Saturday, October 29, 2005

What locative media can learn from archaeology

One thing at a time, here's the draft version of a paper Matt Ward and I recently wrote for a Leonardo Electronic Almanac special issue on locative media. Comments are welcome.

Locative Media as Socialising and Spatialising Practices: Learning from Archaeology (pdf)

Abstract. Pervasive computing and locative media are emerging as technologies and processes that promise to reconfigure our understandings and experiences of space and culture. With the critical hand of material and cultural studies, we start to shape questions about locative media representations of urban mobilities, and begin to unearth some of the struggles and tensions that exist within these fields of operation. By looking at archaeology’s constitutive processes of collection, ordering and display we highlight some of the problems found in mapping people and objects in space and time, and ask what kinds of social/spatial relations are made possible in particular locative media projects. Ultimately, we take archaeology’s critical focus on authorship and ownership, explain its relevance to locative media, and suggest questions to consider in the future research and design of locative media.

Update 19 Nov 05 - We've now submitted our revised (shorter, tighter, better) version for publication. Stay tuned to the LEA site for the new issue.

Stiegler, mnemotechnical systems & mobility

Infomobility and Technics: some travel notes by Belinda Barnet

"For French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, one of the most important developments in recent times is the convergence between the industrial technical system, globalisation, and mnemotechnical systems like writing and photography, to form a global mnemotechnical system. This system incorporates digital information networks like the internet as well as the real-time information events of individuals. The human of the information age is dependent on this global digital retention system; they invent themselves within it. More recently, with the development of geosynchronous satellite applications like GPS, there has been an 'interweaving' of this global system with real space; the human experience of countries and regions is shaped in advance by its representations. The global mnemotechnical system reterritorialises real space...

In the first vignette, I argue that this interweaving of the global mnemotechnical system and real space reaches its zenith with mobile devices; particularly through the use of wireless information services combined with location-based services that tailor data to geographical locations. The individual's current location becomes a plane of technological inscription for this global mnemotechnical system, and the individual human becomes a series of location zones, an evolving piece of data whose information events are fed back into this digital retention system...In the second vignette I argue that this global digital retention system also bears witness to an event having taking place; until an event has been captured, shared and distributed across the network via mobile phone, it has not taken place. When human beings are separated from the devices that grant them access to the global mnemotechnical system, from both the archive of their own lives and the collective record, they experience anxiety. Our relationship with mobile devices constitutes a tension, a tension I explore in the final vignette."


Stiegler's The global mnemotechnical system

Stiegler's Technics and Time 1

The Ister, a film in which Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy and others discuss Heidegger's thought. See this excerpt of The Ister for a partial transcription of Stiegler's discussion.

Friday, October 28, 2005



From the book of pallalink


Update Nov 1/05: Brad Todd has been working with similar ideas and techniques for the past couple of years as well, so if you like stuff like this, be sure to check out his pictures too. Brad also teaches at Concordia, and one of his current courses, The Digital Nomad, offers a veritable wealth of links on mobile tech and art.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Transduction & protocol

Since my presentation in Edmonton was about pervasive computing, transduction and protocol, and I still haven't managed to get it online, I thought I'd quickly point to some related reading:

Steven Shaviro writes on Simondon on technology and individuation

Mark Hansen on Deleuze and Simondon on internal resonance

Multitudes 18 (2004): Politiques de l’individuation. Penser avec Simondon.

Adrian Mackenzie at Lancaster

Glen Fuller reads and comments on Mackenzie's Transductions

Mackenzie on Protocols and the irreducible traces of embodiment: the Viterbi algorithm and the mosaic of machine time (pdf)

Alex Galloway at NYU

Steven Shaviro reviews Galloway's Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization

Jason Lesko also reviews Protocol

Village Voice: This Is Freedom? NYU prof Alexander Galloway unmasks the inner workings of computer networks

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Reflections on Edmonton and cultural studies in Canada, online and abroad

I can't believe that five days have passed and that I head home in the morning...

The CACS conference was interesting, but I was surprised to see that so much research still focusses on questions of race, class and gender - or culture, power and history. It's not that those are boring or irrelevant issues, but I think that we still need to focus on developing new questions and methodologies instead of only kickin' it old school. I was also a bit surprised at the general lack of focus on anything to do with new media or technology. In any case, I heard several very good papers and was much impressed by the quality of graduate student research, especially at U of A. Of special note is the work of Ondine Park on suburbs and Erin Kruger on security, but neither of them have a web presence that I can highlight (hint, hint, girls). Special thanks also have to go to Matt Tiessen and Phil Boyle (see above hint) for providing such excellent company, and to Joost Van Loon and Penelope Ironstone-Catterall for their consistently brilliant intellectual commentary and wicked humour.

