The Sensory Cities network launched its THiNK-KiT a couple of weeks ago – you can find it here. It’s a beautifully designed website with lots of resources for reseaching, designing, curating and representing the senses in the city.
I gave a keynote lecture at the Neue Kulturgeographie XIV conference a couple of weeks ago, at the University of Bayreuth. My topic was ‘seeing the city in digital times’. I talked about the challenges of keeping cultural geography relevant as a critical project when so much visual culture is now digital, and I shared my recent work looking at how so-called ‘smart cities’are pictured on YouTube and Twitter. You can hear my talk and see the presentation that accompanied it here.
Listen through til the end if you can (or indeed just skip to about an hour in) because I got some great questions afterwards. It was a privilege to speak as such an energy-filled event – thankyou to my hosts Matt Hannah, Eberhard Rothfuss and Jan Hutta.
The deadline for pre-registering to participate in the online module on aspects of advanced image elicitation methods run by The Open University is 13 January. The module explores different modes of ‘participation’. Find out more here.
I’ve been trying to work on a paper about how smart cities look on Twitter over the past few works. One answer is this:
That’s a trial run I’ve done, working with the 900-odd images attached to a range of smart city-related hashtags, scraped over a week last month by my OU colleague Alistair Willis, and run through Lev Manovich’s ImagePlot software. Saturation increases closer to the centre of the image, and hue is distributed much like a colour wheel. Yes, smart cities are mostly either blue or orange!!
This is part of my effort to think about different visual methods that can respond – even if only partially – to the sheer scale of image circulation in digital visual culture now. It doesn’t touch on the dynamics of their circulation, but it does suggest, I think, a possible effect of the speed and numbers of images on social media platforms and the casual way in which they’re often seen: that we might see a certain sort of city as a colour field that enacts smart (for example) rather than a set of images that represent it. So the blue and orange mean almost nothing (though not entirely). What they might suggest, though, is something about the feel of the notion of the smart city, as it’s performed through Twitter.
What I’m now doing is digging a bit deeper into that ‘feeling’: what does a smart city hashtag on Twitter do with both smart cities and with the hashtag followers? What kinds of affect does it intensify? I think I’m kind of getting towards an answer, but of course I need to do some more reading. And here is my pile of books that I hope will help me think about what thousands of images of smart are and do, getting me away from smart and Twitter specifically and more towards thinking about the intersection of the urban, visual, cultural and digital. I’m also looking forward to reading a roundtable in the online journal Mediapolis, on the urban as an emergent key concept for media theory.
(I was going to make a snarky comment about it obviously being compulsory to use grey, black, red and white when designing the covers of these sorts of books – but then I realised that my workspace is pretty much the same colours….)
Three years ago now, I worked with Professor Helen Lomax and Dr Nick Mahony to produce three online advanced research training modules in image elicitation methods, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Module 1 looks at using image elicitation methods with ‘vulnerable’ research participants; module 2 examines discourses of elicitation and participation more generally; and module 3 looks at a couple of possible futures for digital image elicitation methods.
They’re free and open to all researchers, but are aimed primarily at PhD students, and this is the last year that they’ll run.
Pre-registration for module 1 is now open here, and closes on 25 November.
The call for papers for the fifth international visual methods conference has just gone live. The conference will be in Singapore in August next year, and you can find more information here.
For my keynote lecture at the International Visual Methods conference held in Brighton in September this year (you can read it and link to the Prezi here), I prepared a Prezi. Prezi is cloud-based software for making visual presentations (or at least the free version is cloud-based), and I’ve been using Prezi instead of Powerpoint for some time now. I’ve got to the point of reflecting on it not just as a new toy to be played with but also, like any toy (or digital device), thinking about how it’s shifting what I do in presentations.
Prezi is basically an empty space onto which you can position various things – images, text, audio files, videos, links to websites – and you then frame them in various ways with boxes and brackets and arrows and so on. You then specify a route for moving between the frames, and can do that in any direction. You can also zoom into the space and zoom out again. According to its Wikipedia entry, this means Prezi works in 2.5D because it positions things closer or further away on a flat screen.
