I’ve been listening to the City Road podcast for a little while now, since seeing a link on twitter to an excellent conversation with Desirée Fields, and I think Dallas Rogers et al. are doing a fantastic job with this podcast. It is an academic podcast but presented and delivered in, I think, a really accessible way. To that end, I really think there are episodes that make good teaching resources. In particular this episode on ‘digital cities’ with Robyn Dowling and Sophia Maalsen will feature in the next iteration of my third year option about technology – it’s excellent.
A podcast episode of Some Noise on speciality coffee :
Since the turn of the millennium, the percentage of U.S.-based specialty coffee drinking folk, like those who have a cup everyday, has quadrupled. Travel to any major or minor city in the country, and you’ll see an offering of coffees that transcends the uniform Starbucks experience that’s on every block.
But the image that reflects after you place a mirror in front of any craft coffee company or cafe is a bit more clear, albeit unsettling. Stare at it long enough and you’ll come across matters like gentrification, the rise of the millennial-inspired yuppie wave and the old act of global economics, power dynamics and capitalism all at play.
This podcast episode explores the intricacies of coffee and attempts to answer two simple questions about one very complex drink. What makes specialty coffee special and who is it really for?
Gillian Rose has a new project, which she’s blogged about. It sounds interesting. I was sort of wondering if the analysis of a “specific way of seeing the world through digital visualising technologies emerging” might crossover with Matt Jones’ ‘sensor vernacular‘ and James Bridle‘s, and others’, conceptualisation of a ‘new aesthetic‘…
Lovely that such work is supported by an institution (Oxford). I am sure it will create all sorts of interesting linkages and conversations.
So… not been blogging for a little while.
Finally feel like I can return to this now though. I’ll try and build momentum up again. Maybe even write more of my own thoughts rather than just curate things but we’ll have to see.
I have had a lot going on outside of work. I am not keen on the apparently modish ‘confessional’ style of telling the world details of things that are uncomfortable or difficult so I’m not going to. Suffice it to say that since December things have generally been hard for me. I’m not asking for sympathy just explaining why there’s been no blogging. Work stuff for many of us has also been fraught. In some UK universities we’ve been on strike to attempt to protect our pension benefits, which the organisation supposedly representing our employers is attempting to change to our detriment. You can read more on this through the excellent ‘USSBriefs’. The strike deeply affected my teaching. My students were excellent but I have found it an emotionally fraught time.
I have tried to keep on top of things and I do have some stuff to talk about, but I confess it really is hard when my head is not really in it. Having said this, here’s what I’m thinking about…
Automation is still on the agenda for me. I am convening a double session at this years RGS-IBG conference. This will include me basically giving my pitch for a book: “The Automative Imagination” — there’s some text below  to give you sense of what that means. I had grand hopes of beginning a podcast this year to build on the ideas I had swirling around my head/laptop but with all that’s been going on – it seems like it’s all of sudden April and I’m still where I was at Christmas. I’d still like to do this though. If you’re interested in being a ‘guest’ please feel free to get in touch. I am keen!
How we theorise digital mediation in terms of spatial experience is something I will revisit in a talk next month. I will be speaking at the 2018 IRS Spring Academy on “Virtuality and Socio-Materiality”, which is the second of three ‘Spring Academies’ organised by the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS) together with different academic partners and supported by the Volkswagen Foundation, with the overall title “Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches”. I’m really grateful to Oliver Ibert and Karina Böhm at IRS who invited me and have been incredibly supportive. I have copied below my abstract . I’m sort of interested in thinking about this a bit more with a view to maybe writing something about what theorising ‘the digital’ and ‘mediation’ means or can mean for geographyland, which, it seems to me, has a fairly peculiar way of doing that theorising at present.
 The Automative Imagination
Automation is imagined as much as it is planned and enacted. There are various kinds of cultural, economic and social forms of imagination that are drawn upon and generated when discussing how automation works and the kinds of future that may come as a result. The concept of an ‘automative imagination’ is proposed as a means of articulating these different, sometimes competing – sometimes complementary, orientations towards automation. The neologism ‘automative’ is not used here to assert discursive authority but rather as a pragmatic tool – to speak of an ‘automated’ or ‘automatic’ imagination does not describe the characteristics of automation but suggests the imagining is itself automated, which is not the argument I am seeking to make. My aim is not to validate/invalidate particular narratives of automation – but instead to think about how they are produced and what they tell us about how we tell stories about what it means to be ‘human’, who/what has agency and what this may mean for how we think politically and spatially.
