Friday, July 29, 2005

The Asylum

I'll be in New York doing consulting stuff tomorrow but until then I'll be playing this twisted little flash game...

The Asylum: Psychiatric Clinic for Abused Cuddly Toys

(Thanks Steve!)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

REform



"Metal spinning is a technical process, where metal sheets are formed around massive wooden moulds while rotating. Through the generations hundreds of wooden moulds have accumulated in the stock shelves of Hugo Bräuer Metallwaren. Their original function, used in the making of hubcaps, lids or shades, has long been forgotten. The designers Sebastian Summa and Hrafnkell Birgisson blew the dust from the wooden manufacturing history and transformed it into crispy baked delicacy. In collaboraton with the craftsman Thomas Bräuer and the pastry-cook Martina Griese they developed series of six hand-spun 'baking bowls' made of high quality aluminium. The cakes, which are baked in the moulds, describe in their contours a piece of design history from the beginning of Industrialisation until the present."

"We thought, How can we tell the story of this old process? We saw the molds as cakes," Birgisson says. "And we wanted to integrate the user into the project: when they make the cake, they are re-creating the old forms."


Beautiful juxtapositions of hardness and softness, strength and delicacy, men's work and women's work - and all within the context of remaking material history.

Tools You Bake (pdf)

Tools You Bake | Metropolis Magazine (subscription required)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"To paraphrase Plato answering Protagoras: why is the individual the measure of all things, rather than the pig on which he has feasted?"

"Within the mass, one runs across, bumps into and brushes against others; interaction is established, crystallizations and groups form ... [T]hese tactile relationships, through successive sedimentations, create a special ambience - what I have called a diffuse union ... Although it should be the height of banality to say so, there is no harm in repeating that the originality of the sociological procedure lies in the fact that it is based on the materiality of the being-together. God (and theology), the Mind (and philosophy), the individual (and economics) step aside for this regrouping. Man is never considered in isolation... Thus, in order to seize the shared sentiments and experiences at work in the various social situations and attitudes of today, it is a good idea to take a different tack: the aesthetic angle seems to me the least bad. By aesthetics, I mean the etymological sense of the word, as the common faculty of feeling, of experiencing ... I spoke earlier of the 'materiality' of the being-together; the oscillating mass-tribe is its illustration. It is possible to imagine, instead of a subject-actor, being confronted with interlocking objects; like a nest of Russian dolls, the large object-mass conceals smaller object-groups which are diffracted to infinity..."

-- Michel Maffesoli, The Time of the Tribes, pp. 73-75


A group is more than 'an assemblage of individuals' (cf. Halbwachs) - it is about shared affect and feeling, transcending individualism and allowing us to see ourselves in others. The aesthetic is collectivity; the ethic is reciprocity.

"[W]hat is the ground or condition of collective life (zussamensein)? Sometimes the idea is expressed as a strict morality taking the form of an overarching, universal and rigid category, a logic of duty which privileges puritanism, planning, productivity. At other times, on the contrary, the idea embraces sensitivity, communication and collective motion, and is then more relative and dependent upon the groups (or tribes) that it structures: this then is an ethic, an ethos which comes from below...

Collectivities form according to circumstances or desires ... But the value, the taste, the admiration, the 'hobby' which is held in common and which cements the collectivity constitute ethical vectors. To be more precise, I would specify the ethical as a morality 'with neither obligation nor sanction', with no obligation other than coming together and being a member of a collective body, with no sanction other than being excluded should the interest (inter-esse) which brought me into the group come to an end. This is precisely the ethics of the aesthetics: experiencing something together is a factor of socialization ... It is an ethic in the strong sense of the term: which is to say something which leads me to recognize myself in something which is exterior to me. The exterior something may be another self like me, it may be another as Other, it may be an object... In a ceaseless movement of actions and retrospective effects, I recognize a sign by recognizing it with others, and so I recognize what unites me to others."

-- Michel Maffesoli, The Ethic of Aesthetics, Theory, Culture & Society Vol 8 (1991), pp. 7-20.


But where is accountability located?

"Good afternoon, Mr. Yakamoto," she says, loudly and cheerily. "How did you like that three-pack of tank tops you bought last time you were in?"

Soon in Japan, it'll be raining ads



"Researchers are working on 'information rain', taking advertisements to the realm of mock meteorology. A projector on a tall tripod shows images of raindrops hitting the ground and making ripples, in hopes that people will enter the 'rainy' area and hold out their palms. A camera tracks the entrants' movements and sends the data to connected computers. Then the projector shoots out a round-shaped advertisement -- which can post words such as 'SALE' -- right onto their hands."


