From the Programmable City team, looks interesting:
Another interesting ‘long form’ essay on the Institute of Network Cultures site. This piece by Anastasia Kubrak and Sander Manse directly addresses some contemporary themes in geographyland – access, ‘digital’-ness, exclusion, ‘rights to the city’, technology & urbanism and ‘verticality’. The piece turns around an exploration of the idea of a ‘zone’ – ‘urban zoning’, ‘special economic zones’, ‘export processing zones’, ‘free economic/enterprise zones’, ‘no-go zones’. Some of this, of course, covers familiar ground for geographers but its interesting to see the argument play out. It seems to resonate, for example, with Matt Wilson’s book New Lines…
Here’s some blockquoted bits (all links are in the original).
We get into an Uber car, and the driver passes by the Kremlin walls, guided by GPS. At the end of the ride, the bill turns out to be three times as expensive than usual. What is the matter? We check the route, and the screen shows that we travelled to an airport outside of Moscow. Impossible. We look again: the moment we approached the Kremlin, our location automatically jumped to Vnukovo. As we learned later, this was caused by a GPS fence set up to confuse and disorient aerial sensors, preventing unwanted drone flyovers.
How can we benefit as citizens from the increase in sensing technologies, remote data-crunching algorithms, leaching geolocation trackers and parasite mapping interfaces? Can the imposed verticality of platform capitalism by some means enrich the surface of the city, and not just exploit it? Maybe our cities deserve a truly augmented reality – reality in which value generated within urban space actually benefits its inhabitants, and is therefore ‘augmented’ in the sense of increased or made greater. Is it possible to consider the extension of zoning not only as an issue, but also as a solution, a way to create room for fairer, more social alternatives? Can we imagine the sprawling of augmented zones today, still of accidental nature, being utilized or artificially designed for purposes other than serving capital?
Gated urban enclaves also proliferate within our ‘normal’ cities, perforating through the existing social fabric. Privatization of urban landscape affects our spatial rights, such as simply the right of passage: luxury stores and guarded residential areas already deny access to the poor and marginalized. But how do these acts of exclusion happen in cities dominated by the logic of platform capitalism? What happens when more tools become available to scan, analyze and reject citizens on the basis of their citizenship or credit score? Accurate user profiles come in handy when security is automated in urban space: surveillance induced by smart technologies, from electronic checkpoints to geofencing, can amplify more exclusion.
This tendency becomes clearly visible with Facebook being able to allow for indirect urban discrimination through targeted advertising. This is triggered by Facebook’s ability to exclude entire social groups from seeing certain ads based on their user profile, so that upscale housing-related ads might be hidden from them, making it harder for them to leave poorer neighborhoods. Meanwhile Uber is charging customers based on the prediction of their wealth, varying prices for rides between richer and poorer areas. This speculation on value enabled by the aggregation of massive amounts of data crystallizes new forms of information inequality in which platforms observe users through a one-way mirror.
If platform economies take the city as a hostage, governmental bodies of the city can seek how to counter privatization on material grounds. The notorious Kremlin’s GPS spoofing fence sends false coordinates to any navigational app within the city center, thereby also disrupting the operation of Uber and Google Maps. Such gaps on the map, blank spaces are usually precoded in spatial software by platforms, and can expel certain technologies from a geographical site, leaving no room for negotiation. Following the example of Free Economic Zones, democratic bodies could gain control over the city again by artificially constructing such spaces of exception. Imagine rigorous cases of hard-line zoning such as geofenced Uber-free Zones, concealed neighborhoods on Airbnb, areas secured from data-mining or user-profile-extraction.
Vertical zoning can alter the very way in which capital manifests itself. The‘Bristol pound’ is an example of city-scale local currency, created specifically to keep added value in circulation within one city. It is accepted by an impressive number of local businesses and for paying monthly wages and taxes. Though the Bristol Pound still circulates in paper, today we can witness a global sprawl of blockchain based community currencies, landing within big cities or even limited to neighborhoods. Remarkably, Colu Local Digital Wallet can be used in Liverpool, the East London area, Tel Aviv and Haifa – areas with a booming tech landscape or strong sense of community.
In another of a series of what feels dangerously like back-to-the-1990s moments as some geographers attempt to wrangle ‘digital geographies’ as a brand, which I find problematic, I saw the below CFP for the AAG.
I am sorry if it seems like I’m picking on this one CFP, I have no doubt that it was written with the best of intentions and if I were able to attend the conference I would apply to speak and attend it. I hope others will too. In terms of this post it’s simply the latest in a line of conference sessions that I think unfortunately seem to miss, or even elide, long-standing debates in geography about mediation.
