Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Society for Social Studies of Science (and a side of soft computing)

Things will be quiet around here for the next few weeks as I work madly to meet some journal and university deadlines, but I still need to migrate Space and Culture to wordpress so updates on that end are more likely. (I also still keep track of everyday life at

Thanksgiving this year falls near peak harvest time (sweet!) and we've got a visit with much-loved friends from London that will involve us traipsing all over the Gatineau Hills and Ottawa Valley before hopping on the train to Montréal.

I'll be in town for the 4S Annual Meeting, which takes place October 11-13th. If you're in Montréal then too, please give me a shout!

This will be my first 4S meeting and I'm really interested in getting a sense of the research culture. Like many professional organisations, they offer a mentoring programme that sounds like a great idea. But I keep seeing the "senior/junior scholar" distinction made, and I start to get uncomfortable. If we only exist in hierarchical relation to each other, does mentoring encourage only one-way (i.e. top-down) exchange? And how does such an organised programme differ from simply introducing oneself and having a conversation?

But mostly I mean research culture in terms of kinds of research. Epistemology geeks (including me) must be excited by the "Ways of Knowing" conference theme, which led to a stunning array of interesting topics in something like a dozen concurrent sessions. Overwhelming to say the least, but I'll do my best to blog what I see, hear and do while I'm there.

I'm also looking forward to staying with my friend Joey Berzowska, who has agreed to me interviewing her for an upcoming issue of Bitch Magazine. We'll be talking about her latest project, SKORPIONS, the intersections of technology, fashion and social critique, and what it's been like working in the male-dominated field of wearable computing. Stay tuned!

P.S. I'm looking forward to the conference and I'm happy to be a 4S member, but I gotta say that their website generally sucks and the meeting section is just painful. I mean, seriously, who thought it was a good idea to make the only version of the programme a 119-page pdf? Would it have killed the designer to create a simple html version that could give me, at a glance, a decent sense of what I can expect? And don't get me started about the registration process. Sheesh. It's all the more incomprehensible, and embarrassing, because these folks supposedly exist to foster social understandings of science and technology. Then again, maybe it's just part of the general suckiness of academic websites. University sites are often pretty good, but check out individual academics and research initiatives and you'll see what I mean.

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Teaching Carnival: Power & Everyday Life

So. The first couple of weeks of school have been a bit intense and weird, what with a brutal rape on campus and the strike and whatnot. But the picket line comes down today and everything on that end should get back to normal shortly. I really don't see how anyone could make the case that the uni doesn't effectively grind to a halt without its support staff - and it'll be great to have them back!

My Power & Everyday Life course is off to a good start, I think. Lots of people, over a dozen different disciplines, and they're engaged! Our first workshop was a way for students to get to know each other in small groups. Everyone chose the most important thing in their bag and explained to the others what it said about their personal attitudes and values. I saw lots of debit and credit cards, mobile phones (and quite a bit of concern about that being a bad thing), keys, sunglasses and even deodorant. All of this led quite nicely into discussing the assigned readings by Raymond Williams, Erving Goffman and Betty Friedan - and asking some questions about where, when and for whom is everyday life?

This week I'll be lecturing on the poetics and politics of everyday life, and the students will be discussing the revolutionary and creative potentials of subverting everyday life as well as conducting a quick-and-dirty postering campaign. I'll also get them going on their first assignment, inspired by Mass Observation. And if we're lucky, we'll have time to discuss the City of Ottawa's recent decision to put "We Support Our Troops" stickers on all municipal vehicles.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Humanities versus social sciences.


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Scientific ethics

The British government's chief scientific advisor has set out a universal ethical code for scientists.

1) Act with skill and care, keep skills up to date
2) Prevent corrupt practice and declare conflicts of interest
3) Respect and acknowledge the work of other scientists
4) Ensure that research is justified and lawful
5) Minimise impacts on people, animals and the environment
6) Discuss issues science raises for society
7) Do not mislead; present evidence honestly

Professor Sir David King: "It's important to look at the relationship between science and the public. If we have a breakthrough, and society is not accepting of that, then we have a problem; so what we need is for scientists to accept the code and follow it [...] We believe if every scientist followed the code, we would improve the quality of science and remove many of the concerns society has about research."

Lib Dem science spokesman Dr Evan Harris: "The seven points in this code are part of what separates researchers from charlatans, medicine from quackery and science from supposition."

So. It seems that scientists and policy makers are still trying to figure out what to do about fiascos like The Fall of Hwang, even if he was on to something useful.

Personally, I struggle to see how scientific authority is under serious threat from lay people - it's still scientists telling the rest of us what they should do and not the other way around - but I appreciate how a manoeuvre like this opens up the opportunity to debate what science is, and should be.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Activating new technologies

NY Times: Who Needs Hackers?

"Most of the problems we have day to day have nothing to do with malice. Things break. Complex systems break in complex ways."

"The threat is complexity itself."

