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:
Academic twitter: Has anyone used/signed up for Publons? Can you recommend (or discourage) using it? Thx!
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.
Also, I feel it overstates benefits for authors (i.e. no UK institution gives any significant weight to your reviewing record in the promotion process). And editors can't rate reviews as they can in scholar one – so there is no sense of the quality of the reviews it records.
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 Naturewas 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.
I’ve just done a rough edit of some snippets from BBC programmes that I think shows an interesting pattern to the ways that automation has been discussed by the UK national broadcaster over the last 40 years. In each case, automation is a significant issue – it needs to be urgently addressed, but that hasn’t yet happened.
Out of the three programmes, the first two are fairly significant in their onward influence.
The first, the 1978 “Now the Chips Are Down” Horizon episode was reportedly a significant influence for the BBC’s own Computer Literacy Project, which spawned the BBC Micro Computer.
The second, the 1980 (middle of three) episode(s) of “The Silicon Factor” was a part of the Computer Literacy Project. Alongside the three-part series, the producers created a report (for the BBC Continuing Education Department): “Microelectronics“, which was commissioned by the outgoing late-1970s Labour government’s Department for Education and the Manpower Services Commission. I thoroughly recommend watching the programmes and looking at the report if you’re interested in the histories of computing and automation in the UK.
The third, as far as I know – less significant in it’s onward influence, is a 2015 episode of Panorama: “Could a Robot Do My Job?” Interesting here because the rhetoric is nearly identical to that of “The Silicon Factor” – we need to take advantage of the revolution.
I’ve got more to say about this and I need to do a bit more thinking but wanted to share, because I think it’s interesting! This video (or a revised version) will form a part of my paper for a double session on ‘New Geographies of Automation(?)‘ at the RGS-IBG conference in August 2018 concerning the ways that we imagine automation.
I’ve been following up some links concerning the experiment that the philosopher Bernard Stiegler has been instrumental in setting up in the Greater Paris borough of Seine-Saint-Denis as part of a sort of ‘special trade/economic’ area that has government funding called Plaine Commune.
I’ve (roughly) translated two pieces, below, which offer a little more detail on how the territoire contributif model might work and the sorts of things going on in Plaine Commune. First is short piece from Le Parisien talking about what the project is and a bit of the ‘how’ and ‘when’. Second is an interview with Bernard Stiegler by a staff writer for The Conversation – France specifically about Plaine Commune.
As I have written elsewhere, Stiegler has proposed Plaine Commune as a ‘territoire contributif‘ – a sort of region of contribution [a territory or zone delineated as an area in which the economy of contribution might take precedence, along the same lines as ‘free trade zones‘ perhaps, but with a very different ethics/politics]. The principle role in this enterprise is the role of the (academic professorial) ‘Chair of economies of contribution’, who is charged with overseeing the pilot of a kind of basic or citizens’ income (broadly akin to a universal basic income, though see the discussion below) that Stiegler suggest will be implemented through a formal agreement of ‘contribution’ – whereby the income is granted on the premise that the people given it will use it to subside their own personal development, in turn making them greater contributors to society.
Anyone who has been around or studied or even simply read about political projects that are led by well-meaning academics may well be fairly suspicious or cynical about such a scheme. It seems the project has not been without issues either, with (as far as I can tell) some of the governmental funding falling short of expectations and thus cuts to planned activities had to be made (there were PhD studentships planned but these it seems may have been cut).
If we are to be charitable we might applaud Stiegler for attempting to put into place his ideas about contributory – economies, incomes, territories and so on. I am also sympathetic to the issues of funding and so on that they’re having to wrangle with – doing this kind of work is hard. The project is still in train so it remains to be seen how it plays out. Nevertheless, I have a few questions.
First, the project is positioned as a means of helping local residents of a given area and yet a lot of the funding seems to be directed towards academic work that must be, in part, institutionally based – I wonder how this works out? Where does the ‘Professor of Contribution’ actually sit – where’s their office?
Second, I’m curious about the relationship between the processes and practices labelled as ‘contributory’ and the techniques and technologies from long-standing engaged/ participatory democracy activities, e.g. GovLab, MySociety and others. How is ‘participatory’ employment/economics different?
