Category Archives: technology

Recommended: Cultural Geography Going Viral – provocation By @ProfGillian

Another interesting article out in the ‘Online Early’ section of Social & Cultural Geography is by Gillian Rose, from the “Provocations of the Present” OU event, way back in 2014(!).

Gillian gave an interesting talk on the day, which resonated with things I’ve written, and it’s interesting to read the ‘final’ version, entitled “Cultural Geography Going Viral“.

Using the example of Emily Thorberry’s injudicious tweet concerning white vans and the St George’s cross, Gillian explores how the techniques of analysis of such an image and how it is audienced, interpreted, circulated, and so on and, provocatively, discusses how “the skills of the cultural geographer are now widespread”:

In fact, they are probably no more widespread than they ever have been, but social media and online commentary is making them more visible than ever before. Everyone is reading cultural texts and coming to conclusions about their meaning and sharing their interpretations, it seems – and if they can’t understand what’s going on, they ask and they get an answer. Those answers unpack both the symbolism of specific cultural texts but also the production and circulation of those texts by specific forms of media institutions. In other words, cultural interpretation has gone viral.

This resonates in many ways with some of what I argue in my own ‘provocation‘, in which I argue that we (cultural geographers, and others) need to attend to the various ways on understanding mediation when discussing popular culture (and that we need to discuss popular culture more!)

Anyway, all this is simply to say that I recommend reading Prof. Rose’s article.

Reblog> Civil Society 4.0 – Refugees and Digital Self Organization

This conference/hackathon at HKW in Berlin looks brilliant – it’s a part of a fantastic programme for 2016, including the exhibition Nervous System, which I hope to take our 2nd year field trip students to in March.

Civil Society 4.0 – Refugees and Digital Self Organization

2016, Mar 03, Thu — 2016, Mar 05, Sat

Refugee-Hackathon | © Lionel-Kreglinger/Berlin 2015

Refugee-Hackathon | © Lionel-Kreglinger/Berlin 2015

Refugees are also digital trailblazers; the use of smartphones and social media are essential both for their escape and for everyday life in their new homes. For voluntary refugee aids, digital tools are also of great importance. Recently projects such as the platform have demonstrated how important the web is for the self-organization of refugees. The Civil Society 4.0 conference aims to network the many initiatives and projects.

Arriving in Berlin is an example of a participatory online platform in which refugees map their new city of Berlin based on their own experiences and needs. The huge response to the launch of the interactive map on social networks reveals the demand for projects by refugees for refugees. The first Refugee Hackathon held in Berlin in October 2015 was similarly popular. Initiated by Anke Domscheit-Berg, it united 300 programmers and designers in Berlin who developed 18 projects including and The Facebook page “Moabit hilft!” is the largest social media platform in Berlin aimed at making life easier for refugees in their new neighborhoods. The group Refugees Emancipation e.V. has set the goal of setting up Internet cafés in refugee accommodations where they can help each other learn basic computer skills in order to be able to program online applications according to their own needs.

A three-day conference at Haus der Kulturen der Welt will center on digital self-organization by refugees. Between March 3 and 5, 2016 existing projects will present themselves while workshops probe the potentials of project and partner synergies. The idea of the hackathon will be taken up by programmers working together with refugees on the relevant tools.

In cooperation with, Chaos Computer Club Berlin e.V., Hackathon, Maptime Berlin, Metrozones

Reblog> exhibitions visualising digital data

Some great observations by Gillian Rose on her blog about exhibitions visualising data and some healthy scepticism ~ which I share!

exhibitions visualising digital data


One’s at Somerset House in London, focussing on data and called Big Bang Data, until the end of February.

Another is called Animated Wonderworlds at the Museum fur Gestaltung Schaudepotin Zurich.  It’s curated by Suzanne Buchan and runs til 10 January.  I was hoping to get to this one, but my plans were scuppered so I’ve had to make do with the exhibition catalogue and a YouTube video.  It’s focussed on animation rather than on digital data specifically but does include some data visualisations, and the catalogue has a great essay by Suzanne, which talks about just how pervasive digital animations are now.