"It is complexity of design and process that got us (and Murphy’s Law!). Complexity in the sense that we, the ‘software industry,’ are still naïve and forge into large systems such as this with too little computer, budget, schedule and definition of the software code."

“If you design the thing right in the first place, you can make it reliable, secure, fault tolerant and human safe. The technology is there to do this right if anybody wanted to take the effort.”

“We throw this together, shrink wrap it and throw it out there. There’s no incentive to do it right, and that’s pitiful.”

From a sociological point of view, this article is interesting because it gets at some of the tensions that shape technological innovation. In particular, there is the tendency for (software) designers to refer to some sort of autonomous (hardware) technology that exists before them, and without them, and yet requires activation by them - a phenomenon I witnessed in my dissertation research as well.

Most of the mobile media researchers and designers I spoke with described their work as possible only because particular wireless technologies, or technological capacities, already existed. At the same time, they described the value of their work in terms of finding socially compelling uses for these technologies.

While it's tempting to infer that these pre-existing technologies were considered neutral in-and-of themselves, and given meaningful qualities through use alone, all of the researchers and designers mentioned the limitations of existing technological protocols. In other words, these mobile technologies were treated more like materials for research and design, each associated with some kinds of malleability and not others.

But these attitudes still suggest that wireless technologies were considered inevitable in the sense that someone was going to create them and push them out into the world. Interestingly, no one I spoke with considered herself or himself to be that someone. Nonetheless, almost everyone described their work as something they felt compelled to do so that these technologies were rolled out in the best (according to them) ways possible.

I think there is something simultaneously technodeterministic and utopian about all this. I see it in popular discourse on ubiquitous computing in general; you know, the position that goes something like "Ubicomp is present, but it's not very good. Ubicomp is the future, but only if we design it better." In either case, the technology itself is considered inevitable, but there is still hope because it is design-able, and therefore somewhat controllable.

Now, before you think that researchers and designers suffer some sort of god-complex, everyone I spoke with also simultaneously subscribed to some variation on William Gibson's famous claim that "the street finds its own uses for things." In other words, no one was willing to suggest that they could ever totally plan, or account for, how people would actually use the stuff they make. And although it would be easy to describe this as either genuine humility or false modesty, I'm more inclined to believe that this is all part of the bigger - and often contradictory - mess of technological and social agency at play.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Long-time favourite Bitch Magazine is looking for submissions for upcoming WIRED issue:

Wired (#39, Spring 2008) The world is a wired place, whether you're wired to the Internet, wired on coffee, wired into the latest political information, or wired up on methamphetamines. With such a multiplicity of meanings for the word, the Wired issue can't help but be a fast-paced tour through some pretty varied terrain: Women in the information age, the joys and terrors of cranking up your metabolism, unplugging with the simplicity movement, the electricity of attraction, building your own circuit board.

Features are 2,000 to 3,000 words of meaty critiques, essays, and articles on pop culture from a feminist perspective. If you're familiar with Bitch, then you know what we want -sharp-eyed perspectives on pop culture and the media, brimming with your personal insight, brilliant analysis, and sparkling wit. Features vary in format: interviews, reported pieces, and critical essays are welcome, as are roundups and graphically driven formats like timelines and charts.

In addition to features, we're looking for shorter pieces for the front of the magazine. Our front-of-book section features 1000-1500-word columns on film, television, language, activism, advertising, publishing, and more, with pieces taking the form of reviews, critical essays and activist profiles. We also have a back page to fill, generally with a brief history of a pop-culture phenomenon, in our "Annals of..." column. And that's not all -- we're always on the lookout for Love It/Shove It items. Love/Shoves are short (300-500 words), and cogent analyses of the latest things that either pleased you or enraged you.

Pitch Deadline: October 1, 2007.

So many possibilities...

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Regulating new (mobile) media in Canada?

What: CRTC Public Hearing
When: Monday 17 September 2007 at 9 am
Where: Conference Centre, Phase IV, 140 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau, Québec

As the Americans make their move on net neutrality, in just over a week the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will begin the public hearing to review its "approach to ownership consolidation and other issues related to the diversity of voices in Canada".

While I find many of the related issues interesting and important, I'll be there because the CRTC "has never [before] assessed whether policies need to be in place with respect to the ownership of new media undertakings in order to ensure an appropriate diversity of voices on these important new platforms." In other words, this will be the first time that the government looks specifically at regulating new media and I want to be there.

I definitely care how the CRTC tackles the matters of net neutrality, cultural plurality, public broadcasting and how technology policy is always already cultural policy, but my current research means I'll also be paying close attention to all things mobile. Major funders for new mobile media research and development in Canada include Canadian Heritage's Canadian Culture Online programme, the Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund and smaller programmes like the NFB's mobiDOCS initiative, so I expect they'll have reps there. I also hope to see some of the folks from OCAD's Mobile Experience Lab and the various Mobile Digital Commons Network projects too. But mostly, I'm curious to see if there are any private citizen concerns.

