Friday, June 29, 2007

Assembly of First Nations - National Day of Action

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Intermediaries and interventions

Listening to a range of perspectives and interests, thinking again about angels and halos...

"The question of whether angels have gender is the most fundamental problem of contemporary societies: who will act as intermediary, and how will this person act?"

Michel Serres, in conversation with Mary Zournazi, Hope: New Philosophies for Change

See also: Hari Kunzru interviews Michel Serres


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Friday, June 22, 2007

Next stop: Banff

On Saturday I leave for my month or so at the Banff New Media Institute, where I'll be working with Sarat Maharaj, Andreas Broeckmann and a great bunch of resident artists and reseachers for the Reference Check co-production lab.

Each week I'll be facilitating a three-hour workshop on research methods and theories:

Through a set of individual and group activities and discussions, participants will be encouraged to critically explore the values and interests of different research cultures, as well as tackle questions about research collaborations and broader social and cultural ethics.

Through a set of individual and group activities and discussions, participants will be introduced to a range of concerns and issues in critical cultural studies, as well as a variety of related qualitative research methodologies.

Through a set of individual and group activities and discussions, participants will continue to engage select issues in new media and cultural studies research, as well as how different methods of qualitative inquiry can intervene in these matters.

Through a set of individual and group activities and discussions, participants will critically evaluate select approaches to research documentation, as well as both historical and emerging forms of individual and collaborative research dissemination.

And each week I'll lead (optional & weather-permitting) fieldtrips around the local area:

Meet in front of The Kiln at 9:00am, and we will walk down to the Old Banff Cemetery. Walking around this historical burial ground offers the opportunity to ask questions about spatial history, identity, embodiment, memory and materiality--as well as ways of knowing. We will have lunch at the Main Dining Room at the Banff Centre, and can resume our walk and discussion in the afternoon.

Inspired by Wrights & SitesMis-Guides series of guide-books, we will playfully explore what happens in-between a host of downtown landmarks. Meet in front of The Kiln at 9:00am, and we will walk downtown. We will take a lunch break at Wild Flour: Banff's Artisan Bakery Café in the Bison Courtyard, and can resume our walk and discussion in the afternoon.

This time we will explore the mobilities at play in the gondola ride up the mountain, on the observation deck on the summit, and along the boardwalk to Sanson's Peak and its historical weather observatory. Meet in front of The Kiln at 9:00am for van transportation to the Banff Gondola. We will have lunch in the Summit Restaurant on Sulphur Mountain, and can resume our walk and discussion in the afternoon.

On our final fieldtrip, we will temporarily immerse ourselves in the dreamscape of tourist window-shopping. Meet in front of The Kiln at 9:00am, and we will walk downtown. We will visit the Banff Book & Art Den in the morning and take a lunch break in the park. We can resume our walk and discussion in the afternoon.

I'll be documenting both the workshops and fieldtrips online, and next week I'll be posting information about all the amazing projects people are working on.

Now, maybe I should start thinking about packing...

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Memory: "not a passive storehouse of traces but an active force like will"

"An event produces an effect upon an individual which may be described by the Sanskrit word 'sanya'. This Thai word has two meanings: 'memory'; and 'contract, covenant or promise.' Both of these meanings apply in describing the effect of a given event. For example, the burned child avoids touching the stove because the pain has influenced his memory and because the experience has established a contract, covenant or promise of future burnings if the stove is touched again. If this is an ordinary child who was burned, such events may need reinforcing, and memory helps to keep the precedent alive, If on the other hand, the child is deeply mindful of the precedent, he will not need to remember and will avoid touching the stove automatically. The encouraging of automatic responses without help of memory may be seen from various further combinations of the word 'sanya': sanya wirad: an arahat or perfect being who needs no power of memory because 'he has acquired a habit of not sinning'; sanya wimok: being without power of memory, where wimok means 'freed from, escaped, delivered from human passion'. Thus the learning of automatic habits, which can be carried on beyond the guidance of conscious memory, is like a step toward the freedom of a saint on his way to Nipphan. When the Thai speak of habits (nitsaj), they are particularly conscious of these automatic, reflexive responses.

Any event, rolling on from its own precedent, depends in part upon human memory and effort. Thus memory, for the Thai, is not a passive storehouse of traces but an active force like will. But if the event depended entirely on human memory and effort, its effects would be short-lived, for man is notoriously transient. 'Sanya is the seat of memory, but the memory of human beings does not last long.' More enduring are events which, like the words of the Buddha, stir a whole society; or, like the rising of the sun, stir the entire world of man and nature. But the most enduring is virtue, and above all, this must be written into one's heart as a good habit."


Hanks, Jane Richardson. "A rural Thai village's view of human character" in Felicitation volumes of Southeast-Asian studies presented to His Highness Prince Dhaninivat Kromamun Bidyalabh Bridhyokorn...on the occasion of his eightieth birthday -- Vol. 1. Bangkok, Thailand: Siam Society, 1965.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Call For Papers: Wireless Technologies, Mobile Practices

Canadian Journal of Communication
Special Issue on: Wireless Technologies, Mobile Practices

Mobile wireless devices such as handheld pdas, cellular telephones, and portable computers are part of a changing landscape of communications and culture. In the last decade alone, for instance, the use of cell phones has increased fourfold in Canada signaling a remarkable shift in the telecommunications industry, the convergence of a number of technologies onto a single platform, and new ways of conducting person-to-person communication and creating community. In addition to these devices, Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth, WANS, and GPS comprise integrated segments of the new infrastructure of the so-called wireless world as well as an emergent vocabulary for citizens and consumers. The Canadian Journal of Communication invites submissions, in English or in French, for a forthcoming special issue on mobile communications and wireless technologies. We are interested in innovative, critical approaches that decipher a range of mobile technologies and practices in wireless contexts. Possible themes include:

