My current research is largely concerned with exploring and problematising the cultures, spacings and temporality of technology. I consider my work to span cultural geography and science and technology studies. So, this research broadly pursues three themes: first, geographies of technology – principally practices of innovation and embodied uses; second, spatial imagination and appeals towards a future, not least in relation to ‘ubiquitous computing‘ and ‘smart cities‘; third, the changing understanding and biopolitics of social media, characterised partially by work concerning an ‘attention economy‘.
Computing Futures – I was awarded a British Academy Small Grant to conduct further research on the ways in which futures are anticipated in ubiquitous computing research and development. This work principally focuses on the HP Labs project ‘CoolTown’ through interviews with people involved with the project. Supporting interviews were also conducted to offer contrasting positions from other projects conducted in a similar timeframe. Publications based on this research are currently in preparation.
Digital Studies – alongside colleagues at the DCRC, I am investigating what Ars Industrialis – an international association to promote political interventions in the development of contemporary digital technoculture – have proposed as ‘digital studies‘: the techno-anthropologically oriented ‘new unifying and transdisciplinary model of every form of academic knowledge’. This builds upon and extends work that I have been doing with my colleague Patrick Crogan around the capacities for attention.
‘Open City’ – Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture – In 2012 I was a consultant for a ‘design fiction‘ film that attempts to imagine a near future of Guimarães as a ‘smart city’. The work is commissioned by the Open City programme, coordinated by Watershed, as a part of the broader programme of cultural work conducted under Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture (Portugal). My contribution brought together the findings from both the Computing Futures project and my PhD research with my reflections on ‘design fiction’ to help filmmaker Geoff Taylor to realise an alternative vision of a ‘smart cities’ future based on workshops with the citizens of Guimarães. You can watch the film on the Smart City page of the Open City website.
In July 2010 I successfully defended my PhD thesis at the School of Geographical Sciences in the University of Bristol. The ‘viva’ examination was conducted by Professor Paul Dourish (Informatics) and Dr Maria Fannin (Geography). My PhD project investigated the ways and means particular futures are anticipated in the research and development (R&D) of ‘ubiquitous computing’ and related commentary.
Practising Tomorrows? Ubiquitous computing and the politics of anticipation.
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The thesis describes the ways in which technological futurity is a complex array of performative and proactive dispositions towards the future that are irreducible to normative and deterministic understandings of ‘progress’. It takes ubiquitous computing as a significant case study because the future orientation practised in ubiquitous computing research and development is emblematic of the perpetual technological forecasting in which humanity engages. While ubiquitous computing has existed as an agenda for nearly 20 years it is still largely concerned with a future that has not (yet) been realised. In the context of ubiquitous computing the thesis argues that it is necessary to make the politics of anticipation, as the particular discursive and performative ways in which future-orientation is codified and conditioned, explicit in technology development. The thesis therefore enacts a critical framework that charts a discourse of anticipation, as the multiple means for articulating proactive future orientation, internal to which are anticipatory logics that structure and rationalise how such forms of futurity are practised.
The motivation and ambit of the research is to thereby describe a politics of anticipation as the ways in which the anticipation of technological futures is codified and contested, whilst performative and multiple. Empirically, the argument is made through the discussion of interviews conducted with a range of internationally significant practitioners of ubiquitous computing research and development, which were carried out in Silicon Valley, California, in 2008. Attending to discourse, logics and emergent politics of anticipation provides a means of making explicit how our ‘knowledge’ of technological futures is produced. It is therefore argued that we should attend to socio-technical futurity as inherently situated in the living present, with all of its associated concerns, and allow for the indeterminacy of the future.