Category Archives: technology

Further reflections on ‘being in a digital age’: remember the “Virtual Society?”

Virtual Society? ESRC programme

I was trying to think about the lineage of an ESRC programme on ‘digital’ stuff and was prompted to remember the Oxford-led (by Steve Woolgar) ESRC programme: “The Virtual Society?” and accompanying publications.

It is probably worth revisiting, however out-of-date it might feel, because I suspect there are some questions posed there to follow-up. Or at least modes of framing issues that maybe of interest…

Some good people were involved in that programme, including Christine HineSonia Livingstone, Celia Lury and Sally Wyatt (amongst others). I hope that the interest in qualitative work within the ESRC’s scoping call will take into account good work like theirs, and Daniel Miller’s.


Scoping review @ESRC : Ways of being in a digital age ~ anyone applying?

A kind colleague sent this to me just now and it made me both sit up in interest and slightly slump in my chair… I would love to be involved in this but just can’t see how…

This looks like a really interesting opportunity for an interdisciplinary team to provide a valuable and incisive push to the ESRC to think about what an earth “ways of being in a digital age” might mean. I do hope someone cam drive this forward in a positive way, the boosterism of “big data” etc. or the dystopian malaise of “algorithmic governance” are simply not sufficient for this task1.

Invitation to submit Expressions of Interest

We are delighted to invite Expressions of Interest (EoI) for a scoping review to inform a future ESRC initiative on ‘Ways of being in a digital age’.This is an exciting opportunity to inform ESRC’s possible future strategic investment and provide a more holistic view of how digital technology mediates our lives, and the way technological and social change co-evolve and impact each other.

This is a broad and much researched area, so the purpose of the scoping review is to undertake a systematic literature review and synthesis; to identify gaps in current research and determine where the ESRC should focus any initiative to add most value. Through this process the aim of the scoping review is also to build new networks and extend existing ones across the academic community, amongst other stakeholders and potential funding partners.

The scoping review is for a maximum duration of eight months and must commence no later than 1 August 2016. The maximum budget for the scoping review is £300,000 at 100 per cent in full economic costs. In accordance with RCUK policy, the ESRC will contribute up to 80 per cent of the full economic costs.

The call makes a brilliant plea for qualitative work (bottom of p. 3), which is very much needed. I hope this is something we can all build upon.

The initial questions offered in the invitation are interesting, but really need to be pushed a bit further For example, talking about “impacts” on society and forms of community that emerge “as a result” of technology are far too technologically determinist, and there isn’t “the digital” as some kind of amorphous separate domain,  where’s the conceptual nuance here?!

  • How we define and authenticate ourselves in a digital age

  • How do we construct the digital to be open to all, sustainable and secure

  • How digital technology impacts on our autonomy, agency and privacy – illustrated by the paradox of emancipation and control

  • What are the challenges of ethics, trust and consent in the digital age

  • How we live with and trust the algorithms and data analysis used to shape key features of our lives

  • How our relationships are being shaped and sustained in and between various domains, including family and work

  • What new forms of communities and work emerge as a result of digital technologies – for example new forms of coordination including large scale and remote collaboration Whether and how our understanding of citizenship is evolving in the digital age – for example whether technology helps or hinders us in participating at individual and community levels

  • How we define responsibility and accountability in the digital age Whether technology makes us healthier, better educated and more productive.

None of the disciplinary silos is sufficient in addressing this. It would be really, really depressing to see just a “digital sociology”, “digital geography”, or “digital anthropology” type review made here.

I hope someone is bold and imaginative and really pushes at the questions we should be asking. I would welcome conversations about how I could contribute in some small way…

1. I am not seeking to denigrate those who work on such things, merely pointing out that no fashionable trope is sufficient. Just as those that led the “Virtual Society?” theme for the ESRC back in didn’t bang on about “cyberspace”, although the use of the term “virtual” is/was possibly problematic…

Critical and Creative Ethnography After Human Exceptionalism. Brilliant new publication from @annegalloway

Amidst the slog of marking a shining jewel-like piece of inspiration appeared in my inbox – one of my academic heroes Anne Galloway shared a draft of what is a fantastic chapter for a brilliant book, which is set to be published later this year (what a great editorial team too!). Anne has posted about this on her lab’s blog, so I am reposting some of that post… however, go and read it on the More-than-human Lab blog!

I’m pleased to announce that The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography, edited by Larissa Hjorth, Heather Horst, myself & Genevieve Bell, will be published later this year.

For the companion I also contributed a chapter called “More-Than-Human Lab: Critical and Creative Ethnography After Human Exceptionalism.”