Today has been spent working on my thesis with Rob and I can now head back for the final stretch with a renewed sense of focus and self-worth. Phew. I'm also really pleased to say that the space and culture weblog will be (re)vitalised by the likes of Joost, Matt, Phil and others in the coming days and weeks. In fact, Joost has already made some interesting comments on Durkheim and Katrina and Matt managed to squeeze in a post before taking off for Europe to become our Lyon correspondent.

I've got midterm exams and some essays to mark when I get home, so it may stay a bit quiet for a few days as I get that sorted. Also on the horizon: I leave for London and Berlin on Nov 5, so if you're around and want to share a pint, just let me know.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cultural studies in Edmonton

I hated having to choose between the Society for Social Studies of Science Conference and the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies Conference, but I'll go to the 4S conference in Vancouver next year and now I'm happily off to Edmonton to present a paper, chair a session, and work through a couple of dissertation obstacles with Rob. More as it happens.

Science vs. Not-Science

NY Times: Scientists Bridle at Lecture Plan for Dalai Lama

"He has been an enthusiastic collaborator in research on whether the intense meditation practiced by Buddhist monks can train the brain to generate compassion and positive thoughts. Next month in Washington, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak about the research at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

But 544 brain researchers have signed a petition urging the society to cancel the lecture, because, according to the petition, 'it will highlight a subject with largely unsubstantiated claims and compromised scientific rigor and objectivity'...

'If one reads the published scientific literature, it is not difficult to see that this claim is far from being proven. It will not hurt if the public also realizes that some researchers are declared believers playing dual roles as advocates and researchers'."

This is definitely an article to save for class next term as it rather nicely highlights the ways in which science positions itself against not-science. According to Popper and others, objective or scientific knowledge is understood to be distinct or separate from personal reflection or feelings, whereas subjective or non-scientific knowledge is considered to be biased, irrational or ideological. On the other hand, Kuhn argues that scientific method is a social enterprise where scientific worldviews are collectively agreed upon and changed, and Longino pushes even further by claiming that "it is, of course, nonsense to assert the value-freedom of natural science. Scientific practice is governed by norms and values generated from an understanding of the goals of scientific inquiry ... and contextual values [that] belong to the social and cultural environment in which science is done."

This starts to get at how the radical contingency of science solidifies through processes of excluding whatever is not-science. Typically, whether we talk of science or technology, we say that people shape and are shaped by them. (This comes from the hylomorphic distinction between form and matter, or appearance and essence.) But in this model there is no way of accounting for ongoing processes of formation through which the surfaces and boundaries of science and not-science, or technology and not-technology, are stabilised. A more transductive (following Simondon and Deleuze) account denies that there is something essentially human and something essentially scientific or technological that meet each other in-the-world. Instead, what is 'human' and what is 'science' or 'technology' achieves "internal resonance" not because it exists in relation to something else, but because "individuation is the 'theatre or agent' of an interactive communication between different orders." In other words, the signifiers 'science' or 'technology' do not refer to any single signified or semiotic substance. Instead of understanding technology or science as universal (necessary, inevitable, etc.), I'm interested in how they can be understood as singular and contingent, or how they become 'technology' and 'science' in particular and variable ways.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

CFP: reviewing humanness

EASST 2006: Reviewing Humanness: Bodies, Technologies and Spaces
Lausanne, Switzerland, 23-26 August, 2006

"What is it to be human today ? Human 'nature' is made and re-made by ideas and practices assembling bodies, technologies, and spaces. Three processes in particular seem to be transforming the very notion of humanness:

1. it is reconfigured by the life sciences, from genetics to neurobiology, with the invention of new forms of human corporeity. Within contemporary philosophy and STS literature, this is associated with conceptual changes, displacing traditional binaries such as human/animal, animal/machine, nature/technology, mind/body towards all kinds of hybrids.

2. it is reassigned to and redistributed throughout sociotechnical networks and artifacts. In other words, the notion of humanness is rethought; it is considered no longer to be enclosed within the human subject, but instead disseminated in and through human-made objects and technological systems.

3. it is rescaled by the increase in transnational connections and the development of a cosmopolitan imaginary. The increase of spatial mobility (international migration, tourism, professional travel, etc.) and information flows, 'stretching' social relations across space, have reterritorialized, and in the best cases broadened, our conceptions of humanness.

