Via Tony Sampson. Looks interesting >
Via Tony Sampson.
This may be of interest to followers of this blog…
“Affect” is to early-21st century human geography what “phlogiston” was to late-18th century chemistry. Discuss.
An idle heretical thought for a Monday morning of marking… I’m not especially interested in rehashing the “emotion vs. affect” debate – just curious about how ideas take hold, get pushed, warped and then maybe break in favour of other ideas… I’m not saying that’s what’s happening with affect, but it’s a vaguely interesting thought experiment… I’m also not especially interested in the heated arguments that “affect” seems to attract… concepts are as good as the work they do, if they hide more than they explain, maybe its time for other concepts… that’s up to individual researchers probably.
It was actually while I was listening to Alice Evans talking to Ben Anderson in her podcast Four Questions that this thought began to crystallise… so, that’s the mark of a good podcast probably isn’t it..?
If I was a good ambitious REF-ready type I’m sure I’d write this up into an article or commentary for Transactions or something…
Back to marking (some good work)
From a Conversation piece on Huxley, dystopia and how we might think about Facebook etc. in relation to Huxley’s “College of Emotional Engineering”, this concise evocation of his understanding of ‘neuroculture’ is interesting:
The origins of neuroculture begin in early anatomical drawings and subsequent neuron doctrine in the late 1800s. This was the first time that the brain was understood as a discontinuous network of cells connected by what became known as synaptic gaps. Initially, scientists assumed these gaps were connected by electrical charges, but later revealed the existence of neurochemical transmissions. Brain researchers went on to discover more about brain functionality and subsequently started to intervene in underlying chemical processes.
On one hand, these chemical interventions point to possible inroads to understanding some crucial issues, relating to mental health, for example. But on the other, they warn of the potential of a looming dystopian future. Not, as we may think, defined by the forceful invasive probing of the brain in Room 101, but via much more subtle intermediations.
Via Tony Sampson.
Affective capitalism is understood in this special issue as a mode of production where systems of organising production and distribution rely on the capacities of different bodies, human and non-human, to encounter each other. These encounters and different modes of capital that emerge are surrounded by a vast array of technologies of production, capture, valorisation, commodification and transformation. Affective capitalism appeals to our desires, it needs social relationships, and organises and establishes them. The theme issue offers a variety of theoretical approaches to analysing formations of affect in contemporary capitalism. The issue includes ten essays that address ways of capturing affect in different contexts, such as debt, media and popular culture, brain research, humanitarianism, and pedagogy.
See the whole theme issue (incl. open access PDF)
Via Tony Sampson…
Call for presentations and artworks
Affect and Social Media#3
Including the Sensorium Art Show (the sequel)
Event Date: Thurs 25th May, 2017
Venue: University of East London, Docklands Campus
Confirmed keynote: Prof Jessica Ringrose (UCL)
Call for 15min presentations and artworks
The organizers of A&SM#3 welcome proposals for 15min presentations and artworks that interpret and explore the affective, feely and emotional encounters with social media grasped through the following themes:
Presentations and artworks can widely interpret each theme, but preference will be given to proposals that respond in two ways.
Firstly, the organizers are particularly interested in creative responses (academic and artistic) to recent social media events – the US election, for example. So proposals might address how the Trump win allows us to develop a fresh understanding of shared experiences, emotional engagements or new entanglements with social media.
Secondly, we ask presenters and artists to consider how their approach to affect and social media can be put to work in an education context. For example, how can the potential of affect theory reach out across teaching practices and develop novel understandings of the political nature and transformative possibilities of teaching.
The academic part of this call is open to experienced scholars, new researchers and postgrad students from across the disciplinary boundaries of affect studies and related areas of study interested in theorizing and working with emotion and feelings in a social media context. We welcome a good mixture of innovative conceptual and methodological approaches.
The Sensorium Art Exhibit will interweave the conference proceedings and bring it to a close with a special show, alongside free drinks and nibbles.
15min presentations and artwork proposals to: email@example.com
Please include 200 word max description and short bio including academic affiliation and relevant links to previous work and/or website profile.
