New journal article> A very public cull: the anatomy of an online issue public

Twitter

I am pleased to share that a paper that Rebecca Sandover, Steve Hinchliffe and I have had under review for some time has been accepted for publication. The paper comes from our project “Contagion”, which amongst other things examined the ways issue publics form and spread around public controversies – in this case the English badger cull of 2013/14. The research this article presents comes from mixed methods social media research, focused on Twitter. The methods and conversation have, of course, moved on a little in the last two years but I think the paper makes a contribution to how geographers in particular might think about doing social media-based research. I guess this, as a result, also fits into the recent (re)growth of ‘digital geographies’ too.

The article is titled “A very public cull: the anatomy of an online issue public” and will be published in Geoforum in the not-too-distant future. Feel free to get in touch for a pre-print version.

Abstract:

Geographers and other social scientists have for some time been interested in how scientific and environmental controversies emerge and become public or collective issues. Social media are now key platforms through which these issues are publicly raised and through which groups or publics can organise themselves. As media that generate data and traces of networking activity, these platforms also provide an opportunity for scholars to study the character and constitution of those groupings. In this paper we lay out a method for studying these ‘issue publics’: emergent groupings involved in publicising an issue. We focus on the controversy surrounding the state-sanctioned cull of wild badgers in England as a contested means of disease management in cattle. We analyse two overlapping groupings to demonstrate how online issue publics function in a variety of ways – from the ‘echo chambers’ of online sharing of information, to the marshalling of agreements on strategies for action, to more dialogic patterns of debate. We demonstrate the ways in which digital media platforms are themselves performative in the formation of issue publics and that, while this creates issues, we should not retreat into debates around the ‘proper object’ of research but rather engage with the productive complications of mapping social media data into knowledge (Whatmore 2009). In turn, we argue that online issue publics are not homogeneous and that the lines of heterogeneity are neither simple, or to be expected, and merit study as a means to understand the suite of processes and novel contexts involved in the emergence of a public. 

Inter-Nation – European Art Research Network conference, 19 Oct 2018

A fence in Mexico City delineating a poor area from a wealthy area

This event looks interesting:

Inter-Nation

European Art Research Network | 2018 Conference

Key-Note speakers include:

Dawn Weleski, Conflict Kitchen, Pittsburgh
Bernard Stiegler, Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation, Paris
Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation

Other participants include: Louise Adkins, Alistair Alexander / Tactical Tech, Lonnie Van Brummelen, David Capener, Katarzyna Depta-Garapich, Ram Krishna Ranjam, Rafal Morusiewicz, Stephanie Misa, Vukasin Nedeljkovic / Asylum Archive, Fiona Woods, Connell Vaughan & Mick O’Hara, Tommie Soro.

Contributory economies are those exchange networks and peer 2 peer (P2P) communities that seek to challenge the dominant value system inherent to the nation-state. This two-day conference addresses these economies through artistic research.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, alternative economies have been increasingly explored through digital platforms, and artistic and activist practices that transgress traditional links between nation and economy.

Digital networks have the potential to challenge traditional concepts of sovereignty and geo-politics. Central to these networks and platforms is a broad understanding of ‘technology’ beyond technical devices to include praxis-oriented processes and applied knowledges, inherent to artistic forms of research. Due to the aesthetic function of the nation, artistic researchers are critically placed to engage with the multiple registers at play within this conference. The guiding concept of the conference ‘Inter-Nation’ comes from the work of anthropologist Marcel Mauss (‘A Different Approach to Nationhood’, 1920), proposed an original understanding of both concepts that opposes traditional definitions of State and Nationalism. More recently, Michel Bauwens argues for inquiry into the idea of the commons in this context. While, Bernard Stiegler has revisited this definition of the ‘Inter-Nation’ as a broader concept in support of contributory economies emerging in digital culture.

Developed at a crucial time on the island of Ireland, when Brexit is set to redefine relations. The conference engages key thematics emerging out of this situation, such as: digital aesthetics and exchange, network cultures and peer communities, the geo-politics of centre and margin.