Third, towards the end of the interview, below, Stiegler claims that the aim is not to build a specific local economy but to ultimately transform the macro-economy, but we don’t really get any detail about how you get from Plaine Commune to the whole of France. It would be good to see more on that.
Finally, the tools that are suggested, and have been created through the Institute for Research and Innovation at the Pompidou Centre are very pedagogical – concerned with shared or collaborative learning, in the vein of educational technology – and so it would be good to understand if that is the sole focus or whether the toolset will broaden and if so how?
Anyway… please find below the two (rough) translations. As usual I have included in square brackets original French, where I’m unsure of the translation, or clarifications. I have also maintained, in the Conversation piece, all of the original francophone hyperlinks unless there is a clear anglophone alternative.
The borough [territoire] of Plaine Commune* wants to trial a “contributory income”. The project is still in the hands of researchers and, if it takes place, it will not begin in the near future. The concept is supposed to respond to the massive loss of salaried jobs, due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. “According to a study, three million jobs will disappear by 2025,” notes the philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who works on the project for the borough [territoire]. This Wednesday, he presented the outline, in Saint-Denis, alongside Patrick Braouezec, president (Front de gauche) of Plaine Commune. The latter was commissioned in May 2015 by the Ministers of Economy and Higher Education to discuss the issue.
The contributory income, unlike a universal income, could be paid to a part of the population, on the condition that they perform, in one way or another, a service to society. Bernard Stiegler distinguishes here (salaried) “employment” from “work” (accomplished outside of any contract). And he cites the example of the ‘intermittents du spectacle’ [see: https://www.redpepper.org.uk/intermittent-support-how-cuts-are-hitting-artists-in-france/] “who continue to work when they are not employed by a director, by improving their abilities”.
Who could be involved in this contributory income, in a territory where poverty affects nearly one in three households? Nothing is stopped but Bernard Stiegler and Patrick Braouezec cite areas such as sport, music, street food, mobile mechanics [mécaniques sauvages] … There needs to be a way “to allow the entire population to feel their work is recognised, while also enabling young people who have skills without qualifications to contribute to society” says Patrick Braouezec.
With the support of the Ministry of Higher Education, last Autumn a Chair of Contributive Research was created at the Maison des sciences de l’homme in Saint-Denis. Orange and Dassault Systems are participating in the research, alongside the Institute of Research and Innovation headed by Bernard Stiegler. A report is delivered to the ministers concerned today. The implementation of the experiment cannot be decided upon before the elections: “In June, we will take up where we left off [reprendrons notre bâton de pèlerin],” insists Patrick Braouezec.
* Plaine Commune is something like a borough within the suburban department (a governmental and legislative geographical authority within France) of Seine-Saint-Denis, which is a part of what gets referred to as “Greater Paris“.
A [demographically] young and economically dynamic territory facing mass unemployment and the challenges of social and cultural diversity is the location where, at the request of Patrick Braouezec, the president of Plaine Commune, the philosopher Bernard Stiegler is initiating an unprecedented and ambitious experiment: to make this community – which brings together nine cities of Seine-Saint-Denis – a “Contributory Learning Territory”. It will carry out contributory “research-action” projects, including the inhabitants; in the long term, it will be a question of setting up a contributory income to differently distribute wealth at a time when automation makes work precarious. In November 2016, a new Chair of Contributory Research joined the principle researchers, created within the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (MSH-North Paris). The Conversation France met the philosopher [Bernard Stiegler] to learn more about this initiative, where new ways of doing research and reflections upon the nature of the work of tomorrow interact.
What is the purpose of this project?
It is a question of inventing a “French disruption” and to make the Plaine Commune borough, which is not privileged but shows a striking dynamism, into a laboratory, a school, a avant-garde location, including appropriating so-called smart cities [originally in English with “villes intelligentes” appended] – but not to become a smart city as it is defined today, and to us seems unbearable, unacceptable and probably bankrupt. It is about installing a true urban intelligence.
