Category Archives: technology

Tweets about Ernesto Laclau

[Amended: 15/04/2014 22:24 to reflect better stats on the links being shared]

As a number of other bloggers have highlighted, and as I noted on Twitter, the political philosopher Ernesto Laclau sadly passed away on the 13th of April. There is an excellent obituary on the publisher Verso’s blog, which is worth reading.

Like, I think, a lot of others I discovered this news on Twitter and, as is the modus operandi of the tweeter, I re-tweeted the tweets through which I discovered the news. I certainly do not intend to trivialise this news, but what is quite interesting about the spread of this sad news is that while the English spread of the news on twitter was largely driven by retweets, a lot of which linked to a story in the English language Buenos Aires Herald, the Spanish spike in tweets was not wholly driven by retweets.

There was, therefore, a muted version of a @BBCBreaking sort of effect in English tweets, in the way that there was for example with the news about the death of Peaches Geldof (again, I’m not seeking to trivialise that news or intervene in the discussions about whether or not there was genuine grief being expressed). So, for a ‘concerned public’ (in this case those who are at least partly familiar with Laclau, his work and the topics it addresses) social media became a conduit and key actor in the movement of the information in different ways.

I ran a quick search on ScraperWiki, from yesterday, that encompasses the relevant dates and used some of the tools we have been developing for the Contagion project to look at the time series of tweets and in particular the movement of the news between Spanish and English. We can see how the initial spike of tweets in Spanish leads the spike in English by approximately an hour (please bare in mind that the Spanish tweets are more numerous by an approximate multiple of ten).

Now, the spike in tweets in English can be mostly, but not quite wholly, attributed to retweets of the link to an English language article posted on the Buenos Aires Herald. Yet, there remains a majority of the tweets in the Spanish spike that are a case of other forms of ‘passing it on‘. Tweets featuring a direct link (some as shortened URLs) to the Buenos Aires Herald article account for over a half (at various moments in the spike) of all English tweets between 8pm and midnight on 13th April, and a few more of these tweets link to Stuart Elden’s blog post that links on to the Buenos Aires Herald.

So, its interesting to see how the combination of an emergent ‘public’ convened around that news and the somewhat phatic interaction of re-tweeting once the movement of easily shared links begins (this is related to what Martin Thayne discussed in a paper about Facebook in the issue of Culture Machine I co-edited with Patrick Crogan). This speaks to what Steve Hinchliffe and I have been trying to get at with the definition of ‘contagion’, inspired by Tony Sampson’s Thrift-ian reading of Tarde, as the ‘movement of movement’ – the sense in which the various intersecting constituents of a public / a network, propagate and in some senses ‘accelerate’ the iteration and mutation, hence difference, in repetition.

Obviously, there’s more to what we do, and, indeed, more to do, in this kind of critical theory-inflected analysis of virality in social media and that’s what I’m busy working out with both Steve and our diligent research fellow Rebecca Sandover, who has recently presented some initial ideas from the project at the AAG (the abstract linked here isn’t quite what was presented but it gives you a flavour!).

Reblog > Anne Galloway at Mobilities & Design Workshop, Lancaster

The Mobilities and Design workshop (later this month) looks interesting, not least cos Anne will be joining from afar to talk about her excellent Counting Sheep project, as she says on her blog:

I’m really pleased to be participating (via video & Skype) in the Mobilities and Design Workshop at Lancaster University, 29-30 April, 2014.

The event is being live-streamed so you’ll be able to follow along, and this is what I’ll be talking about:

Why Count Sheep, and Other Tricky Questions About Speculative Design Ethnography

Governments around the world require livestock farmers to tag their animals and track their movements from birth to death. Mandated for the purposes of local biosecurity and global market access, electronic identification is also used to keep track of breeding information and health treatments. Combined with location technologies like GPS, and sensor technologies that can monitor individual animal health and external environmental conditions, livestock are now capable of generating and transmitting enormous amounts of data.