The conference will be hosted across three locations within the city centre; Wood Quay Venue for main key-note and PhD researcher presentations; Studio 6 at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios for an evening performance event, and Smithfield Market where a screeing event is hosted at Lighthouse Cinema. 

Reblog> CFP: 3rd International Geomedia Conference: “Revisiting the Home”

Promotional image for the Curzon Memories app

This conference looks great and has plenty of thematic resonance with a lot going on in geography and other disciplines at the moment. Worth submitting if you can… via Gillian Rose.

Everything below is copied from here.

The 3rd International Geomedia Conference: “Revisiting the Home”
Karlstad, Sweden, 7-10 May 2019

Welcome to the 3rd International Geomedia Conference! The term geomedia captures the fundamental role of media in organizing and giving meaning to processes and activities in space. Geomedia also alludes to the geographical attributes of media, for example flows of digital signals between particular places and the infrastructures carrying those flows. The rapid expansion of mobile media, location-based services, GIS and increasingly complex patterns of surveillance/interveillance has amplified the need for critical studies and theorizations of geomedia. The 3rd Geomedia Conference welcomes contributions (full sessions/panels as well as individual papers) that analyze and problematize the relations between the any and all communication media and various forms of spatial creativity, performance and production across material, cultural, social and political dimensions. Geomedia 2019 provides a genuinely interdisciplinary arena for research carried out at the crossroads of geography, media and film studies. It also builds bridges to such fields as urban studies, rural studies, regional planning, cultural studies and tourism studies.

The special theme of Geomedia 2019 is “Revisiting the Home”. It responds to the prevailing need to problematize the meaning of home in an “era of globalized homelessness”, in times of extended mobility (migration, tourism, multiple homes, etc.) and digital information flows (notably social media). While such ongoing transitions point to a condition where home-making becomes an increasingly liquid and de-territorialized undertaking, there is also a growing preoccupation with questions of what counts as home and who has the right to claim something as (one’s) home. Home is a construct that actualizes the multilayered tensions between belonging, inclusion and security, on the one hand, and alienation, exclusion and surveillance, on the other. The theme of Geomedia 2019 centers on how media are culturally and materially integrated in and reshaping the home-place (e.g., the “smart home” and the “home-office”) and connecting it to other places and spaces. It also concerns the phenomenological and discursive constructions of home, ranging from the intimate social interaction of domestic spaces to the popular (and sometimes politicized) media nostalgia of imagined communities (nation states, homelands, etc.). Ultimately, “Revisiting the Home” addresses the home as a theoretical concept and its implications for geomedia studies. The theme will be addressed through invited keynote talks, a plenary panel, film screenings and artistic installations. Participants are also encouraged to submit proposals for paper sessions addressing the conference theme.

Keynote speakers:
Melissa Gregg – Intel Corporation, USA
Tristan Thielmann – Universität Siegen, Germany

Plenary panel
“Dreaming of Home: Film and Imaginary Territories of the Real”
Nilgun Bayraktar – California College of the Arts
Christine Molloy – Film director and producer, Desperate Optimists
Les Roberts – University of Liverpool
John Lynch (chair) – Karlstad University

Abstract submissions:
Geomedia 2019 welcomes proposals for individual papers as well as thematic panels in English.

Individual paper proposals: The author submits an abstract of 200-250 words. Accepted papers are grouped by the organizers into sessions of 5 papers according to thematic area.
Thematic panel proposals: The chair of the panel submits a proposal consisting of 4-5 individual paper abstracts (200-250 words) along with a general panel presentation of 200-250 words.

Suggested paper topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Art and event spaces
  • Cinematic geographies
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Everyday communication geographies
  • Epistemologies and methodologies of geomedia
  • Geographies of media and culture industries
  • Geographies of news
  • Geomedia and education
  • Historical perspectives of geomedia
  • Home and belonging
  • Lifestyle and tourism mobilities
  • Locative and spatial media
  • Material geographies of media
  • Media ecologies
  • Mediatization and space
  • Migration and media
  • Mobility and governance
  • Policy mobilities
  • Power geometries and mobility capital
  • Surveillance and spatial control
  • Urban and rural media spaces

Conference timeline
September 24th 2018: Submission system opens
December 10th 2018: Deadline for thematic panel and individual paper proposals
January 25th 2019: Notes of acceptance and registration opens
February 28th 2019: Early Bird pricing ends
March 15th 2019: Last day of registration

Contact: You can reach us at info@geomedia.se

Organizers and venue:
Geomedia 2019 is hosted by the Geomedia Research Group at the Department of Geography, Media and Communication, Karlstad University, Sweden.