We are launching a process of borough-wide experimentation with a view to generating and supporting real social innovation opening the way to a new macro-economy where industrialists, financiers, universities, artists, governments and local politicians work in concert, and with the inhabitants, in this indispensable political and economic reinvention. The objective is ultimately to set up an economy based on a “contributory income”, which is based in particular on the principle of a gradual extension of the system for intermittents du spectacle into other activities.
When did this project take shape?
In December 2013, following the “The new age of automation” colloquium held at the Pompidou Centre, which focused on the effects of digital technology in the development of the data economy. I had discussions with industrialists and the president of Plaine Commune, Patrick Braouezec: we take very seriously the Oxford and MIT analyses which predict a job collapse because 47% of jobs current in the United States would be automatable, 50% in France, etc. – the Roland Berger corporation anticipate three million jobs will be lost in ten years. Something has to be done.
A minimum wage is not a solution on its own. If the issue of automation and job loss is taken seriously, new production processes and criteria for redistributing wealth must be developed.
Why is the distinction between work and employment essential?
If automatable work disappears, we can celebrate: this type of job consists of applying prescribed procedures by systems that mechanically control employees. The work is done more and more outside of employment. The pianist practices his scales in the same way that the mathematician practices his maths: outside of employment … Thus, to work is to first increase one’s abilities – and these abilities are what can bring a wealth to the world that is not yet present.
We borrow the concept of capacity to the Indian economist Amartya Sen. He has highlighted something significant that is the basis of our reflection: he showed that in Bangladesh, even during a period of famine, development indicators and life expectancy were higher than those of Harlem. Amartya Sen, who is interested in communities, not just individuals, has shown how these communities maintain what they call “capabilities“.
A capability is knowledge – a life-skill as well as know-how or intellectual knowledge. Many people in Harlem have lost this because they are caught in a process of proletarianization by patterns of production or consumption. In the twentieth century, the know-how of the worker disappears then it is the turn of the life-skills of the consumer, who begins to adopt prefabricated behaviours by marketing firms. Ultimately, Alan Greenspan himself declares before the Congressional Budget Committee that he has “>lost his economic knowledge!
Principally, there is, the president of Plaine Commune, Patrick Braouezec’s keen interest, for over ten years, in the work we are doing as part of the Institute for Research and Innovation and the Ars Industrialis Association which I chair. There is also the extraordinary economic dynamism of this borough, especially in the south of the department with this very strong urban dynamic around the Stade de France, a development begun twenty years ago.
In the northern suburbs are also two universities, Paris 8 and Paris 13, with several excellent groups, the Condorcet campus in whicha number of researchers and graduate schools in the social sciences, such as the EHESS [School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences], will be concentrated, and it is also an urban space where many artists settle. Ultimately it is a territory that must find solutions to deal with mass unemployment. Extrapolating figures from Roland Berger’s study [Roland Berger is a business consultancy firm], unemployment for the under-25s, which was 38% two years ago, is set to increase catastrophically in the next ten years. The consequences for Plaine Commune are likely to be unbearable.
There is therefore an imperative need to open up new perspectives on making an economically viable means of developing that might otherwise become apocalyptic. The nation has the duty to support such a development. We believe that the potential of this transformation must serve as an exemplar, the aim is not to develop a “local” economy here.
How will the research component of the project be organized?
We identified a series of objectives with the elected officials and administrative staff of Plaine Commune. We have started a survey of a number of major stakeholders who validated the process and we are currently launching a Chair of Contributory Research whose first mission will be to produce a dossier to define the experimental scope of the project, in close collaboration with Plaine Commune.
In this context, we launched a call for applications for PhD studentships around a dozen themes, which closed on September 30, 2016. We initially had to select between 10 and 20 PhD students. The budgets allocated to us in 2016 by the Ministry of Research and Higher Education has not ultimately allowed us to hire doctoral students this year. We therefore recruited five researchers – in economics, political science, sociology, philosophy and education studies – into a one-year contract to start the work and put in place the methods of contributory research, which represents a whole series of constraints. Another researcher in psychoanalysis has been retained, who is self-financing.
