Category Archives: technology

Friction – an interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance

Over on the Virality blog, Tony Sampson highlights this recent and rurally interesting call for papers for a conference concerning technology and resistance. I have reproduced the CFP below but see the original blog for Tony’s take…

Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistanceUniversity of Nottingham
Thursday 8th May & Friday 9th May, 2014Keynote talk by Pollyanna Ruiz (LSE)

With workshops led by: Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey; University of Leicester Technology Group; Jen Birks and John Downey; and Rachel Jacobs (Active Ingredient).

Current workshop themes include: evil media; data, digital leaks and political activism; hacklabs and artistic uses of data.

More TBC

Workshop and talk abstracts, and information about speakers will be appearing on our blog in the forthcoming weeks:

[mass noun]
The resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another:
· the action of one surface or object rubbing against another
· conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions

Oxford English Dictionary, 2013

We are now living in a frictionless economy in which money, jobs and products can move around the world in the blink of an eye. And yet we have not moved to a frictionless society. Rather, many of the technologies that support the frictionless economy create various forms of friction in society. Taking a lead from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Critical Theory’s Technology and Resistance research strand, we are interested in proposals for papers and workshops that explore the concept/metaphor of ‘friction’ as a starting point for exploring the relationship between everyday technologies and resistance; with resistance understood in both a politically empowering and an inhibitory sense. On the one hand, we’re interested in modes of organised resistance: of activist movements making use of, or reacting against, technological developments. However we’re concerned with resistance in a second sense: of technologies resisting their intended function, breaking down, being exploited by hackers or triggering unexpected socio-economic complications.

We invite people to use the concept of ‘friction’ as a route into exploring these themes, with potential topics for discussion including (but not limited to):

· Data and ethics
· Cultural shifts relating to the capture of data
· The vulnerability of software to hacking and surveillance
· Resistance to surveillance and data harvesting
· Activist uses of data, particularly the circulation of leaked material
· The politics of hacking
· The exploitation of ambiguity in software design by hackers
· Activist and everyday contestations of technological developments
· The sociological and cultural factors required for technologies to ‘work’
· Everyday and/or activist reappropriations of technology
· Tensions between new technologies and existing infrastructures

We are an interdisciplinary group of researchers, including academics from Geography, Business, Critical Theory, Cultural Studies and Media & Communications: so we welcome a diverse range of perspectives and approaches to this theme.

We encourage interactive presentation formats, and will allocate longer time-slots to workshops to accommodate these, but also have space for shorter 20 minute position papers.

Extended deadline for proposals: 1st March 2014

If you are interested in participating please submit a 250 word proposal for a workshop or paper, along with your name and current email address, to

Please also feel free to contact us with more general enquiries, follow the Centre for Critical Theory’s Twitter account @criticaltheory

Rob Kitchin’s new book submitted and into production: The Data Revolution

Professor Rob Kitchin is currently engaged in a large five year EU-funded project: The Programmable City, concerned with the role of software on the ongoing production, performance and imagination of cities. Over on the blog for the project they have announced that Prof. Kitchin’s most recent book ‘The Data Revolution’ is now with the publishers, Sage, with a view to publication later this year. I’m looking forward to it…

Here’s the book outline blogpost from the Programmable City website:

Rob Kitchin has just submitted the final draft of a new book — The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences — to Sage and it’s moved into production.  The chapter titles are below and the book will be published later in the year.

1.  Conceptualising data
2.  Small data, data infrastructures and data brokers
3.  Open and linked data
4.  Big data
5.  Enablers and sources of big data
6.  Data analytics
7.  The governmental and business rationale for big data
8.  The reframing of science, social science and humanities research
9.  Technical and organisational issues
10. Ethical, political, social and legal concerns
11. Making sense of the data revolution

Parikka’s forthcoming ‘geology of media’

Jussi Parikka has written an interesting post on his blog offering a glimpse at his new writing project, with the tentative title ‘A Geology of Media’. He suggests that this is the third in his series of books theorising media ecology, with the other two being Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (2007) and continued with Insect Media (2010).

Here’s an excerpt:

This book on the geophysics and the non-organic ground of media complements the earlier takes by offering a media materialism from the point of view of geological resources, electronic waste and media arts. Through engaging with several contemporary art and technology projects it provides a media theoretical argument: to think of materiality of media beyond the focus on machines and technologies by focusing on what they consist of: the chemistry and geological materials of media, from metals to dust.