I've always understood that pervasive computing would first-and-foremost bring advertising to us, or us to advertising. Consider even urban space annotation, and how often it involves use scenarios along the lines of "great food, affordable prices," "my favourite record store" or some other call to better-informed, more meaningful consumption. A step away from the travelling-businessman-super-user for sure, but still about our everyday relationships around buying stuff. Pushed a bit further, we're redefining Veblen's conspicuous consumption and I think the "traces of conspicuous waste [that] usually become evident on a close scrutiny" are becoming increasingly difficult to see.

(via)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Global hacking

Matt Jones introduced Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase's new blog a few weeks ago, and I've finally got around to looking through the archives.

He photographs things like Delhi's password stores and comments on mobile phone repair culture in Delhi's Karol Bagh Market and JiLin's Dong Shichang Market



"Many of these guys can strip and rebuild a mobile phone in minutes ... [A] lot of the hyperbole surrounding western hacker culture makes me smile compared to what these guys are doing day in day out."


Ha! Reminds me of some consulting work I did last year where a gentleman from Africa said, matter-of-factly, to a room full of Canadian government technologists discussing whether or not to adopt open-source platforms, "We don't choose to use open-source. It is all we can afford."

It's definitely worth remembering that "western" hacker culture is often a leisure pursuit. This isn't to suggest that hacking out of necessity isn't a joyful or fun practice, but it certainly takes place within different social, cultural, economic and political arrangements - and produces different types of goods. Furthermore, the very concepts of reuse and recycling mean different things in different consumer contexts.

What I'm curious about, though, is how Nokia uses this kind of cross-cultural knowledge to design new products. After all, I'm not sure this is the kind of recycling or reuse that profit-driven companies have in mind.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The mundane made special

zexe.net

a mobile/multimedia communication project, intended for groups without active presence in the mainstream media

canal*INVISIBLE
prostitutes broadcast from mobile phones
MADRID 2005

canal*GITANO
gypsies broadcast from mobiles
LEON 2005 / LLEIDA 2005

sitio*TAXI
taxi drivers broadcast from cell phones
MEXICO DF 2004


There are plenty of interesting media democracy projects for wireless, but something about involving people from mobile and/or invisible cultures seems particularly appropriate. It's interesting to see mobility captured (and the invisible made visible) in still photos, while audio and video files add a sense of duration.

I have reservations about "letting" the disenfranchised speak and see, and the greater "authenticity" of their own perspectives, but these collections are strangely embodied and material - and consequently quite humanising - in their content. The oral histories and songs of the Roma (Gypsies) are juxtaposed with pictures of family and friends, celebrations, market stalls, cooking pots and jewelry. The prostitutes eye clothes, shoes, other bodies, streets and political rallies. The taxi drivers see cars, roads, billboards and licenses. It's the mundane, the everyday, made special. The physical made digital.

(via)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Light at the end of the tunnel

Still buried under a ton of work, and battling the head cold that seems to follow all my recent air travel. But next week is looking like it might be more relaxed and our vacation of blissful paddling in Algonquin is only two more weeks away...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Becoming subjects

"[B]y concentrating single-mindedly on the important process of objectification, Marx's analysis fails to attend to the equally important process that Kierkegaard refers to as 'becoming subjective.' For both the world and human beings in the world, the process of becoming subjects proceeds hand-in-hand with the process of making objects. Becoming a subject is as much a matter of being addressed as addressing, as much a matter of hearing as of speaking..."

-- Steven Schroeder, A Laboratory for Civil Discourse

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"America is not just mobile. It is a perpetual-motion machine."

I have tons of work to do this week, and still haven't answered the email from when I was away, so I thought I'd avoid it all this morning by reading The Economist's special (if borderline jingoistic and most definitely conservative) survey of mobility in America.

Long characterised by "restlessness in the midst of plenty," Americans seem to be moving - by choice and by force - for work and better housing. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, are often moving to the very places abandoned through domestic migration - providing a "never-ending supply" of labour needed for economic and urban growth. (Cough.) Although this mobility sometimes leads to increased segregation - 40% of new California communities are gated - these trends also seem to reinforce America's cultural melting pot. At the same time, class differences are increasing and class mobility is declining - although "rising inequality is not affecting the optimism and ambition of average Americans." (Am I the only one who thinks of Fortress L.A.?) Mobility is also seen to increase an "appetite for social bonds," and Americans are joining clubs again. Rising civic and public engagement, internet-enabled associations, and religion are seen to be increasingly common forms of social cohesion. But finally, in these constantly changing times, it seems the American government is becoming more rigid in its policies and practices.

