“Reality Chunking” – David Roden reviews DeLanda’s Philosophy and Simulation

I found this via Deterritorial Investigations Unit (naturally 😉

David Roden has blogged an interesting, fairly lengthy, review of DeLanda’s Philosophy and Simulation. Roden offers some interesting observations, setting his discussion in wider debates within (continental) philosophy, i.e. exotic flavours of realism and their politics. The aspect of the discussion I particularly find interesting is the discussion of DeLanda’s logical fudging of ontological ‘flatness’, when, in fact, in his philosophy of simulation there is quite a bit of hierarchical structure. I hadn’t really given this any thought before now but Roden’s reading together of Philosophy and Simulation  and A New Philosophy of Society is informative.

I encourage those interested in philosophy in the wake of Deleuze and those interested in ‘assemblage theory’ to take a look at this review.

Scoping review @ESRC : Ways of being in a digital age ~ anyone applying?

A kind colleague sent this to me just now and it made me both sit up in interest and slightly slump in my chair… I would love to be involved in this but just can’t see how…

This looks like a really interesting opportunity for an interdisciplinary team to provide a valuable and incisive push to the ESRC to think about what an earth “ways of being in a digital age” might mean. I do hope someone cam drive this forward in a positive way, the boosterism of “big data” etc. or the dystopian malaise of “algorithmic governance” are simply not sufficient for this task1.

Invitation to submit Expressions of Interest

We are delighted to invite Expressions of Interest (EoI) for a scoping review to inform a future ESRC initiative on ‘Ways of being in a digital age’.This is an exciting opportunity to inform ESRC’s possible future strategic investment and provide a more holistic view of how digital technology mediates our lives, and the way technological and social change co-evolve and impact each other.

This is a broad and much researched area, so the purpose of the scoping review is to undertake a systematic literature review and synthesis; to identify gaps in current research and determine where the ESRC should focus any initiative to add most value. Through this process the aim of the scoping review is also to build new networks and extend existing ones across the academic community, amongst other stakeholders and potential funding partners.

The scoping review is for a maximum duration of eight months and must commence no later than 1 August 2016. The maximum budget for the scoping review is £300,000 at 100 per cent in full economic costs. In accordance with RCUK policy, the ESRC will contribute up to 80 per cent of the full economic costs.

The call makes a brilliant plea for qualitative work (bottom of p. 3), which is very much needed. I hope this is something we can all build upon.

The initial questions offered in the invitation are interesting, but really need to be pushed a bit further For example, talking about “impacts” on society and forms of community that emerge “as a result” of technology are far too technologically determinist, and there isn’t “the digital” as some kind of amorphous separate domain,  where’s the conceptual nuance here?!

  • How we define and authenticate ourselves in a digital age

  • How do we construct the digital to be open to all, sustainable and secure

  • How digital technology impacts on our autonomy, agency and privacy – illustrated by the paradox of emancipation and control

  • What are the challenges of ethics, trust and consent in the digital age

  • How we live with and trust the algorithms and data analysis used to shape key features of our lives

  • How our relationships are being shaped and sustained in and between various domains, including family and work

  • What new forms of communities and work emerge as a result of digital technologies – for example new forms of coordination including large scale and remote collaboration Whether and how our understanding of citizenship is evolving in the digital age – for example whether technology helps or hinders us in participating at individual and community levels

  • How we define responsibility and accountability in the digital age Whether technology makes us healthier, better educated and more productive.

None of the disciplinary silos is sufficient in addressing this. It would be really, really depressing to see just a “digital sociology”, “digital geography”, or “digital anthropology” type review made here.

I hope someone is bold and imaginative and really pushes at the questions we should be asking. I would welcome conversations about how I could contribute in some small way…

1. I am not seeking to denigrate those who work on such things, merely pointing out that no fashionable trope is sufficient. Just as those that led the “Virtual Society?” theme for the ESRC back in didn’t bang on about “cyberspace”, although the use of the term “virtual” is/was possibly problematic…

Reflecting on a great paper on care-ful education by @JenniferJLea ~ self-discipline, devotion and the negotiation of authority

In between the marking I’ve been (at least) trying to catch up on all of the great work by colleagues in Geography at Exeter. One paper I’ve enjoyed reading is this by Jen Lea and Louise Cadman:

“It’s a fine line between “¦ self-discipline, devotion and dedication”: negotiating authority in the teaching and learning of Ashtanga yoga.

The article is for Cultural Geographies. Using empirical work on the learning and teaching of Ashtanga yoga Jen and Louise reflect on the kinds of (non-traditional?) authority that are practised in the re-shaping of selves that takes place.

