digital \\ human \\ labour | session at AAG conference 2017

With Mark Graham and Jim Thatcher, I’m convening four sessions at the annual conference of the Association of American Geographers, which will be held in Boston, 5-9 April 2017.  The tile of the sessions is digital \\ human \\ labour, and here is the call for papers (with thanks to Mark for the gifs):

The proposed Digital Geographies Working Group of the RGS/IBG and the proposed Digital Geographies Specialty Group of the AAG would like to invite submissions to a series of paper sessions and panels for the 2017 meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Boston, MA. Reflecting the shared interests of these groups, and their mutual desire to facilitate conversations between a wide range of geographical scholarship, this call is for papers exploring specifically the various intersections of ‘digital’, ‘human’ and ‘labour’.

We will also convene a concluding panel session, and encourage interested participants to submit abstracts for any of these three paper sessions:

1 the human labour of digital work

Discussant: Mark Graham

tumblr_inline_od1u8ugvmf1u45ndn_540

The spread of the internet to three and a half billion people around the world has significant implications for the human labour. It is now relatively straightforward to outsource business processes to anyone, anywhere, that has a digital connection. This session aims to bring together scholarship that explores the human labour of this digital work. Who carries it out? How does it affect the livelihoods of workers? What sorts of political and organisational governance regimes bring it into being? And what are the ethical, spatial, social, and economic implications of a world in which human labour is increasing disembedded into digital networks.

2 the digital labour of being human

Discussant: Gillian Rose

tumblr_inline_od1tztt0zb1u45ndn_500

Digital technologies are now embedded in many aspects of everyday life in many places, mediating everyday experiences of embodiment, mobility, and communication.  It is clear that many of these mediations are reproducing existing ways and forms of ‘being human’, but it is also clear that new forms of (post)humanities are emerging, co-produced with, for example, VR headsets, big data, and social media platforms.  This session aims to bring together scholarship that addresses these monadic emergences.  What new forms of distributed agency, performative gestures and navigational orientations could and should be mapped, and in what ways?  What are their temporalities and spatialities, and what geometries of power and difference do they enact?

3 the algorithmic labour of being

 Discussant: Jim Thatcher

tumblr_inline_od1u0e6uoo1u45ndn_500

Alongside the rise in access to internet technologies and their everyday usage, has come an entwined rise in the analysis and manipulation of digital information through algorithms. Just as new technologies introduce interfaces, mediations, and affordances to (re)produce representations of self, so too do the algorithms which sort, select, and present information constrain what can be done and known through the use of said devices. Similarly, even as the very real geography of the labor of digital work shifts and extends across the globe, algorithms increasingly insert themselves betwixt and between laborers, customers, and corporate interests, altering traditional employment relations through the mediation of technology. Building from the themes of the previous two sessions, this session aims to bring together research on the many ways in which algorithms and quantification function in the world. Questions of interest include, but are not limited to: What sorts of new spatial relations are possible through the algorithmic mediation of labor relations? Where is the work of algorithms done? What are the historical roots of this process? What new forms of knowledge and power have been enabled (and constrained) by these systems?

For consideration of inclusion, please submit abstract to Jim Thatcher (jethatch@uw.edu) by October 15th, 2016.  Please format your abstract in a text file of no more than 250 words, including a title, your name, institutional affiliation and email address in the document.

If you have any additional questions, please contact Jim Thatcher (jethatch@uw.edu), Mark Graham (mark.graham@oii.ox.ac.uk) or Gillian Rose (gillian.rose@open.ac.uk).

 

Digital Geographies Working Group of the RGS/IBG

This post is one for the academics and/or geographers among you.  The RGS/IBG stands for the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, and it’s the organisation for geography professionals in higher education (the Geographical Association is the UK equivalent for geography school teachers).  Its research side is organised into Study Groups and Working Groups.  At this year’s annual RGS/IBG conference, Dorothea Kleine and I are convening a meeting to scope out the interest in the formation of a Digital Geographies Working Group.

The meeting will be held on Thursday 1 September at 13:10 – venue to be confirmed but it will be either in the Royal Geographical Society’s building in west London or nearby – the website for checking details is here.