So the main conclusion is this: mobility is sorting out America.

"Sorting out means groups of like-minded people are clustering together by choice. The process may result in discord but is not created by it. Splitting, on the other hand, is usually created by discord and produces even more. It implies that the groups people form are not merely separate but opposed ... Sorting does not necessarily imply that social ties are weakening. Splitting does. It is the difference between growing apart and falling apart ... Because sorting is a result of demographic dynamism, it is associated with growth and achievement as well as failure and divisiveness ... [But] because sorting out is a fluid process, problems can be put right relatively easily ... This is not to say that sorting has been a uniform blessing, merely that it mixes good with bad."


Interesting perspective. And looking back at the title, I wonder if the writers know that perpetual-motion machines are impossible?

Home

Back from the "City of Planned Progress" that is Pleasanton, California. I saw lots of enormous houses that look identical to the ones beside them, many expensive cars but not one hybrid, and "no skateboarding" signs throughout the historic downtown, as well as around high-tech campuses and business parks. Long workdays meant I didn't get to look around as much as I would have liked, but I did get to eat some excellent Enjococado and flan at the Blue Agave, where you can also choose from 200 kinds of tequila. Sweet.

Ottawa seems unusually diverse and beautiful today, despite the fact that we can't get any decent Mexican food.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Conflicted over 'smart' homes

I'm away the rest of the week doing some consulting work in California, but I thought I'd quickly post this BBC article that caught my eye.

High costs deter hi-tech dreams

"[A]survey of 2,600 people plumbed attitudes to homes where information was happily swapped between computers, fixed and mobile phones, computers, digital images and movies, music and any other form of digital device.

While many people liked the idea of such a home, 80% thought it would simply be too expensive to go shopping for all the gadgets to make it a reality. The problems of getting such a system working by themselves proved too much for most and 70% said they would happily sign up with a company that did all the work for them...

When asked why they wanted more gadgets in the home most of those questioned, 56%, said it would help them save money. Others, 46%, said it would make their lives easier or, 34%, simply make home life more enjoyable.

The downside of the hi-tech home was acknowledged by survey respondents. Some, 40%, were worried by privacy and security problems. A smaller group, 33%, were concerned that equipment would become obsolete quickly."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Got blog? No job!

Apparently I haven't a hope in hell of a career in academia if guys like this are the ones hiring.

Matt Kirschenbaum wonders about the Chronicle of Higher Education's motivations in publishing such a piece, and responds to the pseudonymous author's question of why an academic would keep a weblog at all with this simple, but satisfying, anecdote: "The science fiction writer Harlen Ellison once described a stunt in which he sat in the window of a bookshop all day writing a story. He was curious about what would happen if writing became a public spectacle rather than the mysterious, solitary endeavor it usually is."

But if that doesn't do it for you, Matt cites the more tangible benefits of networking and makes this request: "Would all academic bloggers reading this consider posting a comment or a trackback entry about some specific professional dividend that their online presence in the blogosphere has garnered for them?"

I began writing here to keep track of my research and to present some kind of public but personal "field notes" - and it's been an experiment that has paid off in ways I never imagined. If what people have said to me is true, then my weblog has been directly responsible for invitations to present one conference keynote address, moderate and participate in at least half-a-dozen conference panels and workshops, and submit three articles for publication in academic journals and books. It has provided the foundation for a variety of academic discussions and collaborations, and has been instrumental in getting feedback on my doctoral research. I've even seen my blog posts cited in academic publications and as assigned reading for university courses! And if all that isn't enough, my weblog has also provided for an immensely satisfying on and offline engagement with non-academics, interviews for news articles in Wired and The Guardian, and invitations to write for non-academic publications.

But all of this feels like bragging, and that's not me. In fact, I think that few of these benefits would have come my way if I didn't reveal some of my non-academic interests and experiences here. After all, I'm a person, not a CV. For now I think I'll keep up the blog and be grateful I'll never end up in a department where people like that are in charge.

(Thanks Chuck!)

STS collaborators

I've finally had a chance to catch up on some blog reading, and was struck by Alex Pang's comments on the recent Does STS Mean Business 2? conference at Oxford's Saïd Business School.

Building on last year's conference, the one-day event tackled "the uses and transformations of Science and Technology Studies (STS) in recent years, especially as STS is appropriated within new contexts, including management studies and business schools." Interesting.

