The always interesting HKW and a project relevant to lots of geographers…
CALL FOR PAPERS
Science, Technology, and the Politics of Knowledge in Global Affairs
An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference at the Buffett Institute for Global Studies
Northwestern University, Evanston IL
March 30-31, 2017
Keynote: Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard Kennedy School
Organizing Committee: Kevin Baker, Savina Balasubramanian, and Omri Tubi
Scientists, state actors, international institutions, and lay activists vie for credibility and legitimacy to both frame and control global issues. Science and technology are routinely cast into a supporting role to bolster their claims. From nuclear energy in the battle against climate change to the politicization of “big data;” from new information technologies in emerging regimes of global surveillance to the use of randomized controlled trials in international development research – scientific and technological expertise operate as instruments of power and authority, which can serve to legitimate or contest new forms of global governance and intervention.
The Buffett Institute’s second annual graduate student conference will investigate expert knowledge in contemporary global affairs, looking at the ways this knowledge is created, invoked, circulated, and contested in the international political arena. We invite graduate students to present work that explores questions such as: How do various international actors attempt to position themselves as credible participants in global politics? Under what conditions does expert knowledge come to be seen as legitimate on the global stage? How and why do global issues become understood as primarily technical, rather than political? In what ways do international actors frame these issues and what must be done about them? How is scientific and technological expertise marshaled or ignored in processes of claims making and action to structure interventions into global “problems?” And, finally, how do these practices organize, sustain, or challenge structures of global inequality and power?
Possible topics include but are not limited to:
We invite graduate students across the humanities and social sciences to submit abstracts of no more than 250 words by December 15, 2016using the submission link on the conference webpage: http://buffett.northwestern.edu/programs/grad-conference/. There will be no deadline extensions. Accepted presenters will be notified by January 5 and papers are due to faculty discussants by March 7. The Buffett Institute will provide hotel accommodations and will subsidize travel costs (fully for US-based graduate students and partially for international students). Please direct all queries to the Graduate Organizing Committee at: email@example.com.
David Harvey talking to Evgeny Morozov, in the first few minutes he addresses the issue of the claims being made about the end of globalisation/neoliberalism. The conversation then quickly ranges over the gig economy and what Guy Standing calls the ‘precariat’ (it’d be interesting to stage that conversation!) and then a brief statement question about ‘smart’ cities (Harvey is dismissive). Worth watching.
Via Anna Jackman.
Plenty to be said about this and not enough time right now, but..:
Former colleagues at UWE in the Digital Cultures Research Centre are formally launching their project on what they call ‘ambient literature’ this Friday.
There’s some info on the project copied below, it follows on from a trajectory you can trace through the ‘pervasive media’ canon (with the lovely people from Calvium [many formerly of HP Labs Bristol] instrumental in how this has been technically achieved), from the Mobile Bristol RIOT! 1831 project, Duncan Speakman’s subtle mobs, the fabulous Fortnight project from Proto-type, Curzon Memories, REACT projects like These Pages Fall Like Ash and (my colleague Nicola Thomas’) Dollar Princess – a rich and varied history of work…
This is a great opportunity for someone broadly working in the areas of interest specified below…
I feel prompted to write something I’ve been puzzling over for a while because of a tweet and post on medium [The commodification of data, by Ade Adewunmi] I saw recently:
— Peter Wells (@peterkwells) October 30, 2016
It’s a good post, but for some academic social scientists this is now an established argument that’s been developed, been the subject of conferences and books and so on. For a while now, I’ve had a sense of an awkward gap between the conversations about the various concerns for ‘data’ I witness through social media. In particular, I’ve been struck by how different the conversations are between (social sciences) academics from those involved in the development and running of ‘digital’ government services*. I recognise that the following is a bit of a caricature but the quick characterisation serves to assist the wider point I’m interested in exploring.
The fellow academics I follow (mostly in geography but from across the social sciences) have a relatively developed set of political and ethical arguments about the analysis (commercial & governmental–often blurred), big-ness, collecting/gathering, transformation and so on of digital ‘data’, more often than not with reference to tropes around governance, labour, privacy and surveillance and ‘subjectivity’ (usually in the frame of how we are made individual subjects). So, ‘data’ in this set of debates may signal, for some, negative connotations of commercial or institutional ‘big brother’ and so on. There, of course, plenty of reasons to feel this way.
The digital government services folk, and some of the digital research services people (e.g. from JISC), that I follow often have more diverse and opaque (to me) views. A common foundation for many is the broadly liberal set of arguments for ‘open‘ networked services, somewhere between Stewart Brand’s libertarianism (in the vein of the arguments around “information wants to be free“) and the systematic optimistic liberalism of the W3C: “web for all, web on everything“. Some blog and tweet about the challenges of implementing that ethos and the various systems/techniques developed as a result within the auspices of government. Others write about what is and can be achieved by pursuing the ‘open’ agenda in government. More often that not, there is a positive and ‘progressive’ slant to the debate – developing a ‘common good’ (for want of a better phrase).
