Research

My current research is largely concerned with exploring and problematising the cultures, spacings and temporality of technology. I consider my work to span all sorts of ‘disciplinary’ delineations but I’m probably most at home as a ‘geographer’. 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 (bio)politics of mediating technologies, characterised partially by work concerning an ‘attention economy‘ and new work concerning ‘taste’.

Recent Research

The intimate geographies of training the mouth as a technology – funded by the University of Exeter, 2016/17. 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’ – 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.

PhD Research

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.

[Download: 2.1Mb PDF]

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.

Geographies of Technology

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