Maybe my reaction is in part because I cannot attend (I’m only human, I’d quite like to go to New Orleans!), but it is also in part because I am honestly shocked at the inability for debates within what is after all a fairly small discipline to move forward in terms of thinking about ‘space’ and mediation. This stands out because it follows from ‘digital’ sessions at the AAG last year that made similar sorts of omissions.
In the late 1990s a whole host of people theorised place/space in relation to what we’re now calling ‘the digital’. Quite a few were geographers. There exists a significant and, sometimes, sophisticated literature that lays out these debates, ranging from landmark journal articles to edited books and monographs that all offer different views on how to understand mediation spatially (some of this work features in a bibliography I made ages ago).
Ironically, perhaps, all of this largely accessible ‘online’, you only need search for relevant key terms, follow citation chains using repositories – much of it is there, many of the authors are accessible ‘digitally’ too. And yet, periodically, we see what is in effect the same call for papers asking similar questions: is there a ‘physical’/’digital’ binary [no], what might it do, how do we research the ‘digital’, ‘virtual’ etc. etc.
We, all kinds of geographers, are not only now beginning to look at digital geographies, it’s been going on for some time and it would be great if that were acknowledged in the way that Prof. Dorothea Kleine did with rare clarity in her introduction to the RGS Digital Geographies Working Group symposium earlier this year (skip to 03:12 in this video).
So, I really hope that some of those authors of books like “Virtual Geographies“, to take just one example (there are loads more – I’m not seeking to be canonical!), might consider re-engaging with these discussions to lend some of perspective that they have helped accrue over the last 20+ years and speak at, or at least attend, sessions like this.
I hope that others will consider speaking in this session, to engage productively and to open out debate, rather than attempt to limit it in a kind of clique-y brand.
In 1994 Doreen Massey released Space, Place and Gender, bringing together in a single volume her thoughts on many of the key discussions in geography in the 1980s and early 1990s. Of note was the chapter, A global sense of place, and the discussion on what constitutes a place. Massey argues that places, just like people, have multiple identities, and that multiple identities can be placed on the same space, creating multiple places inside space. Places can be created by different people and communities, and it is through social practice, particularly social interaction, that place is made. Throughout this book, Massey also argues that places are processional, they are not frozen moments, and that they are not clearly defined through borders. As more and more human exchanges in the ‘physical realm’ move to, or at least involve in some way, the ‘digital realm’, how should we understand the sites of the social that happen to be in the digital? What does a human geography, place orientated understanding of the digital sites of social interaction tell us about geography? Both that in the digital and physical world.
Massey also notes that ‘communities can exist without being in the same place – from networks of friends with like interests, to major religious, ethnic or political communities’. The ever-evolving mobile technologies, the widening infrastructures that support them and the increasing access to smartphones, thanks in part to new smart phone makers in China releasing affordable yet powerful smartphones around the world, has made access to the digital realm, both fixed in place (through computers) and, as well as more often, through mobile technologies a possibility for an increasing number of people worldwide. How do impoverished or excluded groups use smart technologies to (re)produce place or a sense of place in ways that include links to the digital realm? From rural farming communities to refugees fleeing Syria and many more groups, in what ways does the digital realm afford spatial and place making opportunities to those lacking in place or spatial security?
How are we to understand the digital geographies of platforms and the spaces that they give us access to? Do platforms themselves even have geographies? Recently geographers such as Mark Graham have begun a mapping of the dark net, but how should we understand the geographies of other digital spaces, from instant messaging platforms to social media or video streaming websites? What is visible and what is obscured? And what can we learn about traditional topics in social science, such as power and inequality, when we begin to look at digital geographies?
In this paper session for 5 papers we are looking for papers exploring:
- Theories of place and space in the digital realm, including those that explore the relationship between the digital and physical realms
- Research on the role of digital realm in (re)producing physical places, spaces and communities, or creating new places, spaces and communities, both in the digital realm and outside of it.
- Papers considering relationship between physical and digital realms and accounts of co-production within them.
- The role of digital technologies in providing a sense of space and place, spatial security and secure spaces and places to those lacking in these things.
- Research exploring the geographies of digital platforms, websites, games or applications, particularly qualitative accounts that examine the physical and digital geographies of platforms, websites, games or applications.
- Research examining issues of power, inequality, visibility and distance inside of the digital realm.
Via Karen Gregory.
Via Gary Hall. All of the books are available for free download. Follow links below.
My colleague Clive Barnett has blogged an update concerning his latest book The Priority of Injustice, with the blurb – see below.
“This original and ambitious work looks anew at a series of intellectual debates about the meaning of democracy. Clive Barnett engages with key thinkers in various traditions of democratic theory and demonstrates the importance of a geographical imagination in interpreting contemporary political change.