At the same time, farmers in the developed world respond to increased public concerns about animal welfare and environmental sustainability by developing new online forms of agricultural advocacy, or what they call “agvocacy”. The US-based AgChat Foundation, and its equivalents in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, use social media to promote greater public awareness of agricultural practices and connect producers and consumers through weekly online chats. A “farm to fork” traceability ethos underpins agvocacy efforts, and aligns well with technosocial imperatives related to the “Internet of Things” – or the ability to connect data-rich objects (including animals) to the Internet.

For the past three years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sheep, talking about sheep, and hanging out with sheep or other people who care about sheep. I’ve done this because I’m interested in what the emergent technologies and politics I describe above might mean for our longest domesticated livestock animal, and for the people who continue to produce and consume them. In most ways, this has been standard STS-based ethnographic research: participant observation, interviews, etc. But the systems that I describe aren’t fully formed–and may not ever fully form as imagined–so I needed to come up with complementary research methods that could help me apprehend the future, or more correctly possible futures, and for that I turned to design.

This presentation will first outline the speculative design ethnography (SDE) methods developed, and outputs created, for the “Counting Sheep: NZ Merino in an Internet of Things” research project. (I encourage people to check out the design scenarios for themselves.) Then I will reflect on the challenges and opportunities of this kind of hybrid research practice, paying particular attention to how future visions act in the present to construct multiple publics and co-produce knowledge. Finally, using preliminary responses to our work, I will consider the potential of SDE as a public engagement strategy, and the role of disinterested or disagreeable publics.

Related reading

Galloway, A. 2013. “Emergent Media Technologies, Speculation, Expectation and Human/Nonhuman Relations.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 57(1): 53-65.

Galloway, A. 2013. “Towards Fantastic Ethnography and Speculative Design.” Ethnography Matters, 17 September, 2013.

Fred Turner talks about his “Democratic Surround”

Fred Turner (STS Assoc. Prof. at Stanford), author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture, has written another book examining the development of theories of what Turner calls ‘the democratic personality’ by Margaret MeadGregory Bateson and others into an alternative form of propaganda to encourage opposition to fascism, described as the Democractic Surround, which serves as the title of the book. Turner describes some of the important themes of the book in conversation with Howard Rheingold (who is, incidentally, one of the people that appears in From Counterculture to Cyberculture). Charting movements between American anthropology (through Mead et al.), European avant grade arts (the Bauhaus refugees) and their subsequent absorption into the American cultural milieu in the form of the Black Mountain College (and so John Cage), Turner skilfully weaves an interesting narrative.

For those interested, there is a review essay by Fred Turner of Peter Mandler’s Return From the Natives, on Public Books, which examines the influence of Boas’ ‘school’ of anthropology on war-time (WWII) propaganda.

You can also see Stanford’s form of ‘propaganda’ in the shape of the promotional video they created for Turner’s book…

Reblog > Nigel Thrift and Steven Koonin discuss urban science and big data

Stuart Elden points to an interesting video of a conversation with Nigel Thrift, discussing urban informatics, ‘big data’ and so on. Slight hint of Thrift buying into the rhetoric around ‘big data’ but still an interesting discussion…

Nigel Thrift, Vice Chancellor of University of Warwick, and Steven Koonin, Director of New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, partners in this endeavour, discussed the emerging field of applied urban science and informatics, the opportunities it presents, and how it is challenging the way we think about information. The discussion was moderated by Sallie Keller, Director, Social Decision and Analytics Laboratory, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech.