Conference director: Lena Grip
Assistant conference director: Stina Bergman
Director of the Geomedia Research Group and chair of scientific committee: André Jansson

Data materiality – a new project by Scott Rodgers

A huge array of overhead wires on a street

This new project at Birkbeck by Scott Rodgers & Joel McKim looks really interesting:

Data Materiality: collaborative BIRMAC/Vasari project

[…]

Data Materiality

The expanded presence and impact of data, and arrival of so-called Big Data, has become an accepted, background feature of contemporary life. But while data clearly matters, the question arising now is: just how does data come to ‘matter’? What are the sometimes unseen material infrastructures that bring data into being, into circulation and into action? What are the social and political structures, policies and institutions through which data comes to have effects? And what might it mean to think about data – as suggested by Sarah Pink and others – as ‘broken’: as always already implicated in ordinary processes of maintenance and repair?

Data Materiality – a three-year collaborative project co-sponsored by the Birkbeck Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Media and Culture, and the Vasari Centre for Art and Technology – seeks to address these questions. By data ‘materiality’ we mean not only the ways in which data crystallises into physical forms and depends on material technical and social infrastructures, but also the related ways in which data comes to matter, in and through practical action, collective imaginaries, or biological conditions. So we are interested in questioning the proliferating network of data centres, fibre-optic cables and server farms that underpin our data usage, but we also wish to explore perhaps less tangible or apparent infrastructures of data – materialities that might include, for instance, digital objects and artefacts, from network protocols to markup languages, as well as the labour and organizational structures putting data to work.

Our key aim in exploring data materiality is to get beyond the idea of data as a raw or unprocessed and, as Lisa Gitelman has suggested, understand the ordinary material conditions under which data is induced and deduced. We wish to ask, in other words, how does data leave its traces on the world? And how does the world leave its traces on data?

Read more on Scott’s website.

City Road – Digital Cities [podcast]

A huge array of overhead wires on a street

I’ve been listening to the City Road podcast for a little while now, since seeing a link on twitter to an excellent conversation with Desirée Fields, and I think Dallas Rogers et al. are doing a fantastic job with this podcast. It is an academic podcast but presented and delivered in, I think, a really accessible way. To that end, I really think there are episodes that make good teaching resources. In particular this episode on ‘digital cities’ with Robyn Dowling and Sophia Maalsen will feature in the next iteration of my third year option about technology – it’s excellent.

AI Now report

My Cayla Doll

The AI Now Institute have published their second annual report with plenty of interesting things in it. I won’t try and summarise it or offer any analysis (yet). It’s worth a read:

The AI Now Institute, an interdisciplinary research center based at New York University, announced today the publication of its second annual research report. In advance of AI Now’s official launch in November, the 2017 report surveys the current use of AI across core domains, along with the challenges that the rapid introduction of these technologies are presenting. It also provides a set of ten core recommendations to guide future research and accountability mechanisms. The report focuses on key impact areas, including labor and automation, bias and inclusion, rights and liberties, and ethics and governance.

“The field of artificial intelligence is developing rapidly, and promises to help address some of the biggest challenges we face as a society,” said Kate Crawford, cofounder of AI Now and one of the lead authors of the report. “But the reason we founded the AI Now Institute is that we urgently need more research into the real-world implications of the adoption of AI and related technologies in our most sensitive social institutions. People are already being affected by these systems, be it while at school, looking for a job, reading news online, or interacting with the courts. With this report, we’re taking stock of the progress so far and the biggest emerging challenges that can guide our future research on the social implications of AI.”

There’s also a sort of Exec. Summary, a list of “10 Top Recommendations for the AI Field in 2017” on Medium too. Here’s the short version of that:

  1. 1. Core public agencies, such as those responsible for criminal justice, healthcare, welfare, and education (e.g “high stakes” domains) should no longer use ‘black box’ AI and algorithmic systems.
  2. 2. Before releasing an AI system, companies should run rigorous pre-release trials to ensure that they will not amplify biases and errors due to any issues with the training data, algorithms, or other elements of system design.
  3. 3. After releasing an AI system, companies should continue to monitor its use across different contexts and communities.
  4. 4. More research and policy making is needed on the use of AI systems in workplace management and monitoring, including hiring and HR.
  5. 5. Develop standards to track the provenance, development, and use of training datasets throughout their life cycle.
  6. 6. Expand AI bias research and mitigation strategies beyond a narrowly technical approach.
  7. 7. Strong standards for auditing and understanding the use of AI systems “in the wild” are urgently needed.
  8. 8. Companies, universities, conferences and other stakeholders in the AI field should release data on the participation of women, minorities and other marginalized groups within AI research and development.
  9. 9. The AI industry should hire experts from disciplines beyond computer science and engineering and ensure they have decision making power.
  10. 10. Ethical codes meant to steer the AI field should be accompanied by strong oversight and accountability mechanisms.

Which sort of reads, to me, as: “There should be more social scientists involved” 🙂

Roadside billboards display targeted ads in Russia

racist facial recognition

From the MIT Tech Review:

Moscow Billboard Targets Ads Based on the Car You’re Driving

Targeted advertising is familiar to anyone browsing the Internet. A startup called Synaps Labs has brought it to the physical world by combining high-speed cameras set up a distance ahead of the billboard (about 180 meters) to capture images of cars. Its machine-learning system can recognize in those images the make and model of the cars an advertiser wants to target. A bidding system then selects the appropriate advertising to put on the billboard as that car passes.

Marketing a car on a roadside billboard might seem a logical fit. But how broad could this kind of advertising be? There is a lot an advertiser can tell about you from the car you drive, says Synaps. Indeed, recent research from a group of university researchers and led by Stanford found that—using machine vision and deep learning—analyzing the make, model, and year of vehicles visible in Google Street View could accurately estimate income, race, and education level of a neighborhood’s residents, and even whether a city is likely to vote Democrat or Republican.

As the camera spots a BMW X5 in the third lane, and later a BMW X6 and a Volvo XC60 in the far left lane, the billboard changes to show Jaguar’s new SUV, an ad that’s targeted to those drivers.

Synaps’s business model is to sell its services to the owners of digital billboards. Digital billboard advertising rotates, and more targeted advertising can rotate more often, allowing operators to sell more ads. According to Synaps, a targeted ad shown 8,500 times in one month will reach the same number of targeted drivers (approximately 22,000) as a typical ad shown 55,000 times. The Jaguar campaign paid the billboard operator based on the number of impressions, as Web advertisers do. The traditional billboard-advertising model is priced instead on airtime, similar to TV ads.

In Russia, Synaps expects to be operating on 20 to 50 billboards this year. The company is also planning a test in the U.S. this summer, where there are roughly 7,000 digital billboards, a number growing at 15 percent a year, according to the company. (By contrast, there are 370,000 conventional billboards.) With a row of digital billboards along a road, they could roll the ads as the cars move along, making billboard advertising more like the storytelling style of television and the Internet, says Synaps’s cofounder Alex Pustov.

There are limits to what the company will use its cameras for. Synaps won’t sell data on individual drivers, though the company is interested in possibly using aggregate traffic patterns for services like predictive traffic analysis and the sociodemographic analysis of commuters versus residents in an area, traffic emissions tracking, or other uses.

Out of safety concerns, license plate data is encrypted, and the company says it will comply with local regulations limiting the time this kind of data can be stored, as well.

Well that’s alright then! 😉

“Racist soap dispenser” and artifactual politics

'Racist' soap dispenser

Some videos have been widely shared concerning the soap dispensers and taps in various public or restaurant toilets that appear to have been calibrated to work with light skin colour and so subsequently appear to not work with darker skin. See the below for a couple of example videos.

Of course, there are (depressingly) all sorts of examples of technologies being calibrated to favour people who conform to a white racial appearance, from the Kodak’s “Shirley” calibration cards, to Nikon’s “Did someone blink?” filter, to HP’s webcam face tracking software. There are unfortunately more examples, which I won’t list here, but to suffice it to say this demonstrates an important aspect of artefactual and technological politics – things often carry the political assumptions of their designers. Even if this was an ‘innocent’ mistake such as a result of a manufacturing error, skewing the calibration etc., it demonstrates the sense in which there remains a politics to the artefact/technology in question because the agency of the object remains skewed along lines of difference.

There are perhaps two sides to this politics, if we resurrect Langdon Winner’s (1980) well-known argument about artefactual politics and the resulting discussion. First, like the well-known story (cited by Winner, gleaned from Caro) of Robert Moses’ New York bridges“someone wills a specific social state, and then subtly transfers this vision into an artefact” (Joerges 1999: p. 412). What Joerges (1999) calls the design-led version of ‘artefacts-have-politics’, following Winner (I am not condoning Joerges’ rather narrow reading of Winner, just using a useful short-hand).

Second, following Winner, artefacts can have politics by virtue of the kinds of economic, political social (and so on) systems upon which they are predicated. There is the way in which such a deliberate or mistaken development, such as the tap sensor, is facilitated or at the least tolerated by virtue of the kinds of standards that are used to govern the design, manufacture and sale or implementation of a given artefact/technology. So, the fact that a bridge that apparently excludes particular groups on people by virtue of preventing their most likely means of travel, a bus, to pass under it, or a tap only works with lighter skin colour, can pass into circulation, or socialisation perhaps, by virtue of normative and bureaucratic frameworks of governance.

In this sense, and again following Winner, we might think about the ways these outcomes transcend “the simple categories of ‘intended’ and ‘unintended’ altogether”. Rather, they represent “instances in which the very process of technical development is so thoroughly biased in a particular direction that it regularly produces results heralded as wonderful breakthroughs by some social interests and crushing setbacks by others” (Winner 1980: p. 125-6)

So, even when considered the results of error, and especially when the mechanism for regulating such errors is considered to be ‘the market’—with the expectation that if the thing doesn’t work it won’t sell and the manufacturer will be forced to change it—the assumptions behind the rectification of the ‘error’ carry a politics too (perhaps in the sense of Weber’s loaded value judgements).

Third, there is the what Woolgar (1991 – in a critical response to Winner) calls the ‘contingent and contestable versions of the capacity of various technologies’, which might include the ‘manufacturing mistakes’ but would also include the videos produced and their support or contestation through responses in other videos and in media coverage.

This analysis might become further complicated by widening our consideration of the ways in which contingencies render a given artefact/ technology political.

Take, for example, an ‘Internet of Things’ device that might seem innocuous, such as a ‘smart thermostat’ that ‘learns’ when you use the heating and begins to automatically schedule your heating. There are immediate technical issues that might render such a device political, such as in terms of the strength of the security settings, and so whether or not it could be hacked and whether or not you as the ‘owner’ of the device would know and what you may be able to do in response.

Further, there are privacy issues if the ‘smart’ element is actually not embedded in the device but enabled through remote services ‘in the cloud’, do you know where your data is, how it is being used, does it identify you? etc. etc. Further still, the device might appear to be a one-off expense but may actually require a further payment or subscription to work in the way you expected. For example, I bought an Amazon Kindle that had advertising as the ‘screen saver’ and I had to pay an additional £10 to remove it.

Even further, it may be that even if the security, privacy and payment systems are all within the bounds of what one might consider to be politically or ethically acceptable, it may still be that there are political contingencies that exclude or disproportionately effect particular groups of people. The thermostat might only work with particular boilers or may require a ‘smart’ meter, so it may also only work with particular energy subscription plans. Such plans, even if they’re no more expensive might require good credit ratings to access them or other pre-conditions, which are not immediately obvious. Likewise, the thermostat may not work with pre-payment meter-driven systems, which necessarily disadvantages those without a choice – renting for example.

The thermostat may require a particular kind of smart phone to access its functionality, which again may require particular kinds of phone contract and these may require credit ratings and so on. The manufacturer of the thermostat might cease to trade, or get bought out, and the ‘smart’ software ‘in the cloud’ may cease to function – you may therefore find yourself without a thermostat. If the thermostat was installed in a ‘vulnerable’ person’s home in order to enable remote monitoring by concerned family members this might create anxiety and risk.

As apparently individual, or discrete, artefacts/technologies become apparently more entangled in sociotechnical systems of use (as Kline says) with concomitant contingencies the politics of these things has the potential to become more opaque.

So, all artefacts have politics and the examples within this post might be considered useful if troubling contemporary examples for discussion in research projects and in the classroom (as well as, one might hope, the committee rooms of regulators, or parliaments).

P.S. I think this now is a chunk of a lecture rewritten for my “Geographies of Technology” module at Exeter, heh.

Event: Digital Frontiers: Exploring the digital-analogue interface, 02/11/17, Kingston

Glitched AT&T 1990s advert

Via Karen Gregory.

Digital Frontiers: Exploring the digital-analogue interface

A free event on 2nd November at Kingston University

Travel bursaries are available for PhD students

This one day event aims to bring together those interested in or currently conducting empirical research on the ways in which the digital spaces such as social media, connectivity-enabled smartphone applications, and internet-based platforms are being used to sustain or transform individuals’ subjectivities and material circumstances. The interface of the analogue and the digital is receiving keen interest through such concepts as the collaborative, sharing and gig economies, but we hope to bring together those who are interested in exploring new avenues for theorising novelty and transformation, sustenance and reproduction in the ways that organising occurs. In this endeavour, we conceptualise the development of online spaces as the production of a contested territory; a frontier of opportunity for the reinvention of the world. A territory that is nonetheless made fraught in its encounter with the power relations of the world that already exist, and the limitations of its construction. The digital represents, for us, a territory to which individuals and groups seek meaning, value, and community for not only acceptance of their selves and ideas but for economic prosperity and survival. In so seeking, we see digital landowners emerge, insistence on changing rentier requirements, and a need for the constant (re)production of value.

The event will be structured around three symposia on the themes of: Digital Platforms, Novelty, and Knowledge. Pairs of discussants (to be announced) will speak on their given topic as a provocation to discussion with the participants of the event. There will also be further opportunities for informal discussion and networking. Lunch and refreshments will be provided and the event should last from 10:00 until 16:00.

We call for those interested in engaging with this notion of the digital frontier and offer a space in which to have conversations about how this, and other ways of conceptualising the interface of the digital and analogue, might develop. This workshop will foster interests in areas such as innovation, materiality and the digital, new areas of labour regulation, the reproduction of power relations and the development of new career pathways. Although big data has been an area of much excitement in the arena of social research, recent reflections in the media have highlighted the limitations of this type of analysis, namely, the correlation of activities and trends, suggesting instead a turn towards richer forms of analysis that theorise motivations or forces. We invite to this workshop those who are collecting empirical data through methods such as digital ethnography, interviews with individuals about their digitally mediated activities or qualitative textual and content analysis on activities and lifestyles that traverse the digital and analog spheres; or who can offer theoretical tools to develop new understandings of such data. We are particularly keen to enable and to encourage interdisciplinary participation and collaborations.

The event has two goals:

  1. to foster connections between scholars and ideas with a view to developing collaborations for writing or research projects. It will be structured around a set of ‘dialogues’ where pairs of invited speakers will present and provoke around a given theme, and workshop activities where we’ll have a chance to meet and discuss our interests with the other attendees;
  2. to work towards an output in the form of a special issue or edited book – for which we have received interest from publishers – through highlighting common themes in our research.

We have 30 spaces available for this event and there are a limited number of travel bursaries available for PhD students to attend – please email d.brewis@kingston.ac.uk with your request. These will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis. If you find yourself no longer available to attend please contact the organisers so we can open your space to another participant.

We hope to welcome you to Kingston on the 2nd November. Please find further details on practicalities such as transportation below.

Dr Deborah N Brewis, Kingston University
Dr Laura Mitchell, Keele University