Debates about radical democracy, Barnett argues, have become trapped around a set of oppositions between deliberative and agonistic theories–contrasting thinkers who promote the possibility of rational agreement and those who seek to unmask the role of power or violence or difference in shaping human affairs. While these debates are often framed in terms of consensus versus contestation, Barnett unpacks the assumptions about space and time that underlie different understandings of the sources of political conflict and shows how these differences reflect deeper philosophical commitments to theories of creative action or revived ontologies of “the political.” Rather than developing ideal theories of democracy or models of proper politics, he argues that attention should turn toward the practices of claims-making through which political movements express experiences of injustice and make demands for recognition, redress, and repair. By rethinking the spatial grammar of discussions of public space, democratic inclusion, and globalization, Barnett develops a conceptual framework for analyzing the crucial roles played by geographical processes in generating and processing contentious politics.”
Here’s some links that further sketch out some of what I’ve been thinking about as an ‘automative imaginary’. I’ve offered links with a bit of brief commentary at the bottom…
Evidence That Robots Are Winning the Race for American Jobs – in the NYT, pointing to research undertaken by two economists, Acemoglu and Restrepo, published by the (American) National Bureau of Economic Research: Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets (to which I have no access), with a commentary on the Centre for Economic Policy Research‘s Vox site. What is curious for me here is how one can evaluate the method of the researchers and what the assumptions they make say about how we (are invited to) understand automation. There’s some interesting geography in there too! E.g. see the choropleth map of “exogenous exposure to robots” below
How will the rise of automation and AI affect the workforce and economy moving forward? – Francis Fukuyama offers his answer to how automation and AI (interesting easy slip between those as almost a form of equivalence, which is open to significant debate/critique) may or may not “affect” the economy and, in particular, jobs – in the US.
It’s interesting how much of what we are offered in terms of a rationale for automation is a fairly simplistic robots replace workers sort of story. In this regard, it’s worth remembering what the MacDonalds CEO Ed Rensi flippantly observed as a canonical example (documented in this post on Fusion):
former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi made news by going on Fox Business and declaring that ongoing protests in the campaign for a $15 minimum wage were encouraging the automation of fast food jobs. The segment goes on for seven minutes, but here’s the meat of it:
I was at the National Restaurant Show yesterday and if you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry – it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries – it’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe
Nevertheless, other economists will tell you that processes of automation have, historically, created new kinds of jobs as they apparently ‘destroy’ others. For example, Deloitte, in their report “Technology and People: The great job creating machine“, suggest that while manual labour and routine jobs have been significantly automated since 1992, there has been an even larger growth in ‘care’ (and service) and ‘cognitive’ work in the UK labour market. So you see fewer people in manufacturing but more analysts, baristas and carers.
Of course, to see it as whole “jobs” that are being automated is somewhat misleading – another aspect of the automative imaginary that owes more to the depiction of automation in 1950/60s cartoons than in the actually existing forms of automation. As many commentators point out, it’s parts of jobs or tasks that become automated, which results in a need to reorganise that work. As the management consultants McKinsey point out in a report in 2016:
currently demonstrated technologies could automate 45 percent of the activities people are paid to perform and that about 60 percent of all occupations could see 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated, again with technologies available today
What we tend to focus on is the automation full stop, not that it isn’t all of a job and may not result in an easy equivalence of “robot in = worker out”. We imagine the robots doing it all, when, in many cases, the use of robots (when they’re actually economically viable – they have a huge initial set-up cost) require a reorganisation of systems such that the work looks different.
Another illustration of this comes from the excellent Containers podcast by Alexis Madrigal. In the final episode, Madrigal talks to Karen Levy of Cornell about the forms automation could take in relation to truck driving (upon which Uber clearly has its sights set). Of course, again, it’s not as simple as: automate the lorries, do-away with jobs. It’s more like the process of containerisation that Madrigal is exploring – automation is as much about reorganising systems of work / labour as it is about ‘replacing’ labour. So, in the example of picking in warehouses – you might get a Kiva or Fetch/Freight robot to do the donkey work of warehousing, with the worker performing the more sophisticated movements. This is not a future of people-less spaces but rather robots following people around or being tasked in order to support the worker, the argument being this leads to greater productivity. In fact, in the eighth episode of Containers, the CEO of Fetch Robotics justifies her company’s tech by saying that, in the US, there are over 600k jobs going unfilled in warehousing and manufacturing because people don’t want to do them, with a turnover rate of those who do sign-up for such work at around 25% (I don’t know the basis or veracity of those numbers – would like to though!). Again, if true, such figures are another aspect of the expectations of what work involves and how it may be performed.
So, it seems to me we need to talk about work not simply elide it by (somewhat hysterically) referring to ‘automation’ and ‘robots’. This is something I hope to research and write more about, if I ever get the time…