In short, I am interested to see if what pejoratively sometimes is called “hardware fetishism” is not hard enough, and even media and cultural theorists need to focus on the rocks and crust that make technical media possible. Earth history of deep times mixes with media history, which becomes a matter of not only thousands, but millions of years of non-linear history (to modify Manuel Delanda’s original idea). This way media materialism becomes a way to entangle media technologies, environmental issues and themes of global labour. Perhaps instead of the Anthropocene, we should just refer to the Anthropobscene.

Read the whole thing here.

Beware the internet of things… it’s coming to get you

Shawn Sobers linked to a funny comment piece by Stewart Heritage on the Grauniad riffing on the idea of the ‘Internet of Things‘, with the main schtick being that there is such a lack of imagination behind the implementation of such ‘things’ that if we extrapolate then surely the interlinked ‘things’ will do us a mischief… Now, this is humorous, of course, but humour is also a good way to get us to think about why on earth we’re letting ourselves in for a vision of such ‘things’. I am not ‘anti-’ technological innovation, I am merely arguing that we need to be critically reflective of the motivation behind the development of some of these systems and devices. The same kind of critical reflection we have seen in relation to the ‘MOOC revolution‘…

Here’s one of the funny bits from the article, extrapolating from actually existing technologies into the more ridiculous:

The Internet of Things has already produced some cool-sounding devices. There is the tennis racket kitted out with motion sensors to help you improve your game. There’s the parking sensor that directs your satnav to an empty spot. The basketball that, when bounced on the floor, automatically tells your home entertainment setup to start playing basketball-related content. The bridge that tells people when it’s about to collapse. The smoke alarm that switches itself off and works in conjunction with your electrical outlets to burn you to death in your sleep because it has become jealous of your capacity for love. The remote cave that fills itself with bears and poisonous snakes whenever it detects that someone has started sleeping in it because they’ve convinced themselves that their entire house has grown sentient and suddenly turned against them. All sorts, really. It’ll be fun.

Three new translations of books by Stiegler in 2014

Amongst the books to look out for this year are three translations of books by Bernard Stiegler.

The first to come out, in February, is an interesting collaborative critique of consumer capitalism by members of the Ars Industrialis association, fronted by Stiegler. In The Re-Enchantment of the World: The Value of Spirit Against Industrial Populismand following the Ars Industrialis manifesto, Stiegler (et al.) argues against the proletarianization of the subject into an unthinking and passive consumer and for the renewal of life skills (savour-vivre) through an ‘industrial populism’.

The second, coming out in April, will be the final volume of the Disbelief and Discredit series, which offers a critique of the effects of the development of industrial technologies on our capacities for rest, considered reflection, leisure, the development of skills and, importantly, care for one another and for society. In the final volume, The Lost Spirit of Capitalism, Stiegler advances his argument for a new ‘industrial spirit’ by fostering a ecology that not only looks after the planet but also renews the exploited energies of human desire. This is another excellent translation by Dan Ross for Polity.

The third, coming out in August, is the first volume of the important series: Symbolic Misery. The Hyperindustrial Epoque will be the first appearance of Stiegler’s work concerning aesthetics in an extended format and contains some of his critical work concerning cinema. In particular, Stiegler advances his critical articulation of cinema as the industrial temporal object in order to argue that it is the aesthetic experience that can combat the creeping conditioning of experience on its own territory. Again, Dan Ross brings his detailed knowledge of Stiegler’s oeuvre to provide a valuable and timely translation.

The appeal of the frontier narrative and MOOCs

Following on from the translation I made of Bernard Stiegler’s reflections on how digital (media) technologies can perform a valuable pedagogical role, I wanted to highlight that Martin Weller has given a very cogent and pointed critique of the fairly common narrative of ‘disruptive technology’ in relation to MOOCs.

This brings together two aspects of my own research: the ways in which those involved in computing R&D look to the future and anticipate the kinds of technologies they may want to produce (and the kinds of politics that produces); and what can be seen as the progressive commoditisation of our capacities to think and feel by certain applications of digital media.

Firstly, as Martin identifies in his blogpost, there is a widespread discourse of the necessity of breakthrough, disruption and revolution  in the mythology of the aspirational technology sector located in Silicon Valley. This has some obvious foundations in the need to continually destroy and re-create new markets in a finite global system of capital (as David Harvey cogently diagnoses). It also has an interesting basis in alternative discourses of progress on the counterculture movements in that same region of the US, with Stewart Brand (founder of the Whole Earth Network) a significant exponent of libertarian thought in the growing ICT industry that translated into the creation of WIRED magazine as the purveyor of this techno-economic orthodoxy (for more on this see Fred Turner’s brilliant book).

