Call for Participation: Lockdown Locales

I would like to invite you to participate in a documentation of the places we are working. This is intended as a snapshot of the ‘mundane’ material conditions of academic labour during the pandemic. The place that has become at once our classrooms, our offices, the meeting room, the ‘common room’. I will collate a gallery of images and turn these into an audiovisual artwork at a later date. There is a page that will be the ‘hub’ of the project here.

PARTICIPATE

Many of us remain at home and some of us yo-yo between a ‘COVID-secure’ office and working from home. We ‘see’ one another’s presence in various forms – through the lens of a webcam, through text on a screen – in social media apps and so on – and perhaps meet up outdoors, standing two metres apart. This has affected us in all sorts of ways that may both be predictable and surprising in equal measure. We are almost constantly ‘online’, very often – whether we intend it or not – ‘available’. As Mel Gregg so aptly has it in her wonderful book ‘Work’s Intimacy’:

Presence bleed captures both the behavioural dimensions and professional expectations in communication- and information- heavy jobs. For the middle-class employees this condition affects, […] when online connections allow access to work beyond office hours, the possibility of being willing and able to work can manifest as a compulsion that has to be monitored.

Gregg, M. 2011 Work’s Intimacy. Cambridge, Polity, p. 2.

Our ‘presence bleed’ throughout the lockdowns and various forms of working from home has meant that we have all had to variously renegotiate (to varying degrees) how and where we work. Even if we already worked from home, that may have had to change (due to childcare, other people in the house and so on). These arrangements may be temporary, they may endure. However, as we pass the anniversary of the beginning of the first UK lockdown and contemplate the end of a tumultuous academic year, it seems worthwhile at least trying to capture something of the nature of how and where our work has taken place.

PARTICIPATE

Algorithms in politics after Brexit

dystopian city

As Clive recently shared – Kuba Jablonowski, Clive and myself have been very fortunate to successfully apply for a grant in the ESRC’s ‘Governance after Brexit’ scheme. The project, which begins in January ’21, focuses on  ‘Algorithmic politics and administrative justice in the EU Settlement Scheme’ (The EUSS is the UK government scheme designed to determine the post-Brexit UK immigration status of EU citizens and their families who are currently living in the UK under EU free movement law).

The project will run from the start of 2021 through to the end of 2023. Here’s a quick summary from the application: 

“The research aims to analyse the process of administrative reform associated with Brexit, and the intersection of this process with the digitalisation of administration and governance in the UK. It takes the evolution of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) as its empirical entry-point. By investigating how grievances and claims of injustice emerge from the operation of the EUSS and are monitored and challenged in the public sphere, the research will seek to understand how practices of administrative justice are reconfigured by the interaction of automated algorithmic systems with rights-based practices of monitoring, advocacy and litigation.”

I’m sure we’ll post further information as the project gets underway on our websites.

Funded PhD: British Telegraphic work and spaces

A glitched image of a telegraph worker up a telegraph pole

My colleague Richard Noakes, Anne Archer and James Elder at BT Archives and I have a funded PhD position that will commence in September. Please see all of the relevant information below. Please also circulate widely and feel free to get in touch.

http://www.exeter.ac.uk/pg-research/money/award/?id=3894

The duration of this studentship is 45 months (or part time equivalent) plus additional 3 months for professional development opportunities

Closing Date for applications is Monday 1st June 2020.

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship on British telegraphic work and spaces, 1846-1950 at the University of Exeter in partnership with BT Archives (London).  The studentship is awarded by the Science Museums and Archives Consortium under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme.  The project will commence in September 2020 and will be supervised by Prof Richard Noakes and Dr Sam Kinsley at Exeter and Ms Anne Archer and Mr James Elder at BT Archives, with further support from the Science Museum.

This project is a revisionist study of the largely forgotten operators of Britain’s inland telegraph network from the foundation of the first private telegraph companies in 1846, through nationalisation of the service in 1870, to 1950 when the service was in sharp decline owing to competition from telephony.  It plugs a considerable gap in the historiography of British telecommunications – the need for a systematic and detailed understanding of telegraphic work and the spaces within which it was pursued. The project will yield new insights into such key developments as the entry of women into telegraphy and the foundation of telegraphic workers’ unions.  The project involves the study of a wealth of largely unexplored primary source material, the bulk of which is held in BT Archives.  The systematic study of these materials will enable the CDA student to make a highly original contribution to historical scholarship and to help BT Archives in several important ways, including significantly enhancing the detail in its catalogue, producing website content and curating physical exhibitions.  The CDA’s research will also help enhance the Science Museum’s catalogue of telegraphic instruments.

A preliminary survey of BT Archives catalogue reveals an immense amount of material that can support this research.  It holds complete runs of periodicals dedicated to telegraphy and a wealth of unpublished documents relating to such issues as station organisation, employee recruitment, training, health and working conditions, and the experiences of female and male telegraphists. It is possible that the project will also uncover materials revealing the experiences of BAME and other under-represented telegraphists. The richness of the archival material that the student will be exploring means that there is much flexibility within the project for them to build on their own intellectual strengths and follow their own interests.

