Thursday, March 31, 2005

MP3 Wednesdays

Illegal Bodies - Simply Saucer, Cyborgs Revisited

Special thanks go to Mike B. for introducing me to this ultra-fine if very short-lived Canadian band that is currently lighting me up like the MC5 still do. Oh yeah.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Values, computing and design

Graduate Student Workshop: Values in Computer and Information System Design
August 1-12, 2005
Santa Clara University, USA

I remember finding out about this workshop two weeks after the proposal deadline, and thinking, wow, that sucks. And now that I see the stellar line-up of student projects it sucks even more. (Still, seeing a workshop like this gives me hope that my generation of researchers and designers will indeed offer more social and cultural perspectives, and critically address more political and ethical concerns.)

I see a couple of friends (hey!): Biella Coleman is looking at how hacker cultural values "shape the direction of design principles" and how these values are "undermined or realized" in the 'real world'. Carl DiSalvo is researching the relationships between technology design and use, agency and "how can we use design as a critical and interventionist device" to better understand both. Yes.

There's also a bunch of people I don't know but want to learn more about: Anke van Gorp is researching "how engineers deal with ethically relevant issues in daily engineering design practice.". Kirsten Boehner and Shay David are looking at how ambiguity in design "stands in direct contrast to the common strategies of reductionism and representation". Jericho Burg is investigating "how different understandings of famine become embedded in famine early warning systems, and how this shapes humanitarian efforts". Eddan Katz is addressing how the DMCA acts in favour of copyright holders because of the law's "isolation of technology from its human use" and its "attribution of moral agency to a technological device". Matthew Kam is figuring out "how to design technologies that empower underserved communities in both 'third world' and developed countries to raise their living standards". Tish Stringer is investigating "practices and technologies of collaboration and communication used by social movements". And others. All cool.

For interested folks, Design Issues often covers related topics, and last summer they put out a special issue on STS and the Social Shaping of Design. I'm also for more ethnographies of scientists and engineers.

PS to Mum & Dad - My work is related to the stuff above. It looks at how mobile and pervasive computing work with particular understandings of space and culture, technology and everyday life. This includes the social and cultural values and assumptions that researchers and designers build into these technologies. (Things like who we are, what we do or how we interact with others, what we believe and what we want.) I try to understand how those ideas and actions both open up and restrict the ways we can use technology to create relationships with each other and the places in which we live.

Collaborative technologies v. collective will

What If They Built A Muni Wi-Fi Network And No One Came?

"When not designed with some specific purpose in mind and not well advertised or understood, [municipal Wi-Fi networks are] not being used. Furthermore, the technology involved is looking like it may be a mistake. Despite continued efforts to turn Wi-Fi into a wider-area technology using mesh technologies, Wi-Fi was and is a local wireless technology. It's also an evolving one. Many of these muni-Wi-Fi efforts are quite ambitious and won't be completed for some time, at which point there will be many other options out there for wireless technologies, and the municipal offering may seem quite out of date. This isn't to say that it should never be done. However, cities that are rushing to go Wi-Fi just because it's the hot thing need to think past the momentary publicity boost to figure out what the real goals are for a municipal Wi-Fi project, and whether or not it really makes sense at this time with this technology."

Nice to see someone point out that just because we can do it doesn't mean we should. And this reminds me of another dodgy assumption: that technology can or will create a commons. I've done my fair share of consulting work that very quickly demonstrated that no collaborative technology can work where there is no collective will.


Show and Tell Music

This is brilliant.

The Dialect of the Black American

Highlights include the above album, Companion to T.V., Music to Make Automobiles By, The "In" Sound for the Commercial Industry, Music from Mathematics, Tortura, Attic Demonstration (listen to the song), some Westinghouse weirdness, and the seemingly endless collection of fine Christian record covers.

(Thanks Regine!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Copyright Canada

Is it just me or are we becoming more fascist all the time?


Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage: Interim Report on Copyright Reform (Bulte Report), 2004

Industry Canada/Canadian Heritage: Supporting Culture and Innovation: Report on the Provisions and Operation of the Copyright Act, 2002

Faircopyright, Laura Murray, Queen’s University

Critique of Interim Report on Copyright Reform by Kevin Massie and Laura J. Murray

Education, Copyright, and the Bulte Report by Laura Murray, Queen’s University

Protecting ourselves to death: Canada, copyright, and the Internet by Laura Murray

Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), University of Ottawa

CIPPIC/PIAC: Response to Bulte Report

CIPPIC/PIAC: The Truth About Copyright Revision

CIPPIC/PIAC: Letter to Privacy Commissioner of Canada

A balanced approach to reforming copyright law by Michael Geist

(Thanks to Marc on the MDCN mailing list for the CIPPIC links)


There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.

- Carl Jung

After taking notes on the origins of the words voluptuous, promiscuous, mob and emotion this seems about right.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

In Chloe, a great city...

"the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping...

Something runs among them, an exchange of glances like lines that connect one figure to another and draw arrows, stars, triangles, until all combinations are used up in a moment, and other characters come on to the scene...