The conference organisers invite contributions that address both a general conceptualization of humanness and these three particular processes.

The further aim of this conference is to address the political (in the broad sense of the term) dimension of a reviewed humanness. The re-fabrication of humanness is not only an academic thought-experiment but a daily life experience, and sometimes an object of concern, for society as a whole. The organisers therefore also invite contributions specifically focusing on the politicisation of contemporary humanness."

Session and Paper Deadline 16 December, 2005

CFP: technologies of memory

Technologies of Memory in the Arts
International Conference May 19-20, 2006
Radboud University Nijmegen Nederlands

"As a shared artistic and social practice, cultural memory links the present to the past. In doing so, cultural memory has strong ethical and political aspects. The arts are continuously engaged in non-linear processes of remembering and forgetting, characterised by repetition, rearrangement, revision, and rejection. In artistic representations new memories are thus constantly constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed by narrative strategies, visual and aural styles, intertextuality and intermediality, representations of time and space, and rituals of remembrance. These complex processes of representation are what we understand by the term 'technologies of memory'.

The contemporary fascination with history and memory is accompanied by developments in media technology that have simultaneously a petrifying and a virtualising effect. Both individual and cultural memory are increasingly mediated by modern technologies, which means that memories are not only recorded and recollected by media, but are also shaped and produced by them. The digital media, in particular, allow for new ways of storing, retrieving and archiving personal and collective memories, as well as cultural artefacts.

The conference Technologies of Memory in the Arts specifically addresses the material construction of cultural memory. It aims to explore procedures of memory in both traditional and new media as well as to investigate the role of digitalisation of art and culture in relation to memory. Generally, its focus is on the materiality of representation and on the relation between the medium and the construction of cultural memory."

Deadline proposals for panels and papers: November 1, 2005

See also:

Book review of Marc Augé's Oblivion

"[F]or Augé, memory is intertwined with oblivion. In the same way that the rhythm of life depends upon a recognition of the inevitability of death, memory acquires its meaning through the possibility of its own annihilation, and is shaped by its own dissolution. Memory, then, does not acquire its substance through the choice introduction of positive content, but rather through the gardening and 'pruning' performed by oblivion..."

PLSJ: Towards The Forgetting Machine

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Touching research

Timo Arnall has a new blog for his Touch research project on user-centred approaches to Near Field Communication (NFC) at the Interaction Design department at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

"NFC is interesting for us because it enables connections between mobile phones and real-world objects: bridging the gap between the real and the virtual. The project offers the possibility of radically simplifying existing applications and providing a new spectrum of local services through the mobile phone...Touch is not a pure technology project; NFC platforms and specifications are already well developed and documented. Instead we are taking a user-centred approach, and focusing on the social motivations behind the use of technology. With this process it will hopefully uncover unexpected uses, and significant untapped markets for the technology."

As I get a glimpse of the potential from my dissertation project, I can't wait to do more in-depth studies of researchers and designers. With each project description I read, I find myself doing quick-and-dirty deconstructions. For example, in Timo's above there is an assumption that mobile phones are different from "real-world objects", that there is a "gap between the real and the virtual", and that "use" and "services" can be profitably abstracted from "pure technology". (And that doesn't even begin to unravel the cultural connotations of "touch" itself.)

But it's also been my experience that researchers often over- or under-state their position in project descriptions. Since these descriptions often have the purpose of securing and maintaining support, they act as a sort of product sales pitch that is necessarily pithy but not entirely representative of the process at hand. In any case, this tension between product and process in research and design is quite interesting, and especially so when considered in its material, political and ethical forms.

For Design Engaged next month I'll be doing a show-and-tell activity through the lens of critical material culture studies and Latour's 'Parliament of Things'. This comes out of my recent experiments in bringing my background in archaeology to bear on questions around emerging technologies, and I take some inspiration from Timothy Webmoor's interesting research on social software, science studies and mediating archaeology.

See also:

Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy.

Jane Bennett, In Parliament with Things (pdf)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Work sucks: thoughts on the affect of efficiency

Every so often I recall moments of existential angst I experienced 15, 20, 25 years ago and it sets me off in search of the philosophy and politics of life itself. In these moments I allow myself to be fully persuaded by poetry and emotion. I actively seek out where the "sphere of work and reason breaks down" and I revel in being "unemployed because of recognized insufficiency of loyalty to a regime which I could not love". But then, more often than not, I am kidnapped by the forces of productivity and made to be more efficient. In these moments, every bit of my body screams.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What's in a name?

