‘Work Notes’ – an occasional academic journal

Pocket Remembrancer 1865

I’ve decided to do something slightly different from the research topic focused blogging I ordinarily do. I have occasionally written posts about ‘the job’, but inspired by reading Les Back’s Academic Diary this summer and with a slightly more keen sense of the passage of time I’ve decided to create a sort of sub-blog called ‘Work Notes’ that focuses on observations about working in academia. This is not an attempt to generalise but rather to reflect upon my own experiences. Likewise, this is not for self-promotion or whatever. You can find the posts on the Work Notes page. They won’t, for the moment, appear in this blog feed – they will remain separate.

Here’s what I wrote about my motivations in the initial post:

I have been reading Les Back’s Academic Diary and it provides an impetus for me to mark this passing of time. This will be my own, more modest, occasional academic journal – (I hope) not for pretentious reasons, for self-promotion and so on. Rather my motivation is because I think writing (for me) is like a muscle and it needs to be exercised. Just as my physical attempts at exercise are poor and I am trying to address that, I also feel the need to create a habit of writing again. I sincerely hope I can both stick to this and get better at doing it. It is a form of learning-by-doing. Ultimately, I want to write this. I want to because I love my job and academia, in spite of it’s (or ‘our’) weirdnesses.

Steal my sunshine – 15th August

‘New geographies of automation?’ at the RGS-IBG conference

Industrial factory robot arms

All of a sudden the summer is nearly over, apparently, and the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers is fast approaching, this year in Cardiff.

I am convening a double session on the theme of ‘New geographies of automation?’, with two sessions of papers by some fantastic colleagues that promise to be really interesting. I am really pleased to have this opportunity to invite colleagues to collectively bring their work into conversation around a theme that is not only a contemporary topic in academic work but also, significantly, a renewed topic of interest in the wider public.

There are two halves of the session, broadly themed around ‘autonomy’ and ‘spacings’. Please find below the abstracts for the session.

Details: Sessions 92 & 123 (in slots 3 & 4 – 14:40-16:20 & 16:50-18:30) | Bates Building, Lecture Theatre 1.4

This information is also accessible, with all of the details of venue etc., on the RGS-IBG conference website: session 1 ‘autonomy’ and session 2 ‘spacings’.

New Geographies of Automation? (1): Autonomy

1.1 An Automative Imagination

Samuel Kinsley, University of Exeter

This paper sets out to review some of the key 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 politically and spatially. To do this the concept of an ‘automative imagination’ is proposed as a means of articulating these different, sometimes competing – sometimes complementary, orientations towards automation.

 

1.2 The Future of Work: Feminist Geographical Engagements

Julie MacLeavy (Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol)

This paper considers the particular pertinence of feminist geographical scholarship to debates on the ‘future of work’. Drawing inspiration from Linda McDowell’s arguments that economic theories of epochal change rest on the problematic premise that economic and labour market changes are gender-neutral, it highlights the questions that are emerging from feminist economic geography research and commentary on the reorganisation of work, workers’ lives and labour markets. From this, the paper explores how feminist and anti-racist politics connect with the imagination of a ‘post-work’ world in which technological advancement is used to enable more equitable ways of practice (rather than more negative effects such as the intensification of work lifestyles). Political responses to the critical challenges that confront workers in the present moment of transformation are then examined, including calls for Universal Basic Income, which has the potential to reshape the landscape of labour-capital relations.

 

1.3 Narrating the relationship between automation and the changing geography of digital work

Daniel Cockayne, Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo

Popular narratives about the relationship between automation and work often make a straightforward causal link between technological change and deskilling, job loss, or increased demand for jobs. Technological change – today, most commonly, automation and AI – is often scripted as threatening the integrity of labor, unionization, and traditional working practices or as creating more demand for jobs, in which the assumption is the more jobs the better. These narratives elide a close examination of the politics of work that include considerations of domestic and international racialized and gendered divisions of labor. Whether positive or negative, the supposed inevitability of technological transition positions labor as a passive victim of these changes, while diverting attention away from the workings of international financialized capital. Yet when juxtaposed against empirical data, straightforward cause and effect narratives become more complex. The unemployment rate in North America has been the lowest in 40 years (4.1% in the USA and 5.7% in Canada), which troubles the relationship between automation and job loss. Yet, though often touted by publications like The Economist as a marker of national economic well-being, unemployment rates ignore the kinds of work people are doing, effacing the qualitative changes in work practices over time. I examine these tropes and their relationship to qualitative changes in work practices, to argue that the link between technological change and the increasing precaratization of work is more primary than the diversionary relationship between technological change and job loss and gain or deskilling. 