In addition to the 36 months spent on research, the CDA student will also spend a minimum of 3-6 months on professional development opportunities at BT Archives. How and when this time is used will depend on the student’s interests and goals and this will be agreed with them early in the project.  The time will be used to develop the student’s professional archiving and cataloguing skills.

Further information about the funding scheme and the institutions involved in this project can be found at the following links:

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme
https://www.ahrc-cdp.org/

BT Archives
https://www.btplc.com/thegroup/btshistory/btgrouparchives/

Postgraduate Research at the University of Exeter
https://www.exeter.ac.uk/pg-research/

Science Museum Group Collaborative Doctoral Awards
https://www.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/our-work/research-public-history/collaborative-doctoral-awards/

UKRI research training
https:/www.ukri.org/skills/funding-for-research-training

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor, Professor Richard Noakesr.j.noakes@exeter.ac.uk

UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate of £15,285 per year.  Award holders will also receive a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership maintenance of £600 per year and a partial London weighting of £1000 per year.  The partner institution, BT Archvies, will also provide the award holder with up to £1000 per year to support travel and other research expenses.

Absence makes… blogging harder

I haven’t written here for some time. It is not because I am short of ideas, but rather – I am short of time. I am convening three modules this year at work and had to write one (from scratch) and modify two. Coupled with the strike action, becoming a new ‘Co-Editor-in-Chief‘ and various things going on outside of work – I have been stretched!

I really do want to return to posting here though. I am unsure how often and in what way… I hope to return to the ‘work notes‘ in particular, I find these quite helpful, personally. So, I hope people are still reading things that get posted here, I also hope that, if you like things I have written in the past, you might like to get in touch and talk about them – I would welcome it 🙂

As Adam Greenfield used to regularly say in his own blogposts: be kind to yourselves and those around you.

CFP AAG 2020 – ‘New geographies of automation?’

Still from the video for All is Love by Bjork

I’d welcome submissions, questions or any form of interest for the proposed session I outline below.

My aim with this session is to continue a conversation that has arisen in geography and beyond about as wide a range of tropes about automation as possible. Papers needn’t be empirical per se or about actually existing automation, they could equally be about the rationales, promises or visions for automation. Likewise, automation has been about for a while, so historical geographies of automation, in agriculture for example, or policies for automation that have been tried and failed would be also welcome.

There are all sorts of ways that ‘automation’ has been packaged in other rubrics, such as ‘smart’ things, cities and so on, or perhaps become a ‘fig leaf’ or ‘red herring’ to cover for unscrupulous activities, such as iniquitous labour practices.

I guess what I’m driving at is – I welcome any and all ideas relevant to the broad theme!

CFP: New Geographies of Automation?

Denver, USA, 6-10 April 2020

Organiser: Sam Kinsley (Exeter).

Abstract deadline: 16th October 2019.

This session invites papers that respond to the variously promoted or forewarned explosion of automation and the apparent transformations of culture, economy, labour and workplace we are told will ensue. Papers are sought from any and all branches of geography to investigate what contemporary geographies of automation may or should look like, how we are/could/should be doing them and to perhaps question the grandiose rhetoric of alarmism/boosterism of current debates.

Automation has lately gained a renewed focus of hyperbolic commentary in print and online. We are warned by some of the ‘rise of the robots’ (Ford 2015) sweeping away whole sectors of employment or by others exhorted to strive towards ‘fully automated luxury communism’ (Srnicek & Williams 2015). Beyond the hyperbole it is possible to trace longer lineages of geographies of automation. Studies of the industrialisation of agriculture (Goodman & Watts 1997); Fordist/post-Fordist systems of production (Harvey 1989); shifts to globalisation (Dicken 1986) and (some) post-industrial societies (Clement & Myles 1994) stand testament to the range of work that has addressed the theme of automation in geography. Indeed, in the last decade geographers have begun to draw out specific geographical contributions to debates surrounding ‘digital’ automation. In similar if somewhat divergent ways, geographers have paid a closer attention to: the apparent automation of labour and workplaces (Bissell & Del Casino 2017); encounters with apparently autonomous ‘bots’ (Cockayne et al. 2017); the interrogation of automation in governance and surveillance across a range of scales (Amoore 2013, Kitchin & Dodge 2011); the integration of AI techniques into spatial analysis (Openshaw & Openshaw 1997); and the processing of ‘big’ data in order to discern things about, or control, people (Leszczynski 2015). 

The invitation of this session is to submit papers that consider contemporary discussions, movements and propositions of automation from a geographical perspective (in the broadest sense). 