NY Times: In the Classification Kingdom, Only the Fittest Survive

"Between 1.5 million and 2 million species have been named, and a deluge of what could be millions more appears imminent. As a result, scientists have once again been seized by 18th-century paroxysms of fear that the field of classification could descend into chaos with precious information lost. For while the Linnaean method for organizing life is still followed and has held up well, no one oversees what has become the rapid and sometimes haphazard proliferation of species names...

But while scientists agree that the proliferation is out of control, there is no consensus on who should be in control. And every new initiative has a different flavor and agenda. ZooBank, for example, proposes serving not only as a list keeper but also as gatekeeper, becoming the only official registry of animal names and mandating that all animal names receive ZooBank approval before being considered legitimate, ensuring that all animal names follow the rules of the nomenclature commission's code. BioCode, in contrast, proposes that botanists and zoologists each give up the separate parochial codes of naming they've developed and instead adopt a new universal BioCode, the first step in creating a single, unified registry of life. Then there's uBio, which has sidestepped the question of codes and regulations altogether and instead aims to record every single name ever used for any organism, scientific or common, correct or incorrect, down to the last variation and misspelling, as a way of linking all information ever recorded about an organism together."

Fascinating. The underlying assumption in each case is that information that cannot be found is effectively lost. But classification is about more than search-ability. As the BioCode proponents elaborate:

"Biological nomenclature is not an end in itself. It is not even a part of scientific endeavour; it is, rather, a regulatory system that seeks to serve the needs of science."

I'd argue that nomenclature is actually an integral part of scientific endeavour, but for now I'm more interested in what are considered to be the needs of science. Their list includes securing funding and getting away from "fragmented images" and "apparent divisiveness". In other words, to present a unified front that can be easily circumscribed and supported.

I appreciate the practicality of the BioCode approach, but I think uBio does a better job of representing the actual processes of scientific sorting. After all, by including any and all of the names used over time, nomenclature and taxonomy do not appear so objective, natural or true for all time and space. Instead, the naming of things is revealed to be something that actually happens on the ground, according to particular contexts and objectives, and changes over time. Most notably in relation to the other approaches, it does nothing to hide fragmentation and divisiveness within expert knowledge.

In my mind, the most important issue is not whether things are classified from the top-down or bottom-up, but rather if people have the means to access and (re)use multiple classification schemes over time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Thanksgiving was really good but then I checked my rss feeds this morning and wondered when all this Web 2.0 asshattery is going to end. Money and ego make for such dull conversation. In other news, as many as 50 million will flee environmental degradation in five years' time. How's that for mobility?! And speaking of the mobile, Rob is at Brunel today talking about airports, communications and mobility. I keep retouching my paper about RFID and other technologies that are virtually everywhere but actually somewhere, and Matt and I finished our article on archaeology and locative media. I'll try to put copies online soon. No class this week because of the holiday, but there are essays to mark. And I have six parcels and four letters that need to be posted today.

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Quick links

From Science Bistro / The Culture of Science comes this must-keep-for-class post on how the science lab needs its own reality TV show, but this physicist just makes me nervous.

Wired News reports on a new Christian book about the Evil RFID Empire, and then weirds me out by reminding me how the popular press indirectly changes US policy.

Friday, October 7, 2005

Designing revolution

Reflections from the Field: Critical Design Ethnography: Designing for Change (pdf), Barab et al., 2004

"Our process involves four interrelated stages: (1) developing a 'thick description' of one or more context(s) - this involves prolonged engagement as participant observer and blurring lines between researcher and researched; (2) developing a series of social commitments that have local and global significance - this involves co-construction of meanings and beliefs in some universals; (3) reifying these understandings and commitments into a design - this involves participatory design and co-evolution that is never quite complete; and (4) scaling up and reinterpretation to multiple contexts - this involves flexible design and continual adaptation."

Proceedings of Reflective HCI: Towards a Critical Technical Practice (pdf)


I don't think we can get anywhere without definitions of critical design or design critique, but I just want revolutionary design, damn it!