I immediately recall an interview where I was asked how I would reconcile my politics with working for such a Big Company. After pausing to reflect, I could only answer "Actually, I'm not sure I can." Now that doesn't mean I'm not willing to try, but it's a hard question that I come back to often.

But what of Alex's comments? He wrote:

"First, it's clear to me that STS is the Samsung of the social sciences. For decades, it's been fighting for acceptance and legitimacy; it's seen itself as rebellious, trouble-making, crazy brave, and able to see things that the rest of the world can't. Bad, rad, and dangerous to know ... STS has long attracted people who see their work as politics by other means, and who assume that teaching kids STS is a radical act. Wrong. STS is apolitical. Time to deal with that fact ... What's required for STS-- the field, not the ideas; the ideas have escaped the academic gravity well-- to succeed is new institutions, and a generation of practitioners who don't see themselves as the academic equivalent of Les Miserables, forever on the barricades."


Man, this irks me. Alex also rightfully complains that STS discussions can create monolithic and homogeneous visions of business - ten years ago they were rightfully criticised for doing the same with science - and that lack of nuanced understanding doesn't help. But then he does a super job of lumping all STS scholars together, slapping cheesy Che Guevara t-shirts on them and mocking them for their clueless arrogance. Methinks the pot is calling the kettle black!

But mostly I'm just amazed that anyone would actually suggest that STS - or any research activity - is apolitical. And there's certainly no indication in Alex's conference paper (pdf) that this is actually how things work for STS scholars outside or inside business.

Steve Woolgar wrote a good provocation piece (pdf) for the event in which he describes relevant critiques of STS, including its preoccupation with emerging technologies instead of those already in wide-spread use. (I maintain that the primary advantage of studying emerging tech is to identity points of intervention before products are built and sold.) He also claims that scientific practice is always already business practice, and that "STS has always been engaged in a form of practical action." In any case, he asks some good questions and warns us that

"[A]nti-determinist sentiments [in STS studies] seem to fall away in considering the future. While the present (multiple) usages, understandings and identities related to any technology can be called on to hold to account any apparent determinist or essentialist rendition of a technology, renditions of the future appear to be held less accountable. This relative freedom from accountability through shifting attention toward future orientation is a neat but not uniquely futuristic trick..."


Nina Wakeford also presented on the studio-approach to research taken by the INCITE group. In her paper (pdf) she discusses "collaborations between the producers of new technologies – hardware manufacturers, software developers and interface designers – and the researchers and analysts of these technologies." Of particular interest are her suggestions that researchers need to present more than a final report with design specifications:

"[T]he active and embodied process of translation of the data becomes crucial in the collaboration. This behaviour is not a mere process of 'channelling the user' in terms of the voices of those we have interviewed. It involves explicitly producing an active and engaged sociological or anthropological interpretation for an interdisciplinary audience."


She also questions why critical approaches are so often missing in corporate research and design, and wonders why certain things just don't seem to translate no matter what we do. Following Lucy Suchman, she argues for "partial translations" and suggests that "conversations about value...are only one way to frame partial translations." Integral to this process of translation is the creation of a shared artefact or idea, or what Nina calls an "interprofessional hyperlink" around and through which collaboration occurs. For example, the mobile object used to faciliate collaboration with Intel was the 73 Bus. In collaborating with Sapient, the shared idea and practice is ethnography. In each case, INCITE (and other social science) researchers are challenged to produce visual or material, rather than just textual, knowledge.

Also of interest is Paul Wouters paper (pdf) on the collaborative research experience of the Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences (VKS) in Amsterdam.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Teaching

Just signed the contracts to teach 'Sociology of Science and Technology' and 'Urban Cultures' again this coming winter. After reflecting on my own experience and the comments of my students, I'm making some changes to the course content and assignments, and spending some more time reading and thinking about my own teaching philosophy and practice.

To this end, I recently read Intoxicated Midnight And Carnival Classrooms: The Professor As Poet, which focusses on a few ideas that simultaneously resonate with me and strike me as more than a bit flaky.

"We argue for an approach to teaching that values permanent unresolve; proceeds by indirection, obliquity and unknowing; revels in scrambled, broken moments; and enjoys recursive undecidability. The posture of the professor is one of 'not knowing': a positionality that celebrates nonmethodical methods, abandoned meanings, insurgent, incomplete meanings, an 'intoxicated midnight' in Nietzsche's phrase... Rather than trying to help students tidy up experience, the classroom itself can be seen as an aesthetic and carnival project of undoing identities and helping us to inhabit the chaos, fragments and messiness of a postmodern world. We go so far as to suggest that the postmodern classroom is an emerging space of intensity for articulating endless uncertainty about both the professor's and students' positions, identities and stances."


