Category Archives: technology

Planetary technics? “Technosphere”, HKW

Via: EnemyIndustry

The always interesting HKW and a project relevant to lots of geographers…


Research Project 2015–2018

The twentieth-century celebrated technology as a way to achieve planetary unity and control. Yet today technics, nature, and human activity seem to combine in increasingly disorienting, uncontrolled compositions in which once-reliable distinctions lose their stability. How did we end up in this world of technological vertigo, this Mobius strip of world and planetary technics, wherein cause and effect, local and global factors, human and non-human agency, perpetually confuse and confound one another’s borders? What governs this constitution (or collision) of forces? And what are the contingent, strategic, or historical events and networks that form durable apparatuses among them?

This dilemma of global technology and its identity will be the main theme of Technosphere (2015-18), a research project investigating origins and future itineraries of this technical world within a larger series of international events, performances, seminars, and conferences that will take place at HKW over the next four years.

Scientists and thinkers have introduced the term technosphere to describe the mobilization and hybridization of energy, material, and environments into a planetary system on par with other spheres such as the atmosphere or biosphere. The term emphasizes the leading role of the technological within this global system. At the same time this term encompasses the enclosure of human populations, forests, cities, seas, and other traditionally non-technical entities within systems of technical management and productivity. But where is that ominous technosphere to be found? How does it impact the everyday passions and experiences of humans, animals, a nation, or an ecosphere?

The coining of the term technosphere announces a conceptual innovation as well as a political challenge. As a conceptual innovation, the notion of the technosphere invites us to recognize and confront the reality of technical systems whose unintended consequences and internal dynamics have accumulated into a quasi-autonomous global force in the world today. Moreover, the very naming of these forces constitutes the posing of new political and social challenges that, though already widely felt, remain largely misunderstood. Their description and study will entail inquiries into physical and political science, but also topics as diverse as aesthetics, waste management, international law, social media, financial markets, animal studies, immigration, and colonialism.

From 2015 to 2018 the Technosphere project will host public events and seminars that explore the potential of this concept to coordinate conversations among scientists, artists, and the general public. It will explore the events, structures, and mechanisms by which the twentieth-century dreams of global unity and human hegemony morphed into disorienting compositions of technics and nature, of human and non-human actors. These investigative and experimental exchanges will ask how the technosphere operates today and endeavor to imagine alternative futures. The result will be a tentative vision of communities and understanding equal to the challenges of our world today.

Under the title The Technosphere, Now a daylong series of conversations and presentations that reveal the infrastructures and operations today will inaugurate the project on Friday, 2 October. Interwoven streams will address the infrastructural exploitation of earthly resources, how data monitors technical and social systems, and how the trauma maps out the dynamics of the technosphere on individual human bodies. The event is part of Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s opening weekend of 100 Years of Now, taking place from September 30th to October 4th 2015.

Concept and Realisation: Katrin Klingan, Bernard Geoghegan, Christoph Rosol, and Janek Müller

“Technosphere” takes place as part of the HKW series 100 Years of Now.

CFP> Science, Technology & the Politics of Knowledge in Global Affairs

via dmf.

CfP: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Knowledge in Global Affairs


Science, Technology, and the Politics of Knowledge in Global Affairs

An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference at the Buffett Institute for Global Studies

Northwestern University, Evanston IL 

March 30-31, 2017

Keynote: Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard Kennedy School

Organizing Committee: Kevin Baker, Savina Balasubramanian, and Omri Tubi

Scientists, state actors, international institutions, and lay activists vie for credibility and legitimacy to both frame and control global issues. Science and technology are routinely cast into a supporting role to bolster their claims. From nuclear energy in the battle against climate change to the politicization of “big data;” from new information technologies in emerging regimes of global surveillance to the use of randomized controlled trials in international development research – scientific and technological expertise operate as instruments of power and authority, which can serve to legitimate or contest new forms of global governance and intervention.

The Buffett Institute’s second annual graduate student conference will investigate expert knowledge in contemporary global affairs, looking at the ways this knowledge is created, invoked, circulated, and contested in the international political arena. We invite graduate students to present work that explores questions such as: How do various international actors attempt to position themselves as credible participants in global politics? Under what conditions does expert knowledge come to be seen as legitimate on the global stage? How and why do global issues become understood as primarily technical, rather than political? In what ways do international actors frame these issues and what must be done about them? How is scientific and technological expertise marshaled or ignored in processes of claims making and action to structure interventions into global “problems?” And, finally, how do these practices organize, sustain, or challenge structures of global inequality and power?


Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • The politics of climate change, climate science, and environmental security
  • The rise of actuarial and genetic approaches to global crime
  • Biosecurity, global health, and the regulation of infectious disease
  • Globalized technologies of risk and quantification
  • The technologization of global finance and economic markets
  • The politicization of social and computational science in an age of “big data”
  • New regimes of information and global surveillance
  • The changing nature of international development interventions
  • The constitution of transnational lay expertise in global social movements

We invite graduate students across the humanities and social sciences to submit abstracts of no more than 250 words by December 15, 2016using the submission link on the conference webpage There will be no deadline extensions. Accepted presenters will be notified by January 5 and papers are due to faculty discussants by March 7. The Buffett Institute will provide hotel accommodations and will subsidize travel costs (fully for US-based graduate students and partially for international students). Please direct all queries to the Graduate Organizing Committee at:

David Harvey on post-neoliberalism, Trump, infrastructure, sharing economy, smart city

Via Deterritorial Investigations Unit.