Social Design Notes: Design Insurgency

Art Against Empire (On Alliez & Negri's 'Peace and War'), Alberto Toscano, TCS 2003


Revolutionary Art by Emory Douglas

The Revolution Will Be Visualized: Emory Douglas in the Black Panther by Colette Gaiter (Bad Subjects 2004)

"[E]ven though they graphically portrayed injustices and indignities, Douglas's messages were essentially hopeful. These posters were not meant for the mainstream public, or those inflicting the misery, but gave people suffering in ghettos assurance that the Panthers were working to help them improve their lives permanently. J. Edgar Hoover was correct in a sense. The Panthers' message was a direct and serious threat to the capitalist status quo. The danger was not that the group would manage an armed coup and take over the government. Empowering people to stop facilitating their own oppression was far more frightening."

Hey Mister, What You Doing To The Poor Man, Lord Knows You Oughta Quit It.

Visualizing a Revolution: Emory Douglas and The Black Panther Newspaper (Voice 2005)

"Conceptually, Douglas's images served two purposes: first, illustrating conditions that made revolution seem necessary; and second, constructing a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized."

I, Gerald Ford, am the 38th Puppet of the United States

Position Paper #1 on Revolutionary Art (pdf)
by Emory Douglas, 1968

"Revolutionary Art gives a physical confrontation with tyrants, and also enlightens the people to continue their vigorous attack by educating the masses through participation and observation. Through the Revolutionary Artist's observations of the people, we can picture the territory on which we live...The ghetto itself is the gallery for the Revolutionary Artist's drawings. His work is pasted on the walls of the ghetto; in storefront windows, fences, doorways, telephone poles and booths, passing buses, alleyways, gas stations, barber shops, beauty parlors, laundromats, liquor stores, as well as the huts of the ghetto. This way the Revolutionary Artist educates the people as they go through their daily routine, from day to day, week to week, and month to month."

To All Progressive Artist [sic] Who Are Struggling Against the Racist US Government (pdf) by Emory Douglas, 1970


Design Observer: On Citizenship and Humanity: An Appeal for Design Reform

Design Observer: Where Are the Design Critics?

Mike Kuniavsky
: "Design, to me, is the process of projecting the explorations of science, art and industrial production onto everyday life in a way that uses those discoveries to enhance people's lives in an immediate and tangible way. That covers a lot of ground, but it kinda requires that there be some immediate real utility, which critical design seemingly intentionally avoids."

descrit | the space for design critique


PLSJ: Living versus looking (Nov 04)

PLSJ: Ubicomp and Situationism (Jul 04)


Thursday, October 6, 2005

Like a girl

I think Alphonso Lingis writes like a girl and I love it. Peter Jackson thinks his scholarship is pervish, ethnocentric and sloppy. This may very well be true by anthropological standards, but I don't think he understands Lingis' phenomenological project. In any case, Lingis responds and I still think he writes like a girl and I still love it.

Space and identity

going somewhere?

"The process of identification is first of all a process of spatialization. The paradox of identity is that you must travel to disclose it. The Same can be recognised on condition that it be an Other. It is identical to its concept in so far as it is elsewhere, not very far but somewhere else, requiring the little move. Now discovering his or her identity is framing the space of that identity. Identity is not a matter of physical or moral features, it is a question of space. Spatialization presents by its own virtue the identity of the concept to its flesh. It ensures that things and people stay at 'their' place and cling to their identity."

(Jacques Ranciere, "Discovering new worlds: politics of travel and metaphors of space", in Travellers's Tales, 1994)

I really miss Jean's voice, but can't get upset when she introduces me to someone as interesting as Aren Aizura. I'm really looking forward to this blog.


Jessica Sewell's 2002 Gender, Sexuality, and the City course syllabus from NYU

Sarah Schmidt's 'PRIVATE' ACTS IN 'PUBLIC' SPACES: Parks in Turn-of-the-Century Montreal

Things they never warn you about in grad school and they really should # 453

When teaching in a large lecture theatre on a hot day, looking up at a sea of students, one can, in fact, verify that most young women who wear short skirts also wear white cotton panties with flowers on them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Urban cultures and space operas

I've finally gotten my paper revisions completed and my Urban Cultures course figured out. (Comments are welcome.) I even managed to apply for a couple of jobs and catch Serenity. (It's not as clever as Firefly but it's still good, the chicks are still cool and the Reavers are still scary.) It's also October and 26°C. Life is good.

Blog changes

I'm trying out the full (well, slightly tweaked) Blogger experience. We've done the same at space and culture. Honestly, I just want something that is effortless. I'm hoping that we'll see less spam this way, but Blogger doesn't let me import the several years' conversations and comments that we've already accumulated. They're saved, of course, but effectively inaccessible at the moment. I don't know what to do about that. But yes, I think this will do just fine for now.

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