 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 hand 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 of ‘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.
P.S. Title of the post comes from this…
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 Maier, Daniela 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.
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.
Via the Gender, Place and Culture blog.
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
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:
- Rise of the robots and all the lonely people (13/12/17)
- Don’t like talking to people? Automation will save us from the hellscape of human interaction (13/12/17)
- Robots can set us free and reverse decline, says Labour’s Tom Watson (10/12/17)
- The rise of the robots brings threats and opportunities [letters] (26/11/17)
- Meet your new cobot: is a machine coming for your job? (25/11/17)
- The Guardian view on productivity: the robots are coming [Editorial] (25/11/17)
- Philip Hammond pledges driverless cars by 2021 and warns people to retrain (23/11/17)
- From Peppa Pig to Trump, the web is shaping us. It’s time we fought back (17/11/17)
- Truck drivers like me will soon be replaced by automation. You’re next (17/11/17)
- The machine age is upon us. We must not let it grind society to pieces [by Chuka Amunna MP] (14/11/17)
- Swift action needed to set framework for AI and machine learning [Letter/op-ed] (10/11/17)
I came across this via Thomas Dekysser and AdDistortion on Twitter.
Just as with the old Nokia 3220 “funshell” LEDs the principle seems to be that if you turn your head (rather than the device being turned) the advert/picture appears to ‘drag’ out of the light unit.
This obviously presents yet another level of issues around the uses of ‘public’ space and what reasonable expectations of intrusion into one’s attention/vision/cognition might be made, what constitutes ‘choice’ in terms of exposure to these images and lots more things besides…
In this short interview published inLibérationin March 2017, Bernard Stiegler reprises his argument for a contributory income, as is being trialled in the Plaine-Commune experiment. This is more or less the same argument and ideas presented in previous interviews I’ve translated, such as the Humanité interview, in which Stiegler attempts to provide the answer (albeit rather sweeping) to an incredibly gloomy prognosis of unemployment through full automation and peniary for the majority and with it the ever increasing loss of knowledge. Stiegler’ solution is the economic recognition of the value of work that currently is not captured economically. The device to achieve this is the contributory income, which unlike the Universal Basic Income seems to have a vague set of conditions attached.
The main idea here is Stiegler’s interesting distinction between what you get paid for and what you *do* – your employment [emploi] and your work [travail] – which gets to the heart of a whole host of debates (some that are quite long-running) around what we do that is or is not ‘work’ and how/whether or not it gets economically valued. It also builds on longstanding discussion about knowledge and care as a therapeutic relation [with each other, society, technology and so on] by Stiegler [see, for example, the Disbelief and Discredit series]. I think this may be useful for some of the critical attention to the gig economy and the ways in which people are responding to the current bout of automation anxiety/ ‘rise of the robots’ hand-wringing.
What is interesting to me about this interview is how little it moves on from Stiegler’s past articulations of this argument. There’s some sweeping generalisations about the extent and impact of automation based on questionable and contested sources (which I think does a disservice to Stiegler’s intellectual project). It is curious that the contributory income is still talked about in such vague terms. It is supposedly an active experiment in Plaine-Commune, so surely there’s a little more detail that could be elaborated? It would be interesting to see some more detailed discussion about this [sorry if I’ve missed it somewhere!].
The principle basis of the contributory income seems to be a fairly institutional (and as far as I can tell – peculiarly French) state programme for supporting workers in the creative industries. As in previous written work and interviews, Stiegler uses the idea of the “intermittents” or “intermittents du spectacle” to signify the idea of work that is subsidised through some form of state administered allowance, such as unemployment benefit. In France people working in the performing arts are entitled to claim for social security benefits designed for people without regular employment [as per the definition provided by Larousse online.]
So, here’s a fairly quick translation of the interview. As usual clarifications or queries about terms are in [square brackets]. I welcome comments or corrections!
The philosopher Bernard Stiegler determines a difference between employment, which today is largely proletarianised, and work, which transforms the world through knowledge, and thus cultivates wealth.
Philosopher, Director of the Institute of Research and Innovation (IRI) of the Georges-Pompidou centre and founder of the Ars Industrialis association, Bernard Stiegler has for several years concerned himself with the effects of automation and robotisation. He has notably published The Automatic Society 1: The Future of Work (Fayard 2015) and In Disruption: How not to go mad?(Les liens qui libèrent, 2016). Today he is deeply engaged with a project which beings together nine towns in the Plaine-Commune territory, in Seine-Saint-Denis, to develop and experiment with a “contributive income” which would fund activities that go unrecognised but are useful to the community.
