Book review forum on Andrew Barry’s Material Politics

I’m a bit late to this but… In the latest issue of Dialogues in Human Geography there is a book review forum on Andrew Barry’s Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline. This book review forum follows on from an excellent ‘author meets interlocutors’ session at last year’s RGS-IBG annual conference.

The book itself is an interesting foray into thinking through the kinds of politics Barry was already moving towards in his Political Machines, and ties together a variegated assemblage of people, ideas, events and artefacts.

The contributions (which include one from my colleague Gail Davies) are thoughtful and provocative, ranging across the various intellectual terrains Barry addresses and I encourage people to read the whole forum. Unfortunately, this journal is behind the paywall and so access is limited.

Algorithmic Practices: Emergent interoperability in the everyday

This year the RGS-IBG Annual Conference will be coming to the University of Exeter, my institution, and there are some exciting sessions already in the pipelines. I wanted to bring one to the attention of those that happen to look at this website:

Algorithmic Practices: Emergent interoperability in the everyday

Sponsored by: the History and Philosophy of Geography Study Group
Convened by: Eric Laurier and Chris Speed (Edinburgh) and Monika Buscher (Lancaster)

An ever-increasing proportion of the interactions that we have with digital platforms, apps and devices are mediated according to complex algorithms. Whether it be the real time analytics that draw us into playing a game on our phone, or tailored recommendations built from our historical searching and buying habits, we structure our daily lives in response to ‘performative infrastructures’ (Thrift, 2005: 224), most of them hidden deliberately by their makers.

Yet, in responding to the summons, the predictions, the recommendations, the help, the calculations that occur as platforms try to anticipate our next actions, we are learning how they work and don’t work. In our ad hoc assemblies of devices, apps and screens we short cut and re-make algorithms. For instance, in disaster response, ad hoc interoperability and agile response are creating incentives for ‘systems of systems’ that allow locally accomplished convergence of diverse information systems, with implications for data surge capacity as well as protection and privacy (Mendonça et al 2007).

Described as “a structured approach to real-time mixing and matching of diverse ICTs to support individuals and organizations in undertaking response”, emergent interoperability maybe becoming common place in less dramatic daily practices as individuals negotiate the range of algorithms that “react and reorganize themselves around the users” (Beer 2009).

This panel invites papers and presentations that provide insight into conditions and settings in which emergent operability and interoperability occurs within society.

Areas of interest:

  • Dashboards, decongestion, security and the other promises of smart cities (Kitchin 2014
  • Wayfaring, wayfinding and other mobilities with map apps (Brighenti 2012)
  • Changing forms of participation and collaboration through social media algorithms
  • Responding to and attempting to manipulate predicted actions and recommendations
  • The production of calculated publics (Gillespie 2014)
  • Political contestation of algorithms
  • Ad hoc systems
  • Textures of communication in digital and traditional media

The deadline is Friday 6th February 2015.

Email speakers, title and abstract to eric [dot] laurier [at]


Beer, D. (2009) Power through the algorithm? Participatory web cultures and the technological unconscious. New Media & Society. London: SAGE. Vol 11(6): 985–1002.

Brighenti, A. M. (2012). New Media and Urban Motilities: A Territoriologic Point of View. Urban Studies, 49(2), 399–414.

Gillespie, T (2014) The Relevance of Algorithms, pp167-194 in Media Technologies, Essays on Communication, Materiality and Society ed. Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, and Kirsten Foot. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kitchin, R. (2014). Thinking critically about and researching algorithms. The Programmable City Working Paper 5, Maynooth

Mendonça, D., Jefferson, T., & Harrald, J. (2007). Emergent Interoperability: Collaborative Adhocracies and Mix and Match Technologies in Emergency Management. Communications of the ACM, 50(3), 44-9.

Thrift, N. (2005) Knowing Capitalism. London: Sage.

Facial tracking to be built into screen-based advertising in the UK

For those with an interest in such things, this has been a long time coming. The company Quividi, who have been hawking their facial tracking system for a little while now, have teamed up with Amscreen, the owner of a network of advertising screens in convenience stores, petrol stations etc, to measure, in real-time, the attention paid to adverts screened in particular places. The problematic of the ‘attention economy‘, or the commodification of our capacity for attention within particular settings–mostly online, is being brought into more everyday settings as so-called ‘smart’ technologies become smaller and cheaper.