 

1.4 Sensing automation

David Bissell, University of Melbourne

Processes of industrial automation are intensifying in many sectors of the economy through the development of AI and robotics. Conventional accounts of industrial automation stress the economic imperatives to increase economic profitability and safety. Yet such coherent snapped-to-grid understandings risk short-circuiting the complexity and richness of the very processes and events that compose automation. ­­­This paper draws from and reflects through a series of encounters with workers engaged in the increasingly automated mining sector in Australia. Rather than thinking these encounters solely through their representational dimensions with an aim to building a coherent image of what automation is, this paper is an attempt at writing how automation becomes differently disclosed through the aesthetic dimensions of encounters. It acknowledges how automation is always caught up in multiple affective and symbolic ecologies which create new depths of association. Developing post-phenomenological thought in cultural geography, this paper articulates some of the political and ethical stakes for admitting ambiguity, incoherence and confusion as qualities of our relations with technological change.

 

1.5 Technological Sovereignty, Post-Human Subjectivity, and the Production of the Digital-Urban Commons

Casey Lynch (School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona)

 As cities become increasingly monitored, planned, and controlled by the proliferation of digital technologies, urban geographers have sought to understand the role of software, big data, and connected infrastructures in producing urban space (French and Thrift 2002; Dodge, Kitchin, and Zook, 2009). Reflections on the “automatic production of space” have raised questions about the role and limitations of “human” agency in urban space (Rose 2017) and the possibilities for urban democracy. Yet, this literature largely considers the proliferation of digital infrastructures within the dominant capitalist, smart-city model, with few discussions of the possibilities for more radically democratic techno-urban projects. Engaging these debates, this paper considers alternative models of the techno-social production of urban space based around the collective production and management of a common digital-urban infrastructure. The paper reflects on the notion of “technological sovereignty” and the case of Guifinet, the world’s largest “community wireless network” covering much of Catalonia.  The paper highlights the way its decentralized, DIY mode of producing and maintaining digital urban infrastructure points to the possibilities for more radically democratic models of co-production in which urban space, technological infrastructures, and subjectivities are continually reshaped in relation. Through this, the paper seeks to contribute to broader discussions about the digitalization of urban space and the possibilities for a radical techno-politics.  

New Geographies of Automation? (2): Spacings

2.1 The urbanisation of robotics and automated systems – a research agenda
Andy Lockhart* (a.m.lockhart@sheffield.ac.uk), Aidan While* (a.h.while@sheffield.ac.uk), Simon Marvin (s.marvin@sheffield.ac.uk), Mateja Kovacic (m.kovacic@sheffield.ac.uk), Desiree Fields (d.fields@sheffield.ac.uk) and Rachel Macrorie (r.m.macrorie@sheffield.ac.uk) (Urban Institute, University of Sheffield)
*Attending authors
Pronouncements of a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ or ‘second machine age’ have stimulated significant public and academic interest in the implications of accelerating automation. The potential consequences for work and employment have dominated many debates, yet advances in robotics and automated systems (RAS) will have profound and geographically uneven ramifications far beyond the realm of labour. We argue that the urban is already being configured as a key site of application and experimentation with RAS technologies. This is unfolding across a range of domains, from the development of autonomous vehicles and robotic delivery systems, to the growing use of drone surveillance and predictive policing, to the rollout of novel assistive healthcare technologies and infrastructures. These processes and the logics underpinning them will significantly shape urban restructuring and new geographies of automation in the coming years. However, while there is growing research interest in particular domains, there remains little work to date which takes a more systemic view. In this paper we do three things, which look to address this gap and constitute the contours of a new urban research agenda. First, we sketch a synoptic view of the urbanisation of RAS, identifying what is new, what is being enabled as a result and what should concern critical scholars, policymakers and the wider public in debates about automation. Second, we map out the multiple and sometimes conflicting rationalities at play in the urbanisation of RAS, which have the potential to generate radically different urban futures, and may address or exacerbate existing socio-spatial inequalities and injustices. Third, and relatedly, we pose a series of questions for urban scholars and geographers, which constitute the basis for an urgent new programme of research and intervention.

