstra@fek.lu.se)ephemeraencourages contributions in a variety of formats including articles, notes, interviews, book reviews, photo essays and other experimental modes of representation. The submissions will undergo a double-blind review process. All submissions should follow ephemera’s submission guidelines, which are available at: http://www.ephemerajournal.org/how-submit (see ‘Abc of formatting’ guide). For further information, please contact one of the special issue editors.

Reblog> Celebrating 25 years of Gender, Place and Culture

Via the Gender, Place and Culture blog.

Celebrating 25 years of Gender, Place and Culture: a note on our celebrations and the ’25 blogs’ series, by Editor Pamela Moss

It is wonderful that Gender, Place and Culture is celebrating 25 years of publication. As part of this celebration, throughout the year, Gender, Place and Culture will be a sponsor for lectures and sessions at multiple conferences. There will be a series of reviews of some of the influential books within the discipline that give some insight into how feminist geographies came to be. We will also publish a number of journal articles that show how they have transformed the wider discipline of geography, what issues are important to feminist geographies now, and what the future may hold. If this is something that appeals to you, you can find out more about it here.

The introduction of this website for Gender, Place and Culture has also opened up a new venue for publishing. In addition to announcements and calls associated with the journal, the blog has been an opportunity to write about the things feminist geographers immerse themselves in every day – what is done well and what can be done better!

In celebration of turning 25 and in honouring our commitment to showcasing the contributions of feminist geographers in the field, Anna Tarrant and Lisa Dam have commissioned a new set of blogs to be published throughout the year that speak to the interests of feminist geographers – whether it be a reflection on the ethics of research practice, on a moment in the history of the discipline, or on how to survive the challenging times we live in. We invite you to keep up with us as we post a new blog (hopefully more!) roughly every month.

We know that the field is flourishing. And it has been mostly about you – your research, your scholarship, your reviews, your commitment, your feminism, and your interest in feminist geographies! If you have an idea that you want to blog about this year in order to contribute to our celebrations – let Anna and Lisa know at gpcat25@gmail.com.

A reminder: CFP > New Geographies of Automation? RGS-IBG 2018, Cardiff

Still from the video for All is Love by Bjork

A friendly reminder and invitation to submit ideas for the below proposed session for the RGS-IBG annual conference in late August in Cardiff.

My aim with this session is to convene a conversation about as wide a range of tropes about automation as possible. Papers needn’t be empirical per se or about actually existing automation, they could equally be about the rationales, promises or visions for automation. Likewise, automation has been about for a while, so historical geographies of automation, in agriculture for example, or policies for automation that have been tried and failed would be also welcome.

There all sorts of ways that ‘automation’ has been packaged in other rubrics, such as ‘smart’ things, cities and so on, or perhaps become a ‘fig leaf’ or ‘red herring’ to cover for unscrupulous activities, such as iniquitous labour practices.

I guess what I’m driving at is – I welcome any and all ideas relevant to the broad theme!

New Geographies of Automation?

Please send submissions (titles, abstracts (250 words) and author details) to me by 31st January 2018.

This session invites papers that respond to the variously promoted or forewarned explosion of automation and the apparent transformations of culture, economy, labour and workplace we are told will ensue. Papers are sought from any and all branches of geography to investigate what contemporary geographies of automation may or should look like, how we are/could/should be doing them and to perhaps question the grandiose rhetoric of alarmism/boosterism of current debates.

Automation has been the recent focus of hyperbolic commentary in print and online. We are warned by some of the ‘rise of the robots’ (Ford 2015) sweeping away whole sectors of employment or by others exhorted to strive towards ‘fully automated luxury communism’ (Srnicek & Williams 2015). Beyond the hyperbole it is possible to trace longer lineages of geographies of automation. Studies of the industrialisation of agriculture (Goodman & Watts 1997); Fordist/post-Fordist systems of production (Harvey 1989); shifts to globalisation (Dicken 1986) and (some) post-industrial societies (Clement & Myles 1994) stand testament to the range of work that has addressed the theme of automation in geography. Indeed, in the last decade geographers have begun to draw out specific geographical contributions to debates surrounding ‘digital’ automation. From a closer attention to labour and workplaces (Bissell & Del Casino 2017) to the interrogation of automation in governance and surveillance across a range of scales (Amoore 2013, Kitchin & Dodge 2011) – the processes and experiences of automation have (again) become a significant concern for geographical research.

The invitation of this session is for papers that consider contemporary discussions, movements and propositions of automation from a geographical perspective (in the broadest sense).

Examples of topics might include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Promises of ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent environments
  • Identity, difference and machines
  • ‘Algorithmic’ places/spaces
  • Activism for/against automation
  • Autonomous weapons systems
  • Robotics and the everyday
  • Techno-bodily relations of automation
  • Working with robots
  • AI, machine learning and cognitive work
  • Automation and bias
  • Sovereignty, law-making and automated systems
  • Automated governance and policing
  • Boosterism and tales of automation
  • The economics of automation
  • Material cultures of robots
  • Mobilities and materialities of ‘driver-less’ vehicles

Cartoon about automation by Drew Sheneman

Reblog> Call for papers: “Human-technology relations: postphenomenology and philosophy of technology”

Via Peter-Paul Verbeek.