The debates do not crossover in my experience. They have their own pet concepts and specialist terminology, with academics (like me) banging on about ‘dataveillance’, ‘discipline’ and ‘control’, governmentality, and, of course, ‘neoliberalism’; whereas the digital government folk I follow can talk about ‘digital’ and ‘open’ (as nouns), ‘agile‘ and ‘lean‘ (also sometimes nouns) practices. I am not saying any of this is representative, simply pointing out that the kinds of conversation are rather different. Neither of these groupings (as I characterise them) talk about or suggest policy in any detail, which is interesting. Social scientists studying ‘data’ (etc) often discuss methodological technique and diagnose what are perceived to be negative aspects of digital systems, whereas digital government folk are often highlighting progress being made in making ‘public’ data and associated services ‘open’ and more accessible. This may be an issue of ‘methods’. To be (perhaps overly) general – the social scientists I follow do particular kinds of, often, politically inflected research, whereas the digital government folk I follow are attempting to build politically neutral services. So, here, the academics are looking for expressions of power and politics, the digital government folk are attempting to minimise their effects.
We are left with what appears to be an unfortunate gap in a possibly fruitful conversation – there are constructive ways that academic researchers can offer insights into how opaque power structures can operate and, likewise, the digital government folk actually have experience of making complex digital systems for government. At present, in my Twitter stream I see (at best) mutual suspicion and often just totally separate conversations. There are moments though and some academics are clearly engaging albeit ‘critically’, e.g.
— LSE Impact Blog (@LSEImpactBlog) October 26, 2016
I recognise my partiality – that there are more than likely more in-depth conversations going on that I’m missing and I do think there’s some really positive work going on, for example as part of the Programmable City project – for example see the great talk by Sung-Yueh Perng below, that is attempting to look at what it means to build digital public services and the kinds of contributions social scientists (like me – there are lots of other kinds of course!) can make.
I welcome suggestions and comments about this, so please do get in touch.
* I am not claiming that those I follow on Twitter and are pigeonholing with this category are representative in any way, this just works for this broad example.
The excellent artist James Bridle has written something for the New Humanist, which is published on their website, entitled “What’s wrong with big data?” Perhaps he’s been reading Rob Kitchin’s The Data Revolution? 🙂 Anyway, it sort of chimes with my previous post on data debates and with the sense in which the problems Bridle so incisively lays out for the readers of his article are not necessarily practical problems but rather are epistemological problems – they pertain to the ways in which we are asked to make sense of the world…
This belief in the power of data, of technology untrammelled by petty human worldviews, is the practical cousin of more metaphysical assertions. A belief in the unquestionability of data leads directly to a belief in the truth of data-derived assertions. And if data contains truth, then it will, without moral intervention, produce better outcomes. Speaking at Google’s private London Zeitgeist conference in 2013, Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman, asserted that “if they had had cellphones in Rwanda in 1994, the genocide would not have happened.” Schmidt’s claim was that technological visibility – the rendering of events and actions legible to everyone – would change the character of those actions. Not only is this statement historically inaccurate (there was plenty of evidence available of what was occurring during the genocide from UN officials, US satellite photographs and other sources), it’s also demonstrably untrue. Analysis of unrest in Kenya in 2007, when over 1,000 people were killed in ethnic conflicts, showed that mobile phones not only spread but accelerated the violence. But you don’t need to look to such extreme examples to see how a belief in technological determinism underlies much of our thinking and reasoning about the world.
Quantified thinking is the dominant ideology of contemporary life: not just in scientific and computational domains but in government policy, social relations and individual identity. It exists equally in qualified research and subconscious instinct, in the calculations of economic austerity and the determinacy of social media. It is the critical balance on which we have placed our ability to act in the world, while critically mistaking the basis for such actions. “More information” does not produce “more truth”, it endangers it.
You can read the whole article on the New Humanist website.
I gave a talk for the SW Futurists meet up group this week and they’ve recorded the talks. There are two speakers: Lucas Godfrey (Edinburgh) talked about the challenges of creating models of phenomena in the world so that you can automate things. I talked about the politics of the kinds of stories we tell about automation and how they orient our understandings of how automation might function. Both are included in the video but I’ve skipped to the start of my talk below.
Feel free to leave comments, ask questions etc. using the “Comments” function below… this presentation is sort of based on two bits of work about automation that have been developing as academic presentations. The first is about how we tell stories about work in relation to automation, and way we use ‘algorithm’ as a proxy for that idea. The second is about how we imagine what apparently automated/automatic technologies are doing and what they can do. I think both of these things constitute what I’ve come to call an “automative imaginary”… I started out calling this “algorithmic—“, but I don’t think that ‘s what I have ever really meant. I also don’t think, another fashionable term, “robots” is a particularly helpful way to frame the ideas I’m interested in. Anyway, I’m hoping to develop this into a journal article.
A video of a presentation (in English) by Bernard Stiegler on his conceptualisation of the ‘neganthropocene’ for the very interesting The New Center for Research and Practice.