 

2.2 Translating the signals: Utopia as a method for interrogating developments in autonomous mobility

Thomas Klinger1, 2
Brendan Doody2
Debbie Hopkins2
Tim Schwanen2
1. Institute of Human Geography, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main
2. School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are often presented as technological ‘solutions’ to problems of road safety, congestion, fuel economy and the cost of transporting people, goods and services. In these dominant techno-economic narratives ‘non-technical’ factors such as public acceptance, legal and regulatory frameworks, cost and investment in testing, research and supporting infrastructure are the main ‘barriers’ to the otherwise steady roll-out of CAVs. Drawing on an empirical case study of traffic signalling, we trace the implications that advances in vehicle autonomy may have for such mundane and taken-for-granted infrastructure. We employ the three modes of analysis associated with Levitas’ (2013) ‘utopia as a method’. Starting with the architectural mode we identify the components, actors and visions underpinning ‘autonomobility’. The archaeological mode is then used to unpack the assumptions, contradictions and possible unintended effects that CAVs may have for societies. In the ontological mode we speculate upon the types of human and non-human subjectivities and agencies implied by alleged futures of autonomous mobility. Through this process we demonstrate that techno-economic accounts overemphasise the likely scale, benefits and impacts these advances may have for societies. In particular, they overlook how existing automobile-dependent mobility systems are the outcome of complex assemblages of social and technical elements (e.g., cars, car-drivers, roads, petroleum supplies, novel technologies and symbolic meanings) which have become interlinked in systemic and path-dependent ways over time. We conclude that utopia as method may provide one approach by which geographers can interrogate and opening up alarmist/boosterish visions of autonomobility and automation.

 

2.3 Automating the laboratory? Folding securities of malware
Andrew Dwyer, University of Oxford
andrew.dwyer@cybersecurity.ox.ac.uk

Folding, weaving, and stitching is crucial to contemporary analyses of malicious software; generated and maintained through the spaces of the malware analysis laboratory. Technologies entangle (past) human analysis, action, and decision into ‘static’ and ‘contextual’ detections that we depend on today. A large growth in suspect software to draw decisions on maliciousness have driven a movement into (seemingly omnipresent) machine learning. Yet this is not the first intermingling of human and technology in malware analysis. It draws on a history of automation, enabling interactions to ‘read’ code in stasis; build knowledges in more-than-human collectives; allow ‘play’ through a monitoring of behaviours in ‘sandboxed’ environments; and draw on big data to develop senses of heuristic reputation scoring.

Though we can draw on past automation to explore how security is folded, made known, rendered as something knowable: contemporary machine learning performs something different. Drawing on Louise Amoore’s recent work on the ethics of the algorithm, this paper queries how points of decision are now more-than-human. Automation has always extended the human, led to loops, and driven alternative ways of living. Yet the contours, the multiple dimensions of the neural net, produce the malware ‘unknown’ that have become the narrative of the endpoint industry. This paper offers a history of the automation of malware analysis from static and contextual detection, to ask how automation is changing how cyberspace becomes secured and made governable; and how automation is not something to be feared, but tempered with the opportunities and challenges of our current epoch.