Jen and Louise use Foucault’s later lectures at the Collège de France and the History of Sexuality to position understandings of authority in a few ways (they also draw on work produced by the Authority Research Network, which is worth checking out). The folding of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ authorities, that somewhat relate to logos and tekne, in the learning and teaching of yoga is a really interesting trope. Cultivating inner authority as forms of techniques of the self is negotiated with the formal positions and gestures that are a form of discipline. This is not (or does not have to be) a relation of ‘domination’. The negotiation of different forms of authority, in a pedagogical praxis, can be a form of care [in the vein of epimeleia]. Of course, and as Jen and Louise point out, there is potential that

[t]he application here of the self on the self is a potentially problematic process, as the self is not necessarily malleable and compliant, and the possibility of  failing  to become an expert of the self, and the consequences of this failure, are interesting future questions to ask (p. 14).
I think the most striking element of the paper for me, having recently returned to reading Stiegler again, is the resonance between Jen and Louise’s interpretation of Foucault, through their empirical case study, and Stiegler’s reading of Foucault in relation to care. This comes through most forcefully in Jen and Louise’s conclusion and I think this is great:
Regardless of the expense, let’s seek out new teachers.’ (Foucault, p.151)
Towards the close of his very last lecture course, Foucault urged the value of teachers, not necessarily because of special authority lodged in the figure of any one individual teacher, but because of the external authority residing in the
logos which the (good) teacher will teach. It is a Socratic move, passing beyond ‘a teacher of tekne who can pass on his teaching to students’ (Foucault, p.152) – as in the educator who goes through the motions of transmitting ‘technical’, repeated, rote knowledge – towards the model of a teacher who communicates the logos (‘the missing teacher’) as arguably deeper truths about the care of the self. Such a teacher ‘will have to take care of himself [sic] by listening to the language of mastery (maîtrise) that comes from the logos itself’ (Foucault, p.152). In short, both teacher and taught are here positioned in relation to the external authority of a broader accumulated, guiding wisdom, and as such we vacate the more conventional (top-down) picturing of authority’s educational geographies […]. Yet, we perhaps shift even further from Heelas’s self-absorbed account of authority, with its individualistic (bottom-up) picturing of authority’s new-spiritual geographies […]. The key relation – of how educators educate, or how maybe they ought best to educate – becomes more firmly about a negotiated stance with respect to an overall ‘armature for life’ (Foucault, p.152), externally anchored and derived. (Lea & Cadman, 2016 p. 14)
Care is thus mnemotechnical, folding logos and tekne. Anyway – read the full paper! It’s good stuff.
The Foucault refs in the second extended quote are from The Courage of Truth.

Critical and Creative Ethnography After Human Exceptionalism. Brilliant new publication from @annegalloway

Amidst the slog of marking a shining jewel-like piece of inspiration appeared in my inbox – one of my academic heroes Anne Galloway shared a draft of what is a fantastic chapter for a brilliant book, which is set to be published later this year (what a great editorial team too!). Anne has posted about this on her lab’s blog, so I am reposting some of that post… however, go and read it on the More-than-human Lab blog!

I’m pleased to announce that The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography, edited by Larissa Hjorth, Heather Horst, myself & Genevieve Bell, will be published later this year.

For the companion I also contributed a chapter called “More-Than-Human Lab: Critical and Creative Ethnography After Human Exceptionalism.”

Anne shares the introductory paragraph, which I think wonderfully performs precisely the ethos of praxis she explores in the chapter:

Haere mai. Welcome. This story starts with an introduction so that the reader can know who I am, and how I have come to know what I know. My name is Anne Galloway. My mother’s family is Canadian and my father’s family is British. Born and raised outside both places, for the past seven years I have been tauiwi, or non-Māori, a settler in Aotearoa-New Zealand. I have always lived between cultures and have had to forge my own sense of belonging. Today I am in my home, on a small rural block in the Akatarawa Valley of the Tararua ranges, at the headwaters of the Waikanae River, on the ancestral lands of MuaÅ«poko (Ngāi Tara) & Ngāti Toa, with my partner, a cat, seven ducks, five sheep–four of whom I hope are pregnant–and a multitude of extraordinary wildlife. The only way I know how to understand myself is in relation to others, and my academic career has been dedicated to understanding vital relationships between things in the world. Most recently, I founded and lead the More-Than-Human Lab, an experimental research initiative at Victoria University of Wellington. Everything I have done has led me to this point, but for the purposes of this chapter I want to pull on a single thread. This is a love story for an injured world, and it begins with broken bones”¦

Anne offers more excerpts and explanation in her blogpost and her full reference list (so please do read it!).