David Harvey talking to Evgeny Morozov, in the first few minutes he addresses the issue of the claims being made about the end of globalisation/neoliberalism. The conversation then quickly ranges over the gig economy and what Guy Standing calls the ‘precariat’ (it’d be interesting to stage that conversation!) and then a brief statement question about ‘smart’ cities (Harvey is dismissive). Worth watching.

Ambient literature – new research project

Former colleagues at UWE in the Digital Cultures Research Centre are formally launching their project on what they call ‘ambient literature’ this Friday.

There’s some info on the project copied below, it follows on from a trajectory you can trace through the ‘pervasive media’ canon (with the lovely people from Calvium [many formerly of HP Labs Bristol] instrumental in how this has been technically achieved), from the Mobile Bristol RIOT! 1831 project, Duncan Speakman’s subtle mobs, the fabulous Fortnight project from Proto-typeCurzon Memories, REACT projects like These Pages Fall Like Ash and (my colleague Nicola Thomas’) Dollar Princess – a rich and varied history of work…

Ambient Literature is a two-year collaboration between the University of West EnglandBath Spa University, the University of Birmingham, and development partners Calvium, Ltd. established to investigate the locational and technological future of the book. Funded through a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project is focused on the study of emergent forms of literature that make use of novel technologies and social practices in order to create robust and evocative experiences for readers.Launched in London, Bristol and online in June 2016, the project draws on the REACT Hub’s experience working with creative industries in order to produce three experimental projects from three different authors. Forming the heart of the project, these commissioned pieces allow researchers to study the processes of innovation and negotiation that become visible as established authors work in the new forms opened up by the idea of Ambient Literature. Combining practice-based, empirical and theoretical research, the project seeks to test out new literary forms and develop a grammar for writing Ambient Literature.

This is an interdisciplinary project focused on understanding how the situation of reading is changing through pervasive and ubiquitous computing. Drawing on literary studies, creative writing, design, human-computer interaction, performance and new media studies, the research being developed looks to engage with the history of the book and see what that history is able to tell us about its future.

Reblog> Postdoc job on ProgCity project – great opportunity

This is a great opportunity for someone broadly working in the areas of interest specified below…

Post advertised: Postdoc on ProgCity project

We are seeking a postdoctoral researcher (14 month contract) to join the Programmable City project.  The researcher will critically examine:

  • the political economy of smart city technologies and initiatives; the creation of smart city markets; the inter-relation of urban (re)development and smart city initiatives; the relationship between vendors, business lobby groups, economic development agencies, and city administrations; financialization and new business models; and/or,
  • the relationship between the political geography of city administration, governance arrangements, and smart city initiatives; political and legal geographies of testbed urbanism and smart city initiatives; smart city technologies and governmentality.

There will be some latitude to negotiate with the principal investigator the exact focus of the research undertaken. While some of the research will require primary fieldwork (Dublin/Boston), it is anticipated it will also involve the secondary analysis of data already generated by the project.

More details on the post and how to apply can be found on the university HR website.  Closing date: 5th December.

The awkwardness of data debates, or how social scientists & policymakers don’t talk

I feel prompted to write something I’ve been puzzling over for a while because of a tweet and post on medium [The commodification of data, by Ade Adewunmi] I saw recently:

It’s a good post, but for some academic social scientists this is now an established argument that’s been developed, been the subject of conferences and books and so on. For a while now, I’ve had a sense of an awkward gap between the conversations about the various concerns for ‘data’ I witness through social media. In particular, I’ve been struck by how different the conversations are between (social sciences) academics from those involved in the development and running of ‘digital’ government services*. I recognise that the following is a bit of a caricature but the quick characterisation serves to assist the wider point I’m interested in exploring.

The fellow academics I follow (mostly in geography but from across the social sciences) have a relatively developed set of political and ethical arguments about the analysis (commercial & governmental–often blurred), big-ness,  collecting/gathering, transformation and so on of digital ‘data’, more often than not with reference to tropes around governance, labour, privacy and surveillance and ‘subjectivity’ (usually in the frame of how we are made individual subjects). So, ‘data’ in this set of debates may signal, for some, negative connotations of commercial or institutional ‘big brother’ and so on. There, of course, plenty of reasons to feel this way.

The digital government services folk, and some of the digital research services people (e.g. from JISC), that I follow often have more diverse and opaque (to me) views. A common foundation for many is the broadly liberal set of arguments for ‘open‘ networked services, somewhere between Stewart Brand’s libertarianism (in the vein of the arguments around “information wants to be free“) and the systematic optimistic liberalism of the W3C: “web for all, web on everything“. Some blog and tweet about the challenges of implementing that ethos and the various systems/techniques developed as a result within the auspices of government. Others write about what is and can be achieved by pursuing the ‘open’ agenda in government. More often that not, there is a positive and ‘progressive’ slant to the debate – developing a ‘common good’ (for want of a better phrase).