Some important things to note:

  • the idea of the Working Group is to provide a platform for discussion among all geographers interested in researching digital things, or doing research digitally.  It is not about carving out a new subdiscipline – rather, it’s about facilitating conversations across the wide range of longstanding and newer encounters between doing geography and digital technologies.
  • the meeting at the conference is open to everyone, whatever your interest in things digital, whatever your career stage.  You can attend just the meeting without registering or paying the conference fee, but you do need to get a visitor pass in advance by emailing AC2016@rgs.org.
  • if you’re not coming to the RGS/IBG conference but you’re interested in the Working Group, please drop an email to jan.smith@open.ac.uk – she’s collating a mailing list for the Group.
  • if you’re not interested in the Working Group but you know someone who is – please pass this on to them!

Dorothea and I hope to see lots of people at the conference and to hear from lots more via email.

smart cities in the making: a new research project

I was really happy to hear from the Economic and Social Research Council last week that they are going to fund a research project that a great bunch of OU colleagues put together with me: Nick Bingham, Matt Cook, Parvati Raghuram, Sophie Watson and Oliver Zanetti.

Motion-Map-for-news-image-1024x648Here is the short summary from the proposal:

The past decade has seen the widespread emergence of what are now often called ‘smart cities’. Smart cities are generally understood to use the data produced by digital technologies to enhance their sustainability (by encouraging more efficient use of resources), economic growth (through innovating new products and markets) and openness (by enabling greater citizen participation in city governance). ‘Smart cities’ are a global phenomenon at the heart of how many cities are planning for future growth, and the UK is no exception. Over half of UK cities are implementing smart projects, and the government’s Information Economy Strategy aims to make the UK a global hub of smart city delivery by capturing 10 per cent of the global smart city market by 2020. The government directly funds several large smart city projects, sponsors three innovation Catapults with direct links to smart initiatives, and the British Standards Institute is developing a framework for implementing smart city technologies.

‘Smart’, then, is increasingly central to UK urban development.  Smart technology in UK cities takes many forms, from smart grids, to sensors and chargers embedded in the built environment, to smartphone apps, to online open data repositories and dashboards. Smart cities are much, much more than their technological devices, though: a smart city also requires smart urban policy-making, it produces smart products, it has ‘smart citizens’ and it has visions of what smart is and should be, and all these things converge and diverge in all sorts of ways. Currently, although local community and citizen participation is repeatedly asserted to be a prequisite for a successful smart city, almost nothing is known about how the development and rollout of smart policies and technologies actually engage city residents and workers. Who are smartphone apps designed for and what social needs do they ignore? What kind of populations are described by smart data hubs, and who do policies using such data therefore address? Indeed, various concerns have been voiced by journalists, academics and urban activists that smart activity may well not reach socially marginalised groups and individuals, for example, and that it might therefore contribute to increased levels of social polarisation in cities between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

This project grasps the chance to answer these questions at a critical moment in the maturing of smart, and offers a real opportunity to generate social science that can both analyse and inform developments.

Through a detailed empirical study of an actually-existing smart city – Milton Keynes – this project examines how smart policies, technologies, products, visions and engagement activities imagine particular kinds of users, citizens and consumers. It will thus enable a wide range of public and private-sector local stakeholders in MK to understand much better who their smart activity is engaging, how and why. These findings will then help to ensure that smart city activities are as accessible to as many different kinds of people as possible, and that as many people as possible are engaged by the smart city emerging in Milton Keynes.

The project has been designed in collaboration with a range of local and national stakeholders in the UK smart city scene, including MK Council, MK:Smart, the Transport Systems Catapult, as well as Community Action MK, the umbrella group for voluntary and community groups in the city. This means that not only will its findings help MK to be a socially-inclusive smart city, but also that the project’s findings will have impact on smart cities across the UK and beyond.

 

There’s a nice presentation on smart activity in Milton Keynes here.

The project won funding of £750,000 from the ESRC (plus in-kind support from various generous partners in Milton Keynes of around £50,000), and will start officially on 1 January 2017.

remembering Doreen

I’m writing this short post after reading an email from OU colleague Steve Pile confirming that Doreen Massey did indeed pass away on the afternoon of Friday 11 March 2016. I saw earlier tweets to the same effect and tweeted myself, and now it’s for sure.