When some people happen to find themselves together, taking shelter from the rain under an arcade, or crowding beneath an awning of the bazaar, or stopping to listen to the band in the square, meetings, seductions, copulations, orgies are consummated among them without a word exchanged, without a finger touching anything, almost without an eye raised.

A voluptuous vibration constantly stirs Chloe, the most chaste of cities. If men and women began to live their ephemeral dreams, every phantom would become a person with whom to begin a story of pursuits, pretenses, misunderstandings, clashes, oppression, and the carousel of fantasies would stop."

- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities: Trading Cities 2

Friday, March 25, 2005

To think therefore to imagine

Schools of Thought: The Madness of Consensus
by Carra Leah Hood

"In response to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s assertion that Denmark is not a prison, Hamlet remarks:

Why, then 'tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

Hamlet [describes] a sort of relativism. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have their point of view, and Hamlet has his. Hamlet labels neither point of view good or bad here. So why does he introduce the language of morality at all? Why doesn't he say, 'Why, then, 'tis none to you: to me it is a prison,' instead, omitting the fragment that comprises the epigraph entirely? What function does the epigraphic fragment perform? ...

Hamlet, unable to imagine Denmark as anything but a prison, takes on an historical burden, transferred to him by his father's ghost, that requires a break with convention, and with the rhetorical expectations of someone occupying his role, hence his presumed madness. While to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, economic survival requires preserving consensual thinking; according to Hamlet, it will lead to the end of his life, to the demise of Denmark, to the conclusion of Danish history. It is Hamlet's duty, then, and that of all contemporary intellectuals, to think therefore to imagine, at risk of being thought mad, beyond consensus to sustain the production of ideas and history, the moral ingredient of thoughtful exchange, and to prevent the alternative, that is, the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

Ideas have power in Hamlet's world, no less chaotic, violent, and presumptively immoral than the world in 2005. It is a bad idea, a sort of madness actually, to act, then as now, as if language primarily functions bureaucratically, for the connected purposes of enforcing consensus, or canonicity, as a morally good idea, and of consolidating personal gain, as the sole measure of ethical conduct."

from M/C Journal, Feb 2005

Thursday, March 24, 2005

On research ethics

The Mobile Digital Commons Network (MDCN) blog recently highlighted some posts from a favourite blog of mine, networked_performance, as well as from PLSJ, and in re-reading Marc Tuter's On Locative Media's European Reception, as well as my comments on it, I think I should clarify a few points.

I've always been a bit confused by those who consider me contrary, but it seems I have no problem being polemical! (I imagine not a few people laughing their asses off at this realisation ;)) At February's PLAN event, I allowed myself to become annoyed with a particular political position that I believe over-simplifies the biases of corporate research and over-idealises the justness of artistic practice. And most unfortunately, when I become annoyed I also tend to become a little glib, or oversimplify and overstate things.

So here's the deal: in my research I have been forced to re-evaluate my own assumptions about how ethics and accountability manifest themselves in corporate, academic and artistic research contexts.

For example, the use of publically available documentation does not require university ethics approval, but before I was able to begin any empirical research which would involve me interacting with other people, I had to apply to, and obtain ethics approval from Carleton's Research Ethics Committee. This process involved submitting a PhD committee-approved research proposal to the Ethics Committee, which was then evaluated according to the ethical standards articulated by Canada's Tri-Council Policy. And since my research is funded by a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, I am also required to adhere to the SSHRC Statement on Research Integrity. My obligations involve things like ensuring varying degrees of confidentiality and anonymity for my research subjects, maintaining data security, and sharing my research findings. This included getting informed consent (signed documents) from my case history participants to use information obtained in formal interviews and questionnaires - and making it clear that participants may withdraw this consent at any time without penalty.

In doing my research, I learned that my case history participants are not subject to the type of formal, institutionalised ethics and accountability that I am. However - and here's the important bit - that does not mean that their research is unethical or that mine is more ethical. In fact, what ended up intriguing me the most was how all these researchers - without any formal obligations - nonetheless applied their own guidelines for ethics and accountability. And because of differences within and between project teams, it quickly became impossible for me to make any sort of useful generalisations.

Now returning to the comments I made at the PLAN event regarding corporate research ethics. In my fit of polemicism, I appear to have given the impression that I believe all corporate research is more ethical than, say, artistic research. That sort of claim seems absurd to me precisely because of its lack of contextual precision, and I did not mean to suggest anything of the sort. So, if anyone reading this was offended or confused by my comments, I apologise. (I only wish we had had the time to actually discuss such things, because it seems that when people aren't given the chance, or are not inclined to ask questions, all sorts of assumptions are made and misunderstandings occur!)

I believe I said something to the effect that the corporate researchers I interviewed are rather effectively held accountable in ways that the academics and artists are not. And my point was that we cannot assume that corporate research is any less ethical than other research because it can embody particular values and concerns that may not be present in other research contexts. But really, the question should be what kinds of ethics and accountability are we talking about here? And who gets to decide? Individual researchers? Some sort of multi-disciplinary community? Funding or support agencies? These are highly charged emotional and political questions - and all I know for sure is that different research cultures, communities and practitioners understand their sense of autonomy and accountability quite differently.