In the first place, they will have to be able to explain the subject of their work to the inhabitants of Plaine Commune, whether they are fluent in French or not. We will of course help them by mobilizing actors, videographers, artists, media outlets … But they will have to make an effort to explain, even if their subject is theoretical. They will follow two seminars a week: one that I will lead and another that they will lead themselves, by presenting their work to one another and inviting [external] researchers or contributors. They will work together, share their notes and results, first with each other and then with the local residents.
Can you give a concrete example?
In the renovation of social housing, for example, a contribution economy for a building could be set up to create a “negentropic” – as opposed to entropic – environment which is also a site for building the skills of the inhabitants, in the style of the architect Patrick Bouchain [more information on Bouchain]. These are residents who innovate and produce sustainable value for themselves, as much as for the city.
More generally, what place is there for residents in this system [dispositif]?
For this project, which takes ten years to [attempt to] deeply change things, we hope to be able to involve the 400,000 inhabitants of Plaine Commune with this contributory research approach; it will start on a small scale to extend to what could be called a contributory democracy. The program is transdisciplinary, as all fields must be explored, such as sports for example. Here, the Stade de France is crucial and sport has been profoundly transformed by the digital in recent years. If we speak to the young people of Seine-Saint-Denis without being able to say anything about football, we will not get very far – especially as there is the prospect of the Olympic Games in 2024.
Why put digital at the heart of the project?
Because digital technology is changing all knowledge, and because knowledge is the key to the future. In 2008, Vincent Peillon, at the time Minister of Education, asked me to lead a group on the introduction of digital [technology] into school; I had then a little disappointed his cabinet by stating: “The digital is dangerous for schools”. I resigned pretty quickly. I’m working on these issues with Maryanne Wolf, an American neuropsychologist. She conducts accurate analyzes, based on medical imaging, and some of her findings are rather troubling.
I’m not saying that we do not need the digital in school, but I do say that it must be introduced deliberately. I continued to support this point of view, particularly at the National Research Agency where I sat for a few years; I had thus proposed to develop doctoral research in all fields to see what the digital “does” within disciplines. For it is not simply a new way of teaching or transmitting knowledge; it is first of all a means of producing knowledge, scientific objects; take nano-objects, for example, which are today entirely produced by the digital; biology and astrophysics also go through the digital, and in mathematics the conditions of proof are modified.
Digital technology is a scientific revolution on which no one works, because all the credits are put on innovation to develop the software and the interfaces of tomorrow … In 2008, I also told by a consultant of Vincent Peillon that it was necessary to adopt a rational attitude towards the digital world and to study it. He told me that I reasoned like an “intellectual” and that he needed quick results. I suggested that we could move forward through contributory research. That is to say, to bring digital into school by introducing, at the same time, research. I always cite Finland where all teachers in are obliged to do research – and this is clearly not insignificant in the quality of the results of this country. That’s what I call contributive research, it goes beyond the teaching profession and concerns the whole population.
What is the digital doing in research?
Digital technology is transforming all scientific activities, as the instruments of observation have been doing since the sixteenth century, passing through what Bachelard called phenomenotechnics [for further discussion]. Yet unlike previous scientific technologies, digital technology also modifies life-skills and know-how, that is to say, everyday life and social relations as well as linguistic skills, for example: these are the scientific objects that are changed.
We are also in a period where technology is evolving extremely fast; if we follow the normal circuits of scientific deliberation, we always arrive too late. This is “disruption“.
Faced with disruption, the social systems and the people who constitute them must also grasp technological development to become prescribers and practitioners, and not only consumers – and sometimes victims. The social system is being short-circuited, and so destroyed, by the technical system. To this end, we must do “concurrent engineering” [l’ingéniérie simultanée]; Thirty years ago, Renault and Volvo introduced such methods to accelerate the transfer of technology by working in parallel and not sequentially; it has become today what we call “agile development”. I have been practicing this for a long time, especially with engineers. For Plaine Commune, the idea is to elaborate – simultaneously with all the different stakeholders in the territory, including the industrialists – a debate, theoretical hypotheses, a required scientific oversight, and using action research methods.
What do you mean by action research?
This is a method developed in the United States in the 1940s by Kurt Lewin who used it in psychosociology; for him, when working with “subjects”, to use the vocabulary of psychologists, it is necessary that people themselves become researchers, because they are precisely subjects and not objects.