 

2.4 Robots and resistance: more-than-human geographies of automation on UK dairy farms

Chris Bear (Cardiff University; bearck@cardiff.ac.uk)
Lewis Holloway (University of Hull; l.holloway@hull.ac.uk)

This paper examines the automation of milking on UK dairy farms to explore how resistance develops in emerging human-animal-technology relations. Agricultural mechanisation has long been celebrated for its potential to increase the efficiency of production. Automation is often characterised as continuing this trajectory; proponents point to the potential for greater accuracy, the removal of less appealing work, the reduction of risks posed by unreliable labour, and the removal of labour costs. However, agricultural mechanisation has never been received wholly uncritically; studies refer to practices of resistance that have developed due to fears around (for instance) impacts on rural employment, landscapes, ecologies and traditional knowledge practices. Drawing on interviews with farmers, observational work on farms and analysis of promotional material, this paper examines resistant relations that emerge around the introduction of Automated Milking Systems (AMS) on UK dairy farms. While much previous work on resistance to agricultural technologies has pitted humans against machines, we follow Foucault in arguing that resistance can be heterogeneous and directionally ambiguous, emerging through ‘the capillary processes of counter-conduct’ (Holloway and Morris 2012). These capillary processes can have complex geographies and emerge through more-than-human relations. Where similar conceptualisations have been developed previously, technologies continue to appear rather inert – they are often the tools by which humans attempt to exert influence, rather than things which can themselves ‘object’ (Latour 2000), or which are co-produced by other nonhumans rather than simply imposed or applied by humans. We begin, therefore, to develop a more holistic approach to the geographies of more-than-human resistance in the context of automation.

 

2.5 Fly-by-Wire: The Ironies of Automation and the Space-Times of Decision-Making

Sam Hind (University of Siegen; hind@locatingmedia.uni-siegen.de)

This paper presents a ‘prehistory’ (Hu 2015) of automobile automation, by focusing on ‘fly-by-wire’ control systems in aircraft. Fly-by-wire systems, commonly referred to as ‘autopilots’ work by translating human control gestures into component movements, via digital soft/hardware. These differ historically from mechanical systems in which pilots have direct steering control through a ‘yoke’ to the physical components of an aircraft (ailerons etc.), via metal rods or wires. Since the launch of the first commercial aircraft with fly-by-wire in 1988, questions regarding the ‘ironies’ or ‘paradoxes’ of automation (Bainbridge 1983) have continued to be posed. I look at the occurrence of ‘mode confusion’ in cockpits to tease out one of these paradoxes; using automation in the aviation industry as a heuristic lens to analyze automation of the automobile. I then proceed by detailing a scoping study undertaken at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year, in which Nissan showcased an autonomous vehicle system. Unlike other manufacturers, Nissan is pitching the need for remote human support when vehicles encounter unexpected situations; further complicating and re-distributing navigational labour in, and throughout, the driving-machine. I will argue that whilst such developments plan to radically alter the ‘space-times of decision-making’ (McCormack and Schwanen 2011) in the future autonomous vehicle, they also exhibit clear ironies or paradoxes found similarly, and still fiercely discussed, in the aviation industry and with regards to fly-by-wire systems. It is wise, therefore, to consider how these debates have played out – and with what consequences.

‘Recognition’ for peer review

I must confess. I did that lazy thing by asking on Twitter for something perhaps I could’ve found out with a little more effort (I have also been relatively lax at actually writing this blogpost about it!). However, it actually resulted in something interesting. 

I had just completed a (peer) review for a journal published by Sage and was asked if I wanted to sign up for “Publons” a system that supposedly let you gain ‘recognition’ for your peer reviewing. So, I did sign up but then thought: “hang on…” and this prompted by question on Twitter:

Click through to read the replies. It’s a great sharing of knowledge and expertise around the process of peer review, with plenty of contributions from colleagues with positions as editor in various journals. For example, this from Martin Coward begins to get at some of the issues.

I won’t try to summarise, or indeed embed, all of the things that were said, please do click through for the whole exchange. I do want to, very briefly, reflect upon this longstanding concern with making peer review ‘work’. The concerns that “Publons” purports to address are real. Peer review is the life-blood of academic publishing but is assumed, rather under-valued (by publishers, some colleagues and institutions) and, it seems, the constant frustration of editorial board members. As my former colleague Prof. Martin Weller has observed this labour represents rather a lot of unrecognised and under-appreciated investment.

An attempted ‘technological fix’ is, of course, not new. There have been various attempts to think about this over the years. When I was working with Martin on ‘digital scholarship’ (see his excellent open access book) the trial of an ‘open’ peer review system for Nature was a relatively recent talking point. 