The challenge ahead, I have gleaned from recent conversations with a variety of interested folks, is not to ignore these differences but to avoid setting up straw dolls and making generalisations about any given type of research practice: academic, artistic or corporate, European or North American. As I said in my original comments to Marc's article: "Clearly, we all share an equal ability and responsibility in keeping potential collaborations open and just, and this is no time to crush the diversity of cultures at hand." But because I am an academic with particular political interests, I prefer to have these debates in public forums where we are all held accountable and, as one colleague put it, "we can work together to keep the temperature up without losing out in the intelligence stakes". I think that panel discussions at the PLAN event went a long way towards accomplishing these goals, and I look forward to future opportunities to do the same.

Mapping the future

I don't have the NewScientist subscription necessary to read The new pioneers of map making, but here are some comments from IFTF's Peter Dreyer, and some seemingly related issues come up in Honey, I Geotagged the Kids by Douglas Rushkoff.

Rushkoff begins by outlining the ways maps have changed over time, specifically in reference to what computing makes possible, and claims that "we can now truly see the way so many different things are -- or have been, or will be." (In searching the wikipedia, he must have missed the entries for map design and the map is not the territory.)

Nonetheless, he draws out other political aspects of cartography, or how mapping now has the potential to shift from an elite or specialist practice to one "allowing normal people to manage, present and create media with a geospatial component" which may in turn "revolutionize and democratize the process and practice of cartography."

He describes the locative media community as :

"a loose collective of hackers, writers, developers and wild thinkers ... committed to helping us make our associative maps more explicit and geospatially representative. If we could only collaborate on our mapmaking, these visual aids may just help us communicate better, and start to see some of our collective challenges from a shared frame of reference."

And despite agreeing that locative media may indeed offer revolutionary possibilities for wireless communications, Rushkoff doesn't see much interest from the mobile industry in things like low-cost access and open platforms. "Until locative media applications offer wireless providers or phone manufacturers a genuine competitive advantage in the way that, say, driving maps do, a future of collaborative cartography may have to wait..."

I don't know. I'm pretty sure that delivering potential consumers to advertisers would be considered a "competitive advantage" and, somewhat sadly, I've always assumed that commercial applications will be the first kind made widely available to the public. (In my dystopian imagination I see a city layered not with beautiful love stories but with a thousand corporate grabs for my attention.) But I also believe that our ideas about what "collaborative cartographies" mean will change and we will be challenged, yet again, to re-evaluate our assumptions about power, structure and agency. In other words, I still have hope.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Political subjects/objects

I'm back. Fitter, happier, more productive.

A couple of things this morning:

Peter says "folksonomies aren't interesting from an 'emerging technology' perspective -- they're interesting from a social and cultural perspective". Yup, and not least because they involve contextual (i.e. political) values instead of universal (i.e. apolitical) truths. But am I the only one who wonders what folksonomies have in common with Volkswagens?

The New York Times looks at mosquito nets "made in Kenya, paid for in Geneva, arranged for in Atlanta, demonstrated in Somji" and struggling to be distributed around Nigeria with de-worming drugs. The story quite nicely draws out the networks and flows of people, objects and ideas that demonstrate how technologies are always already political.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Run away with the circus - back next week

barracuda ape - strange but true

MP3 Wednesdays

Portland Oregon
Have Mercy
Women's Prison

Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose, 2004

Not a fan of country - yeah yeah I know I put up a favourite Dolly Parton song too - but I think this is a fine fine album. And Loretta Lynn is tough.

(There's something so honest about the woman speaking in Dolly's Jolene and Loretta's Woman of The World that I can't help but be impressed.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


knit wrap

The pattern for my current knitting project. Huge needles, yarn that has to be pulled apart, it is simultaneously delicate and robust. Like a spider web.

Today I got an email from Kirsty Robertson, who has just completed her PhD in Art History at Queen's and has started a new research blog: My Ugly Sweater.

She talks about webs of writing and the viral knitting project: "we knitted the binary code of the code red virus - an early computer virus known for its virulence. we wanted the finished garment to be both comforting and threatening - a wearable, tradeable, portable virus." She also writes about how the viral knitting project became a chapter in her dissertation and took on a life of its own. Throughout all of this run themes of art, craft and activism. I think of the Luddite revolts of 1811 and she mentions Calgary's Revolutionary Knitting Circle - which reminds me of the work of microRevolt and to a lesser extent Freddie Robins - and I hope she writes more about the limitations of such activism.

All good stuff.


I'm thinking of reading to live and learning to write what I love: "Not write about what we love, as though distant, detached, separate from our beloved. But to write as if infected, transformed, mutated by what we love."

"We must realize that to love is not of this world, but of another planet... [W]hen we love, we are subject to a double regime: that of the ordinary world with its economy and its common laws, and simultaneously that of the singular planet where everything is different. And what is impossible in this world is at the same moment possible in the sphere of love..."