And since I've recently been writing about the differences between mobile media and wireless technologies (like the new smart meter just installed in our house), I'm also interested in seeing how these concerns play out in relation to the Broadcasting Act's mandate that the Canadian broadcasting system "should be regulated and supervised in a flexible manner that is readily adaptable to scientific and technological change [and] does not inhibit the development of information technologies and their application or the delivery of resultant services to Canadians."

Stay tuned for more after the 17th!

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Of Art & Archaeology

Via archaeolog, here's an interesting-sounding event taking place in Dublin alongside the 6th World Archaeological Congress in June & July 2008:

Ábhar agus Meon

"We live, capriciously enmeshed in a world of things. In the process of human becoming, both artists and archaeologists, as skilled negotiators, mediators and translators of things, have opportunities to steward, provoke and subvert our intra-relationships in the shared ecologies of our world. Today, artists and archaeologists are turning towards each other to exchange experiences, narratives and revelations. This exhibition celebrates new and also longstanding relationships between art and archaeology through the practices and processes of contemporary artists.

Continuing the collaborative exhibition of contemporary art and archaeology established by the Rosc exhibitions in Ireland in the 1960s and 70s, Ábhar agus Meon turns towards the rich etymologies of the Irish language to present the challenge of negotiating, mediating and translating the relationships entwining humans and things. ‘Ábhar’ carries meanings of not only materials and matters but also subjects and themes, while ‘meon’ hints at mentality, ethos, spirit and temperament. Rather than merely asserting polarisations of mind and body, the theme Ábhar agus Meon suggests a multiplicity of intra-relationships between mutually indistinguishable conceptions of things and thoughts.

Through a curated programme of visual arts exhibits, temporary and permanent installations, performances, demonstrations, workshops, web-based exhibitions and field trips to rural arts projects, Ábhar agus Meon will explore the materials which constitute things, the tempering of materials through artistic and archaeological processes, the shared subjects of artistic and archaeological inquiry, the collaborative spirit of artistic and archaeological endeavours, the ethos of artistic and archaeological mediations, and the mentalities represented, constructed and subverted through artistic and archaeological expression."

Deadline for application 14 October 2007


Anne Galloway & Matt Ward, 2006, Locative Media As Socialising And Spatialising Practice: Learning From Archaeology, Leonardo Electronic Almanac 14(3-4)

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Locative media today

Locative Media Summer Conference
Universität Siegen
3.-5. September 2007.

Opening Speech
Greg Elmer (Toronto, CA)
Disaggregating Locative Networks

Sociotechnical Space
Joe McCarthy (Palo Alto, USA)
Friendsters at Work: Displaying Social Media Streams in the Workplace
Christoph Rosol (Weimar, D)
From Radar to Reader. The Origin(s) of RFID
Adrian Mackenzie (Lancaster, GB)
The Act of Locating Wirelessly

Mapped Space
Jeremy Crampton (Atlanta, USA)
Can Peasants Map?: Map Mashups, the Geo-Spatial Web and the Future of Information
Lev Manovich (San Diego, USA)
New Spatial Media?

Locative Media Design
Mark Bilandzic (Munich, D) & Marcus Foth (Brisbane, AUS)
CityFlocks: A Mobile System for Social Navigation in Urban Public Places
Dimitrios Charitos (Athens, GR)
Towards a Conceptual Model for Supporting the Design of Location-based Systems for Social Interaction within Urban Public Space

Locative Media Art
Patricio Davila, Geoffrey Shea & Paula Gardner (Toronto, CA)
PORTAGE: Locative Media at the Intersection of Art, Design and Social Practice
Tina Bastajian & Wanda Strauven (Amsterdam, NL)
Geo-Genealogies: Tracing the Possible Lineages of Locative Media

Locative Media Activism
Drew Hemment (Manchester, GB)
Locative Arts and Locative Activism
Mark Shepard (Buffalo, USA)
Locative Media as Critical Urbanism

Locative Media Aesthetics
Marc Ries (Leipzig, D)
Where Can I Become? Geoaesthetic Considerations on Locative Media
Miya Yoshida (Berlin, D)
Techniques of Mobility, Aesthetics of Flatness

Locative Media Wanderer
Ben Jacks (Oxford, USA)
Locative Media, Pervasive Computing, Walking, and the Built Environment

Locative Media Urbanism
Viktor Bedö (Pécs, HU)
Pattern of Locative Urban Knowledge
Katharine S. Willis (Weimar, D):
Situating Encounters
Martijn de Waal (Groningen, NL)
No more bowling alone? Locative Media and Urban Culture

Locative Media Games
Sophia Drakopoulou (London, GB)
Collective Participation and Broadcast: How Data Bound to Locality Re-appropriate Physical Space
Britta Neitzel (Siegen, D)
Location-based Games and Appropriation of Places

Some interesting stuff here, but why, oh why, is it still so hard to get academics to post things online?

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