It is not a novel argument but it seems to me that unless and until academics, publishers and institutions stop thinking about lots of forms of labour as a part of a perceived ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘privilege’ of academic life (which I think, if it did ever exist for a few people, is long gone) we are more-or-less doomed to rehearse this debate ad infinitum.

Machine Learning ‘like alchemy’, not electricity

Holly from the UK TV programme Red Dwarf

In this Neural Information Processing System conference talk (2017), marking receiving the ‘test of time’ award, Ali Rahimi discusses the status of rigour in the field of machine learning. In response to Andrew Ng’s infamous “Artificial Intelligence is like electricity”, Rahimi retorts “machine learning is like alchemy”. I’ve embedded the talk below, it kicks in at the point Rahimi starts this bit of argument. I confess I don’t understand the maths talk it is embedded within but I think this embodies the best of ‘science’/ academia – cut the bullshit, talk about what we don’t know as much as what we do.

Doreen Massey – Critical Dialogues and Reader

Professor Doreen Massey

Doreen Massey Critical Dialogues book the Doreen Massey Reader

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamie Peck shared on Twitter that Agenda Publishing have two books coming out simultaneously – Doreen Massey. Critical Dialogues and The Doreen Massey Reader. It is a testament, surely, to the mark of Doreen Massey’s influence on geography and the ways many of us try and make sense of the world that several books and theme issues for Massey have been written and edited (not least in the RGS-IBG book series). As the first sentence of the blurb for the Reader asserts: “Doreen Massey changed geography”. These two new books demonstrate both the quality and range of Massey’s own ideas and work and the ways that has inspired and spurred on many others.

Job> Research Fellow, Centre for Postdigital Cultures

A statue of three men hammering

Via Gary Hall. Looks like a good opportunity for someone…

Research Fellow, Centre for Postdigital Cultures

Centre for Postdigital Cultures (CPC) is a new Faculty Research Centre at Coventry University. We are looking to recruit a developer with knowledge of new technologies such as Xtended Reality and those associated with open access publishing. Our Research Fellow/developer will be equally happy with building platforms as they are with contributing to funding bids and academic papers. The person we employ will be involved in all technical aspects of the Research Centre from uploading website content to creating virtual reality scenarios and will have the people skills to work with those at all levels of technical understanding.

You will be qualified in object oriented programming languages such as c#, c++, Java, Java scripts and swift with proven experience of development in modern web development languages like PHP and HTML5. Plus you will possess some experience in 2D/3D modelling using software such as 3DS max and Photoshop and Maya for digital asset creation and Unity 3D or Unreal game engines for developing game-based and immersive experiences.

This is the chance for you to join the CPC team in the early stages of growth and to play a significant role in the development of impactful research activity within the emerging field of postdigital cultures. Led by Professor Gary Hall, the Centre explores how innovations in postdigital cultures can enable 21st century society respond to the challenges it faces at a global, national and local level.

  • how we receive, consume and process information
  • how we learn, work, and travel
  • how we engage and regenerate our communities and cities

What Do We Mean By Postdigital Cultures?

“The digital” can no longer be understood as a separate domain of media and culture. If we actually examine the digital – rather than taking it for granted we already know what it means – we see that today digital information processing is present in every aspect of our lives. This includes our global communication, entertainment, education, energy, banking, health, transport, manufacturing, food, and water-supply systems. Attention therefore needs to turn from “the digital”, to the various overlapping processes and infrastructures that shape and organise the digital, and that the digital helps to shape and organise in turn.

The CPC investigates such enmeshed digital models of culture, society, and the creative economy for the 21st century “post digital” world.

Research Areas covered by the centre include:

  • Post-capitalist Economies
  • Post-humanities
  • Affirmative Disruption and Open Media
  • Immersive and Playful Cultures, Creative Archiving and International Heritage
  • Digital Arts and Humanities
  • The 21st Century University and Art School

Members of the CPC include Janneke Adema, Adrienne Evans, Valeria Graziano, Kaja Marczewska, Marcel Mars and Miriam de Rosa.

The role of the Research Fellow Developer is to plan, develop and manage collaborative and individual research projects, using their specialist technical skills.