- Helene Cixous, Rootprints: Memory and Life Writing

"Because of its inherent worldlessness, love can only become false and perverted when it is used for political purposes such as the change or salvation of the world ... it is for this reason... that it is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all antipolitical human forces."

- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

In Lefebvre, Love & Struggle, Shields writes that Lefebvre "is perhaps the only Communist - certainly the only political economist - to have dared assert that all he had ever written about was love."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

PASSION (and belonging)

So, one of the conversations in Hope is with post-Marxists Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau.

Normally I avoid semiotics, Derrida and Lacan, but I like Mouffe because of her focus on passion. In this conversation (extract here) she identifies passion as that which drives our social imaginary, or something beyond interests and rationality.

"When you introduce this notion of social imaginary it implies that you are leaving the rationalist perspective behind. The term passion is some kind of placeholder for all those things that cannot be reduced to interest or rationality—you know, fantasies, desire, all those things that a rationalist approach is unable to understand in the very construction of human subjectivity and identity."

She sees passion as something crucial to, and currently lacking in, democratic politics. Mouffe believes that the recent rise in fundamentalism and right-wing politics is directly related to the Left's recent failure to cultivate passion and offer hope. And when the only people mobilising passions and offering hope are different kinds of fundamentalists, she reminds us of what is at stake.

Mouffe argues for a Leftist radicalisation of democracy based on the understanding that "democracy is never going to be completely realised" but it remains the most valuable political project or effort we can have. She identifies pluralist democracy - a democracy that values difference - as a process we work towards, and something that can never be entirely fulfilled.

"Imagine a pluralist democracy that would be perfectly realised and everyone would agree. That would no longer be pluralist democracy because there wouldn't be any difference - it would be a completely static situation and, in fact, that is the dream of totalitarianism ... If you value pluralism then you will be alive to the idea that the impossibility of democracy or some final goal is not an impediment, or something negative. You can see it as something positive. And, on that basis, one can mobilise enthusiasm and say, 'Well yes, we will never reach it, but thank God we will never reach it, because that would be the end of democracy'."

Mouffe also argues that the Left, by tacitly accepting the inevitability of neo-liberal capitalism and its inherent rationality, has avoided having to articulate more imaginative and equitable alternatives. She believes that a radicalised democratic practice will also have to do better than "smashing the capitalist system" and establishing "a completely new socialist system". She argues for a more nuanced understanding of capitalism and democracy that evaluates diverse and situational needs and desires, instead of generalising experiences and offering universal solutions.

And speaking of more nomadic ways of thinking, Mouffe warns intellectuals and other travelling elites that we should not forget that belonging is very important to a great many people. If we forget that, it makes it difficult to understand - and support - political movements based on particular social and cultural territories, but not necessarily geographic places, nations or states.

I take this to support my belief in local situations and politics, and in multiplicity over singularity. Like Mouffe and many others, I think we make a mistake in equating globalisation with a global community or a global cosmopolitanism. On a smaller scale, we can see resistance to this sort of homogenisation in the reactions of some countries brought under the common identity of the European Union. What we need to watch out for is when our desire to set ourselves apart - to belong - is based in opposition to an Other (as in right-wing politics) rather than as a reflection of internal heterogeneity (as in left-wing politics).


I've been having a conversation with someone named Erik in the comments to this post on nomadic ethics, and he says something I'd like to engage more fully:

"I think that academics need to contribute actively again to a moral and ethical vocabulary that allows us to speak of actions in ethical terms and create arguments for a different way of living in the world and relationship to those around us and outside our immediate community that is beneficial to everyone ... And I don't think the vocabulary D&G, as well as other post-structuralists, have built up is capable of carrying that. Their insistence on movement doesn't allow this sort of evaluative judgement."

First of all, I do think that the obligation of all critical academic work is to embody and promote responsible thinking that facilitates good judgment. But I abhor universal morality, and I honestly don't believe that any particular individual, group or class of people should get to decide for everyone what constitutes "responsible thinking" or "good judgment". This means that my politics are inherent in my work, and that they are just that: my interests. I hope to be able to convince some of their value, but I don't believe I aspire to have them applied in all scenarios for all people. I don't want to be totalitarian or even a benevolent dictator.

Currently working through the politics sections of my dissertation, I have found it helpful to return to Mary Zournazi's Hope: New Philosophies for Change. I agree with Erik that post-structural thinking can come too close to absolute relativism for comfort. I mean, given the too often dismal state of world affairs and real lives, I hardly want to suggest that anything goes! I think we really do need to have hope returned to us. Or at least be reminded of how it has always been part of living.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think that rather than being told what is right or wrong, we are more in need of being convinced that we can actually change the world. In my students, for example, I sometimes see a profound indifference that shares more in common with defeat than apathy. I don't want to compel them to act out of righteousness, I want them to act because there is still hope!