This method was then used in management, it is also why it is much criticized by the left and Marxists who see a method of integration and ultimately manipulation. Norway, in particular, has been advanced in transforming its industrial production tools. Action research has also been used in the field of psychiatry, such as at the Tavistock Institute in London.
We must mention here the works of François Tosquelles [this paper provides some context about Tosquelles], a refugee from the Spanish war who transformed a neglected psychiatric hospital in Lozère into a place that became experimental, somewhat by accident. Totally abandoned by the Vichy government in the 1940s, this hospital, like many others, had to face an extreme situation with patients dying of hunger. Tosquelles then completely reversed the situation by urging his patients to take hold of the state of affairs to make the hospital the object of care. The institution became the sick person to be cared for. This was the beginning of a revolution, which included Georges Canguilhem. At the Borde clinic Félix Guattari pursued this direction with Jean Oury.
Is there a place for industrialists in Plaine Commune?
Orange and Dassault Systèmes actively support us. Orange is seeking to develop local platforms and related local services, and together with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) we argue that we need to bring forward a new kind of web that cannot be transformed into a data economy. A contributory tool for people, not people serving the platform!
From Dassault Systèmes, whose engineering communities are already working on the contributory mode, there is a very strong interest for the research and experimentation that we carry out around the sharing of notes. They are also very sensitive to the problems of the contributory economy.
What will these new contributory tools consist of?
Tools [see the IRI website] for note-taking, for example, there is a system capable of making a contributory recommendations – allowing, through the algorithmic analysis of annotations, to recommend the work of other researchers, on various criteria, in order to emphasize convergences and divergences and thus activate the kinds of critical dynamics that make science. It is a kind of computer-assisted Socratic dialogue. When you have 24 students, it’s the teacher who does that; but it’s impossible with thousands of people.
The goal is also to develop new types of social networks that are built around a controversy or a common goal. This would connect not individuals but groups, restoring the social link. Today, social networks are antisocial; But this is not inevitable.
Mostly, then, it is about recreating links …
There is currently a big debate in California on big data and correlationist mathematics, the advances in which lead some to say that we will soon be able to do without theory: some, including Chris Anderson, claim that thanks to correlations theoretical elaboration becomes incidental. I am fiercely opposed to this delusional discourse, which is part of the basis of the data economy, and I criticise this in The Automatic Society.
Digital contributory technologies must be used not to bypass the decision of individuals and groups but to debate and consolidate decisions. The first time I thought about what could be a “truly smart city” , it was in the very small town of Loos-en-Gohelle with its mayor, Jean-François Caron, who ten years ago set up a system of sensors – for recording circulation, temperature, consumption – which does not trigger automated regulations managed by algorithms … rather they convene meetings of residents and associations.
How do you differentiate between contributory and collaborative?
[There is] a big difference. Collaborative is what enables working for free; it is the logic of the Uber, Amazon or Airbnb -type platforms where, progressively, under the pretext of sharing data, we create short circuits, we perform disintermediation, we completely deregulate and we become predatory because we have captured all of everyone’s data and we control all this in an occult way. It is a negative contribution; these platforms which redistribute nothing – neither money nor symbols [symbole] – proletarianise and de-symbolise [désymbolisent]. This is also a criticism that can be addressed to Google. I am thinking here of Frédéric Kaplan’s work which showed that the algorithmic exploitation of language by Google leads tendentially to a standardization of language, producing entropy.
A negative contributory economy is an economy that further aggravates the entropy of consumerism. Many people who work in the collaborative field and the sharing economy are doing very nice things but the collaborative economy is not yet qualified at the macro-economic level: it is only thought at the level of the firm, the small enterprise, and the problem is that it does not take all account for the issue of positive and negative externalities. As a result, it leads to the contrary of how it has been imagined.
It is to bring these issues to the macro-economic level that we have the ambition, in Plaine Commune, to contribute to the invention of a new national accounting plan [nouveau plan comptable national], obviously with other territories. The goal is not to remake the local economy, but an economy that is localized, externalisable and deterritorializable. In short, it is not a question of creating boundaries – but, rather, of creating limits: limits to the Entropocene that is the Anthropocene, and for a negentropic economy with a view to a Neganthropocene.
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.
The Digital Geographies Working Group of the RGS/IBG is hoping to develop a resource for those of us interested in teaching ‘digital geographies’.
If you teach a module to undergraduate or postgraduate students that’s about digital geographies, however defined, and have a course handbook or syllabus or website that you’re willing to share by having it posted on the DGWG website, please send a copy to Gillian Rose copying in Jeremy Crampton.
There are two sessions at the RGS-IBG conference this year concerned with putting the philosophy of geography into practice. These sessions have a diverse range of speakers and paper topics that address both the pleasures and the problems of ‘doing theory’ in geography – both for research and in teaching.
This is not an esoteric and navel-gazing exercise in bolstering a sense of disciplinarity or individual eminence but rather a means to discuss the relations between the everyday practises of doing geography and the, sometimes-maligned, theoretical-methodological techniques we variously employ in geographical research and teaching.
Please find below the list of papers with links to the sessions in the online conference programme.
Performance, theory and economy in geography Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
This intervention examines the variety of relationships between performance and theory in geography. It outlines three different performances of theory in geography. One is theories of space that might be understood as a core concern of the discipline although not always expressed in geographical scholarship. Another is attempts to find space and place in forms of philosophy and theory ‘beyond’ geography. A final performance is the movement (or lack thereof) of theory through space and time, into and out of geographical scholarship. These theoretical performances each have different implications for what is understood of as geography and geographical knowledge. The intervention then moves on to examine how theorisations of performance itself cut across these three different approaches with a variety of implications for constructions of contemporary geographical knowledge. This is examined through the example of the changing parameters of ‘economic geography’ and approaches to economy in geography.
Transdisciplinarity and Translation Keith Harris (University of Washington, USA)
This paper focuses on the problem and potential of collective knowledge production by revisiting the notion of transdisciplinarity as it was practiced by the Centre d’études, de recherches et de formation institutionnelles (CERFI). CERFI was social science research collective founded by Félix Guattari in 1967 as a practical outgrowth the Fédération des groups d’études de recherches sur la functionnement des institutions (FGERI), which he had established two years earlier in an effort to gather and intensively share research from independent research groups focused not only on psychoanalysis – Guattari’s own domain as the co-director of the La Borde psychiatric clinic in the Loire Valley – but also from “teachers and professors, urban planners, architects, economists, filmmakers, [and] alternative military service teachers” (Dosse 2010, 76; cf. Morford 1985 and Fourquet 1982). The journal Recherches (1966-1983) was the vehicle for disseminating CERFI’s and other FGERI groups’ work, and was staunchly transdisciplinary in its attempt to challenge various disciplines to articulate their research trajectories in a way that neither repeated the jargon unique to each discipline nor diluted the complexity of the research for the alleged benefit of readers from other disciplines (an approach that Guattari and Gilles Deleuze adopted in their own coauthored work). Instead, the journal was envisioned as a place where different disciplines could create “‘distinctive oppositions’ rather than remaining in antagonistic structures of mutual misunderstanding” (Guattari 1966, 3, my translation). The paper also addresses Guattari’s concept of transversality (Guattari 2015), which underpins these groups’ commitment to transdisciplinarity, and explicitly address how the contemporary activity of translating such work – in particular, my current efforts to co-translate CERFI’s research on urban problems and problematization that was published in Recherches 13 (Fourquet and Murard 1973) – extends the process of collective knowledge production both spatially and temporally, and opens up new avenues for contemporary interventions, discussions, and connections across disciplines.
Combining post-human, participatory and situated philosophies of geography: a humble research practice? Samantha Saville (Aberystwyth University, UK)
In this paper, I explore what kinds of research practice are suggested when combining insights from posthuman philosophies and ethical leanings of participatory, co-produced, situated knowledges. I argue that one potential conceptual framework these directions could lead to is the notion of a ‘humble geography’. Through examples from my doctoral research in Svalbard, in which a humble geographic practice emerged and developed, I sketch out some ideas as to how such philosophies play out ‘in the field’ and indeed afterwards when ‘writing-up’, re-presenting and re-producing knowledges. The humble approach I outline sits at odds with traditional senses of academic authority and with rising pressures to sell oneself and work as highly impactful, important, in short anything but humble. In this way, there is scope to join thinking with the emerging ideas of slow scholarship, activist and gentle geographies.
Disruptive interventions: Art practice and the generation of politically complex cultural geographies Veronica Vickery (University of Exeter, UK)
Current commentaries on art-geographies tend to focus on questions of inter-disciplinarity, rather than the potential for art practice-as-research to be generative of politically complex cultural geographies. Reflecting on the way that human-scaled landscape events can be haunted by deep-time Earth forces, I undertook a series of live-art-to-camera performances, leading to a productive theoretical engagement bringing new materialisms into dialogue with landscape studies. This work demonstrates the unpredictability and riskiness of researching through a critical arts practice. It also shows how these conditions, or disruptive interventions, can be generative of new ways of (body)knowing in the world; ways of knowing which in this project serve to confront the violence and contradictions of a fast changing enviro/geopolitical landscape. I propose that landscape is inherently violent, and that as such, landscaping practices are always politically differentiated and situated. It is a violence in which there can be no innocent place of on-looking; we are all mutually implicated in landscape and landscaping-practices, and indeed, the ghosts of our own vulnerabilities are never far away. Therefore, working from within an art practice–as geographical research–can contribute a perspective of political complexity and generative encounter, in which unexpected collisions, between things, practices, and bodies function to produce spatial connections beyond contemporary analysis.
Critical Realism, Spatial Relations and Social Science Research Alan Patterson (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Arguing for a critical realist approach, this paper draws upon the work of Bhaskar, Sayer, and others to focus on the relational nature of causality, and the significance of this for undertaking ‘real world’ research – i.e. human geography!
The paper addresses the often ambiguous and ill-defined role of ‘space’ in social science research. Only rarely are the causal mechanisms and structures which result in spatial differentiation explicitly considered. Where attempts have been made to consider such factors this is often undertaken in a simplistic fashion, as though concrete reality was simply the result of an unproblematic ‘mapping out’ of abstract processes. These approaches are considered to be inadequate and the discussion takes up the question of the importance of spatial structures to the understanding of causal processes, and examines the implications of this for the design of social science research. In particular, an original ‘relational’ view of causality is presented (which sees reality as forged only when social objects are concretised in a specific set of spatial and temporal relations) which has the potential to resolve the incipient aspatiality of abstract research. It is concluded that the use of intensive case study methods, contextualised within a theoretically informed research design, is a fundamental requirement in order to obtain adequate explanations of complicated social phenomena.
Thinking media through the urban: Practicing geography beyond classroom and discipline Scott Rodgers (Birkbeck, University of London, UK)
This paper addresses two linked questions. How might philosophies of geography be put into pedagogical practice beyond the classroom? And how might this pedagogical practice be negotiated, when the classroom in question lies beyond the discipline of geography? In recent years I have designed and taught a final year undergraduate module titled The Mediated City. This module, directed at media studies as well as general arts and humanities students, encourages an approach to media forms as they emerge through everyday experiences of urban environments and urban living. In so doing, the course interfaces with the ordinary modalities of Birkbeck students, who attend classes at night, tending to work during the day, and in so doing traverse all manner of London spaces. My discussion will centre on an alternative assessment used in this module, in which students build up a compilation of encountered ‘urban media’ examples including text, photos, audio, video, maps and other elements, combining the use of mobile media technologies with a personal blog. Through this coursework, students practice geographical forms of knowing through ordinary urban encounters. In opening themselves to the ordinary and unexpected, they are invited to challenge representational knowledge narrowly conceived. But for the first time in their studies, they are also asked to reckon with the more formal representational knowledge of geography-as-discipline. I will argue that in provisionally deploying geographical philosophies, beyond classroom and discipline, openings are created that challenge media centrism, encouraging students to see and experience media as inherent to their everyday worlds.