Stiegler – We are coming to the end of the Fordist model, we must move to a mode of contribution

In January (2014), a website concerned with proposing and advancing novel and alternative businesses and economic models called Without Model published an interview with Bernard Stiegler concerning his conceptualisation of the economy of contribution. Without Model describes itself as a community of ‘forwarders’, a kind of community of Tardean imitative amplifiers – which is interesting…

In the interview Stiegler reiterates some aspects of his argument for an economy of contribution made elsewhere but also reaffirms the links with an understanding of a libidinal economy. He also,  fairly explicitly highlights the constitution of an economy of contribution is no easy task – it requires some fairly hefty (macro-economic) structural challenges. In other words, Stiegler is not simply outlining an alternative business model for trendy ‘right-on’ companies or co-ops but arguing for something like a structural change to the economy, built from the ground-up. Elsewhere he has argued that this requires a rethinking of education, is contingent upon particular modes of infrastructure such as open data and requires a more holistic understanding of value. Quite an ambition then – but, as outlined in his Disbelief and Discredit series of books, Stiegler sees an immediate and urgent impetus to incite such change.

This is, of course, not without risk — in Stiegler’s terms these new capacities for becoming (or in his terminology – transindividuation) are pharmacological, the particular ways in which they play out in the world can be both a ‘poison’ and a ‘cure’ (following Plato’s argument that writing is a pharmakon). Elsewhere, Stiegler argues that such an economy of ‘pharmaka’ is a therapeutic — it is possible to resolve the poison/cure relation either way — that is not dialectical (i.e. an opposition) but rather a composition of tendencies that emerge in the relations of a milieu.

I suppose the one criticism that might be immediately levelled at this version of Stiegler’s argument is that it sort of implicitly assumes that we must create alternative institutions to invoke such change, which of course needs to be ordered and civil, and so the very basis of change is potentially compromised by the inherent contradiction of needing to create another bureaucracy to get rid of the current, corrupt one.

As usual, I have added queries, clarifications etc. in square brackets and with a couple of footnotes. Also, all of the links within the text have been added by be for clarification of particular terms or concepts. I welcome comments and suggestions.

We are at the end of the Fordist model, we must move to mode of contribution

Bernard Stiegler is a philosopher and theoritician of the evolution of technical systems. He discovered free/open [source] models almost by accident while serving as the Director of the INA.

As the founder and president for the philosophical organisation Ars Industrialis, created in 2005, since April 2006 he has also directed the Institute for Research and Innovation (IRI) at the Georges Pompidou centre.

[interview begins]

Q. Open, contributory and collaborative models are becoming more numerous and these forms of contribution extend into new territories – how do you interpret this evolution?

B.S. Before responding, it is a necessary precondition [of this conversation] to recognise that all of these models are not equivalent. Facebook is contributory, but in certain ways, it is a worse model [of operation] than its not contributory equivalents, I almost prefer the model of TF1. These mechanisms of the capture and distortion of data lead to a strong depersonalisation, a phenomenon that is exacerbated by ‘big data’. This is both exciting, because the data open up new possibilities, and dangerous.

It is for this reason that I discuss the pharmakon. In all technologies or systems, there are two simultaneous and opposing tendencies – one is good, positive and emancipatory, and the other is negative and predatory. We need to analyse the toxicity of these phenomena, for as they become better they also become more toxic. A pharmakon today necessitates a therapeutic: It must be a an organ of care [organe de soin 1] which like any medicine, if it fails, can kill the patient. It is thus necessary to conduct these analyses honestly and sincerely, in the same ways an accountant does with company accounts. The problem is that we do not have the perspective of hindsight, the training or the capacities [savoir-faire] for doing so calmly with contributory models.

Today, we need a typology of contributory models.

I work a lot with communities of hackers: until the ‘Snowdon crisis’ they did not see the pharmacological character of the net. In the last year things have changed, there is a kind of ‘net blues‘.

Q. How can one define the economy of contribution, for example how can one differentiate the market?

B.S. The economy of contribution is based on a re-capacitation: it augments the capacities of people more than it diminishes them. The term ‘recapacitation’ draws on Amartya Sen’s understanding of capabilities — a capability is a form of knowledge, life skills [savoir vivre], know how [savoir faire] or formal knowledge [savoir formel] – shared with other and which constitutes a knowledge community. Sen has shown that consumerism diminishes capabilities.

An economy of contribution is based in the development of the knowledge of individuals, and the sharing of these knowledges is facilitated by a shared ownership which does not prevent its circulation.

I am not against the notion of ownership [propriété], but it does not have to be proprietorial, at the expense of the collective value of knowledge. Rather than capacitation, the consumerist society is based on proletarianisation, even design is proletarianised.

The economy of contribution is an economy based on parity [parité] – peer-to-peer. In this economy, we often speak of emergent initiatives or the bottom-up, but the bottom-up does not exist alone, there is always an aspect of the top-down – which is to say that there is always an organisation that unites and valorises the bottom-up dynamics. Even when we believe that there is only the bottom-up, there is a hidden top-down that regulates emergence. The real peer is one who can explain the top-down to the bottom-up.

Q. Why is it more important today than it was 20 years ago or will be in 20 years time?

B.S. We are entering a new stage of automisation, of a different nature to that which has taken place thusfar. It is the continuation of what began 200 years ago, but automisation has shifted register. In many sectors, manual labour is no longer necessary, or will be superfluous very soon. Amazon has recently announced it is working towards this, the elimination of all of its jobs and their replacement by machines.

Currently, the elements are in place for automisation to move into a new stage, only the cost of robots limit its progress. One could suppose that when actors such as Amazon announce that they are tackling such a problem that the industrial ecosystem would produce economies of scale that make robots less costly than humans. When that happens, the Fordist model is dead. For without jobs, or purchasing power there will be nobody to buy what the robots produce. It will be a major, violent and systemic crisis. If we do not change regulations now we will have great difficulty coping.

Q. It can be noted that these models are being developed and that there are many initiatives but one often has the impression that they are struggling to sustain or develop themselves – what might be the reasons?

B.S. It is true that the precariousness of contributory models and the high failure rate of these initiatives raise questions.

There is an explanation, it lies in the ecosystem, the macro economy. At the level of the micro (individuals and organisations) these initiatives emerge and spread. We can see that without a macro politics they cannot prosper. When I speak of the macro economy I refer to the labour laws, taxation, social security, and territorial infrastructures. All of these elements do not favour an economy of contribution. Unless they [the macro economic elements] can be changed there is no chance of it [an economy of contribution] developing. Or, perhaps, it is a certain kind of contributory model that can succeed, such as Facebook.

This is the economic project and contemporary politics that we must change. The debates about the minimum subsistance income are interesting in this regard. I prefer to speak of a contributory wage. For me, the contributory wage should be based on the minimum subsistance income but it should not stop there. The contributory wage should be designed to promote the involvement of individuals in contributory projects. It should encourage contributions in order to create social enterprises, they can be monetised businesses but they do not have to be.

Q. Beyond the [structural] systems and the macro-economy, what sort of levers are available to develop contributory logics?

B.S. It is necessary to develop a contributory culture and and education, such that individuals engage in one way or another with contributory projects, making it more and more likely for them to do so. In developing such a culture we would develop the capacity of individuals to detect the toxic aspects of the pharmakon that is the economy of contribution.

On another plane, designers have a major role to play. They are called to become the visionaries and forerunners of contributory systems. A fablab cannot function only with the building and the machines, it functions because there is a social architecture of contribution, this is the work of the designer.

Research will also enable progress, if it becomes more contributory. The pace is so fast, the level of complexity is so pronounced that it is necessary to cooperate in order to understand and analyse [anything]. To open research to those beyond its immediate originators today would allow us all to keep abreast of the latest advances.

Q. You often talk about the libidinal economy when you talk about the economy of contribution, how does Freud come into models for contribution?

B.S. I have a Freudian vision of the economy. The libido is a social link, it is the capacity to channel the [base] drives [pulsions] into what Freud describes as a social investment of desire. Drives function positively when we are able to defer their satisfaction. To defer reaction is to make an action. The libidinal economy is the idealisation (in Freud’s sense) and the sublimation of drives. We can say that free and open source software [logiciel libre] is nurtured by this [kind of] sublimation, in other words by this striving beyond ourselves [ce dépassement 2].

Notes

You can find the interview in the original French on the Without Model website here.

1. I have translated organe de soin rather literally because it speaks to Stiegler’s conceptualisation of organs in the mode of technics and the ‘organon’ (in Greek – tool, instrument, prosthesis, organ) – a supplement to the body, through which it (the organ) and the individual are co-constituted. In his philosophical project, Stiegler has proposed a ‘general organology’ that articulates bodily organs (the viscera), artificial organs (instruments, tools and so on), and social organs (groupings ~ organisations).

2. There isn’t really a direct translation of what is written in the final sentence – dépassement means ‘overtaking’, which I have taken as a metaphor for a moving forward beyond ourselves and our present by channeling desires through positive processes of sublimation.

Thomas Lemke on the ‘new materialism’, bio-capital and biopolitics

A talk by Thomas Lemke bringing together his own, substantial, work on biopolitics (through Foucault) and what has been characterised as the ‘new materialism’, or the acknowledgement of ‘vibrant matter(s)’ in Jane Bennett’s words, as well as the growing study of the relations between ‘neoliberal capitalism and changing understandings of what constitutes life in the emerging biotechnical industries’. For Lemke these extend Foucault’s project by opening up new directions for the analysis of biopolitics in the guise of the modes of politics and the matters of life.

The talk was given at the Central European University and I came across it through the ANTHEM blog.

Placing computation: the informatics of anticipation

I wrote an outline for a paper/chapter for a proposed book and related conference edited/convened by F. Xavier Olleros and Majlinda Zhegu at Université de Québec à Montréal which they have kindly accepted. So, I will be fleshing out the following over the summer. Obviously, I owe an intellectual debt to Rob Kitchin here but I’d like to think that I am substantively developing some of the themes of his code/space work (with Martin Dodge) through my own reading of Bernard Stiegler’s philosophical project. In particular, I am developing some of my ideas about the politics of anticipation (from my PhD work) through Stiegler’s theorisation of the ‘industrialisation of memory‘ and the ‘eventisation‘ capacities of increasingly data-driven commercial industries.

This paper addresses the transformative sense in which computation has become an infrastructure upon which has been founded mechanisms to both support and intervene in how we live our everyday lives. The past two decades have witnessed a steady movement of the capacity of digital computation away from spaces dedicated to housing the apparatus of computing—such as the computer centre and the home office—towards a diffusion of that capacity into a variety of everyday places (in the global North). A number of authors have both predicted and described the ways in which computation has moved from dedicated places for bulky apparatus into a capacity available through interconnected devices and systems in an increasing number of contexts (Greenfield, 2006; Kitchin, 2011; Kitchin and Dodge, 2011; Mitchell, 1995, 2000, 2003; Shepard, 2011; Rheingold, 2002; Weiser, 1991). Large-scale computing apparatus have not been eliminated, in fact they have increased in number in the guise of data centres, server farms and so on, but the capacity for the interconnection of those resources through international telecommunications infrastructures to large numbers of portable and embedded devices has transformed the scope and reach of computation (Graham and Marvin, 2001; Graham, 2004, 2005). The purpose of this paper is to interrogate the ways in which this widespread infrastructure of computation is being used not only to both support and surveil increasing amounts of everyday activities, through the collection and retention of vast quantities of data, but also to anticipate and intervene into how we perform the everyday.

Increasing amounts of information about ourselves and others is harvested and stored using electronic devices and we volunteer even more information to email providers, search engines and social networking systems. Many aspects of our everyday lives are now gathered in a range of contexts and recorded (via CCTV, cellphone networks and so on) and retained in databases (Agre, 1994; Graham, 2002; Haggerty and Ericson, 2000; Murakami Wood, 2008), as a growing system of memory of life otherwise forgotten or unthought. These systems are increasingly involved in the ways in which we convene and perform a sense of place. If places are spatial contexts that we convene and give meaning through particular kinds of activities or arrangements of various people and things, then the ways in which we perform that sense of place can be understood to be increasingly mediated by digital technologies. We use mobile devices to search commercial systems for information about and navigate to locations, relying upon travel instructions and databases of past experiences of those places. We allow those systems to use data about ourselves to recommend the ways in which we might act in those locations, where we might eat, shop or socialise. Furthermore, especially in urban environments, we are subject to the regulation of particular locations through real-time analytics based upon infrastructures that gather data for city governments. Infrastructures of software and hardware thus have a growing agency in how we collectively communicate, remember and conduct ourselves socially.