In this sense I really do need the nomadic (or mobile, or contingent, or contextual) types of ethics that appear in D&G and others. I want to focus on possibilities and potentials. I want to work with the idea that we are always becoming (more, less, other). That we are not done yet. That the battle has not been lost. Of course this is risky - our very lives depend on it - and the bad guys will no doubt win a few more clashes yet.

So yes, I believe that we should - and can - make a better world. And in deciding what better worlds can be, I believe we need the freedom to explore new desires and to change our minds. I believe we need to know we can change. I believe we need the ability to be many as well as one. I believe that we need to understand we have to get back up after being forced down. I believe we need hope.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

1960s Chinese postage stamps

Before people's communes, before supporting heroic Cuba, before the People's Liberation and Chairman Mao, before the Chinese were ready to punish the invading enemy, it seems that postage stamps of pig-breeding were the way to go.

Pig Breeding stamp, China, 1960Pig Breeding stamp, China, 1960Pig Breeding stamp, China, 1960

Pig Breeding stamp, China, 1960Pig Breeding stamp, China, 1960

Friday, March 11, 2005

Mute, locative media and the end of suburbia

I like Mute Magazine, but it publishes so erratically that I forget to check for new issues. Apparently, a new issue came out in February and there are some interesting articles:

The Shape of Locative Media by Simon Pope

Being a theories of everyday life kinda girl, what I found most interesting in this article is the focus on spatialising practices, tactics and strategies. He draws out an interesting tension between locative media projects working on a tactical level by resisting 'official' histories (through, for example, public authoring) and at the same time being implicated in institutional strategies of funding, research and development. He also points at tensions between Situationism, especially psychogeography, and Conceptual art as they may play out in locative media projects:

"There’s a wilful skimming of the surface of psychogeography, taking it to mean an unconstrained movement in the streets, and apparently less of an alignment with the wider project of anti-urbanism. This can leave an impression of a practice whose relation to ‘the city’ is closer to the disinterestedness of Conceptualism than the supposed engagement of the SI ... [Situationist] devices for mapping the interactions and perceptions of human desires onto Paris, for example, were driven not by chance, as were the preceding scorned Surrealist interventions, but rather as a direct and conscious operation on the city ... The map, for Conceptual artists, seems more useful as a simple, generic method for recording the spatial aspects of a sculptural practice on an expanded scale ... This leaves me wondering how those developing locative media understand themselves to be implicated in the spaces that they construct, record and annotate..."

This certainly resonates with my own wondering about how Situationism is being applied to locative media and pervasive computing. I have noted in the past that I'm troubled by the use of superficial Situationism to justify playful design practices rather than for socially and culturally critical approaches to technology and urban life. I've also expressed bewilderment at the lack of discussion about how the structure of GPS, absolute positioning, computing algorithms etc. actually conflicts with more fluid (social and cultural) understandings of spatial experience.


Peak Oil and National Security: A Critique of Energy Alternatives by George Caffentzis

Especially interesting since I watched The End of Suburbia last night and am sitting here covered in blankets because the gas furnace broke during the night and our house is freezing.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

It's all a matter of perspective

I have a worm in my system that I'm trying to remove. The last time my computer got infected was nine years ago. I don't know how this happened but everything went to shit after an email from a student last night.

The way I have Thunderbird set up, it has only affected one of my email addresses, but I've lost everything in that inbox. What a hassle.

Then again, definitely not as much as if I had a tapeworm in my intestines.

MP3 Wednesdays

Bubblehouse - MMW, Shack Man, 1996

Sugar Craft - MMW, Combustication, 1998

Bone Digger - MMW, The Dropper, 2000

Medeski, Martin and Wood. Solid groove. True love.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The dangers of language, or how all spaghetti is linguine

Perhaps concerned that I had become too serious in recent days, last night Jason made me read from the book he's been reading, Woody Allen and Philosophy.

In it I'm introduced to Woody Allen's Fabrizio's: Criticism and Response, an essay in which "Fabian Plotnik, our most high-minded restaurant critic, reviews Fabrizio's Villa Nova Restaurant, on Second Avenue" :

"Pasta as an expression of Italian Neo-Realistic starch is well understood by Mario Spinelli, the chef at Fabrizio's, Spinelli kneads his pasta slowly. He allows a buildup of tension by the customers as they sit salivating. His fettuccine, though wry and puckerish in an almost mischievious way, owes a lot to Barzino, whose use of fettucine as an instrument of social change is known to us all. The difference is that at Barzino's the patron is led to expect white fettucine and gets it. Here at Fabrizio's he gets green fetuccine. Why? It all seems so gratuitous. As customers, we are not prepared for the change. Hence, the green noodle does not amuse us. It's disconcerting in a way unintended by the chef. The linguine, on the other hand, is quite delicious and not at all didactic. True, there is a pervasive Marxist quality to it, but this is hidden by the sauce. Spinelli has been a devoted Italian Communist for years, and has had great success in espusing his Marxism by subtly including it in the tortellini.

