My research has been about poking around how technology gets designed, made, used and talked about and how that has a hand in how we think about space and time. I like to think my work to span all sorts of ‘disciplinary’ delineations but I’m probably most at home as a ‘geographer’. My research broadly pursues three themes: first, geographies of technology – principally practices of innovation ; second, spatial imagination and appeals towards a future, not least in relation to ‘ubiquitous computing‘ and ‘smart cities‘; third, the changing understanding and politics of technologies as mediators, characterised partially by work concerning an ‘attention economy‘ and ‘taste’.
The automative imagination – ongoing. The aim of this work is to think about and write about the ways in which automation gets imagined – the sorts of cultural, economic and social forms of imagination that are drawn upon and generated when discussing how automation works and the kinds of future that may come as a result. The aim here is not to validate/invalidate particular narratives of automation – but instead to think about how they are produced and what they tell us about how we tell stories about what it means to be ‘human’, who/what has agency and what this may mean for how we think poltically.
The intimate geographies of training the mouth as a technology – funded by the University of Exeter, 2017/18. This project explores the growth in ‘speciality coffee’ and its contingency on particular kinds of taste, which I posit have a range of subsequent economic and cultural consequences. I explore the central role of techniques of tasting, known in the coffee trade as “cupping”, in the commodity chains of ‘speciality’ coffee. Claims have been made within the coffee trade and in the popular press (in particular by Jay Rayner in The Observer, 8th June 2014) that a shift in tasting practices and thus how coffee gets roasted and prepared has created a very specific taste experience. The hypothesis of this project is that an increasingly technical and quantitative approach to measuring what we call taste is affecting the gustatory experience of coffee. The aim of this project is to investigate how particular taste experiences of ‘speciality coffee’ have been constituted: to ask how do professional coffee tasters reflect upon the training of their sense of taste? And: do specific technical gustatory practices of tasting create orthodoxies in judgments about taste? – if so, how?
Contagion – funded by the ESRC from Sept 2013-March 2015. Contagion investigated the conditions for movement of infectious disease as well as potent ideas. Using approaches derived from philosopher Gabriel Tarde to think about bio-sociality, the research used large databases on influenza and social media as well as investigations of financial analyses to compare contagion within different domains. The work is in conjunction with colleagues at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency and the Food Standards Agency.
Computing Futures – funded by a British Academy Small Grant (2011-12). This project enabled 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. Outcomes of this research included workshops with creative technology producers and public talks in Bristol and Cardiff. Publications based on this research are in preparation.
‘Open City’ – Guimaràes 2012 European Capital of Culture – In 2012 I was a consultant for a ‘design fiction‘ film that attempts to imagine a near future of Guimaràes 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 Guimaràes 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 Guimaràes. You can watch the film on the Smart City page of the Open City website.