DEADLINE: Tues 28th Feb 2017.
Full registration details will be made available from 27th Jan via UEL event page.
This post comes from a sense of dissatisfaction and a hope for finding different ways of (personally) doing geography. [I’ve been writing it for too long, so I’m just hitting “publish” – I welcome thoughts…]
When struggling for sleep and time to do things due to trying to do all of the things I know I should be doing to advance my career but also wanting to be with my family, I find it disheartening to decide to read newly published journal articles or agree to review articles and settle into reading them only to find they repeat familiar arguments, freighting the same rather narrow set of concepts. This post will likely irk (perhaps seriously) some who feel invested in some of the things I criticise, I can only apologise about that.
What I am identifying can’t be new, I’m sure plenty of others have made similar arguments… but it seems to me that we have a fairly set orthodoxy in how social and cultural geography gets done and what it can say. I am of course complicit. I am not seeking to distance myself from any of this, merely ‘confess’ and look for other ways of working.
The articles of faith we seem to have adopted in the REF-driven, short-termist form of research communication we inhabit and propagate concern both methodology and theory.
Methodologically, in spite of careful commentary reflecting upon the “new orthodoxy” of qualitative methods, we seem to have adopted a faith in the “theory–case study” model.
Generalise through theory – In this model one presents, often rather small scale, ethnographically derived empirical material. But rather than acknowledge the limits of scope and avoid attempting to generalise – following the model, this case study is read as an exemplar of a (sometimes muscular) ontological claim. I suggest this creates an epistemological slip, the modest empirical claims are rendered general by virtue of an appeal to theory. In this way, relatively modest empirical findings about a specific case study can be generalised by appealing to ‘big’ theory. This is of course understandable – we’re supposed to be writing four-star (“world leading”) research and using heavyweight theory is the conventional ‘shortcut’ (in time and resources) to making such a claim. I’ve written papers like this, many have.
Theoretically, the discourses of social and cultural geography have, dare I say it, become rather dogmatic. There is a collective pressure through journals, email lists, social media and events to adopt the jargon and to conform (‘discursive regime’ anyone?). It seems to me there is a rather narrow range of concepts in use.
In part, I wonder whether this is due to an attempt to systematise the easier aspects of big (mostly French) philosophical systems of thought that gained traction in the late 1990s early 2000s, many of us went about formulating ways of ‘doing’ Deleuze for example (maybe I’m only repeating this mistake with Stiegler – I’m really trying not to!). Some have become a universal mechanism of explanation – regardless of the context of study. I worry that we are in danger of getting caught in a theoretical culdesac – everything becomes an example of those concepts we hold to be the truth. I am not suggesting we should not use the concepts I identify here or that they are in some way ‘wrong’. Some people have done careful and nuanced theoretical work that articulates the value of such theory. However, this doesn’t mean we all have to pile in and parrot the concepts to juice up our publications.
Sometimes concepts can be a sort of “sledgehammer to crack a nut”, sometimes they’re just a blinkered implication of causation that amounts to a dogmatic profession of faith – the empirical material demonstrates the concept, no matter what. Again, there are lots of understandable reasons – REF and employment pressures to get publications out, wanting to ‘fit in’ and being short on time so slipping into the ‘orthodoxy’.
I don’t actually buy the theoretical ‘arms race’ argument that has been posited about (mostly younger) researchers searching out the next ‘big’ theorist. I think we’re actually, mostly, more conservative – we’ve developed an orthodoxy that, in some cases, can verge on dogma: hence my provocation of the ‘articles of faith’.