Examples of topics might include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • AI, machine learning and cognitive work
  • Boosterism and tales of automation
  • Gender, race and A.I
  • Labour and work
  • Autonomy, agency and law-making
  • Robotics and the everyday
  • Automation and workplace governance
  • Techno-bodily relations
  • Mobilities and materialities
  • Governance and surveillance

I intend to organize at least one paper session, depending on quantity and quality of submissions.  If you would like to propose a paper presentation, please email an abstract of 250 words to me by 16th October.

If you would also like to participate in a special issue on this topic I welcome expressions of interest.

CFP> Disrupting technology: contextualising continuity and change in technology

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

Via Kate Hardy

Disrupting technology: contextualising continuity and change in technology, work and employment


16-17th January, Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change, University of Leeds


Recent scholarship on the relationship between technology and work has often tended to accentuate new technologies’ supposed transformative effects. Conferences on work and employment often feature streams dedicated solely to new technologies – such as platforms or AI – segregated from other streams where technology is mentioned very little. This both narrows our understandings of what constitutes ‘technology’ and contributes to the renewed growth of technological determinism, both in its utopian or dystopian variants- from Fully Automated Luxury Communism” on one hand to a nightmare of total surveillance on the other. Such debates are often speculative and can serve to obscure how actually existing employment relations are being shaped by new technologies.

The Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change (CERIC) at Leeds University Business School is pleased to announce a call for papers for a two day event in January 2020 relating to these questions.

This workshop calls for more careful, empirically grounded, theorisations of technology, its novelty and its impact on work and employment relations. We ask that contributions recognise the influence of conflicted interests and actions by managers, workers, the state and other social actors on the patterns, processes and outcomes of technological innovation. By devoting more attention to contextualising and historicising the relationship between technology and work, we ask contributors to develop more critical accounts of the extent of transformation and disruption, vis-à-vis entrenchment or continuity of existing social relations and employment relationships. Beyond the technology itself, what is genuinely novel and transformative about automation, AI or ‘platformisation’, which more mundane technologies might we be missing from the analysis?

We welcome contributions of themes including:

  • The state, regulation and new technology
  • Historical research on the introduction of new technologies of work
  • Management, resistance, organization, and technology
  • Occupations, skills, professions, and technology
  • Inequalities (race, gender, (dis)ability) and technology
  • Methods for studying work and technology – towards a research agenda

Submission details

Registration will be £100 for full academic staff and £50 for PhD students, with an optional £25 for the conference meal.
Please submit abstracts to c(dot)r(dot)umney(at)leeds(dot)ac(dot)uk or i(dot)bessa(at)leeds(dot)ac(dot)uk with a deadline of 10th October. Registration links will be available from October.

Ballet Robotique – popular representations of automation

Warehouse robots moving packages

In between doing other things I am trying to maintain a little progress with work on The Automative Imagination. Recently I’ve been looking at (largely Anglophone and/or global North/West) representations of robots or automatons in cinema. There’s some funny examples (I posted a few music video representations some time ago) and it is interesting how humour, and I suppose forms of satire, and artistic representations are an enduring way of getting to grips with whatever we think ‘robots’ might be.

So, for your consideration – I have posted below two interesting pieces I have found recently (to me). I’ll try to write more on this in the near future.

The Automatic Motorist (1911)

Ballet Robotique (1982)

‘Post-work’ and shifting from “the” future of work to futures of work

Warehouse robots moving packages

As part of my project on automation I’ve begun to engage with the wealth of literature about ‘the future of work’ and in particular the sorts of imaginings of a ‘post-work’ society that have emerged in popular discourse, not least in relation to idea(l)s of using automation to liberate workers. Many will be familiar with the sorts of arguments presented in books like “Fully automated luxury communism“, “Inventing the Future” and “PostCapitalism“, often receiving coverage in the left(ish)-leaning press (e.g.). These are often fairly muscular, advocations of using the machinery of capitalism itself to bring about its own demise through the liberation of the workforce.

One of the most interesting and helpful resources I have encountered in making sense of these sorts of arguments and where there may be opportunities to engage is the Futures of Work blog/journal led by Katie Bales, Harry Pitts and Huw Thomas and published by University of Bristol Press. I highly recommend browsing through but in particular the video and the articles linked below I think are really interesting and helpful ways of engaging with these ideas without getting lost (or, in my case, overly cross!)

Automated lettuce

A robot arm holding a lettuce plant

Following on from the earlier post about recurring stories, here’s two headlines more-or-less reporting the same story. The first is a story from the Daily Mail newspaper in 1965. As appears to often be the case for that paper, the innovation is framed in terms of some kind of national threat. The second is a story from tech news website engadget from 2018.

"Warning! Automated lettuce" - a headline from the Daily Mail, 1965

They are essentially the same story. Different technologies are invoked, perhaps different orders of sophistication are implied (or achieved), but more-or-less the same outcome is inferred – people do less work in preparing lettuces for sale.

I don’t really have time to add anything to the analysis I’ve already offered on this sort of story but I wanted to post this while I was still thinking about it.