This will include implementing new technology platforms and applications integral to the research projects of the CPC (for example, those associated with open access publishing and immersive XR technology) which address issues at an international scale using research as a driving force for global change.  It is also to develop ideas for generating income and to seek funding opportunities for routes to disseminate research findings that inform teaching and build the reputation of the University whilst advancing knowledge in the field.

The Job Description and Person Specification is available here.

Reblog> How to Write a Peer Review for a Journal Article – Jack Gieseking

Via Jack Gieseking. Some excellent tips for new and experienced peer-reviewers alike, I think…

How to Write a Peer Review for a Journal Article

As an editorial collective member of ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies and as someone who once managed WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly for three years, I know how difficult it is to find appropriate and available peer reviewers. I often seek out graduate candidates (ABD students) who would offer that strong expertise but may not have the have reviewed journal articles or many journal articles before. I remember how awkward and nervous I was–and how many, many hours I devoted (oy)–when I wrote my first peer reviews.

Thanks to various search engines, I’ve read quite a few posts on how to write peer reviews. Many of them are written by publisherspeer review corporations (yeeghads!), or from other academics. These are all helpful in that they structure the work of peer review, but I found the former to be too detailed and formal, and then more anxiety-producing than clarifying. If they were brief, like the academic perspective, I found myself unclear about how they expected to accomplish each step. I’ve cobbled together my own thoughts about how to do a peer review that comes from my own experience as a gesture of support and solidarity for graduate students, postdocs, and early career researchers engaged in critical and radical research who wish to be part of the project of producing knowledge through peer review. My own take as a social scientist offers an organized response through the parts of–surprise!!–a social science paper, which I have not found mention of as of yet.

Before I go on, my first tip is that each peer review should take no more than two to six hours. If you spend the maximum number (6) on your early peer reviews, then that number should significantly decrease over time as you perfect your own approach to reviews. A six-hour review imagines you read the paper three times and then type up your notes. My second tip is that your entire review can be a page, preferably, or two pages long. You’re wondering if I’m serious but how would you feel if you wrote a 20-page paper over months and someone gave you five pages of single-spaced feedback? Exactly. One or two pages is a lot to chew on. Finally, as you read think about making summary comments and identifying trends (in style a la too many commas or overciting, in writing a la a vast absence of methods, etc.) rather than line edits.

Read the full blogpost.

 

WhatsApp Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation

A person removing a mask

Via Moira Weigel. Deadline is 12/08/2018.

WhatsApp Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation

WhatsApp cares about the safety of our users and is seeking to inform our understanding of the safety problems people encounter on WhatsApp and what more we can do within WhatsApp and in partnership with civil society to address the problem. For this first phase of our program, WhatsApp is commissioning a competitive set of awards to researchers interested in exploring issues that are related to misinformation on WhatsApp. We welcome proposals from any social science or related discipline that foster insights into the impact of technology on contemporary society in this problem space. The WhatsApp Research Awards will provide funding for independent research proposals that are designed to be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, and wider scholarly and policy communities. These are unrestricted monetary awards that offer investigators the freedom to deepen and extend their existing research portfolio. Applications are welcome from individuals with established experience studying online interaction and information technologies, as well as from persons seeking to expand their existing research into these areas.

Core Areas of Exploration

We will seriously consider proposals from any social science and technological perspective that propose projects that enrich our understanding of the problem of misinformation on WhatsApp. High priority areas include (but are not limited to):