It’s useful for a number of reasons. You don’t have work through a linear text in the way that Powerpoint encourages; you don’t have to exit to play a YouTube video; you can zoom into points of detail and then zoom out again to get an overview of your main argument. So Prezi is a useful tool for positioning things in relations, in hierarchies, in networks (it’s as much spatial as visual).
I like it for presentations because it can show the structure of an argument or an analysis really clearly, as well as carry lots of empirical material. At the International Visual Methods conference I also heard a couple of other uses for Prezi, which both used it more as a way of organising research data than as a presentation device.
The first of these was the Everyday Childhoods research cluster at the University of Sussex. Their Face 2 Face research project looked at how young people use different kinds of media devices. Researchers conducted micro-ethnographies which involved researchers spending an ordinary day with each child and documenting their lives across home, school, leisure spaces etc. They asked their research participants to keep a diary of their media use over 24 hours, and take photographs too, and the research team then used Prezi to collate the resulting materials. You can see the Prezis here (you can choose to make a Prezi public and shareable) – use the ‘case studies’ tab at the top of the page. Not only do these Prezis carry a diverse range of materials, you can choose to explore the young people’s days chronologically or not.
A second use of Prezi as a means of presenting research data was discussed by Darren Umney. He describe how he used it to manage part of the data he was gathering for his research on debates about a nineteenth-century railway development: his Prezi contains scans of 61 newspaper articles that covered the building of a railway line in the 1830s, and he uses Prezi’s collage-ing and zooming abilities to annotate the articles, arrange them in time-lines, group them into thematic categories and show the relations between those categories, and the links between categories and his conceptual terms. As you move from the data to the concepts, you zoom out in the Prezi. You can explore his method for managing data in this way on his blog here.
Prezi is notorious for that zooming, and for the nausea that it can create in people watching a Prezi, especially if it’s being projected onto a big screen. All the advice you can get on using a Prezi therefore tells you not to zoom too much, too fast or too often. I’d agree with that: don’t zoom too much. My other bit of advice is to map the layout of your Prezi before you start – I wonder how much pre-planning Darren did before using Prezi to work on his thesis analysis. (There’s much more good advice on Prezi’s own site, of course, and also on this LSE Impact Blog post – give yourself a couple of hours to watch the tutorials and practice and you should be good to go.)
I’m also now thinking that moving from Powerpoint to Prezi may have a relation to how visual culture is changing. Thomas Elsaesser has argued that the ubiquity of digital visualisations of many kinds means that a shift is taking place, from framed images structured by the rules of Cartesian perspective to a mobile, unharnessed, 3D visuality. His main example is 3D cinema, but Monica Degen, Clare Melhuish and I also used his essay to think about the spatiality of still CGIs. And Prezi’s frameless zooming also looks like a perfect exemplification of his argument.
The question I have to ask myself though is about my predilection for the final zoom that reveals the grand structure underpinning my presentation. Does it make my position so clear that its positionality and construction are also evident? Or is it rather too close to comfort to the god’s-eye viewpoint so thoroughly critiqued in the early 1990s by Donna Haraway, among others?
Elsaesser, Thomas. “The ‘return’ of 3-D: On Some of the Logics and Genealogies of the Image in the Twenty-First Century.” Critical Inquiry 39, no. 2 (2013): 217–46. doi:10.1086/668523.
Last year, I worked with Professor Helen Lomax and Dr Nick Mahony to produce three online advanced research training modules in image elicitation methods. Each module will run once in the next three years, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Module 1 looks at using image elicitation methods with ‘vulnerable’ research participants; module 2 examines discourses of elicitation and participation more generally; and module 3 looks at a couple of possible futures for digital image elicitation methods. They’re free and open to all researchers, but are aimed primarily at PhD students.
Pre-registration for module 1 is now open here, and closes on 27 November.