Call for papers: “Human-technology relations: postphenomenology and philosophy of technology”

The international conference “Human-Technology Relations: Postphenomenology and Philosophy of Technology” will take place on July 11-13, 2018 at the University of Twente, the Netherlands. The conference intends to bring together philosophers, scholars, artists, designers, and engineers in order to foster dialogue and creative collaborations around the interactions between humans, technologies, and society. As has been emphasized by several authors (e.g. Ihde, Haraway, Feenberg, Vallor, Latour, Verbeek), we cannot uphold strict distinctions between humans and technologies. As human beings, we are always interwoven with technologies in our daily practices. This conference aims to reflect on the consequences of this idea in philosophy, ethics, science, sociology, design, art, politics, anthropology, engineering, etc.

We welcome abstract submissions for posters, papers, panels, and workshops:

* Papers – abstract 250 words, and up to three keywords [20 minutes talk, 10 minutes for discussion].

* Panel proposals – can consist of up to 4 abstracts (see above), should include a general description (200 words) and the CV of participants and organiser.

* Posters – abstract 250 words, and up to three keywords. (Master students only, there will be a poster competition) .

* Workshops – description of 250 words, specific requirements.

Abstracts, along with a short CV, should be sent to phtr2018@gmail.com.

For an extended call for papers and description of the conference, please, visit https://www.utwente.nl/en/phtr/Call%20for%20Papers/

The conference is organized and financially supported by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) Project Theorizing Technological Mediation.

‘An Encounter Between Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads Again’ Nijmegen 11-12 Jan. 2018

Via Yuk Hui. Fascinating line-up of speakers:

International Expert Workshop: ‘An Encounter Between Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads Again’

Nijmegen, 11-12 January 2018Organized by Pieter Lemmens (Radboud University) and Yoni Van Den Eede (Free University of Brussels)

Quo vadis philosophy of technology? The defining moment in contemporary philosophy of technology has undoubtedly been the “empirical turn” of the 1990s and 2000s. Contra older, so-called essentialist approaches that saw technology as an all-encompassing phenomenon or force, the turn inaugurated more “micro-level” analyses of technologies studied in their specific use contexts. However, the empirical turn is now increasingly being called into question, with scholars asking whether the turn has not been pushed too far – certainly given recent technological developments that seem to give technology an all-encompassing or all-penetrating countenance (again): pervasive automation through algorithms and (ro)bots, nanoprobes, biotechnology, neurotechnology, etc. Also, the ecological urgency characterizing our “anthropocenic condition” appears to call for more broad-ranging perspectives than the mere analysis of concrete use contexts. At the same time, nevertheless, the “empirical attitude” keeps demonstrating its usefulness for the philosophical study of technologies on a day-to-day basis… Where do we go from here?

This two-day workshop will be dedicated to these questions by way of an encounter between two leading “streams” in philosophical thinking on technology today. Quite literally we organize an dialogue between two key figures, Don Ihde and Bernard Stiegler, and their respective frameworks: postphenomenology-mediation theory and techno-phenomenology-general organology. Together with these two thinkers and a select group of scholars, we will reflect upon the near-future form that philosophical thinking on technology should take in a world struggling with multiple global crises – the planetary ecological crisis being the gravest one.

Speakers: Prof. dr. Don Ihde (Stony Brook University), Prof. dr. Bernard Stiegler (University of Compiègne), Prof. dr. Mark Coeckelberg (University of Vienna), Dr. Yoni van den Eede (Free University of Brussels), Dr. Yuk Hui (Leuphana University), Dr. Pieter Lemmens (Radboud University), Dr. Helena de Preester (Ghent University), Prof. dr. Robert C. Scharff (University of New Hampshire), Dr. Dominic Smith (University of Dundee), Prof. dr. Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente), Dr. Galit Wellner (Tel Aviv University)

Venue: Villa Oud Heyendael, Rene? Descartesdreef 21, 6525 GL Nijmegen (Campus RU)
Time: 11 and 12 January 2018, 10.00h – 17.30h

More information: http://www.ru.nl/ftr/actueel/agenda/@1134542/expert-seminar-philosophy-technology-at-the/

Made possible by the the Faculty of Science, the Institute for Science in Society, the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, the International Office of Radboud University and the Centre for Ethics and Humanism, Free University of Brussels (VUB)

The Guardian of automation

Still from the video for All is Love by Bjork

I have been looking back over the links to news articles I’ve been collecting together about automation and I’ve been struck in particular by how the UK newspaper The Guardian has been running at least one story a week concerning automation in the last few months (see their “AI” category for examples, or the list below). Many are spurred from reports and press releases about particular things, so it’s not like they’re unique in pushing these narratives but it is striking, not least because lots of academics (that I follow anyway) share these stories on Twitter and it becomes a self-reinforcing, somewhat dystopian (‘rise of the robots’) narrative. I’m sure that we all adopt appropriate critical distance when reading such things but… there is a sense in which the ‘robots are coming for our jobs’ sort of arguments are being normalised and sedimented without a great deal of public critical reflection.

We might ask in response to the automation taking jobs arguments: who says? (quite often: management consultants and think tanks) and: how do they know? It seems to me that the answers to those questions are pertinent and probably less clear, and so interesting(!), than one might imagine.

Here’s a selection of the Graun’s recent automation coverage: