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.

Seminar> Charis Thompson: On the Posthuman in the Age of Automation and Augmentation

Still from the video for All is Love by Bjork

If you happen to be in Exeter on Friday 11th May then I urge you to attend this really interesting talk by Prof. Charis Thompson (UC Berkeley), organised by Sociology & Philosophy at Exeter. Here’s the info:

Guest speaker – Professor Charis Thompson: On the Posthuman in the Age of Automation and Augmentation

A Department of Sociology & Philosophy lecture
Date 11 May 2018
Time 14:00 to 15:15
Place IAIS Building/LT1

Charis Thompson is Chancellor’s Professor, Gender and Women’s Studies and the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society, UC Berkeley, and Professor, Department of Sociology, London School of Economics. She is the author of Making Parents; The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies (MIT Press 2007), which won the Rachel Carson Prize from the Society of the Social Studies of Science, and of Good Science: The Ethical Choreography of Stem Cell Research (MIT Press 2013). Her book in progress, Getting Ahead, revisits classic questions on the relation between science and democracy in an age of populism and inequality, focusing particularly on genome editing and AI.

She served on the Nuffield Council Working Group on Genome Editing, and serves on the World Economic Forum’s Global Technology Council on Technology, Values and Policy. Thompson is a recipient of UC Berkeley’s Social Science Distinguished Teaching Award.  In 2017, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the National Science and Technology University of Norway for work on science and society.

SPA PGR Conference Committee
Maria Dede
Aimee Middlemiss
Celia Plender
Elena Sharratt

Paul Dourish at Oxford – Exploring the Materialities of Digital Information

A huge array of overhead wires on a street

If you happen to be vaguely near Oxford and interested in digital-type things, then Paul Dourish’s lecture at the OII may be of interest. I’m guessing it’s related to his latest book… It’d be interesting to see if he cites any geographers.

Bellwether Lecture: Exploring the Materialities of Digital Information

Speakers: Paul Dourish

    • 26 October 2017 17:15 – 18:45

Location: Faculty of Classics, Ioannou Centre for Classical & Byzantine Studies, 66 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LY


The Oxford Internet Institute is excited to welcome Paul Dourish from the University of California, Irvine for the Bellwether talk ‘Exploring the Materialities of Digital Information’.

The talk will be followed by a short drinks reception.


Social theorists of various stripes have countered the rhetoric of immateriality in the domain of the digital by pointing to the material foundations of digital systems, including their infrastructures and the material resources necessary to produce them. I will present a materialist account of digital forms and representations themselves, and show how practices around digital information are shaped and constrained by representational considerations. These digital materialities interpose themselves into processes of encoding and acting with information. I will illustrate the approach using examples from organizational decision-making and internet protocols.

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 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

About an Organology of Dreams – After An Organisation of Dreams, Bernard Stiegler & Ken McMullen

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

Over on Backdoor Broadcasting you can revisit a session that was part of the Film Philosophy conference in 2012, with a film piece by McMullen “An Organisation of Dreams”.

Stiegler responds to the film with a talk listed as: About an Organology of Dreams – After An Organisation of Dreams, here’s the blurb:

Beginning with well-known proposition that the cinema serves as the perfect enactment of Plato’s cave, I would like to examine in this paper the question of transcendental cinema, returning to the problems that I raised in Le temps du cinéma, but also reopening the possibility of a transcendental stupidity – or transcendental negativity, to put it otherwise.  By turning to Freud and the notion of the dream, I will explore my hypothesis by looking briefly at a work which is itself rather brief, and which suggests an archeology of cinema that begins thirty thousand years ago, in the Chauvet Cave.

Some resonances here with Keynote Stiegler delivered at the same conference, translated by Daniel Ross: The Organology of Dreams and Arche-Cinema. The first footnote of which reads:

This keynote address was delivered on September 12, 2012, at Queen Mary, University of London, for the “Film-Philosophy Conference”, and began with the following opening remarks: “I would like to begin by thanking John Mullarkey for inviting me here, allowing me to continue a discussion with Ken McMullen that began a long time ago, with Ghost Dance (UK 1983), and passed through Jacques Derrida, and which was then pursued in various directions, in particular with An Organization of Dreams (UK 2009). I would also like to point out that Dan Ross, who was kind enough to translate my lecture into English, is also the director, along with David Barison, of The Ister (Australia 2004), another film in which I was fortunate enough to participate at the very moment I was writing Le temps du cinéma. I here thank Ken, Dan and John, and hope that perhaps some day there will be an opportunity for the three of us to have a discussion.”

Reblog> Ordinary digital humanities – event with @rodgers_scott

Another interesting event, this time with Scott Rodgers at Birkbeck.

Ordinary digital humanities: Free event at Birkbeck, 15 May 2017

Apple_II_IMG_4212In a couple of weeks’ time I am happy to be hosting an event as part of Birkbeck Arts Week on the subject of ‘Ordinary Digital Humanities’, featuring a talk from Lesley Gourlay (UCL Institute of Education). The publicity blurb below has more than enough information, I suspect, for you to get the idea. The event comes in significant part out of discussions we’ve been having through Satellite, an experimental subcommittee in the School of Arts at Birkbeck focused on exchanging information and perspectives on the critical, creative, academic and pedagogical dimensions of learning technologies.

Ordinary Digital Humanities
The everyday life of digital technologies in pedagogy

15 May 2017, 6pm, Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD (part of Birkbeck Arts Week)

Book your free place at:

When one hears the term ‘digital humanities’ what likely comes to mind are innovative applications of computational techniques and technologies to humanities research as well as pedagogy. Or, conversely, the application of concepts and philosophies rooted in the humanities toward the study of emergent digital objects.

There are reasons however to think about the digital humanities in a more ordinary sense, beyond ‘cutting edge’ research or pedagogy. In the introduction to her book How We Think, N. Katherine Hayles suggests that in order to understand the implications of digital technologies for the humanities, we must first consider the ‘low level’ implications of digital technologies for academic life. For instance, the widespread normalisation of email, department websites, software applications, web searches, social media, and much more. For Hayles, a ‘digital humanities’ is more than just innovative new approaches to research and pedagogy. It is also inherently about transformations to the cognitive and embodied environments of academic life at the level of the habitual or everyday.

This forum considers the banal dimensions of the digital humanities, focusing specifically (though not exclusively) on pedagogical practice. It begins with an opening lecture from Dr Lesley Gourlay (abstract below), followed by responses from Dr Grace Halden and Dr Tim Markham from Birkbeck, University of London. We will not only survey the everyday ways digital technologies are being used, and are asserting themselves, in academic life; but also, how humanities and other scholars might respond to the apparent opportunities and intrusions wrought by digitisation.

The event will be followed by a wine reception.

Flickering texts and the writing body: posthuman perspectives on the digital university

Dr Lesley Gourlay, Reader in Education and Technology, UCL Institute of Education

As digital technologies become increasingly central in our day-to-day lives, we see profound changes in how we search for information, communicate with others, and express ourselves. The university is also changing, as digital media becomes more central via online resources for distance learning, but also throughout the traditional campus, through the mainstream use of digital media for teaching, library provision and academic reading and writing. This has not only changed approaches to academic teaching, it has also fundamentally altered how we seek resources and how we read and generate new knowledge through writing and interaction. Drawing Hayle’s notion of ’embodied virtuality’, this talk will explore this theme, analysing data from a research project which looked in detail at how a small group of students approached their studies over a six-month period, using drawings, photography and interviews to form an in-depth understanding of their day-to-day lives as students, and how they navigate the complex digital and material landscape of the contemporary university. It looks at how texts change when they move between paper-based and the digital, how students navigate the complexities of multiple devices and formats, how they make spaces for writing and knowledge while on the move, and how they form part of ‘posthuman’ networks of digital devices and material objects in order to engage in their studies. Taking a historical perspective, the talk concludes that textual practices have always been central to how higher education is organised and how we understand ‘knowledge’, and considers how digital media might continue to change what we call ‘the university’.

A ‘new realism’ and post-truth

In a recording of a very lively double-header presentation by Maurizio Ferraris and Martin Scherzinger which has been podcast by Data & Society there’s some interesting discussion of Ferraris’ formulation of a ‘new realism‘ (which is sort of sympathetic to but perhaps distinct from speculative realisms) in relation to how we might understand ‘truth’ and truth claims and so how we might understand how ‘understanding’ works in relation digitally mediation.

Both Ferraris and Scherzinger are entertaining speakers but Scherzinger in particular offers some very incisive comments around how we can understand the sorts of manoeuvres different people are making around the constitutions and discussion of ‘theory’ (taken in its most general understanding).

Anyway… it’s an interesting listen:

Post-Truth and New Realities: Algorithms, Alternative Facts, and Digital Ethics

A few cultural geographies of tech

As it’s/they’re now a sort of trend, here’s a few recently published papers that offer some  cultural geographies of tech…

Being in a mediated world: self-tracking and the mind–body–environment

Sarah PinkVaike Fors

Self-tracking is an increasingly ubiquitous everyday activity and therefore is becoming implicated in the ways that everyday environments are experienced and configured. In this article, we examine theoretically and ethnographically how the digital materiality of these technologies mediates and participates in the constitution of people’s tacit ways of being in the world. We argue that accounting for the presence of such technologies as part of everyday environments in this way offers new insights for non-representational accounts of everyday life as developed in geography and anthropology and advances existing understandings of these technologies as it has emerged in sociology and media studies.

The GoPro gaze

Phillip Vannini, Lindsay M Stewart

During 2014–2015, we produced a short video documentary, titled The Art of Wild, which focused on the audiovisual practices of outdoor adventurers. This short written report reflects on an idea inspired by the video: the GoPro gaze. Enacted by increasingly sophisticated, portable and affordable recording audiovisual technologies such as the GoPro Hero camera, the ‘GoPro gaze’ entails not just the pursuit of pleasures derived from adventure and nature-based travel, but also the production and distribution of professional-quality independent videos for Internet audiences. Based on a series of ‘go-along’ interviews with adventure travelers/athletes/artists, this article and the accompanying video prompt us to reflect on how the affective pleasures and technological affordances of the ‘GoPro gaze’ trouble the established idea of the ‘tourist gaze’.

The lit world: living with everyday urban automation

Sarah Pink & Shanti Sumartojo

In this article, we develop and advance the concept of the lit world by bringing together literatures about everyday lighting, automation in everyday life and human perception, along with our ethnographic research into people’s experience of automated lighting in Melbourne, Australia. In doing so we formulate and argue for an approach to automation that situates it as part of everyday mundane worlds and acknowledges its entanglement with the emergent and experiential qualities of everyday environments as they unfold. We demonstrate this through the example of automated lighting, understood as a situated technology that has contingent effects and participates in the making of particular ways of seeing and feeling the world. We thereby argue for an account of automation that reaches beyond its potential for the management of human (and other) behaviour, to ask how the qualities and affordances of automated technologies might seep out of their intended domains, and create new perceptual and experiential opportunities. In a context where automation is increasingly prevalent in everyday life, such attention to the experience and use of automated technologies which already exist on a large scale is needed. Urban lighting is an example par excellence of automation in the world because it has a long history beyond the recent association of automated technologies with code and digital infrastructures. As scholars debate how automated technologies will become part of our future digital lives, understanding how people live in a lit world offers a starting point for considering how we might live with other anticipated algorithmic forms of automation.

Material carriers of thought

In a recent article on the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, Lyudmila A. Markova discusses the material supports for human communication, what Stiegler would call the processes of exteriorisation and thus materialisation of memory/thought:

Even the most common type of communication is not possible without a material carrier. For example, at a minimum stone, papyrus or paper is required for written communication. Their production processes obey the laws of engineering sciences, which are completely independent from the content of the information they convey. Even if the information is transmitted orally, with a voice, a material carrier is present. The sound is produced in a person’s larynx and is uttered through the mouth as language. Furthermore, the air movement, which is born inevitably during the conversation, obeys the laws of physics.

There’s some really interesting discussion of the various ways those involved in studies of social epistemology, and most notably in the essay it’s Steve Fuller’s work set in relation to Kuhn, have attempted to reconcile the passage to knowledge. It’s also curious to see how David Berry’s work ends up in there too, I suspect there’s more than a hint of Stiegler shining through there (but I haven’t read the work so should probably do so…) and it’s a shame Markova doesn’t make that connection. Might be interesting to pursue that angle…