Anne shares the introductory paragraph, which I think wonderfully performs precisely the ethos of praxis she explores in the chapter:

Haere mai. Welcome. This story starts with an introduction so that the reader can know who I am, and how I have come to know what I know. My name is Anne Galloway. My mother’s family is Canadian and my father’s family is British. Born and raised outside both places, for the past seven years I have been tauiwi, or non-Māori, a settler in Aotearoa-New Zealand. I have always lived between cultures and have had to forge my own sense of belonging. Today I am in my home, on a small rural block in the Akatarawa Valley of the Tararua ranges, at the headwaters of the Waikanae River, on the ancestral lands of Muaūpoko (Ngāi Tara) & Ngāti Toa, with my partner, a cat, seven ducks, five sheep—four of whom I hope are pregnant—and a multitude of extraordinary wildlife. The only way I know how to understand myself is in relation to others, and my academic career has been dedicated to understanding vital relationships between things in the world. Most recently, I founded and lead the More-Than-Human Lab, an experimental research initiative at Victoria University of Wellington. Everything I have done has led me to this point, but for the purposes of this chapter I want to pull on a single thread. This is a love story for an injured world, and it begins with broken bones…

Anne offers more excerpts and explanation in her blogpost and her full reference list (so please do read it!).

I did however want to share a brief snippet of one of the many bits I love from the chapter:

As more technological devices connect people to things in the world, and as more data are collected about people and things, digital ethnography stands to make an important contribution to our understanding of constantly shifting relations. When combined with speculative design that translates realist narratives into fantastic stories, I also believe we can inject hope into spaces, times and relations where it seems most unlikely.

For me,  Anne’s reading of a feminist ethics of care: for knowledge for our ‘selves’ and for our decentred place in the vital soup of our (transindividuated) becoming, as a part of contemporary ethnographic praxis is really valuable and we would all do well to involve ourselves in the conversation which Anne invites.

The image at the top comes from Anne’s twitter feed, it’s one of her own sheep:

Contested Cities conference ~ July 2016, Madrid

Saw this via Gillian Rose on Twitter, looks interesting!

As part of our upcoming Conference in Madrid (July 4-7, 2016), the Contested Cities network and its partners invites contributions for a radical mixed- and multi-media exploration of contestation and cities. Our goal is simple – to challenge people everywhere to see cities and the struggle for their past, present and future in a new light, and to do so by gathering an international set of creative projects in one place. We think we can do that in part by using all of the new audio and visual tools at our disposal. We have some ideas ourselves, but are looking globally for those who want to join in.
We encourage and actively seek contributions from amateurs and professionals alike – expert videographers who may be amateur urbanists, expert urbanists who are amateur photographers, people who wear multiple hats comfortably, data visualization nerds, map geeks, audioheads, visual artists and everyone in between. If you are someone new to both thinking about cities and visualizing them, and simply had a moment of inspiration and now have a provocative project they want to show someone, send us your project! 
Accepted projects will be shown via slideshow at the Congress, and we hope to invite some of the best submissions for an international book project. We may also build a web version, but will ask permission before posting your work.
All “authors” will be invited to attend, but alas we cannot cover registration fees. There is no fee for submission.

Reblog> Bite Size Theory [on the presence/absence of mobile phones]

via Pop Theory:

“The presence/absence of mobile phones in one’s fictional worlds is going to be, I suspect, no trivial matter. Because so much of the mechanics of novel writing, past and present, is taken up with making information available to characters or keeping it from them, with getting people together in the same room or holding them apart. If, all of a sudden, everyone has access to more or less everyone else – electronic access, that is – what becomes of all that plotting?”John Coetzee, in Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, 2013, Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011.

The Museum of Contemporary Commodities in EXETER

The Museum of Contemporary Commodities

Just a quick note to let you know that the brilliant Paula Crutchlow has brought “The Museum of Contemporary Commodities” (MoCC) to Exeter for the majority of May.

There’s lots going on, much of it creative and interesting – so if you’re in Exeter or nearby: come and visit!

Two immediate things this week:

RIGHT NOW!: help re-create the internet in paper with Artist Louise Ashcroft from 11 -2 in the Exeter University Forum.

TOMORROW: sign up to do a data walkshop with Alison Powell from the LSE on Saturday from 10-1. Places have to be booked, and the Eventbrite page is here

Please do visit the MoCC website for lots more events and activities taking place this month and visit the shop:

87 Fore St,

Open 10:00-18:00pm Weds-Sat, 4th-21st May.

Reblog> Improvised Publics :: Control and Calculation :: Inheriting Liberation :: 6-17 June 2016

This event looks really interesting, check out the website for more information…

Emergenc(i)es – an event in Bristol between 6th and 17th June

Emergenc(i)es is an invitation to consider the emergency of the current historical moment.

The exhibition will dwell in the question of emergence within emergency.

Performance, education activities, visual art, screenings, installations, workshops and a library-cum-pharmacy will create time and space to diagnose, explore and understand the world we live in.

Enter – Relate – Improvise – Diagnose – Inherit – Public – Liberate – Gather

All activities are free to attend, thanks to generous funding from Awards for All.

In Disruption – new book by Bernard Stiegler

Yet another new book by Bernard Stiegler has been published in French recently: Dans la Disruption – Comment ne pas devenir fou?

One might translate this as: “In Disruption – How do we not go mad?”

Here’s the front and back covers, and I offer a quick translation of the back cover blurb…

For the lords of economic war disruption is “a phenomenon of the acceleration of innovation (…) which is going to happen more quickly in societies that allow them to impose programmes that destroy social structures and render public power impotent. This is a kind of strategy of tetanising one’s adversary”.

Facing the disruption thus imposed, social systems always arrive too late to seize technological evolution, now thundering ahead in the digital revolution. Faced with this state of affairs, which requires countless legal and theoretical loopholes establishing a lawlessness which is a kind of techonlogical Wild-West, individuals and groups are totally lost, often to the point of going mad, individually or collectively, and therefore becoming dangerous. The concretisation of what Nietzsche described as a growing desert of nihilism leaves 21st Century humans with no other perspective than facing the next of the limits of the Anthropocene.

What can be done with such madness, in such madness? It is by starting with this question, that Bernard Stiegler rereads Michel Foucault (Madness and civilisation: A history of insanity in the Age of Reason) and Jacques Derrida (Cogito and the History of Madness) while confronting Peter Sloterdijk and Jean-Baptise Fressoz’s analyses of capitalism as above all a process of disinhibition.

The author conducts these readings or re-readings starting from the forms of madness which reflects his own course, opening out the question of a new moral philosophy – in an age without age [l’époque sans époque], which he calls the “Strauss-Kahn generation”, that is a “lack of age” [“absence d’époque”], which imposes a general demoralisation that cannot last.

Reblog> Launch Event: Researching Alternative Worlds: New political orientations in Geography

I’m taking part in the launch event of the Bristol Geography MSc Society & Space blog alongside some excellent and distinguished alumni of the course. It promises to be an interesting event!

The Official Launch of the Society and Space MSc Blog

4.00pm, Hepple Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Science, University of Bristol

Register here

alternative worlds cover photos-1

On Wednesday 27th April, we will be officially launching the Society and Space MSc blog with a panel discussion event bringing together Society and Space alumni to discuss a common concern to all of their work – the role of academia in creating alternative social worlds. The Society and Space MSc Course is the principle Human Geography research training Master’s programme within the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol. As a Master’s degree that emphasises social and political theory, the programme trains students to think about social and cultural geographies from a critical perspective while also interrogating the political and ethical components inherent to these geographies. The programme has produced a range of alumni who have, in the course of their research, continue to contemplate and develop the issues, theories and debates they first encountered on the Master’s programme.

To officially launch the Society and Space blog, we have invited back Society and Space alumni – including James Ash, Emma Roe, Sam Kinsley, Nathan Eisenstadt, Owain Jones and Julian Brigstocke – to take part in a panel discussion centred upon pressing questions concerning our role as researchers in mapping alternative social worlds. What is the role of academic research in investigating, creating and sustaining alternative social worlds? When is academia useful and effective? What are we doing wrong, and what should we be doing more of?

Although a Master’s programme in Cultural Geography, the Society and Space MSc attracts students from a range of backgrounds and a variety of disciplines, such as journalism, English literature, philosophy, fine art and cultural studies. Due to the wide spectrum of backgrounds and interests of those who enrol in the course, as well as the dynamic nature of Human Geography as a subject, the contents covered in the Society and Space programme stimulate a range of conversations about the nature of sociality, the world we live in, and potential futures that may lie ahead of us. We expect that this diversity and broad outlook will be reflected in the work our speakers will present and the discussions that ensue. In addition to being a highly theoretical course, there is a strong, grounded political and ethical focus to the Master’s programme. Consequently, the issues debated, discussed and encountered throughout the Society and Space course are in direct conversation with ‘real’ issues – today’s hot topics and current political and ethical debates. In a context of austerity and the neoliberalisation of academia, the role of academia in researching and co-creating an alternative future is surely one such topic.