Ha! I can just see all the serious sociology students running out of the first class screaming - and I get excited about the ones that would stay. As it stands, my fourth year students complained bitterly that what I was teaching them conflicted with what they had learned so far and my second year students begged for information about which they could be certain. I can't in good conscience correct those sort of things, but I take seriously those who had the balls to tell me that I can be confusing, intimidating and condescending. (Just don't get me started on some of the asinine comments students make on evaluations.)

The difficulty for me, it seems, is finding a balance between certainty and making it up as we go along, between abstract ideas and concrete realities, between structured and free-form teaching, between authority and camaraderie.

Friday, July 8, 2005

Socio-technical obduracy

Studying Obduracy in the City: Toward a Productive Fusion between Technology Studies and Urban Studies by Anique Hommels

"In contrast to earlier STS studies that focussed on the early stages of technological development, I propose to concentrate on conceptualizations of the process that involve the negotiations and attempts at undoing the sociotechnological status quo in a city, changing the taken-for-grantedness of its reality, and making its obduracy flexible."

In demonstrating how technologies are always already socially constructed, STS studies have too often been confused with the position that technologies are only social constructions. Hommels effectively argues that one way to emphasise the material aspects is to focus on their obduracy or resistance to change. (Imagine what it would *actually* take to replace the infrastructure that currently provides our electricity with something more sustainable.)

The notion of obduracy is inextricably connected to embeddedness - a matter of interest to any kind of computing that seeks to become part of something else, be it an event, a habit, a skirt, a chair, a building, a street, a city. As Hommels reminds us, obduracy (or embeddedness) is a relational concept:

"Because the elements of a network are closely interrelated, the changing of one element requires the adaptation of other elements. The extent to which an artifact has become embedded determines its resistance to efforts aimed at changing it."


Seems pretty straight forward, although I would oppose any notion of determinacy. I guess the important thing is that some technologies do stabilise and endure over time, just as others change or decay and slip away. In any case, Hommels describes three ways of understanding obduracy: 1) as constrained ways of thinking and acting, 2) as the close interconnectedness of social and technical elements, and 3) as the long-term persistence of tradition. Despite their differences, in each case neither structure nor agency is absolute. But if we're going to apply this to technology or cities, the three perspectives should be clarified.

I would say that current discussions of computing are dominated by the first model. Broadly interactionist in approach, Hommels associates it with the SCOT school, technological frames, paradigms and mental models. This kind of thinking can also be seen in the work of Stewart Brand, Christopher Alexander and Kevin Lynch, as well as the ethnomethodological work of Garfinkel and Goffman. I sum it up as "We shape and are shaped by our others" - a kind of discrete feedback loop that appeals to individualistic but structural and functional systems thinking, and seems particularly amenable to programming.

I think the third approach has more in common with the first, and it also appears more often in discussions of computing. Hommels associates it with the Large Technical Systems (LTS) approach in the history of science and technology, which takes a diachronic structural-functional view of society and technology while often focussing on issues of business, governance and regulation. Just think of the history of mass transportation as supersystems and megamachines, or Bill Mitchell's discussions of urban evolution, and if we put it in computer terms it is the kind of thinking behind most current discussions on privacy, surveillance and control.

In my mind, the second approach stands apart and, in certain ways, in direct opposition to the two above. Hommels associates it with Actor-Network Theory and its mutations, where non-discrete relations and mobilities are more interesting than, say, structures or functions. Although not without controversy (speaking of the obduracy of paradigms!) it is nonetheless considered a viable and productive critique of the models above. My work falls in this broad area, and it's increasingly being explored alongside more traditional approaches to understanding technology, although the sometimes incommensurable differences between the two can make this rather awkward.

Hommels concludes by arguing that none of these approaches is entirely well-suited to understanding "efforts aimed at reshaping urban technology" because they all focus on sociotechnological objects rather than sociotechnological change. I don't agree that is necessarily the case in the second approach, but in the end Hommels concedes that the first model demonstrates the importance of obduracy in design and redesign processes, the second stresses obduracy in the heterogeneity and interconnectedness of it all, and the third focusses on the role of tradition and duration in obduracy - all of which should be taken into consideration when understanding people, cities and technology.