The core concepts outlined here as the grounds of this ‘articles of faith’ are of course contestable and I’m not seeking to be definitive in any way. I suspect they are also all-too-familiar to the handful of people who will read this blog. My argument here is that perhaps we need to reflect a little more explicitly on how and when we use our theoretical blunderbusses…
- The constitutional agency of Affect (& Atmosphere) – Given the arguments about the use of this concept, this perhaps one of the more difficult ideas to address. I sympathise with a desire to articulate the nonrepresentational and value some of the work done in that vein. Work around how we might understand intensities of relations and how particular places become constituted as much in unspoken sensations as through signification, and indeed how such spatial experience becomes perturbed, seems like a useful contribution to me. However, in some uses of the concept of affect/atmosphere there is an all-too-easy slip into appealing to amorphous (at times quasi-mystical) pre- / trans- subjective forces of affect/being affected to beef-up an argument. We are, I fear, in danger of creating what a colleague called a kind of ‘Phil Collins geography’, where something is literally “In the Air Tonight”.
- The invocation of the Anthropocene – How can one argue against anthropogenic climate change? and I’m not trying to, but there appears, to me, to be a danger in invoking an all-encompassing rupture in ‘geological time’, in ecological understandings and in the cautious epistemological reflections upon how, as non-scientists, we understand and use ‘Scientific’ (with a big “S”) knowledge. We are in danger of eliding the careful reflections upon understandings and representations of Earth and world within geographical work. It seems to me this has granted license to engage in some peculiar forms of exercise in phenomenological impossibility, seeking to look ‘after the human’, and can perpetuate (globally) Western/ Northern perspectives that elide other ways of coming to terms with climate change. There has, of course, been some great work [e.g.] examining such problems.
- The hegemony of Neoliberalism – or: the taken-for-granted force of the lumped together bogeymen of left-leaning thinkers along the lines of the ‘evils of capitalism’, mostly denoting the combined phenomena of deregulation, privatisation and globalisation. An over-arching concept that affords one the opportunity to point to a thing we can be normatively against. There, of course, exists plenty of critique of the use of the idea in geography and suggestions for other terms or ways of engaging with the phenomena apparently denoted/ connoted by the term but it has a life of its own.
- Witnessing the Non-human – on the one hand a useful means of articulating that the geographies we seek to explore have more than just us, “human” actors/actants/agents, in them. On the other hand, we are in danger of affirming precisely the sorts of (naive) humanism/human-centric ideas we are attempting to escape (via Latour et al.) For example, when is what gets called ‘non-human’ perhaps actually human? Technology is a case for me here and it all depends on the other theoretical assumptions you make about what a ‘technology’ is… Likewise, if we’re seeking to de-naturalise ‘nature’, to demonstrate that we are not and cannot be separate from what we identify as ‘nature’ then creating label for what may be ‘other’ to the human seems a weird way of going about it. Of course, again, there is some really excellent work that takes on board such understandings and I’m fortunate to work with several of the people doing/writing it. Nevertheless, the wider discursive use of ‘non-human’ risks doing the reverse of what one might think one if doing with it.
- The supremacy of Subjectivity – The basis for understandings of human experience, in relation to which difference, identity, spatiality and many other concepts are conceived in much of geography. Of course, some fantastic work has been done on the idea of a subject, subject positions and subjectivity. I guess the reason I raise the concept here is because there seems an increasingly common slip between the ways we discuss subjective experience and the ways in which we are individualised in different domains (legal, political, technological etc.) to render an equivalence. An example here is an idea of a “digital subjectivity”. On the one-hand we might see this in relation to the various ways one performs different identities through different apps, conforms to or breaks rules/conventions and so on. On the other hand we might see it as the ways we get surveilled, defined, addressed and perhaps conditioned by our data. Weirdly, given the popularity of ‘affect’ theory, we can get caught up in peculiar contradictions between the ‘excessive’ agency of the intersubjective and the repressive agency of subjection/subjectivation. In slipping between the two, we risk falling foul of longstanding arguments around reductive understandings of ‘subjection’ and eliding precisely the epistemological purchase the concept can, potentially, afford, i.e. multiplicity, intersubjectivity and so on.
Alternatives..? I do not have easy answers, goodness knows I wish I did… However, I can offer some suggestions that I find myself contemplating as ways forward for rethinking how I go about understanding the kinds of knowledge claims I might seek to make in my future writing.