I did however want to share a brief snippet of one of the many bits I love from the chapter:

As more technological devices connect people to things in the world, and as more data are collected about people and things, digital ethnography stands to make an important contribution to our understanding of constantly shifting relations. When combined with speculative design that translates realist narratives into fantastic stories, I also believe we can inject hope into spaces, times and relations where it seems most unlikely.

For me,  Anne’s reading of a feminist ethics of care: for knowledge for our ‘selves’ and for our decentred place in the vital soup of our (transindividuated) becoming, as a part of contemporary ethnographic praxis is really valuable and we would all do well to involve ourselves in the conversation which Anne invites.

The image at the top comes from Anne’s twitter feed, it’s one of her own sheep:

Checkout @TOPOSExeter for some great art & events

TOPOS Exeter show: art-articles

This is post is really an invite, from the cultural geographers at Exeter, to an exhibition & associated events that are taking please this week at TOPOS on St. Sidwell’s street – with input and support from Prof John Wylie (Head of Geography at Exeter), and from Ian Cook et al. and Paula Cutchlow’s magnificent Museum of Contemporary Commodities.

TOPOS is a distinctive space for artistic installation/ exhibition/ discussion in Exeter, hosted and run by Volkhardt Mueller and is well worth a visit. So, please do!

This week’s new exhibition, Art-Articles, by Berlin artist Konstantin Bayer, offers a set of installations and objects which comment upon, and invite direct exploration of, contemporary encounters with commodification, originality, materiality and nature. See the link below for details of Bayer’s distinctive approach and products:

There will be a private viewing at TOPOS on Wed May 11th 17.30 – 18.30, and the exhibition will have regular opening hours in the days following (details here). There will also be a conversation/discussion event at TOPOS, on the themes of Landscape, Art & Commodity, Friday May 13th, 18.00 – 21.00

Please visit the TOPOS website for details of how to find it. And consider following them on Twitter for more information.

And here is a link to book a place at the discussion event on Friday: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/topos-conversation-art-landscape-commodity-tickets-25235555225

Compositional thinking, or ‘deconstruction as composition’

I’ve been re-reading Dan Ross’ excellent chapter in the edited collection Stiegler and Technics entitled “Pharmacology and Critique after Deconstruction” and wanted to post an excerpt because it seems to me one of the clearest interpretations of one of the foundations of Bernard Stiegler’s thought: “composition”. This is a brief excerpt but I thoroughly recommend reading Dan’s chapter, and indeed the whole book – which is really good!


Stiegler inherits more from Derrida than from any other thinker: ‘deconstructive’ thinking is translated in Stieglerian terms into ‘compositional’ thinking:

Deconstruction is a thinking of composition in the sense that composition is ‘older’ than opposition (what Simondon would have called a ‘transductive relation’: that is, a relation that constitutes its terms, the terms not existing outside the relation). It is a relation that is the vehicle of a process (that of différance), one very close, I would argue, to what Simondon elaborates in terms of a ‘process of individuation’ (Stiegler 2001: 249-250).

Deconstruction, pursuing the complex genesis of oppositional pairs, amounts to the elaboration of s process of becoming. It is therefore more consistent than first appearances might indicate with the theories of Gilbert Simondon, for whom the key was not to begin with terms or individuals and then think their ‘relation’; rather, it is the process itself that ‘has the status of being’ (Simondon 1992: 306).


To this relation of differance to individuation should be added the influence of Nitetzsche, for whom existence must be understood as a play of forces, or, better, of tendencies. The formation of oppositions from prior compositions is an expression of this play of tendencies…

And it may turn out that where compositional thought is superior to deconstructive thought is in making it possible to think de-composition […] Deconstruction thus tends, perhaps, to perceive less clearly the pharmacological dangers of the deconstruction of ‘oppositions’, and the possibility that distinctions may on occasion be precisely what need to be preserved, that is, saved.

Ross, D 2015 “Pharmacology and Critiques after Deconstruction”, in  Howells, C and Moore, G eds. Stiegler and Technics, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 245-246.

Other references:

Simondon, G. 1992 [1964] “The genesis of the individual”, in Crary, J. and Kwinter, S. Eds. Incorporations, Zone, New York.

Stiegler, B. 2001 “Deconstruction and technology: Fidelity at the limits of deconstruction and the prosthesis of faith”, trans. Beardsworth, R,, in Cohen, T. Ed. Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.