Martin offers the insight that the rather clunky, and somewhat messianic, narrative of the need for an external agent to intervene in a slow, inefficient, outmoded (and so on) sector, central to the disruptive technology spiel, allows sharp and charismatic entrepreneurs to step in as the pseudo-saviour, i.e. Sebastian Thrun of Udacity and others of his ilk. Criticism of the West Coast (capitalist) mythology is not new, of course, Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron offered a critique of the ‘Californian Ideology‘ in the 1990s, and Stiegler has criticised the ‘American model’ of  laissez faire ‘cultural capitalism’ led by the ‘programming industries’ of new media (“functionally dedicated to marketing and publicity” [p. 5]) in his The Decadence of Industrial Democracies. Indeed, we can look back to Adorno and Horkheimer’s stinging critique of the Culture Industry as a formidable progenitor. What we can perhaps take from that line of argument is that arguing for a supposed ‘greater’ choice is actually a deception, the ‘choice’ is merely to consume more.

Others, who set themselves up as more thoughtful commentators have also weighed in on the side of the need for a disruption/revolution. Martin highlights that Clay Shirky has also parroted the, now well-worn, technological deterministic ark of argument. As with others, Shirky suggests that ‘education is broken‘ and must therefore be fixed by shiny new technology, in the form of MOOCs . Some proponents of this line of argument suggest that this would bring wider access to university level learning. There are a few (also well-worn but compelling) critiques of this line.

An obvious initial critique, as Martin argues in his blogpost, is that the ‘education is broken and so it requires a technological fix’ argument has gained so much traction because it is neat and easy to digest by journalists. A simple story with a clear solution is always going to trump the slightly messy, perhaps convoluted, and multiple stories that approximate the truth, for which there are unclear and troubling political solutions that require quite a lot of explanation and working through.

Furthermore, the existing evidence of engagement with MOOCs also somewhat contradicts the rosy picture painted by their evangelists. Completion rates for MOOCs tell a mixed story (as Martin has pointed out in other blogposts) and this perhaps speaks to the negotiation (by both students and course designers/leaders) of legitimacy and value for these courses – this is a sector still very much in flux. Those who are passionate about providing equal and wider access to university level education are torn by the desire to offer courses that open up (frequently excellent) materials for anyone to access but this is, of course, only a fraction of what we as university lecturers and students do when running and participating in courses.

We’re all, of course, increasingly proficient at consuming content online and MOOCs leverage that behaviour. What such systems are not so good at is providing something analogous to tutorials. The stand in for this is peer discussion/ support, which, of course, come with their own social and cultural issues around facilitation and particular participants becoming overbearing etc. So, these (socio-)technological fixes are not necessarily a like-for-like stand-in for all of those significant but hard to define benefits of university study within the physical context of an institution. Which is not to say that whatever MOOCs turn into cannot be of value, its just that its neither a direct alternative nor a replacement but rather a new/emerging form of pedagogical practice.

We can also look to the somewhat obvious Marxian critique of the constant clarion for technological revolution that, far from bringing in egalitarian and widespread access to a better form of living, education and so on, it ushers in the creation of a new proletarianised class of knowledge worker, trained, in this case, by machines (the machine learning version of xMOOCs is the example here) and held even further away from access to critical debate and the means of production.

After all, in a ‘mature’ market for technology, devices (and sometimes services) become cheap through mass production and availability. This slashes profit margins and consumer-users become savvy at backwards engineering and ‘modding’. Customers taking power into their own hands is rather undesirable for the corporate technology producer, unless they can co-opt those developments into the next iteration of the product. Thus, constant ‘innovation’ brings with it the maintenance of a premium for the ‘latest’, ‘must-have’ etc. device/service and necessarily excludes those who cannot pay.

One can easily imagine, then, how a stratification of the market would rapidly take hold. Cheaper, gigantic and formulaic courses (with automated marking of assessments) would be seen as lesser ‘products’ than more exclusive courses (with human tutor support). Those with power and money, in this case, would most-likely still send their children to (very expensive) physical universities with small classes, lots of attention from staff and all of the accoutrements of elite institutions.