Firstly, maybe we can move beyond what I’ve called the “theory-case study” model? Perhaps it’s ok to return to a grounded theory approach, or to be rigorously empirical and refrain from particular forms of generalisation because that’s not what our ‘data’ grant. Perhaps we can innovate a little more (and perhaps I’m not reading enough to see that this is already happening?!)
Secondly, maybe it’s ok to do theory on it’s own, and we should find the confidence to do geographical theory too. Perhaps the editorial boards of our journals might already be receptive to this. Perhaps also we can collectively decide this is something we can value, so long as appropriate standards are applied.
Thirdly, maybe we should resist the artificial timetables of REF and so on dictating our push to produce work we may not feel entirely comfortable with. Maybe, with growing teaching and admin loads, maybe with increased precarity of work we, as a community of scholars, should say let’s cut ourselves some slack – especially those who are early career and forced into unsustainable habits of work: massive teaching loads for 9-months then a contract ends, all while attempting to get the next one and keep publications ticking over. I have no doubt that the ‘quickness’ with concepts and methods relates to the habits of work to which we are currently conforming. I cannot see how this is sustainable. It certainly isn’t for those of us with families. I admire those who succeed, in spite of all of this, but we cannot all do that and maybe we need to hold out a helping hand to others and say: it’s ok, you don’t need to copy us, you don’t have to do things our way – find your own ways of working, develop your own theory.
These are half-formed thoughts, at the end of term, frazzled by lack of sleep and trying to do too many things. I genuinely do not want to deride other people’s work here, I am merely identifying a dissatisfaction with how I understand my own working practices. I would welcome any thoughts…
Via Virality : Looks interesting…
In a recent article in Critical Inquiry, N. Katherine Hayles formulates an understanding of particular kinds of technological support as ‘cognitive assemblages’ (sort of following Deleuze & Guattari*). She takes as her particular case study the advent of swarming, quasi-autonomous UAVs/drones and their use in warfare. The final paragraph of the piece is interesting but, for me, raises as many questions as it seeks to answer:
Language, human sociality, somatic responses, and technological adaptations, along with emotion, are crucial to the formation of modern humans. Whether warfare should be added to the list may be controversial, but the twentieth and twenty-first centuries suggest that it will persist, albeit in modified forms. As the informational networks and feedback loops connecting us and our devices proliferate and deepen, we can no longer afford the illusion that consciousness alone steers our ships. How should we reimagine contemporary cognitive ecologies so that they become life enhancing rather than aimed toward dysfunctionality and death for humans and nonhumans alike? Recognizing the role played by non conscious cognitions in human/technical hybrids and conceptualizing them as cognitive assemblages is of course not a complete answer, but it is a necessary component. We need to recognize that when we design, implement, and extend technical cognitive systems, we are partially designing ourselves. We must take care accordingly. More accurate and encompassing views of how our cognitions enmesh with technical systems and those of other life forms will enable better designs, humbler perceptions of human roles in planetary cognitive ecologies, and more life-affirming practices as we move toward a future in which technical agency and autonomy become increasingly intrinsic to human complex systems.
(Hayles, 2016: 55)
A couple of immediate questions pop out for me:
- Could you get designers of UAVs to factor in affective responses without reducing them to something like galvanic skin response or another quantifiable measure (which Hayles critiques in relation to MIT Prof. Sandy Pentland’s proselytisation of a ‘sociometer‘)?
- What is meant by “accuracy” in that final sentence?! How might we qualify the idea of “better” designs? This seems to assert a kind of ethics (and maybe aesthetics) antithetical to the institutions and companies that make military equipment – by not addressing this, there seems to me to be a risk of simply making naive assertions.