Doreen has accompanied all of my academic life.  I read her book Spatial Divisions of Labour as an undergraduate (still an outstandingly important text, in my view).  She examined my PhD thesis (and told me I needed to write a methods section at the end of it….).  I met her on and off as I worked on feminist and cultural geographies in London and Edinburgh after my PhD.  I joined The Open University in 1999 and in the following years I worked with her on an OU geography module on globalisation and on a small research project on public art in Milton Keynes.  And even after she retired, for some time anyway, she often was in her OU office just down the corridor from mine, working on talks and projects and politics, always ready to discuss and engage.

She wasn’t always an easy person to work with.  She could be very critical; she could insist on things being done her way; she didn’t like any kind of admin.  She could also, far more often, be incredibly warm – to everyone and anyone, absolutely – and she was one of the most charismatic speakers I have ever heard.  I remember her tiny frame absolutely filling one enormous lecture hall with energy and passion, extemporising from handwritten notes, intensifying the entire space.  I can hear her voice now, and her laughter.

Some of her ideas – spatial divisions of labour, relationality, a global sense of place, throwntogetherness – have transformed huge swathes of human geography and beyond.  So many of us simply would not be doing what we do and how we do it without her work, even if many of us are doing different things from her.  Her work transformed human geography’s ideas, but she also transformed many scholars as people, supporting them, pushing them, inspiring them.  And that’s not even to start on her political work, from the Greater London Council to the Kilburn Manifesto.

I think it’s that massive humanity – including its flaws – that made me realise, this morning, after reading those tweets, that it had literally never crossed my mind, even though I knew she was ill, that she might die.  Her energy, commitment, the sheer intensity and consistency of her engagement, somehow made such an outcome an impossibility.  But it’s happened and I feel a massive absence now, a silence.

My tweet said RIP.  But actually, now, I don’t want to think of her resting in peace.  I much prefer to think of her arguing on, being thoughtful and awkward and sometimes difficult, never ever taking things for granted, always thinking towards openness and a different kind of future.

online module on the future of image elicitation methods

I’ll be running the third of The Open University’s online modules on advanced image elicitation methods between 18 and 29 April. The module explores just a couple of the directions in which the use of digital technologies might push image elicitation methods: i-documentaries, and the analysis of huge numbers of social media images. We might think of i-docs as embedding audience elicitation into their participatory structure, and social media as a sort of mass elicitation. It’s open to all academics everywhere – including phd students – and is free.  Pre-registration closes on 19 February.  You can find out more about it here.

sharing the anthropocene: sharing stories, storying sharing

The OpenSpace Research Centre at The Open University hosts an annual event inspired by the work of Doreen Massey.  This year it’s on 22 March in London and is called ‘Sharing the Anthropocene‘. It has an amazing line-up of speakers, and should win some kind of prize for ‘the most enticing list of paper titles EVER’, the highlight of which for me (as someone who struggles with titles) is “Dude, it’s snowing on my iPhone 8” by Sam Solnick.

It’s building on a range of research going on in OpenSpace on storytelling and environmental change (think stories of all kinds here: by fiction writers, academics, tv programmes, playwrights, filmmakers, scientists, campaigners, journalists, and everything across and inbetween).

You can find the programme here.  The event is free but you need to register.

How to be an academic on social media

There’s an interesting discussion here on blogging, between Sam Kinsley and Jeremy Crampton. I’d add to Sam’s list of reasons to blog, the ability to respond quickly to current events. And I fully agree with Jeremy that twitter is where things seemed to be shared most effectively.  Clive Barnett has also responded, on his blog, here.

Open Geography

Sam Kinsley has been compiling (academic) geography bloggers, and in a recent post asked why it is that blogs don’t take advantage of social media more often:

It was a surprise to me how quite a few of those blogs, with some honourable exceptions, are tightly focussed conduits for personal research and are not participating in wider online/offline conversations. One of the big claims made for blogging in the noughties was, of course, that ‘social’ media precisely enable broader conversations. While the majority of those active geography bloggers I found use wordpress.com for their blogs they do not seem to use the ‘social’  functions such as ‘reblog’ and other conversation tools on the platform.

My immediate reaction to this is as follows. First, I do occasionally use the reblog function. This works very well within the WordPress ecosystem, but have you noticed how infrequently this option comes up on blogs or news stories…

View original post 653 more words