Alternative Worlds Poster-1

For a taste of the themes that the panel discussion will traverse, please have a look at abstracts provided by some of our panellists:

Dr James Ash, University of Newcastle

In this short reflection I offer one way of thinking about how we frame social science research questions. In doing so I want to caution against approaches which, however well meaning, centre on ‘big’ problems, framed in a general sense in relation to the concept of world. While issues such as climate change, poverty, homelessness and debt, amongst myriad others are undoubtedly real, there is an issue when assuming that a set of general problems are experienced within a shared horizon of meaning that is implied in the use of the term world. Rather than framing social problems in terms of big or small, or general or particular, I want to argue that such problems can be more productively framed in terms of what Simondon terms the abstract and the concrete. Drawing upon vignettes from the research design of an ESRC project on debt and digital interfaces, I demonstrate how Simondon’s work can be applied to specific societal problems.


Dr Nathan Eisenstadt, University of Bristol 

In this brief intervention I reflect on my doctoral work exploring paradoxes of freedom enacted in contemporary anarchist spaces. I propose that while performed inconsistently and in contradictory ways, the liberatory and egalitarian character of these practices lies in their capacity for an undoing of oneself with the help of compassionate others. Wonderful as this may sound – it has its edges. In closing I call attention to the failure of self-reflection and attempts to make spaces ‘safer’ when collectively established norms are radically transgressed.


Dr Sam Kinsley, University of Exeter

Computation is being used, within and without academia, to make ever grander and more detailed claims about our world. Yet, the (many) ‘worlds’ that emerge from what are generically referred to as ‘algorithms’ can be seen to fall foul of well-known fallacies of empiricism, in relation to their supposed lack of theoretical basis and apparent exhaustive reach. So, in light of grand claims made on behalf of ‘big data’ research and a contemporary predilection for the study of ‘algorithms’, I argue for a critical interrogation of the forms of world-ing propounded by such an ‘algorithmic imaginary’. In so doing, I suggest we reflect on what can be called a dialectic of ‘stupidity’ and ‘knowledge’, following Bernard Stiegler (2015), that undergirds our contemplation of such world-ings. My aim here is to tackle the inherent politics of this logic of worlds and how critical social scientists might engage.


Professor Owain Jones, Bath Spa University

My short presentation will reflect upon my experience of being in the first (very small) cohort of the MSc and then also devising and teaching the Nature and Society module from 2003-2006. I did not do an academic degree but an arts practice based degree so the MSc really marked my ‘conversion’ to academia and to geography. I can say without any exaggeration that doing the course was a life transforming and enhancing experience (as university (PG) education should be). The very possibility of imagining and enacting alternative worlds was very much part of that. My subsequent academic and professional life stands upon the very strong foundations put in place by the MSc and I think this is the case for many others too. I will offer some reflections upon why the course was so effective in this way. In part this was simply about being in a centre of excellence where there was a powerful intellectual momentum in which the conceptual and imaginative tools for questioning the trajectories of modernity were set out . But it was also about openness, spirit and collegiality with the staff and PG cohorts.

In addition to the panel discussion – which will be followed by time for audience questions – there will be a brief introduction by the Society and Space Blog Editors, before our very own Dr JD Dewsbury will recount his experience as first a student and then a lecturer on the MSc and map out how the course has changed and developed over the years.

The event will take place at 4.00pm, in the Hepple Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Science, University of Bristol (see map). The discussion will be followed by a drinks reception. If you intend to attend (and we hope you do!), please confirm your attendance here.

We look forward to meeting you on 27th April.

The Editors

Artefacts for generations growing up with robots

I’ve had this open in one of my tabs for ages with the intention of writing something about it here but I’ve sort of run out of time on that, so…

Here’s an interesting student project (I’d be delighted to have students like this!!) It’s a sort of deliberately controversial speculative design/ prototyping exercise to provoke thought and conversation about what it might mean to live with actually existing robots (not sci-fi androids).

The creators are: Stephan Bogner, Phillipp Schmitt and Jonas Voigt.

It’s worth a look…



Artefacts for generations growing up with robots

Why do future visions of robotics incite discomfort in our generation? Could robots truly render us obsolete or is it our fear of losing control? And are these fears conditioned or instinctive?

Raising Robotic Natives explores interactions between children and robots that could raise them as the first generation of robotic natives.

Just like digital natives grow up in the digital world, robotic natives are born into an environment that is adapting to robots. As a result of unbiased, childlike enthusiasm, they are socialized with the technology early on. Through constant robotic interactions and formalized education, robotic natives get to think differently about robots than we do. It will be their responsibility to shape the future of robotics, not ours—besides we’re robotic immigrants, after all.

See the full details of the project here.