The gathering and recording of data and volunteered information through the expanding computational infrastructure facilitates the ordering of time both as forms of history, and thus the sharing of knowledge and culture, and as the means of anticipating, planning for, and perhaps preventing, futures. The logic of retained knowledge is thus ‘programmatic’ and has arguably become more so with the advent of software programmes, which have augmented our capacities to remember, process and act upon information. Furthermore, these infrastructures increasingly anticipate, in real-time, the ways in which we will behave in order to inform how commercial and governmental organisations intervene in and regulate how a variety of urban environments function. The production and performance of cities, then, increasingly ‘takes place’ in concert with a host of quasi-autonomous computational agents, regardless of whether or not we are aware of it.

To investigate the transformative nature of the anticipatory capacities of a growing number of computational infrastructures embedded within our everyday lives this paper proceeds in three parts. In the following, second, section several technology case studies are explored as means of capturing & retaining and anticipating & operating upon our everyday activities in ‘industrial’ scale systems. Particular attention is paid to the quasi-autonomous agency of these systems, that appear to operate at a scale and speed that exceeds a human capacity of oversight. In the third section the mnemonic and prognostic capabilities of networked infrastructures are brought into focus to be examined, through the work of the philosopher Bernard Stiegler (1998, 2009, 2010b, 2010a), as ‘mnemotechnologies’, technologies and technical supports that both support and reterritorialise what we collectively understand about our everyday lives. The conclusion of this article addresses the ways in which the informatics of an ‘industrialisation of memory’ that operates at a scale and speed that bleeds into apparatuses of anticipatory intervention both challenges and transforms the ways in which we negotiate what are private and public activities and spaces.

Reblog > Hybrid assemblages, environments and happenings – Eric Paulos

Eric Paulos reflects on a wealth of experience of interdisciplinary and participatory research, particularly in relation to the maker movement. Eric offers some great reflections on Mark Weiser’s interdisciplinarity and the importance of creative practice.

Hybrid Assemblages, Environments & Happenings -Eric Paulos

Abstract: This talk will present and critique a body of work evolving across several years of research at the intersection of computer science and design research. It will present an augment for hybrid materials, methods, and artifacts as strategic tools for insight and innovation within computing culture. It will explore and demonstrate the value of urban computing, citizen science, and maker culture as opportunistic landscapes for intervention, micro-volunteerism, and a new expert amateur. Finally, it will present and question emerging materials and strategies from the perspective of engineering, design, and new media.

https://twitter.com/epaulos

VIDEOS > Categorisation and processes of individuation – Stiegler

Simon Lincelles, apparently on behalf of the ‘indexation and editorialisation’ group at the Institute for Research and Innovation (IRI, founded at the Pompidou Centre by Bernard Stiegler), has posted some really interesting videos featuring edited excerpts from a seminar run at IRI cut together with relevant additional materials. There are English subtitles for the spoken French.

In particular, these videos offer an interesting and valuable introduction to how Stiegler conceptualises the idea of ‘categorisation’ in relation to processes of retention/protention (broadly – memory and anticipation) and how this is important to processes of becoming (co- and trans-individuation). This speaks more broadly to an understanding of how we share experiences within/of the world and how we might think about contributing to that sharing using various forms of technique/technology, which has become a significant concern for IRI and their focus on a ‘digital studies‘. Definitely worth a watch!

II 1 Categorization and transindividuation from Simon Lincelles on Vimeo.

II 2 Psychic Individuation and categorisation from Simon Lincelles on Vimeo.

II 3 Remarques sur l’expérience. from Simon Lincelles on Vimeo.