And the third is at the Institute for Unstable Media (what a great name – though I guess all institutes are made of unstable media…) in Rotterdam.  Its title is Data in the 21st Century and it’s on until 14 February, exploring the frictions between ‘data’ and ‘reality’, according to its homepage.

As I haven’t actually been to any of these shows, this is more of a hand-wave than a proper blog post.  Interesting, though, that there’s so much work by artists, designers and digital humanists (Lev Manovich features in all but Digital Wonderlands, I think) using visualisations to interrogate data.  The claim that data – especially the big data sets generated by so much of the digital infrastructure of everyday life now – is understood more easily if it’s visualised is one that’s made very often.  I’m not so sure.  As others (like Johanna Drucker) have worried, once data is visualised, certain questions about it are prioritised over others.  A visualisation (as Suzanne Buchan argues about animations) invite affective responses, they let us “see the unseeable”, to quote Suzanne, and we can get carried away into their beautiful, glowing worlds.  That can be a wonderful thing.  But it also makes the robustness of the data, and the process of visualisation (both the technical process and the labour process) much harder to see, in fact.  Making something visible always seems to entail making something else much less visible.

Reasons blogging is beneficial for academics (via THE)

About 6 months ago I wrote a little about blogging here and solicited some responses from other geographers that blog, some of the reasons we gave for blogging possibly sit behind those (very good but slightly more instrumental) ‘seven reasons why blogging can make you a better academic writer‘ given by Pat Thompson and re-blogged recently by the Times Higher on their website. I also think that Martin Weller’s piece for The Chronicle  “The Virtues of Blogging as Scholarly Activity” still stands the test of time and acts as a good companion piece here…

Interesting new paper: Performing the sharing economy – Lizzie Richardson

This new article in Geoforum [paywall] by Lizzie Richardson (@LizzieCIRich) looks really good – I’ve only skim read it so far but looking forward digging in 🙂

Performing the sharing economy

Lizzie Richardson

Here’s the abstract:

The sharing economy converges around activities facilitated through digital platforms that enable peer-to-peer access to goods and services. It constitutes an apparent paradox, framed as both part of the capitalist economy and as an alternative. This duplicity necessitates focusing on the performances of the sharing economy: how it simultaneously constructs diverse economic activities whilst also inviting the deconstruction of ongoing practices of dominance. Such performances hold open the question of what the (sharing) economy is, suspending it as a space for both opportunity and critique. Drawing on participant observation at a sharing economy ‘festival’ and analysis of the vocabularies of online platforms, the paper outlines three performances of sharing through community, access and collaboration. It argues through these performances that the sharing economy is contingent and complexly articulated. It has the potential to both shake up and further entrench ‘business-as-usual’ through the ongoing reconfiguration of a divergent range of (economic) activities. Whilst offering an antidote to the narrative of economy as engendering isolation and separation, the sharing economy simultaneously masks new forms of inequality and polarisations of ownership. Nonetheless, the paper concludes in suggesting that by pointing to wider questions concerning participation in, access to and production of resources, the sharing economy should not be dismissed. Instead, it should serve as prompt to engage with ‘digital’ transformations of economy in the spirit of affirmative critique that might enact the promise of doing economy differently.

Reblog> New HTTP error code 451 to signal censorship

Interesting… (love the Bradbury reference too!) via Steve @Bowbrick

New HTTP error code 451 to signal censorship

Will help catalogue attempts to limit information

After a three-year campaign, the IETF has cleared the way for a new HTTP status code to reflect online censorship.

The new code – 451 – is in honor of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451 in which books are banned and any found are burned (451 degrees Fahrenheit being the auto-ignition temperature for paper).

The idea is that rather than a web server, proxy or some other system returning a 403 code to a browser when information is blocked – i.e. you are not authorized to see it – the 451 status code will mean “unavailable for legal reasons.” Specifically, according to a draft RFC:

This status code indicates that the server is denying access to the resource as a consequence of a legal demand.

The server in question might not be an origin server. This type of legal demand typically most directly affects the operations of ISPs and search engines.

The IETF published the proposal late last week; this should encourage some people to start using it early. There will be a few more steps before it becomes official. It was first proposed back in June 2012 when British ISPs started being forced to block The Pirate Bay.

