blogging like it’s 2011

I started this blog in May 2011. Around 200 posts later, towards the end of 2018, I pretty much stopped posting. That wasn’t a conscious decision: I just didn’t have the time to keep writing posts, or the enthusiasm to make the time. And blogs started to feel a bit dated too, three or four years ago. I kept up with Twitter instead.

But I would like to start to post again. I always enjoyed the freedom of writing a blog post, the ability to pick a topic and just say something small and provisional about it. And now I’m coming to the end of a tough few years, and an extended sabbatical is hoving into view, I will have the time, I think, and the inclination too.

I moved to the University of Oxford in 2017 and was elected the Head of the School of Geography and the Environment in 2019. One UCU strike later and the pandemic struck. And the REF. And other projects and ‘challenges’. With a large number of amazing colleagues, we made some good changes to the School, I think. But in a highly devolved university, the work needed to achieve those things has been immense.

And not just the labour of doing things: also the emotional labour of trying to support colleagues as they – we – went through all sorts of crises and difficulties. Another head of a department of geography – Professor Jenny Pickerill at Sheffield – tweets wonderfully about taking care of others, and yourself, when you’re trying to lead a group a people in really demanding times. (Follow her at @JennyPickerill.)

I didn’t – don’t – feel able to share my experiences as a Head as generously as Jenny does. But this blog might once again be my different voice. I hope some of the posts might prove interesting to you too.

next digital |visual | cultural event

For our third event—and second of 2019—digital | visual | cultural turns to the dynamic practices of digital 3D modelling. Focusing specifically on laser scanning/LiDAR and the subsequent generation of ‘point clouds’ and three dimensional digital ‘mass’, the event will assemble scholars and practitioners across heritage science, environmental science, medical imaging, transport technology and fine art disciplines. It will look to articulations of 3D visualisation across disciplines as means to explore how the use of these instruments of visualisation enable ways of seeing that are at once mediated, experimental, collaborative, and spatially complex.

The event will feature a keynote talk on 17 June titled “Point-clouds, pixels and perspective: re-encountering three-dimensional visual technologies between mathematics and culture” from Dr Clancy Wilmott of the Geography Department at the University of Manchester. On the day following there’ll be a full day of presentations and conversations by scholars and practitioners of 3D visualisation (to be announced soon). See the event page for bookings and further details.

geomedia conference 2019: revisiting the home

I’m coming to the end of my first visit to Karlstad University as the Ander Visiting Professor of Geomedia. It’s been a fun two weeks, and I’m looking forward to coming back later this year.


Before I go, I just want to publicise next year’s Geomedia conference. The theme is ‘revisiting the home’ and there are some great keynote speakers lined up, including Melissa Gregg and Tristan Thielmann.You can find out more information, submit paper proposals and register, here.

session on feminist digital geographies at AAG conference April 2019

This is a call for papers for a session at the next conference of the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington DC 3-7 April next year on feminist digital geographies, organised by Agnieszka Leszczynski (Western University) and me. It’s sponsored by both the Digital Geographies and the Geographic Perspectives on Women Speciality Groups of the AAG.

In the context of a flurry of activities coalescing around digital geographies, we invite papers that consider the “enduring contours and new directions” of feminist theory, politics, and praxis for geographies concerned with the digital (Elwood and Leszczynski, 2018). We broadly welcome interventions that proceed from, utilize, and advance feminist epistemologies, methodologies, theory, critical practice, and activism.

We are open to submissions offering empirical, theoretical, critical, and methodological contributions across a range of topics, including but not limited to:

  • big data
  • digitally-mediated cities
  • artificial intelligence and algorithms
  • social media
  • feminist/digital/spatial theory
  • progressive alternatives and activism
  • feminist histories and genealogies

Please submit abstracts of no more than 200 words by October 15th to and Please include a title, your name, affiliation and email address in the abstract. We will respond to authors with confirmation by November 1st.


Elwood S and Leszczynski A (2018) Feminist digital geographies. Gender, Place & Culture25(5): 629-644.

seeing what (we want) driverless cars to see (but they don’t)

Just back from the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, which was held in Cardiff last week – and inspired enough to write my first blog post in quite a while.

driverless car lidar

Well actually there was a lot that was inspiring at the conference, but here I just want to focus on one thing. The Digital Geographies Working Group sponsored a pre-conference event, called Navigating Data Landscapes (the conference theme was landscape). I helped to organise it with Tess Osborne from Birmingham University and Sam Hind from the University of Siegen. Sam’s contribution was a workshop on YouTube videos showing what driverless cars ‘see’, and Tess’s which was a chance to play with a range of virtual and augmented reality devices. Mine was to screen a short film made by speculative architect Liam Young called Where the City Can’t See.

At the end of the afternoon, all the participants got together for a panel discussion with James Ash, Clancy Wilmott and Emma Fraser. Here are some of the comments that I took away from the afternoon from various contributors, specifically around the visualities of Lidar scans.

Images of what driverless cars ‘see’ deploy a cartographic language, not least because Lidar is a technology that uses light to map space by calculating distance. So although Lidar is a technology – like photography – that depends on light, it does not create photographs. This shows in visualisations that layer Lidar scans on top of one another so that it seems the viewer can look through one surface (or rather points scattered across that surface) onto another.

This is a spatial sensibility and not primarily a visual one – so the Lidar images aren’t really landscape images. Sam’s preferred term for what they show is ‘terrain’, a more topographic notion.

In fact, it’s quite possible that Lidar tech doesn’t really see anything at all. Which means that driverless cars – that use Lidar technologies to calculate the distances to objects around them – don’t ‘see’ either. The videos that purport to show us what driverless cars see actually show us a highly mediated version of the data that a Lidar scan has generated. It’s a visual imaginary of what humans think a driverless car sees.

And humans want to think that driverless cars see because this reassures us that we understand how they operate, the principles of their operation – that they are like us, in some way.

All of which means that videos of what Lidar scanners see are not actually what Lidar scanners see, they are what humans working with Lidar scan data desire the scanner to be seeing. Thus the videos showing what cars see are actually what humans (want to) see… and another symptom of this is that so many of the images of what driverless cars see aren’t from the car’s point of view at all, but rather they hover in mid-air. From a drone, perhaps – or perhaps just another, rather minor, god trick of seeing something from nowhere. (I’m trying to remember – surely there must be a deity of automobiles in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods?)

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


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


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


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 ( 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 (, Mark Graham ( or Gillian Rose (


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
  • if you’re not coming to the RGS/IBG conference but you’re interested in the Working Group, please drop an email to – 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.