  • Information processing of problematic content: We welcome proposals that explore the social, cognitive, and information processing variables involved in the consumption of content received on WhatsApp, its relation to the content’s credibility, and the decision to promote that content with others. This includes social cues and relationships, personal value systems, features of the content, content source etc. We are interested in understanding what aspects of the experience might help individuals engage more critically with potentially problematic content.
  • Election related information: We welcome proposals that examine how political actors are leveraging WhatsApp to organize and potentially influence elections in their constituencies. WhatsApp is a powerful medium for political actors to connect and communicate with their constituents. However, it can also be misused to share inaccurate or inflammatory political content. We are interested in understanding this space both from the perspective of political actors and the voter base. This includes understanding the unique characteristics of WhatsApp for political activity and its place in the ecosystem of social media and messaging platforms, distribution channels for political content, targeting strategies, etc.
  • Network effects and virality: We welcome proposals that explore the characteristics of networks and content. WhatsApp is designed to be a private, personal communication space and is not designed to facilitate trends or virality through algorithms or feedback. However, these behaviors do organically occur along social dimensions. We are interested in projects that inform our understanding of the spread of information through WhatsApp networks.
  • Digital literacy and misinformation: We welcome proposals that explore the relation between digital literacy and vulnerability to misinformation on WhatsApp. WhatsApp is very popular in some emerging markets, and especially so among new to Internet and populations with lower exposure to technology. We are interested in research that informs our efforts to bring technology safely and effectively into underserved geographical regions. This includes studies of individuals, families and communities, but also wider inquiries into factors that shape the context for the user experience online.
  • Detection of problematic behavior within encrypted systems: We welcome proposals that examine technical solutions to detecting problematic behavior within the restrictions of and in keeping with the principles of encryption. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encrypted system facilitates privacy and security for all WhatsApp users, including people who might be using the platform for illegal activities. How might we detect illegal activity without monitoring the content of all our users? We are particularly interested in understanding and deterring activities that facilitate the distribution of verifiably false information.

Program Format

Our preference is for proposals based on independent research, in which the applicant develops conceptual tools, gathers and analyzes data, and/or investigates relevant issues. Each awardee will retain all intellectual property rights to their data and analyses. WhatsApp staff may provide guidance, but investigators are responsible for carrying out the scope of work.

The program will make unrestricted awards of up to $50,000 per research proposal. All applications will be reviewed by WhatsApp research staff, with consultation from external experts. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university or organization as an unrestricted gift.

In addition to the award monies, WhatsApp invites award recipients to attend two workshops:

  1. The first workshop will provide awardees with a detailed introduction to how the WhatsApp product works as well as context on the focus area of misinformation. It will also enable participants to receive feedback from WhatsApp research staff and invited guests on their research proposals. We hope this will facilitate international collaborations across researchers and teams in this area. The tentative date for this event is October 29-30, in Menlo Park, CA.
  2. A second workshop will allow awardees to present their initial research findings to WhatsApp and other awardees, providing an opportunity to contextualize their findings with each other. Our hope is that upon completion of the research, award recipients will seek to share their research with the wider public. Tentative date is April 2019, exact date will be updated on this page at a later time.

WhatsApp will arrange and pay for the travel and accommodation of one representative from each awardee. This will be in addition to the research award amount.

Data

  • No WhatsApp data will be provided to award recipients;
  • All data from award research efforts will be owned by the researcher, and need not be shared with WhatsApp.

Applications, Eligibility & Participant Expectations

  • Applications must be written in English and include the following:
    • A research title, identification of the Principle Investigator (PI) and their institutional affiliation for the purposes of the proposed research;
    • A brief program statement (double-spaced, 12 point font, not to exceed 5 pages) that specifies the proposed work. This statement should include the following elements:
      • specification of question(s) being asked;
      • clear statement of the methodology together with examples of when/where this approach has given research insights;
      • plan for any data collection, analysis, and/or conceptual work;
      • description of the expected research outputs and findings;
      • relevance for our understanding of user experiences in online environments.
    • A 1-page bio and CV for the PI together with selected publication references. Summary bios of any other team members or collaborators.
    • A clear statement of the budget requested.
  • Preference will be given to research conducted in countries where WhatsApp is a prominent medium of communication (India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, etc.).
  • Preference will be given to proposals from researchers, or collaborations with researchers, based in the country/countries being researched.
  • WhatsApp will accept applications from researchers who hold a PhD. In exceptional cases, we will review applications from individuals without PhD’s who have shown a high-level of achievement in social science or technological research.
  • The award is restricted to social science and technological research that contributes to generalized scientific knowledge and its application. Documentaries, journalism, and oral history projects are not eligible.
  • Awards will be made to an awardee’s university department, research institute or organization; all applicants must therefore be affiliated with an organization that supports research and can process external funding awards. All awards will be made in US dollars.
  • Proposals may be submitted by individuals with no prior experience in social media or Internet research. We welcome proposals from researchers who seek to expand their research portfolio into the area of information and communication technologies.
  • All award recipients are strongly encouraged to attend the two WhatsApp workshops associated with this program. Travel and accommodation will be arranged and paid for by WhatsApp.
  • The proposed research should be carried out by the date of the second workshop, in April 2019. Presentation materials that comprise the final report should be written in English and made available for WhatsApp and the other award recipients by the date of the final workshop. All rights to these materials will be held by the award recipient.
  • Once awardees have accepted their awards, WhatsApp will publicly share the details of the selected applicants by posting a summary of the results together with the PI’s name and the title of the proposal on the Facebook Research blog. This information may also be included in other presentations or posts relating to this effort.