- Everyday uses: sharing our lives via the mobile (text, voice, video)
- Civic engagement, activism and mobile technologies
- Wireless services and emergency communication
- Privacy, surveillance and mobile phones
- Community Wireless Networks
- Policy: CRTC regulations and spectrum policy
- Mobility, Labour: new conditions of work
- Shifting notions of space, place and time in a mobile world
- Rhetoric and discourses on mobility and wireless worlds
- Art, design and mobile technologies
- Mobile genres and cellular convergence
- Global and international perspectives on mobile technologies

Full-length papers (@ 7000-9000 words) should be submitted electronically following the guidelines laid out on the CJC submissions website. Make sure to write in all caps "MOBILE" in the Comments to the Editor field, and to include it on the cover page of your article as well. Do not include your name on the cover page.

Deadline for papers is Sept. 1, 2007 Oct. 1, 2007. Papers selected by the editors will then be sent for peer review for final decision.

Comments and queries can be sent to one of the special issue editors:

Dr. Barbara Crow, York University,
Dr. Kim Sawchuk, Concordia University,
Dr. Richard Smith, Simon Fraser University,

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Just some thoughts on breaching & bodies

One of my favourite academic journals is Body & Society, which gives great coverage to feminist concerns around biotechnology, supports my longstanding intellectual fascination with inter-sexuality and trans-sexuality, and generally keeps me questioning the boundaries of the flesh and how we treat bodies.

So when I read CASPIAN's "anti-chipping bill," a.k.a. Bodily Integrity Act, I was immediately impressed by their desire to take what is normally presented as a (purely, simply) technological issue and reframe it as a matter of breaching bodily boundaries and threatening our very wholeness and virtue as people, as human-beings.

How exciting! This question of bodily integrity provides some of the most creatively and critically engaged class discussions I experience with students each year. Normally I shy away from the claim that Art acts as a (superior?) boundary object in collaborative research projects, but it does seem to act as some sort of prosthetic in a pedagogical setting. When I've had students from more than a dozen disciplines across the arts and sciences, it's been critical art projects by the likes of Stelarc, the Biojewellery folks, Creative Art Ensemble and SymbioticA that have provided us with anchors and pivots. I think that our very best learning moments have been a lot like how Canetti describes feasts in Crowds and Power:

"There is more of everything than everyone together can consume and, in order to consume it, more and more people come streaming in. As long as there is anything there they partake of it, it looks as though there would be no end to it [...] There is no common identical goal which people have to try and attain together. The feast is the goal and they are there [...] People move to and fro, not in one direction only. The things which are piled up, and of which everyone partakes, are a very important part of the density; they are its core. They were gathered together first, and only when they were all there did people gather round them..." (Canetti 1998 [1960]:62).

We gather 'round art projects (and government policies, technological devices, etc.) and debate if and how the body is sacred, what it means to be alive or dead, at what point humans become machines and vice versa, how much tinkering with 'nature' is too much, etc. And then students actually go out and do/say/think something differently. It's quite good.

Anyway, back to CASPIAN and their protests against implanting people with RFID tags. Notice how they support existing markers like Medic Alert bracelets, and accept the tagging of pets precisely because they're not people. They clearly accept that information should be bound to certain humans and non-humans, but they want to be clear that these markers or tags should not breach the flesh. More specifically, they want to make sure that RFID tags can't be implanted in someone without their informed and written consent. In other words, No Forced Chipping! (Apparently there were some US politicians suggesting that prisoners could be exempt from this right, but that didn't really go over well.)

Now, I've often wondered why RFID manufacturers don't simply avoid this whole issue by keeping their implantable tags for livestock and domestic animals and making attachable/removable RFID for people. I mean, I highly doubt that they're interested in challenging the widely-held belief that people are special (different from animals, more important than animals even) so why don't they just make special RFID for people? Then we can all get on to the pressing matter of which people should and should not be tracked and why or why not.

I mean, until I know what it's like to wake up in the middle of the night with my child or senile parent having disappeared, I won't say that it's always a bad idea to keep track of people. What I want to talk about is all the different ways we can keep track, and what they mean more broadly. For example, what if it does become "much cheaper to dump a lot of old people in a large hospital, where they could be cared for by machines"? Is this just a slippery slope argument? And even if it is does that mean we ought to ignore it?

But this matter of breaching is even more interesting to me because I think it has incredibly far-reaching consequences. It shows us where boundaries have been and it helps us define new ones. I also know that the actual act of breaching is highly contingent upon who does the breaching. For example, I'm pretty amazed that, for legal purposes, the body is differentiated by region and the crime depends on whether or not the bodily violation is surface-related or penetrative. And when there is penetration it gets ranked; some orifices score higher than others, and creating new orifices is another category of violation entirely. All of this is further complicated by the matter of consent; some breaches are acceptable if both the breach-er and breach-ee agree, others don't require mutual consent and in some cases the act is prohibited even if people consent. And just to make things even more complex, there's the issue of different cultures and different people having different boundaries. Just think "circumcision ritual" versus "genital mutilation." Or consider the aesthetics of this awarding-winning PS2 print advert, "Scars" :

Their "Plugs" and "Moulds" ads also reconfigure human bodies in interesting ways that question not just the integrity of our flesh but also of our selves :

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