Here’s the thinly veiled sales pitch the BBC ‘Click’ programme were only too happy to share:

Which contains a lot of the footage Amscreen have filmed themselves for their own corporate video celebrating this new venture. Here’s Quividi’s own video explaining (and selling) how their technology works:

In the UK, already a highly surveilled country, there may be little reaction other than a shrug of the shoulders. However, should one wish to counter this kind of technology there have already been some nice experiments with forms of camouflage. Probably the best known example is the CV Dazzle project by Adam Harvey (for a Masters project in the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Programme). It would be entertaining if this became a sort of avant-garde fashion for make up…

CV Dazzle, facial recognition camouflage

Andrew Barry’s new book: Material Politics

Stuart Elden has highlighted on his blog that a new book by Andrew Barry entitled ‘Material politics: disputes along the pipeline‘ is forthcoming in the RGS-IBG book series, its currently set for release in September.

Andrew Barry is a thoughtful commentator on the politics intimately concerned with technology and, one might say, technics. His book ‘Political Machines’ was of significant help to me during my PhD work for thinking through how we can conceptualise the sorts of politics that emerge within institutions or networks focused on ‘innovation’ in technology.

Perhaps more importantly, Barry is also one of a still-limited number of social scientists engaging with the work of the philosopher Isabelle Stengers. In fact, his talk at the recent ‘Politics and Matter‘ event held by the University of Bristol’s geography department offered an excellent and rigorous exegesis of Stengers’ project of ‘cosmopolitics’, which, as he suggested, is not easy.

This new book clearly draws upon some of the thinking that Barry has been engaged in around these themes, as the blurb on the book’s web page demonstrates:

In Material Politics, author Andrew Barry reveals that as we are beginning to attend to the importance of materials in political life, materials has become increasingly bound up with the production of information about their performance, origins, and impact.
* Presents an original theoretical approach to political geography by revealing the paradoxical relationship between materials and politics
* Explores how political disputes have come to revolve not around objects in isolation, but objects that are entangled in ever growing quantities of information about their performance, origins, and impact
* Studies the example of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline – a fascinating experiment in transparency and corporate social responsibility – and its wide-spread negative political impact
* Capitalizes on the growing interdisciplinary interest, especially within geography and social theory, about the critical role of material artifacts in political life

ESRC benchmarking review places UK Human Geography at the top

Over on his blog Pop Theory, Clive Barnett points out that the ESRC have completed an international benchmarking exercise that argues strongly that British Human Geography is world-leading. As Clive says: ‘say it loud, say it proud’, heh. This news has also featured heavily in my twitter stream this morning…

Clive suggests this is the take-home paragraph:

“Our unanimous conclusion from the evidence presented to us is that human geography in the UK is innovative, vibrant, and in most sub-fields is the world leader. Its students and staff are gifted and committed, its research outputs are disproportionately influential, read and referenced throughout the English-reading world – and, in translation, beyond. It is radically interdisciplinary and with the spatial turn in the humanities and social sciences has become an exporter of ideas and faculty to other disciplines. In the 1960s and 1970s the overseas export of geographers was substantial, and though slower today and more likely to be two-way, this trade in academic knowledge continues. UK geographers have an art not only for innovation but also for synthesis and a large number of the seminal publications (books as well as articles) continue to have a UK origin. So too among the major disciplinary journals – the UK publishes more than its share. Bibliometric indicators reveal that both in volume and in citation impact UK human geography exceeds the scores of other countries and almost all UK comparator social sciences. Cumulatively, this evidence supports the conclusion that human geography as a whole in the UK ranks first in the world.”

The concept of an ordinary ethics – Laruelle

The Univocal Press blog features a translation of an essay by the philosopher François Laruelle entitled ‘The concept of an ordinary ethics or ethics founded in man‘, translated by Taylor Adkins. The essay concerns, following an apparently recurring theme in Laruelle’s work, the critique and countering of the imposition of particular ontological arguments, in the name of ‘philosophy’, with a ‘non-‘ ethics/ philosophy. As Laruelle states in the first paragraph:

“Philosophical ethics has always already decided what an ethics of everyday, common, vulgar or gregarious man would be, i.e. an ethics of mores; the philosophical is the disjunction of the common and the philosophical. The ordinary is something different, another thought which is not directly philosophical but does not deny philosophy: here it designates the point of identity and reality that renders the articulation of the philosophical and the common possible, a de jure identity prior to their disjunction and thus prior to their synthesis and presupposed by both. No reconciliation of the mores of philosophical ethics is attempted here because the latter is always already this reconciliation fulfilled or thought in its de jure possibility. The identity of the ordinary–this must be said of everything that follows–is not philosophically acquired, i.e. by a decision or scission, and it does not found a philosophy, i.e. a becoming and a reconciliation. If the ordinary is not a simple predicate that can be mastered philosophically, then it is an absolute experience of thought which only arises from itself, from its internal, immanent or transcendental nature, and for which an identifiable name is still lacking…”