Leaving that rather depressing argument aside, the framing of this form of consumer market for higher education is very Anglo-American, where degrees have already become a form of currency – for which there isn’t really an alternative. I cannot help wondering what other forms of education are being ignored (and therefore probably saved). The system of apprenticeship in Germany, for example, where more than half of school-leavers enter apprenticeships, which are really valued in society – with a majority of apprentices staying on with their host companies, is very successful and neither needs or could support a Silicon Valley style ‘disruption’.

Where does this leave us with regard to Stiegler’s argument that it is precisely the forms of collaboration that are opened up by digital media that can and should be used to transform higher education? Well, the innovative media supports being created in the guise of MOOCs and so on are neither the envisioned radical break(through) claimed in the silicon valley rhetoric or a pedagogical nosedive. As with all forms of technicity, MOOCs are pharmacological – they have the capacity to be both ‘poison’ and ‘cure’. If we take seriously Stiegler’s challenge that we need ‘to drive a dynamic for the rethinking of the relationship between knowledge and its media [supports] (of which MOOCs are a possible dimension) with the universities and academic institutions’ then we also need to take (very) seriously Martin’s arguments that designing open education courses/experiences is hard. I’m certainly not going to attempt to offer ‘easy’ or glib answers to such a problem here…

If we want the kind of collaborative learners that Stiegler gestures towards do we simply hope that they are self-selecting? Almost like postgraduate education is, with motivated students seeking out the opportunities to learn and contribute to the production of knowledge. That, of course, is a relatively small minority of the student population. Equally,we might consider the example of the proactive producers of peer-to-peer knowledge using platforms like Wikipedia, who are self-selecting and a minority relative to the number of ‘passive’ users of the platform. If the degree remains the only currency for employability within certain sectors and for particular kinds of roles then we retain the significant tension between the ideals of the pursuit and production of knowledge, traditionally at the heart of higher education, and the purchasing of a passport for employment (often in an unrelated field, probably in the financial sector) which the university degree has become in the UK.

It seems to me that it is not the university side of higher education that is broken in the UK (although it is always worthwhile striving for the ideals that underpin it), instead it is the preparation of skilled employment that was once provided by a valued system of apprenticeships and polytechnic institutions that has been not only broken but decimated. The renewal of these complimentary forms of further and higher education, with the new media supports we are using throughout all areas of life, seems to be an immediate and pressing concern.

Autonomy and automation: robotics, AI and the digital cultural future

My former colleague Patrick Crogan is convening a workshop through the DCRC concerning contemporary understandings of autonomy and automation in relation to robotics. Looks like a really interesting event and the keynote speakers are fantastic. See more below.

A one day symposium hosted by DCRC/UWE Bristol

Saturday, March 8th
10:00 – 18:00
Pervasive Media Studio

Through a curiously ambivalent wave of media attention, robotics and AI have emerged as major topics for media and cultural research. Accounts of drones and surveillance applications sit alongside promises of beneficial medical and social uses of ‘helpful’ robots and intelligent systems. All symptomatic of an increasing uncertainty around the character of technoscience and the technocultural transformation it hastens onward.

This one day seminar seeks to contribute toward the placing of robotics and AI firmly on the critical agenda via an interdisciplinary approach bringing humanities, science and technology studies into dialogue.

In doing so it will respond to questions around autonomy and automation that robotics and AI developments are posing today in social, cultural, political and military registers. If these questions are not entirely new, the rapid advances in these fields of technoscientific endeavour make it increasingly urgent to repose them, not least because what seems to be looming on the horizon is the disappearance of the critical autonomy to interrogate and to reshape the cultural and political adoption of such advances.

Keynote speakers will be Lucy Suchman of Lancaster University’s Sociology Department, member of Lancaster’s Centres for Science Studies and for Gender and Women’s Studies and member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, and Joanna Bryson of Bath University’s Computer Science Department, leader of its Artificial Models of Natural Intelligence research sub-group and co-author of the EPSRC Principles of Robotics.