I find the paper's focus refreshing simply because it kicks at our dreams of brave new technological worlds - both utopian and dystopian - that too rarely acknowledge what would actually have to be built or rebuilt, as well as who or what would try to stop that from happening.

See also: Ordering and Obduracy (pdf) by John Law

Thursday, July 7, 2005

London

Oh my god. I've tracked down all but a few friends, and my heart goes out to the families and friends of the dead and injured.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Several deadlines this week, so just a few markers for now:

The Artists in the Hazmat Suits
"Instead of finding ways to represent and distill life using paint or marble or pixels, the artists use life itself - bacteria, cell lines, plants, insects and even animals - as the medium to ask the questions that art has always asked."

receiver issue # 13 : Looking East
"East Asia is the most 'unwired' region in the world ... This receiver issue approaches digital mobilization the East Asian way."

New Cornell study suggests that mental processing is continuous, not like a computer.
"The theory that the mind works like a computer, in a series of distinct stages, was an important steppingstone in cognitive science, but it has outlived its usefulness... Instead, the mind should be thought of more as working the way biological organisms do: as a dynamic continuum, cascading through shades of grey." (via)

Smart Chip Checkup
"Plans for pervasive computing go way beyond tracking stock or waste flows. Futurologists and environmentalists hope it may help us create environments that are responsive to human behaviour, predicting even our needs." (via)

london. flickr. city.
Chris Heathcote geotags photos using Flickr and Google Maps.

Friday, July 1, 2005

Official Canada Day Poster 2005



Canada Day Poster Challenge

Winner: Jennifer Truong, 14 years, Regina, SK

"The hardships of the pioneers, explorers, and the First Nations led to the creation of the wonderful nation we know as Canada today."

Have a great long weekend!

Mobilities

Choice and mobility: decision making on the move (pdf) by Barry Brown

"[I]n this paper I argue that one clear confusion in the decision making literature has been over what a decision is, with decisions treated as cognitive, rather than social, objects. I argue that decisions are not made in the head, but are instead social objects which are used in relationships with others. One important use of decisions is as a device for accountability. Decisions allow us to appropriate blame or credit or, more broadly, to chain together a stream of future events with an individual or group. Decisions are an architecture for collaboration...Decisions are a key yet neglected part of mobility. Examining these movements gives us some view on how a how people make decisions about where they go. In these examples even a relatively simple decision making event is a complex negotiation and ‘working out’, where people use making a ‘decision’ as a device to share and organise the social interaction around movement...[I]n understanding mobility a valuable place to start is the interaction between choice and constraint. That is to say, how decisions are made with the constraints imposed by others, as well as the actions enabled through collaboration...Where we go is one of the most fundamental choices that we make, a decision which is frequently made with others. Uncovering how decisions are made about where we go is something that should be at the heart of research into mobility."

Interesting approach. I think it's a bit off to suggest that sociologists aren't overly concerned with individual agency - the structure/agency debate has been ongoing for decades now. Anthropologists have also suggested that a focus on individual agency is very much rooted in particular cultures and histories, and should not be applied as a universal. Furthermore, in claiming that Castells' space of flows leaves "not much room for agency", Brown is able to side-step the critique of discrete subjects and objects and return to an ethnomethodological focus on discrete actions. Although ANT's notions of interessement, translation and enrolment have their own share of problems, they can also provide a productive starting-point for understanding how we negotiate (non-discrete) relations between people, objects, ideas, actions, locations and events - including how and why we move.

The question of mobilities has perhaps been most extensively investigated by Lancaster University's Centre for Mobilities Research (see also a brief profile in TheFeature). For example, their 2004 Alternative Mobility Futures Conference brought out some really interesting work and they recently set up the Cosmobilities Network to "address social scientists, planners, engineers, and researchers interested in questions of technology, knowledge and the philosophy of science (STS)."

Laura Watts, a PhD student at Lancaster's Centre for Science Studies is also asking really interesting questions about mobile futures from an archaeological and ethnographic point-of-view: "From a record of its places, materialities and practices, what futures does a mobile telecoms industry foretell? What futures does it construct for itself? And, what other futures may be constructed from those fragments of evidence?". Her online papers on fables and myths of the mobile telecom industry are fascinating, and not least because of her creative approach to ethnographic writing. Worth a read. She also works on the CeMoRe Travel Time Use in the Information Age research project, where she investigates journeys as "translation and transition".

(Thanks to Thomas for pointing out Brown's paper and to Jorge for the Cosmobilities Network link.)

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