The ‘ordinary’ here is the form of thought not performed especially but perhaps arising through everyday forms of life, which does not deny or necessarily oppose philosophy, but does not spring from the enactment of a peculiar identity of the ‘philosopher’. Laruelle, in my all-too-brief reading, appears to suggest that philosophical ethics always undermines, if not destroys, any negotiated forms of (ethical) value and/or morality by the insistence of the a priori preliminary recognition of the authority of the ‘philosophical’ position. Ethics is what ‘every philosophy seeks to isolate and describe’, and thus render special in some way, distancing the ethical from the ‘ordinary’ – the manifold possible forms of life that exist before the individuation of this life, now. So, Laruelle poses the question of an ordinary ethics not in terms of a specific authority (a history, a world, a state) in order to question that authority –such an authority is simply taken as a given, but instead suggests that ‘ordinary ethics’ interrogates the pragmatic reality of negotiating an ethics of the present:

“Ordinary ethics does not explain how and why we obey laws or not, an obedience which is an inheritance and an archaism: but that which we should and can make of ethics. The claim to explain the reason behind our obedience only comes from the domain of philosophy. This obedience and its difficulties are for ordinary ethics instead a given–but nothing more–that it needs as simple material. Ordinary ethics does not interrogate its possibility, it interrogates its reality and formulates rules of usage and transformation of this supposed given.”

For Laruelle, then, there is no transcendent authority of philosophy that presupposes and affords a judgement of ethics, in the form of something like a ‘meta-ethics’. Instead, ethics is not founded in ontological distinctions, offered by Jewish or Greek (his examples), or any other, essential laws of Being, but, rather, ‘ordinary’ ethics is emerges from the immanence, the potentiality, of the world realised in our own becoming as humans. Ordinary ethics, therefore, is resolutely human (as opposed to transcendent, divine, or ontological).  This form of ethics does not take its authority from outside, but only from inside our understanding of ourselves – it does not come from ‘Earth’ or ‘Heaven’, in Laruelle’s terms, but from (the) ‘[hu]man’. And not the reasoned, philosophical, human that abstracts itself from the world, but the imbricated messy human bound up in the interstices of becoming:

“Ethics can only become pure if it reduces the form of the Law itself, Reason; but it can only be real, rather than another quasi-religious empiricism of the Other, if it is founded in the essence of man. Not between Heaven and Earth: ordinary ethics is neither of Heaven or Earth, but of man who is not their difference but instead takes his essence from himself. Only the greatest immanence, purely internal immanence with neither transcendence nor internal relation, can found the reality and validity of prescriptions in a non ethical way or outside moral authority.” (Final Para.)

To think about this from the point of view of my own theoretical interests, in Stieglerian terms, I would suggest that such an ethics consists (like the law it con-sists it does not ex-ist), and is composed in processes of transindividuation – rendering ethics metastable without being necessarily permanent.

Joanna Zylinska on Facebook and the ‘ethics of mediation’

I am really happy that the DCRC have been able to invite Professor Joanna Zylinska to visit the Pervasive Media Studio to give a talk, on the 19th of March 2013. As well as being a great editor at Culture Machine, Prof. Zylinska has written significantly about ethics in relation to processes of mediation and how we might rethink where agency lies in the increasingly complicated human-technical relations of our everyday lives.

Prof. Zylinska will talk about how our understandings of what counts as ‘human’ are being changed by the capacities of new media technologies that extend our abilities beyond our bodies. Drawing on material from her recent book Life After New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process (MIT Press, 2012, co-written with Sarah Kember) Zylinska will explain what she is calling an ‘ethics of mediation’, which she argues is an increasingly important part of our ethical understanding of contemporary everyday life. She will ask: what happens when we understand physical things as intimately interconnected by networks of energy and information?  What systems of morality are made possible or necessary when more and more of our lives are mediated by social networking systems such as Facebook?

To learn more about Prof. Zylinska’s work and to listen to this fascinating talk please join us at the Pervasive Media Studio on the 19th of March.


Steigler resources

I have been posting translations and links to resources about the work of Bernard Stiegler for a while now and so I have now collected these posts under one section of this website, which you will see linked in the main menu as “Stiegler“. I have also created a permanent page for the Bibliography of Stiegler’s work in English, to make it more easily accessible.

This is of interest to me but I hope that these things are of interest to more people too!

Updated wordpress!

Well, I don’t blog all that often anymore, hence this blog page isn’t the homepage – I am however writing at least weekly blog posts for my day job – see

Anyway, I resurrected some old knowledge and reminded myself how MySQL works (sort of) and followed the lovely and simple instructions on so this site is now running on <cue pitiful synthetic fanfare> WordPress 3.1.

This means those nasty error messages have gone from the top of the page (which were caused by a recent server upgrade).  I’m hoping to blog a bit on here again, although it will remain infrequent, heh.