The Digital Future of the University – Stiegler

Towards the end of last year, Mediapart (a cross between an association for co-learning and an online publisher concerned with digital media) published a blogpost by Bernard Stiegler concerning the role of digital technologies in the ongoing transformation of the university. This line of argument will be familiar to those that follow Stiegler’s work (especially if you read French) and if you have read some of the short pieces by Stiegler that I have previously translated concerning MOOCs and participatory education. What is heartening, especially if you are already in the open education conversation, and are a wee bit cynical about the hyperbole surrounding MOOCs, is that Stiegler argues for a debate around how to foster and open out education, not how to monetize it. As ever, the fundamental (pharmacological) relationship between ‘human’ and ‘technology’ is at the heart of the issue for Stiegler. As he argues in the final paragraph:

The question is not whether or not we should develop MOOCs in France (it is obviously necessary): it is to drive a dynamic for the rethinking of the relationship between knowledge and its media [supports] (of which MOOCs are a possible dimension) with the universities and academic institutions, and which, through research, will redefine their role in this new context.

Again, an argument that thoughtful practitioners of ‘open education’, like Martin Weller, will be very familiar with.

The sharp-eyed reader will pick up something else from this article too. The Institute for Research Innovation (part of the Pomipdou Centre in Paris), directed by Stiegler, are now using their online tools for collaboration ‘in the wild’. So, the vidéolivre that Stiegler points us to, towards the end, is more sophisticated than the embedded YouTube video and is a kind of online mini-course (unfortunately, only in French) hosted on the Digital Studies website (on which you can read the ‘call for Digital Studies‘ in English). Another interesting tool mentioned is Polemic Tweets: a kind of add-on to twitter through the use of basic syntax (much like RT, MT, etc.) in order to amplify, disagree with or question things (see the explanation in English here). For example, you can see the use of these tags in combination with the documentation of a recent conference Entretiens du Nouveau Monde Industriel [#ENMI13] (something like: ‘Investigations into the New Industrial World‘), where there is a recording of the video stream with annotations that temporally synchronise tweets (with the hashtag and ‘polemic’ syntax) in a timeline below — worth a look, here.

This starts to get at some of the pedagogical tools Stiegler and IRI are offering as a means of beginning to think about what it might mean to ‘rethink knowledge and its relationship with its media/supports’ within the domain of (open) education. It is in this context that one might read the article that follows…

As usual, original French and clarifications are in square brackets. I am indebted to Patrick Crogan (former colleague, translator of some of Stiegler’s work, and a speaker at the conference mentioned above) for his proof-reading.

The digital future of the university

07 November 2013, Mediapart

The digital constitutes a new épistémè: it is the very nature of knowledge in all its forms that will be affected. This technology will function for our epoque in the same way that writing did for antiquity (and it is in this way that we can say that it put antiquity into decline). This was suggested thirty years ago in The Computerisation of Society:

“From the moment that Sumerians wrote the first hieroglyphs on wax tablets, they embodied, probably without realising, a decisive mutation of humanity: the appearance of writing. Yet, it was this that changed the world.”

It is inconceivable that universities and large research organisations do not have at their core of their concerns and the top of their priorities the digital transformation of knowledge: the deployment in all disciplines, as in all dimensions of human existence, of what Clarisse Herrenschmidt has called reticular writing clearly constitutes the major challenge for 21st century knowledge.

As for online university courses, they have become at Harvard small private online courses, which has led Robert Lue to suggest that “we are already in the post-MOOC era“. This statement testifies to the fact that the transformations at the sidelines of education are the visible effects of the mnemotechnical milieu of knowledge, which is in the process of changing its nature, is upsetting [bouleverse] knowledge itself, from research all the way through to the most elementary aspects of education.

Whether we consider these issues from massive open online courses, small private online courses [both in English in original], or the many other already existing or possible models of digital education they all constitute a major issue. But this issue logically comes after research and digital studies—which the Minister, and the National Research Agency under his purview, have furthermore adopted in their agenda under the name of ‘digital studies’ without which this could have remained unnoticed.

It is only possible to implement new forms of education related to the development of digital technologies and to experience them collectively on the condition that they are designed and practiced in a close and explicit relation with a policy for researching the deeper layers of epistemic becoming and the new disciplinary epistemologies required by digitisation. Without such a structured and openly acknowledged connection, the initiatives taken in all areas alongside [established] education can only emerge as superficial fashions and effects, subject as ever to all of the ebbs and flows of media excitement in the contemporary world: they always seem to belong to an age that has already been superceded by the lastest novelty in an area where there is no lack of imagination–sometimes at the risk of lacking reflection, if not knowledge.

The university appeared a little over one thousand years ago, conditioned then by the copying of canonical texts, which led to the interpretation that is engendered in the process of copying, which experienced a second era with the republic of letters created by the printing press, which originated in the university of Berlin, and which lasted until the 20th century.