Amazon intends to gain a foothold in the groceries sector with cashier-less convenience stores, like in Seattle. Is automation destined to destroy jobs?
For 47% of jobs in the US, the response from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is potentially “yes”. The remaining 53% cannot be automated because they are professional roles. They are not proletarianised: they are valued for their knowledge, which gives a capacity for initiative. What makes a profession is what is not reducible to computation, or rather reducible to the processing of data by algorithms. Not all jobs can therefore be automated. But this does not mean they are entirely removed from the processes of automation: everyone will be integrated into automatisms.
For you “employment” and “work” are not the same thing…
For two hundred and fifty years the model of industrial employment has been proletarianised employment, which has continued to grow. At first it was only manual workers, today it has largely exceeded the tertiary sector and affects nearly every task. More and more functions of supervision and even analysis have been proletarianised, for example by ‘big data’, doctors have been proletarianised – which means they are performing less and less of their profession. Proletarianised employment is sublimated by closed and immovable system. Work, on the contrary, transforms the world. So there is employment that does not produce work in this sense, rather the reverse: there is work outside of employment.
The big question for tomorrow is that of the link between automatisms, work outside of employment, and the new types of employment that enable the valroisation of work. The aim of contributive income is precisely to enable the reorganisation of the wealth produced by work in all its forms and cultivate, using the time freed up by automation, the forms of knowledge that the economy will increasingly demand in the anthropocene, this era in which the human has become a major geological factor. It is a case of surpassing the limits through an economy founded on the deproletarianisation of employment.
Optimistic discussions would like automation to free individuals, by eliminating arduous, alienating jobs. But today, it is mostly perceived as a threat…
It is a threat as long as we do not put in place the macroeconomic evolution required by deproletarianisation. The macroeconomy in which we have lived since the conservative revolution is a surreptitious, hypocritical and contradictory transformation of the Keynesian macroeconomics established in 1933. Contradictory because employment remains the central function of redistribution, whereas its reduction, and that of wages, drives the system as a whole towards insolvency.
Employment can no longer be the model for the redistribution of value. And this can no longer be limited to the relationship between use value and exchange value. Use value has become a value of usury, that is to say a disposable value that “trashes” the world – goods become waste, as do people, societies and cultures. The old American Way of Life no longer works: which is why Trump was elected… However if employment is destroyed it is necessary to redistribute not only purchasing power but also purchasing knowledge by reorganising all alternative employment and work.
In what way?
We must rebuild the economy by restoring value to knowledge. Proletarianised employment will disappear with full automation. We must create new kinds of employment, what we call irregular employment [emplois intermittents]. They will constitute intermittent periods in which instances of work that are not instances of employment are economically valued. The work itself will be remunerated by a contributory income allocated under conditions of intermittent employment, as is already the case in the creative industries.
In Intermittents et précaires [something like ~ Intermittent and precarious workers] Antonella Corsani and Maurizio Lazzarato that irregular workers in the creative industries [intermittents du spectacle] work mostly when they are not employed: employment is foremost a moment of implementing the knowledge that they cultivate outside of employment. We must encourage the winning back of knowledge, in every area [of work]. This implies on the one hand to evolve the relationship between individuals and education systems as well as professional associations lifelong learning and so on.
And, on the other hand, to precisely distinguish between information and knowledge. Automated systems have transformed knowledge into information. But this is only dead knowledge. To overcome the anthropocene we must resuscitate knowledge by inteligently practising information – through alternative periods of work and employment. Only in this way can we re-stabilise the economy, where the problems induced by climate change, for example, are only just beginning, and where vital constraint [contrainte vitale] is going to be exercised more and more as a criterion of value. It is a long term objective… But today, what should we do? Nobody can pull a rabbit out of their hat to solve the problem. We must therefore experiment. This is what we are doing with the Plaine-Commune project in Seine-Saint-Denis, which in particular aims to gradually introduce a contributory income according to the model of irregular work [l’intermittence]. With the support of the Fondation de France, we are working with residents in partnership with the Établissement public territorial [something like a unitary authority area?], Orange, Dassault Systèmes and the Maison des sciences de l’homme Paris-Nord [a local Higher Education Institution]–and through them the universities Paris 8 and Paris 13– in dialogue with small and medium enterprises, associations, cooperatives and mutual associations [les acteurs de l’économie sociale et solidaire], artists, cultural institutions. It’s a ten-year project.