I appreciate Hayles’ attempt to harness a broadly Deleuzian understanding of cognition (which might be understood as “affect theory”) in attending to pressing contemporary issues such as the rise of “killer robots” (or quasi-autonomous technological platforms that can inflict death), however – it seems to me that the paper uses the case studies (taken from other researchers’ work, such as Chamayou) to validate the theory, rather than using the theory to critically interrogate the empirical state of affairs. This, it seems to me, is a shame (not least because there’s a fruitful application of aspects of How we became posthuman here), and, as observed above, leaves more questions than answers. Maybe that’s productive, it can open debates – but others are doing slightly more to qualify how we might problematise ethics in this arena. I’d recommend taking a look at Lucy Suchman’s work, especially “robot futures” and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots…
Addendum: I’m not suggesting that Chamayou and other ‘droners’ are “right” and Hayles is somehow wrong… I’d definitely agree with Prof Louise Amoore who suggested on Twitter that those folk could do with reading Hayles’ (and Suchman’s) work
* I’m uncertain about the proposition of ‘cognitive assemblages’ – if we were to follow D&G’s theory of agencements would not all ‘assemblages’ be cognitive? The implication is, it seems, that the ‘cognitive’ in Hayles’ formulation is human cognition – which implies a human exceptionalism that might be seen as antithetical to D&G’s philosophy.
This issue of Fibreculture on “apps and affect” from last year (2015), stemming from a conference of the same name, has some fairly substantial looking contributions from interesting people. These include a conversation between Alexander Galloway & Patricia Ticineto Clough, the ‘algorithmic agartha‘ paper by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy & Dan Mellamphy I’ve linked to before and (of particular interest to me at the mo) a paper by Melissa Gregg on speculative labour & app development. It’s edited by Svitlana Matviyenko, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Alison Hearn, and Andrew Murphie.
In William Gibson’s recent futurist novel The Peripheral, the planet has been devastated by a massive eco-techno-political catastrophe (‘the jackpot’) but remaining inhabitants are still able to enjoy the luxury of activating digital devices simply by tapping their tongues on the roof of their mouths. This touch is sufficient to set into play systems that communicate across space and time – enabling the establishment of connections back in time, for example, to people closer to our own present-day, for whom mobiles are still (somewhat) separate from the body. Thirty years ago, in his first novel Neuromancer, Gibson immortalised cyberspace with the account of what now sounds like an amazingly clunky process whereby the hero ‘jacks-in’ to virtual reality. But in The Peripheral the process of translation and transition into networks is streamlined – occluded, internal, intimate and implanted – right at the tip of the tongue.
This issue of the Fibreculture Journal explores a moment along this hypothetical trajectory by investigating the contemporary intersection of ‘Apps and Affect’, publishing papers from a conference of that name organised in October 2013 by faculty and students at Western University (specifically from its Faculty of Information and Media Studies and Center for the Study of Theory and Criticism). By recognising apps as objects that are related to the constitution of subjects, as a component of biopolitical assemblages, and as a means of digital production and consumption, our conference aimed to make an intervention in what had – since the announcements of the App-Store and the iPhone3 in 2008 – been a largely technical and rather technophiliac public discussion of apps.
Isn’t it paradoxical, we asked, that instead of becoming ‘transparent’ and ‘invisible’ – as envisioned by the thinkers of ubiquitous computing decades ago – the app-ecosystem manifests itself as permanent excess: excessive downloads, excessive connections, excessive proximity, excessive ‘friends’-qua-‘contacts’, excessive speeds and excessive amounts of information? How does the app as ‘technique’ (Tenner), indeed as ‘cultural technique’ (Siegert) and as ‘technics’ (Stiegler), channel our ways of maintaining relations with/in the media environment? Do the specific and circumscribed operations of individual applications foster or foreclose what media theorists call the transformative and transductive potential of collective technological individuation (Simondon)? How might we think about the social, political and technical implications of this movement away from open-ended networks like the internet towards specific, focused, and individualised modes of computing? Do apps represent ‘a new reticular condition of trans-individuation grammatising new forms of social relations’ (Stiegler) or do they signal instead the triumph of ‘regulatory’ networks over ‘generative’ ones (Zittrain)? If apps are micro-programs residing by the hundreds and thousands on cell-phones, mobile-devices and tablets, and affects are corporeal excitements (and depressions) running beneath and beyond cognition, what is the relation of apps to affects?
– See more at: http://twentyfive.fibreculturejournal.org/#sthash.6y9K3uyP.dpuf