In 1993 the university entered a new age, with the arrival of the web making reticular writing accessible to all. It is this important, if not massive and amazing, fact that necessitates the development of digital studies. Whatever its form, knowledge is a form of memory shared by a community, according to the rules practised, and sometimes explicated and theorised, by that community: which is thus, in general, a community of peers. These scientific and critical knowledges appeared with alphabetic writing, which, in all its forms, creates a mnemotechnical and techno-logical milieu that conditions [conditionne] the development and transmission of knowledge based in peer review.

Neither for knowledge in general or scholarly institutions in particular, are the written alphabet, the printed word, data, algorithms and digital networks simple mediums of education or research: these are the domains [milieux] of knowledge in which is founded the open and constant criticism of the rules of interpretation in which the knowledge formed by these communities of peers consists.

The digital deeply transforms such forms of knowledge principally because it constitutes a new means of recording [surface d'inscription] and publicly formalising the debate between peers by which all rational disciplines are constituted, through conflicting interpretation and scientific controversy. The characteristics of the digital (automation, speed of calculation, vast planetary access, cooperative networks, new processes of formalisation, new models, visualisations, interactions and simulations etc.) constitute new possibilities for knowledge, for significantly widening accessibility to more diverse audiences, which will redefine the conditions for equal access to knowledge [qui redéfinissent les conditions de la parité], which also involves the requirements for certification as a form of legitimation.

Peer-to-peer, which is increasingly discussed since the advent of software and websites described as P2P, appeared over 27 centuries ago with the first land surveyors [géomètres]. This is why amongst the announcements made by the minister for higher education and research, the most significant was the support for research into the impacts and opportunities of the digital in the development of knowledge as a form of emancipation [comme de telles parités est la plus significative]. The digital mnemotechnical milieu makes possible and requires new heuristics, new hermeneutics, and new epistemologies which must foster teaching and pedagogies in which the purpose is precisely the enrolment of the maximum number of students into these communities of peers.

From the infinitely big (astrophysics) to the infintetly small (nanoscience), physics is reconfigured by digital instrumentation through mathematics and statistics notably in the guise of “big data“. Linguistics is under the effect of what Frédéric Kaplan has called linguistic capitalism. Geography is in the era of geographical information systems and GPS, through which territory becomes functionally and normatively digital. Genetic biology that made possible computerised biostations, etc. No form of knowledge escapes the new demands [nouvelle facture] of the contemporary mnemotechnical milieu configured by the categorisation machines that are networked computers.

This digital categorisation totally redefines the conditions of production of the rules of categorisation, which form the foundation for what is ultimately knowledge produced through peer review: this is a fundamental point that it is not possible for me to develop here, and it is for this reason that the reader can consult a short interactive video [vidéolivre] which has been prepared to complete this article, and which focuses more extensively on these concerns in order to illustrate how the Institute for Research and Innovation (IRI), which I run, designs and practices investigations of these issues.

This interactive video—designed to become a social book [in English in original], by which I mean a support for a network of readers constituted as a community of plural interpretations-is one example amongst many (such as polemic tweets, also developed IRI and implemented by Mediapart in the recently organised debate about the rise of the National Front), which are all new forms of editorial media that have emerged since the arrival of the web.

These digital media will become new apparatuses [dispositifs] of public debate which always come from university learning, and with which it is essential to enrol and involve the students as much as possible. For over a thousand years, universities and research activities as well as the teaching thereby developed were made possible originally by manuscripts and then by printed books. Which is why a thesis, regardless of the discipline in which it is submitted, is always presented as a book. This situation will fundamentally change in the course of the coming years. This does not signal the disappearance of the book: it means that, like the knowledge they carry, they will transform.

New conditions of publication, disputation [confrontation], certification and editorialisation of knowledge are coming into place. They correspond to new regulations and new methods for heuristics, interpretation, teaching and pedagogy, which are arising, forming and capturing the 21st century épistémè. This is taking place through a dynamic process that the public authorities should strongly encourage, pushing academic institutions, industry and the markets to cooperate in the production of a long-term vision—which must be a vision of the role of France in Europe in the 21st century.

The question is not whether or not we should develop MOOCs in France (it is obviously necessary): it is to drive a dynamic for the rethinking of the relationship between knowledge and its media [supports] (of which MOOCs are a possible dimension) with the universities and academic institutions, and which, through research, will redefine their role in this new context. This is a good question for which it is not only healthy but essential that a public debate is held—providing that the grounds for that debate are not the claim that everything should be left to the market nor the denial of the very need for such a debate.