I began my meal with an antipasto, which at first appeared aimless, but as I focussed more on the anchovies the point of it became clearer. Was Spinelli trying to say that all life was represented here in this antipasto, with the black olives an unbearable reminder of mortality? If so, where was the celery? Was the omission deliberate? ..."

After Plotnick's review, we learn that readers "aggressively challenge Plotnick's interpretation, arguing that Fabrizio's, rather than conforming "to the classic Italian nuclear-family structure," is "modeled on the homes of pre-Industrial Revolution middle-class Welsh miners": that Plotnick's "logic breaks down linguistically" since he has failed to consider the paradox that the odd-numbered noodles equal the combined total of the odd- and even-numbered noodles."

Plotnick replies:

"I'm grateful to Dove Rapkin for his comments on the nuclear family, and also to Professor Babcocke for his pentrating linguistic analysis, although I question his equation and suggest, rather, the following model:

(a) some pasta is linguine
(b) all linguine is not spaghetti
(c) no spaghetti is pasta, hence all spaghetti is linguine.

Wittgenstein used the above model to prove the existence of God, and later Bertrand Russel used it to prove that not only does God exist but He found Wittgenstein too short."

This makes me laugh until tears stream down my face. Parodies are good.


The draft prologue is done. Following Benjamin and others, I refer to my dissertation as "the theatre of all my struggles and all my ideas", my monstrous conceit and convoluted montage. I'm having fun again. This is very good.

It's been snowing a lot and I've reached my wit's end concerning winter. I want to live where the sun shines all year and I can feel its warmth on my face and shoulders.

I have papers to mark. On understanding social interaction in cities, on slums and ghettoisation, on global tourism and changing global cities, on suburbs and sprawl and their impact on health, on parks, private interests and public spaces, on temporary architecture in response to urban crisis, on the history of the urban/rural dichotomy, on disability and socio-spatial exclusion, on ranking urban quality of life. My students surprised me. These look really interesting.

I got an email from someone I was totally in love with when I was 18 but didn't know it. A small part of me worries that he will think I'm boring now, so I don't call him back.

I have lectures to prepare. In urban cultures, this week we begin our readings on mobilities. De Certeau on walking in the city, maps and traces. Munt on the lesbian flaneur, mobility and power. Borden on the performance of the city and skateboarding. Sheller and Urry on the human/car/city assemblage. In science & tech, this week we look at identities and cyberspace. Haraway on cyborgs and Nakamura on race in/for cyberspace.

There are class blogs I have been neglecting and will probably continue to avoid for another day or two or three.

I've begun daily exercise and meditation. This leads me to believe I should also drink less coffee. But we'll see.

Monday, March 7, 2005

Writing to get free of myself

This weekend I'm obsessed with the idea of getting free of oneself. Certainly Foucault never meant it as attaining some sort of absolute, objective or transcendental distance from self. He meant to use this as a critique of essentialist and stable understandings of subjectivity and truth. But I want to push aside Foucault's technologies of the self and try to understand the role of mobility in subjectivity and objectivity.

"If language can no longer reflect the truth, then such subjects are free to attempt to rethink and redescribe the world." - Elizabeth St Pierre, 2002

If I am trying to get free of myself, where do I go? What do I take with me?

The obvious answer is to become nomadic, become rhizomatic. (Are there two words more often abstracted from D&G's work?!) In freeing myself from myself I can de-territorialise along any line of flight. I can continually become something, someone, else. I can take and leave what I want. I can resist becoming fixed, being re-territorialised.

I can also become voluptuous, even monstrous. Outside the lines. Excessive. Overflow.

I keep thinking about St. Pierre's comment about knowing that the requirements of her dissertation would "overwrite the fragile text" she had written in her head. I can also imagine my own dissertation suffocating, pinned down like an entomologist's rare damselfly. I can understand why she prefers "nomadic writing practices" - they allow her writing to resist (re)territorialisation.

If I were to present my dissertation as a linear document comprising introductions, theories, methodologies, data analyses, and conclusions it would not resemble or represent any of my actual experience in doing this research.

But if I want to write a nomadic dissertation - one in keeping with the last four years of my life - what would it look like? My blogs? (Yes and no.) Like Benjamin's Arcades Project? (Yes and no.) Like Latour's Aramis? (Yes and no.) Like the exquisite corpse? (Yes and no.) Like a metaphysical conceit? (Yes and no.)

Critique and change as ethical imperatives

I vaguely remembered Foucault saying something about how the discursive system of the social sciences is different than that of the humanities or hard sciences, so this morning I went in search of the reference.

In his essay What Is An Author? he describes the historical connections between authorship and authority. For example, until the 17th century, authority in what we would now call scientific texts was vested in the name and reputation of the author. Once science emerged as a formal discipline, authority shifted to the methods of inquiry - or as Rabinow writes: "Truth became more anonymous". The opposite sort of shift occurred in literature. The authority of a story was first associated with its familiarity and longevity; it mattered less who wrote it than if it had been known for a long time. In the 19th century, however, authority became associated with particular authors, according to their fame and standing in the literary community.