Teaching critical GIS historically Matthew Wilson (Harvard University, USA / University of Kentucky, USA)
In the nearly twenty-years since the publication of Nadine Schuurman’s dissertation on critical GIS, there have been sustained and wide-ranging conversations around what it means to practice criticality with and about geographic information systems. For a new generation of GIScience practitioners and scholars, there is an open question around the role of an historical approach to technical training that has deep roots in early 20th century approaches to Anglophone cartographic education. More recently, advancements by feminist critiques of GIS and mapping have inspired renewed contextualization of mapping techniques, offering either/both social and historical contingencies and implications in critical GIS practice. The point, I argue, is not to teach students a singular history or origin story of geospatial innovations and techniques, but to assist students in understanding that there were many ways forward in the development of GIS and that an historical approach should inspire further tinkering and experimentation — beyond a pervasive ‘recipe-book approach’ within more conventional GIScience pedagogy. In this presentation, I overview and reflect upon both successful as well as more challenged efforts to forward a critical GIS approach in undergraduate teaching and chart an agenda of continued debate and inquiry into the role and responsibility of GIS in the discipline of Geography.
‘Geography is what Geographers do’: a Wittgensteinian reprieve Pauline Couper (York St John University, UK)
The assertion that “Geography is what Geographers do” has been both cited and criticised for so long (e.g. Putnam, 1957; Bird, 1973; Pacione, 1987; MacDougall, 2003) that it has become something of a disciplinary cliché. When considered a definition or description of Geography the criticisms have some justification. This paper instead takes the phrase as a prompt for thinking through ‘what geographers do’ in the everyday practices through which the discipline is brought into being. It draws on Wittgenstein’s later philosophy (Philosophical Investigations, On Certainty) and the work of subsequent philosophers of education (Burbules, Smeyers) to foreground the ‘rough ground’ of everyday acts in which we exercise geographical judgment. A disconnect exists between this rough ground and the structural separation of research and teaching through funding and assessment mechanisms that provides context for (and so shapes) our work. The paper then considers the implications for geographical pedagogy, the ways in which students co-constitute the life of the discipline, and for the organisation of Geographical university education and its departments.
Theory generation in the classroom Sam Kinsley (University of Exeter, UK)
The generations of theory in human geography are not only performed in conferences, research group meetings and conference panels but also in the classroom. This is a paper concerned with how those generations are made present. By performance of ‘generation’ I mean both the practical generating of theory, through scholarship and research, and the cultural, discursive and temporal generations of scholars themselves. The aim therefore is to sketch out how such performances may function in the classroom. In particular, I want to think through how we might tackle the ways the dialogical relations between generations in the generating of theory may lead to helpful and unhelpful ‘traditions’ (following Scott 2014) and signal how attention to this may be fruitful for the pedagogy of critique.
Over on Savage MindsRex Golub has written a compelling provocation about the places of ‘public anthropology’ (which I think could probably be broadened to ‘public scholarship). He points out that it’s all very well writing letters to venerable broad sheet newspapers but that doesn’t necessarily achieve much. Instead, Professors (or academics more broadly) might better spend their time editing wikipedia pages because that is the prime site of the public sourcing, and contestation, of knowledge. I think its quite a compelling argument… not least when thinking about the current trend and push for demonstrating “impact”. Isn’t it quite “impactful” to be the person who attempts to ensure that the most widely used source of knowledge on a given topic is rigorously written/edited? There’s no academic brownie points in that though… no promotions or awards/rewards are going to be given on that basis!
What do you think?
…my issue is that anthropologists are doing public anthropology in the wrong places and in the wrong way because they don’t understand how social media works today and are seduced by an out-moded model of cultural capital that makes them feels heroic, but it isn’t actually efficacious.
The new public anthropology, on the other hand, is not glamorous, will not make you famous, can be emotionally uncomfortable, involves working in new and unfamiliar genres, and can change the world. A good example of this sort of public anthropology is editing Wikipedia
Wikipedia is ground zero for knowledge in the world today. Everyone uses it to look stuff up quickly. Everyone. Some people may take it more seriously than others, but because its content can be reused on other sites, what wikipedia says spreads everywhere. For better or for worse – I’d say for better – it’s the public record of the state of human knowledge at the moment. Unlike letters to the New York Times, Wikipedia gets read. Constantly. When you contribute to Wikipedia, you are concretely and immediately altering what the world knows about your topic of expertise.