By applying to this award, you are agreeing to the following:

  • You are affiliated with an institution that supports research and can process external funding awards.
  • If chosen, your institution will receive the award as a gift in US dollars and in the amount decided solely by WhatsApp.
  • You acknowledge that you have been invited to two, in-person, WhatsApp workshops (tentatively in October 2018 and April 2019).
  • You acknowledge that WhatsApp will publicly disclose your name and the proposal title as an award recipient.
  • You plan to attend and present the research findings at the second, WhatsApp workshop, likely to be held in Menlo Park, CA, USA in late April, 2019. The workshops and presentations will be conducted in English. Interpretation will be provided if needed. Note: airfare, hotel and transportation to be arranged and paid for by WhatsApp.

Timing and Dates

Applications are due by August 12, 2018, 11:59pm PST. Award recipients will be notified of the status of their application by email by September 14, 2018.

Questions

For all questions regarding these awards, please contact us.

Geographers on film, Library of Congress

David Harvey - Geographers on Film, Library of Congress video still

Someone tweeted a link to the digitised video of David Harvey from 1972, I think, as part of the Library of Congress series “Geographers on Film” and so I spent about an hour jumping in and out of videos – mostly just to hear the voices of familiar names… If you’re interested in the academic discipline of geography I guess this is of interest – however: there’s only one woman. Extraordinary. I’m not going to attempt to reiterate the critique of how disciplinarity performs these sorts of exclusions, along lines of gender and race, others can do a much better job of it than me. I just wanted to highlight this fascinating, if limited, resource.

Here’s Peter Haggett in 1982:

Excellent post by Angela Last on teaching geohumanities

Louise Bourgeois work of art

I enjoyed reading this thoughtful piece on teaching ‘geohumanities’…

An experiment in teaching geohumanities

As someone whose work gets framed as ‘geohumanities’, I often get asked about my take on the field, both in terms of research and teaching. I usually answer that I feel that geohumanities is in danger of becoming a mere rebranding exercise for cultural geography or environmental humanities. Looking at articles from journals across those three fields, it becomes difficult to make out a difference. This dynamic seems aggravated by the demands of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) that evaluates research output according to discipline. Many academics have complained that, while contemporary problems (and research funders) demand interdisciplinarity, the current research (and academic career) assessment punishes discipline transgressions. Your work will always be scrutinised for sufficient adherence to disciplinary boundaries, and it seems not enough that most of your work can be accounted for in this way, and the fact that there are dedicated journals for this field in which you can publish. Although the new framework promises to pay more attention to interdisciplinarity, the paranoia around disciplinarity persists. Certainly, during last year’s job interviews, I experienced anxiety around my work and the journals in which I decide to publish. Even at interviews for geohumanities themed posts, when bringing up potential practice based or inter/cross-disciplinary outputs, the answer was often ‘no’.

A related issue is interdisciplinary teaching. There are many different ways of doing this, depending on institutional logistics (timetabling, student location, connection to other departments etc), levels (undergraduate, postgraduate) and staffing. An increasing number of universities claim to have interdisciplinary undergraduate teaching programmes such as ‘Liberal Arts’, but in reality, subjects are still being kept separate and taught by specialists. The location of an interdisciplinary programme also often determines the angle. For instance, if an art and science programme is located within an arts faculty, the syllabus is more likely to be art centred, no matter how diverse the student body.

Read more here.