Then I found what I was looking for: what Foucault calls "founders of discursivity". In the human or social sciences, Foucault pinpoints an intellectual and cultural tradition involving the repeated return to particular thinkers, despite substantial critique. For example, despite the weaknesses and flaws in the work of Marx or Freud, their work has never been discarded. As Rabinow explains, "one does not declare certain propositions in the work of these founders to be false: sets aside those statements that are not pertinent". In other words, ideas are never totally right or wrong. They're not thrown out, they simply get moved or modified. They change.

This sort of understanding not only impacts how we understand our own subjects of study - including ourselves - but also how we may understand the subjects of other disciplines. For example, instead of saying that we were wrong to believe the earth was flat because we now know it to be round, we can instead describe the transition from flatness to roundness and allow that it may change again.

And something else struck me. I recalled conversations I have had - with friends, students, colleagues - in which I was accused of being dismissive or destructive. I was sometimes hurt by the accusation, but more often confused. My confusion arose, I believe, because I never saw the critique of one part of an argument to invalidate every other part, or as any sort of indication that one who did find it relevant was wrong. In other words, just because I didn't find any relevance in one aspect or proposition didn't mean that I saw no value in the broader context or in the person who found it useful.

To critique something is not to dismiss or destroy it. To critique something is to see how it changes, or how it can be changed. I take this as an ethical imperative - one connected to my committment to try to see things differently, perhaps even to get free of myself.

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Writing as a method of inquiry

Today I'm writing about how my weblog has served as a method of inquiry over the past three years and how it continues to act as part of my dissertation. These quotes are on my mind.

Laurel Richardson, "Skirting a Pleated Text: De-disciplining an academic life" in The Qualitative Inquiry Reader, Norman Denzin & Yvonna Licoln (eds), pp. 39-50. London: Sage, 2002.

"How does the way we are supposed to write up our findings become an unexamined trope in our claims to authoritative knowledge?

What might we learn about our 'data' if we stage them in different writing formats?

What other audiences might we be able to reach if we step outside the conventions of social-scientific writing? (p. 43)

My intentions then - and now - have never been to dismiss social-scientific writing - but to examine it. My intentions then - and now - have never been to reject social-scientific writing - but to enlarge the field through other representational forms." (p. 44)

Elizabeth St. Pierre, "Circling the Text: Nomadic writing practices" in The Qualitative Inquiry Reader, Norman Denzin & Yvonna Licoln (eds), pp. 51-70. London: Sage, 2002.

"As I think about the pieces I have written, I can find no linear, causal relationships among them; that is, I do not believe that the writing of one text necessarily caused the writing of the next... Writing seems more accidental than intentional and is often produced by unintended juxtapositions... My writing thus reflects no systematic tracing of thought but rather maps ordinary forays into unintelligibility... (p. 58)

I knew the dense and ponderous coding of the dissertation I was required to produce would overwrite the fragile text I was imagining, a text so rhizomatic, however, that it could be dissipated, scattered, even squandered with little ill effect...

[The] figuration of the rhizome, then, allows me to think outside systems, outside order, outside stability. Rhizomes favor exteriority, motion, chance, and variation outside the contrived confines of the text." (p. 59)

Guides to everyday life: ethics and manifestos

Foucault suggests this set of guidelines from Deleuze & Guattari's Anti-Oedipus. I've used them as the ethics informing my dissertation - or perhaps more precisely, this is how I understand what is at stake politically.

"This art of living counter to all forms of fascism, whether already present or impending, carries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide to everyday life:

FREE political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.

DEVELOP action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.

WITHDRAW allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements instead of systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.

DO not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the representation) that possesses revolutionary force.

DO not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the invention of political action.

DO not demand of politics that it restores the 'rights' of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to 'de-individualize' by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.

DO not become enamored of power." (pp. xiii-xiv)

- Michel Foucault, Preface to Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.


Saturday, March 5, 2005

Getting free of oneself

"There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all."

- Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Vol. 2

The myth of pervasive computing

VISION 2010: Changing the Mobile Frontier (video)

"NTT DoCoMo believes that the future of mobile multimedia communications holds incredibly rich promise... The video you are about to see portrays the kind of technological advances that could transform our world over the next ten years. The events depicted are fictional, but the potential of NTT DoCoMo's cutting-edge technology is very real..."

This story quite nicely enacts the values and desires that characterise the current myth of pervasive computing - and I mean myth in the anthropological sense. Contrary to being false or fictional, cultural myths engage people's worldviews - our values, fears, hopes and beliefs. Myths also serve to explain or justify certain cultural practices, often in ways that allow them to appear timeless and morally just. In other words, they make what we believe and do seem 'normal' or 'natural'. Because of their normative role, critique is difficult and usually begins with problematising the taken-for-granteds in the story.

For example, in this video (and most other marketing campaigns) we are encouraged to believe that pervasive computing will make life "more convenient" and "richer", and also "deepen the bonds that link us together".