Bernard Stiegler [video] – Digital Studies as an organology of the mind

Bernard Stiegler recently gave a talk at the Institute for Digital Media Culture and Aesthetics  (ICAM) at Leuphana furthering his exploration of the idea of Digital Studies. Stiegler provides some really nice discussion of his reading of phenomenology, in particular his advancement of Husserl’s scheme of retention/protention. He moves on to (broadly) reiterate some of the key parts of his argument in Taking Care.

In the introduction to Stiegler’s talk, Goetz Bachmann offers some interesting observations and context to Stiegler’s work, which is nice. Bachmann was one of the members of the Goldsmiths Cultural Studies team that has hosted annual Stiegler’s Professorial seminars there.

Why should sociologists [and geographers] study digital media?

Deborah Lupton recently wrote a blog post asking, and answering, the question: why should sociologists study digital media? Her answers are interesting, and are couched in the framework for a book project Lupton is working on around digital sociology for next year. What I idly wondered when reading through the list of answers Lupton provides is: would these make sense for geographers if we replace ‘the social’ with something like ‘space and place’ or ‘the spatial’?

Here’s Lupton’s bulleted list of answers:

  • Social life is increasingly being configured through and with digital media.
  • What counts as ‘the social’ is increasingly framed via digital media.
  • Digital media use and practice is structured through gender, social class, geographical location, education, race/ethnicity and age, all social categories with which sociologists have traditionally been interested.
  • Digital media are integral parts of contemporary social networks and social institutions such as the family, the workplace, the education system, the healthcare system, the mass media and the economy, again phenomena that have long been foci for sociological research and theorising.
  • Digital media configure concepts of selfhood, social relationships, embodiment, human/nonhuman relations, space and time – all relevant to sociological inquiry.
  • Digital media have instituted new forms of power relations.
  • Digital media have become central to issues of measure and value.
  • Digital media offer alternative ways of practising sociology: of researching, teaching and disseminating research.
  • Digital media are important both to ‘public sociology’ (engaging with people outside of academia) and ‘private sociology’ (personal identities and practices as sociologists).
  • Digital media challenge sociologists’ role as pre-eminent social researchers: sociologists need to address this.
  • Digital media technologies can contribute to ‘live sociology’ and ‘inventive methods’, or new, creative ways of practising sociology.

There is a hint of disciplinary anxiety about some of this, which is understandable given the contemporary state of academia, but even so I can’t help thinking these questions could be more broadly framed as ‘why social scientists should study digital media’.

Anyway, to answer my own idle question about substituting the focus on ‘the social’ with that of ‘the spatial’… this might work to a lesser or greater extent for some of these questions. As intimated by my comment above, some of the questions are just as much the concern of human geographers (and anthropologists, historians, scholars of politics and international relations [and so on] for that matter) as they are of sociologists. So here’s my attempt at a complementary list of geographically focused answers to the question ‘why should geographers and other social scientists study digital media?’:

  • Space & place and the social are increasingly being (re)configured with and through digital media.
  • What counts as ‘the social’, ‘culture’, ‘place’ and ‘landscape’ are increasingly being framed via digital media.
  • Digital media use and practice is structured through gender, social class, topographical location, contexts of place, education, race/ethnicity and age, all social and spatial categories with which social scientists have traditionally been interested.
  • Digital media are integral parts of contemporary social and spatial networks and social institutions such as the family, the workplace, the education system, the healthcare system, the mass media and the economy, again phenomena that have long been foci for social sciences research and theorising.
  • Digital media (re)configure concepts of selfhood, social relationships, embodiment, human/nonhuman relations, space and time – all relevant to research concerning society and space.
  • Digital media have instituted new forms of power relations.
  • Digital media have become central to issues of measure and value.
  • Digital media offer alternative ways of practising scholarship: of researching, teaching and disseminating research.
  • Digital media are important both to ‘public scholarship’, as engaging with people outside of academia, and ‘private scholarship’, involving personal identities and practices as social scientists.
  • Digital media challenge social scientists’ role as pre-eminent social researchers: we all need to address this.
  • Digital media technologies can contribute to ‘live’ research and ‘inventive methods’, or new, creative ways of practising social science.

I think Lupton provides really good answers to the question of why any scholar should study digital media, they certainly motivate many of my interests in that field.