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).

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

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:

Disturbed vision… EchoMedia ‘Lightvert’

Still from the film "They Live"

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…

“Reconstructing the economy by rediscovering the value of knowledge” an interview with Bernard Stiegler [translation]

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

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!

Bernard Stiegler: “Reconstructing the economy by rediscovering the value of knowledge”

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.

Funded PhD places in geography at Exeter

University of Exeter

As part of the ESRC-funded South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP), Geography at Exeter has access to funding for PhD research and we’re keen to receive applications.

There are lots of opportunities for researching with some fantastic researchers, in a lively department with plenty of support – not only from the department and the university but also from the SWDTP.

We have a number of research groups and quite a few internationally renowned colleagues who cover a wide spread of research in geography. Check out some of the people currently doing their research in the SWDTP too.

You could even work with me 🙂 I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone looking to take further their research ideas broadly around technology, so please feel free to contact me.

If you’re a colleague at another institution and would like to put students in touch with us – please do! I’m happy to help with that – just drop me an email.

If you’re interested please do visit our PGR studentships information page or get in touch!

CFP: RGS-IBG 2018 – New geographies of automation?

Still from the video for All is Love by Bjork

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):

  • AI, machine learning and cognitive work
  • Automation and bias
  • Autonomy, agency and law-making
  • Automated governance
  • Boosterism and tales of automation
  • The economics of automation
  • Material cultures of robots
  • Mobilities and materialities of ‘driver-less’ vehicles
  • Robotics and the everyday
  • Techno-bodily relations of automation
  • Working with robots

Cartoon about automation by Drew Sheneman

Reblog> (video): Gillian Rose – Tweeting the Smart City

Smart City visualisation

Via The Programmable City.

Seminar 2 (video): Gillian Rose – Tweeting the Smart City

We are delighted to share the video of our second seminar in our 2017/18 series, entitled Tweeting the Smart City: The Affective Enactments of the Smart City on Social Media given by Professor Gillian Rose from Oxford University on the 26th October 2017 and co-hosted with the Geography Department at Maynooth University.Abstract
Digital technologies of various kinds are now the means through which many cities are made visible and their spatialities negotiated. From casual snaps shared on Instagram to elaborate photo-realistic visualisations, digital technologies for making, distributing and viewing cities are more and more pervasive. This talk will explore some of the implications of that digital mediation of urban spaces. What forms of urban life are being made visible in these digitally mediated cities, and how? Through what configurations of temporality, spatiality and embodiment? And how should that picturing be theorised? Drawing on recent work on the visualisation of so-called ‘smart cities’ on social media, the lecture will suggest the scale and pervasiveness of digital imagery now means that notions of ‘representation’ have to be rethought. Cities and their inhabitants are increasingly mediated through a febrile cloud of streaming image files; as well as representing cities, this cloud also operationalises particular, affective ways of being urban. The lecture will explore some of the implications of this shift for both theory and method as well as critique.