Read full article on The Register.

First Contagion paper – Translating social media: promises and problems for critical human geography

As one or two readers of this blog will know, I was a Co-I on the Contagion project led by Prof Steve Hinchliffe between September 2013 and May of this year (2015). The project investigated the idea and the performances of ‘contagion’ across several domains, including in relation to social media and in relation to disease. The first paper from the work on social media was recently completed and I’m happy to share some information here…

Those who found my brief post for the LSE’s ‘Impact’ blog concerning what I called the ‘political economy of Twitter data’ may find this paper of particular interest.

The paper’s title is Translating social media: promises and problems for critical human geography – ‘translation’ here addresses the (positive and negative) methodological potentials of the adaption and adoption of social media data and techniques (some of which are ‘black-boxed’) and their attendant epistemological assumptions.

The authors of the paper are myself, Rebecca Sandover (who was RA on the project and wrote some interesting blogposts concerning cognate issues) and Steve Hinchliffe.

Here is the abstract:

This article interrogates the promise as well as the critical implications of how social media reshape geographical research and in doing so offers an intervention into the emerging geographies of social media. The article is structured in three substantive parts: First, we introduce the promise of social media research through an initial exploration of how those media are ineluctably entangled in changes within social, economic and political fields. Second, the translations of data in social media research are addressed through the applications and techniques involved. Third, we focus upon issues relating to access to data and the ethics of gathering and interrogating social media data. This provides a basis for subsequent discussion of the theoretical implications of digital data methods and the performances of socialities online. This article signals how, through the exploration of different techniques, critical social media studies can speak to Rose’s (2015) challenge to chart the complexities of digitally–mediated cultural performances, interpretations and movements through the investigation of data attributes.

We have submitted this paper for review, so we’ll have to see what happens…

If you’d like to know more or would like a copy of the paper please feel free to get in touch.

Article accepted: Vulgar Geographies? Popular Cultural Geographies and Technology

Some time ago (in 2014), I participated in the Open University’s annual ‘Doreen Massey event’, which had the title Provocations of the Present: What culture for what geography?, and I presented a provocation concerning culture, technology and what is meant by ‘popular’ culture when it’s studied by people like me (broadly – cultural geographers).

I was invited, a few months later, to write this provocation up for a theme section of Social & Cultural Geography. This has finally come to fruition, after some helpful comments by two anonymous reviewers and some very kind help from Nadia Bartolini, Parvati Raghuram & George Revill at the OU and S&CG editor Mary Gilmartin.

I am pleased therefore to share the accepted manuscript as a PDF.

So it’s:

Kinsley, S 2015 “Vulgar Geographies? Popular Cultural Geographies and Technology“, Social & Cultural Geography in press.

Prof. Louise Amoore awarded Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship for study: ‘Ethics of Algorithms’

This is lovely news – sounds like a really interesting project and I look forward to following this with great interest!

Professor Louise Amoore has been awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2016-2018) for a study of the Ethics of Algorithm

Ethics of Algorithm

Living in a world that is increasingly saturated with algorithmic processes has profound implications for ethics. The scholarly and public accounts of the ethical dimensions of algorithm have overwhelmingly placed the human being as the locus of ethical deliberation. Thus, philosophers and scientists search for ethical frameworks or guidelines for the human designers of software; legal scholars remind us that the protection of humans from “automated decisions made about them” by algorithms is enshrined in data protection law; and social scientists urge that the “black box” of algorithmic decisions be opened to critical scrutiny. Yet, the idea of an ethics that opens the algorithm to human scrutiny has important limits, not only because many algorithms are proprietary and secret, but more significantly because they can operate at a speeds and scales beyond the threshold of human perceptibility.

Louise’s Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship provides an account of the potential for an ethics of algorithm. In a tradition of ethics as the situated giving of an account of one’s actions at the limits of intelligibility – “I cannot give an account of myself without accounting for the conditions under which I emerge” (Judith Butler 2005) – the research excavates how the algorithm might give an account of itself and its emergence. The research develops six conceptual themes – to form the chapters of a book – opening up dimensions of the relation of algorithm to ethics: undecidability; doubt; cognition; perception; association; automation.