But nowhere does it explain how these technologies will actually be able to do that. And since myths often involve some sort of magical or fantastic intervention, it doesn't really matter how it happens - after all, at first glance, who doesn't want those things? The myth makes it seem as though this is what we have always wanted, and will always want, in life.

But is that true? For whom? When? And where?

Ask why convenience is important. Think about the data collection necessary to make those technologies work.

And who gets to decide what richer and deeper social relations mean?


Friday, March 4, 2005

Our expeditions are but tours...

Henry David Thoreau, Walking
"I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, --who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived 'from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going a la Sainte Terre,' to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, 'There goes a Sainte-Terrer,' a Saunterer, --a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, --prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again, --if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk."

Thursday, March 3, 2005

"I belong to the race of words, which homes are built with"

Spotted at thinking about things, where Matt is thinking about manifestos, I am claiming this passage as my dissertation-writing manifesto:

"To be in the book. To figure in the book of questions, to be part of it. To be responsible for a word or a sentence, a stanza or chapter. To be able to say: 'I am in the book. The book is my world, my country, my roof, and my riddle. The book is my breath and my rest.' I get with the page that is turned. I lie down with the page put down. To be able to reply: 'I belong to the race of words, which homes are built with' – when I know full well that the answer is still another question, that this home is constantly threatened. I will evoke the book and provoke the questions."

- Edmond Jabès, To be in the Book, 1963

I love manifestos. They remind me that I believe. They compel me to action.

Of course, a friend claimed yesterday - in no uncertain terms - that to have a conversation with me when I have submitted to a manifesto like the one above is a special kind of torture.

The problem, it seems to me, is that manifestos can be easily divorced from INTER-action.

MP3 Wednesdays

Nonalignment Pact - Pere Ubu, The Modern Dance, 1978

Ever Fallen in Love? - Buzzcocks, Love Bites, 1978

Melody Lee - The Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette, 1979

Old school. Oh yeah.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Technology and urban spaces: research challenges

Beyond the 'Dazzling Light': from dreams of transcendence to the 'remediation' of urban life (pdf) by Stephen Graham

"First, far from being a complete and revolutionary break with the past, new media maintain many intimate connections with old media, technologies, practices and (electromechanical) infrastructures and spaces (telephone, broadcasting, electricity, highway, streets, airline, logistics systems, and so forth)...

Second, new media research needs to engage much more powerfully with the complex intra-urban and inter-urban geographies that so starkly define the production, consumption and use of its subject artefacts, technologies and practices...

Third, and relatedly, new media research needs to excavate the often invisible and hidden material systems that bring the supposedly ‘virtual’ domains and worlds of new media into existence...

Fourth, it is now clear that the use and experience of new media is associated with myriad urban changes in different spaces, times and contexts. Indeed, one new media artefact – say an internet computer – can be used itself to sustain a wide range of uses by a range of different people at different times of the day and in different physical situations...

Fifth, as new media diffuse more widely and become more taken-for-granted and ubiquitous, it is increasingly apparent – at least in richer urban regions – that they are being used to reconfigure subtly the place-based worlds and mobilities of everyday urban life...

The sixth and final key research challenge, then, is to be acutely conscious of the growing invisibility of sociotechnical power in contemporary societies."

From cafe to parkbench: Wi-Fi and technological overflows in the city (pdf) by Adrian Mackenzie

"The problem of how to keep data moving in a way that is synchronised with the movements of a person is leading to the development of many different kinds of habit, anticipation and systematisations of mobility. One analytical response to this situation is to introduce a new theoretical abstraction to explain communicative praxis. The idea of the Hertzian landspace is one such response. Similar ideas run through much futurological and policy work on telecommunications today. Such responses risk making the same 'mistake' made by earlier responses to the Internet. New patterns of information movement are treated as detached from or of a different order to existing forms and practices of everyday life. A more critical response draws on geography, sociology and cultural studies to argue for a new hybrid discipline, 'urban new media studies,' which would locate movements of data in relation to everyday practices in the city. The nexus of ‘urban’ and ‘new media’ already signals a localisation and specificity of analysis that the Hertzian landscape mostly lacks...

The feeling that the mobile Internet is ‘what comes next’ runs strongly throughout corporate, governmental and art projects associated with Wi-Fi. In this respect Wi-Fi recycles and remediates many of the same claims, beliefs, images, values and emotions associated with earlier new media and digital culture – the promise of pure fluidity, absence of obstacles or constraints. On the other hand, the three kinds of overflow discussed above mix images of movements with practical negotiations of movement within everyday urban settings. In each case, the image of movement without obstacles encounters practical obstacles, to which different responses, forms and social-technical formations arise. This is the chief problem that confronts urban new media studies – how to analyse the mutual contextualization of images of movement and movement itself, particularly when movement itself becomes an image."

Prologue (just say no to chapters)

I've been writing the prologue to my dissertation.

It's about monsters and rhizomatic/voluptuous validity, conceits and montage.

Online: Haraway on monsters. Braidotti on difference. MacCormack on perversion. Lather on validity. Frichot on montage.

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