The debates do not crossover in my experience. They have their own  pet concepts and specialist terminology, with academics (like me) banging on about ‘dataveillance’, ‘discipline’ and ‘control’, governmentality, and, of course, ‘neoliberalism’; whereas the digital government folk I follow can talk about ‘digital’ and ‘open’ (as nouns), ‘agile‘ and ‘lean‘ (also sometimes nouns) practices. I am not saying any of this is representative, simply pointing out that the kinds of conversation are rather different. Neither of these groupings (as I characterise them) talk about or suggest policy in any detail, which is interesting. Social scientists studying ‘data’ (etc) often discuss methodological technique and diagnose what are perceived to be negative aspects of digital systems, whereas digital government folk are often highlighting progress being made in making ‘public’ data and associated services ‘open’ and more accessible. This may be an issue of ‘methods’. To be (perhaps overly) general – the social scientists I follow do particular kinds of, often, politically inflected research, whereas the digital government folk I follow are attempting to build politically neutral services. So, here, the academics are looking for expressions of power and politics, the digital government folk are attempting to minimise their effects.

We are left with what appears to be an unfortunate gap in a possibly fruitful conversation – there are constructive ways that academic researchers can offer insights into how opaque power structures can operate and, likewise, the digital government folk actually have experience of making complex digital systems for government. At present, in my Twitter stream I see (at best) mutual suspicion and often just totally separate conversations. There are moments though and some academics are clearly engaging albeit ‘critically’, e.g.

I recognise my partiality – that there are more than likely more in-depth conversations going on that I’m missing and I do think there’s some really positive work going on, for example as part of the Programmable City project – for example see the great talk by Sung-Yueh Perng below, that is attempting to look at what it means to build digital public services and the kinds of contributions social scientists (like me – there are lots of other kinds of course!) can make.

I welcome suggestions and comments about this, so please do get in touch.

Sung-Yueh Perng – Creating infrastructures with citizens: An exploration of Beta Projects, Dublin City Council from The Programmable City on Vimeo.

* I am not claiming that those I follow on Twitter and are pigeonholing with this category are representative in any way, this just works for this broad example.

A quantitative ideology? James Bridle on an algorithmic imaginary

The excellent artist James Bridle has written something for the New Humanist, which is published on their website, entitled “What’s wrong with big data?” Perhaps he’s been reading Rob Kitchin’s The Data Revolution? 🙂 Anyway, it sort of chimes with my previous post on data debates and with the sense in which the problems Bridle so incisively lays out for the readers of his article are not necessarily practical problems but rather are epistemological problems – they pertain to the ways in which we are asked to make sense of the world…

This belief in the power of data, of technology untrammelled by petty human worldviews, is the practical cousin of more metaphysical assertions. A belief in the unquestionability of data leads directly to a belief in the truth of data-derived assertions. And if data contains truth, then it will, without moral intervention, produce better outcomes. Speaking at Google’s private London Zeitgeist conference in 2013, Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman, asserted that “if they had had cellphones in Rwanda in 1994, the genocide would not have happened.” Schmidt’s claim was that technological visibility – the rendering of events and actions legible to everyone – would change the character of those actions. Not only is this statement historically inaccurate (there was plenty of evidence available of what was occurring during the genocide from UN officials, US satellite photographs and other sources), it’s also demonstrably untrue. Analysis of unrest in Kenya in 2007, when over 1,000 people were killed in ethnic conflicts, showed that mobile phones not only spread but accelerated the violence. But you don’t need to look to such extreme examples to see how a belief in technological determinism underlies much of our thinking and reasoning about the world.

Quantified thinking is the dominant ideology of contemporary life: not just in scientific and computational domains but in government policy, social relations and individual identity. It exists equally in qualified research and subconscious instinct, in the calculations of economic austerity and the determinacy of social media. It is the critical balance on which we have placed our ability to act in the world, while critically mistaking the basis for such actions. “More information” does not produce “more truth”, it endangers it.

You can read the whole article on the New Humanist website.

Video> Imagining automation – public talk

I gave a talk for the SW Futurists meet up group this week and they’ve recorded the talks. There are two speakers: Lucas Godfrey (Edinburgh) talked about the challenges of creating models of phenomena in the world so that you can automate things. I talked about the politics of the kinds of stories we tell about automation and how they orient our understandings of how automation might function. Both are included in the video but I’ve skipped to the start of my talk below.

Feel free to leave comments, ask questions etc. using the “Comments” function below… this presentation is sort of based on two bits of work about automation that have been developing as academic presentations. The first is about how we tell stories about work in relation to automation, and way we use ‘algorithm’ as a proxy for that idea. The second is about how we imagine what apparently automated/automatic technologies are doing and what they can do. I think both of these things constitute what I’ve come to call an “automative imaginary”… I started out calling this “algorithmic—“, but I don’t think that ‘s what I have ever really meant. I also don’t think, another fashionable term, “robots” is a particularly helpful way to frame the ideas I’m interested in. Anyway, I’m hoping to develop this into a journal article.