*Update* Maps, Kettles and Inflatable Cobblestones: The Art of Playful Disruption in the City

Back in February I posted an article I wrote for Novara Wire on protest mapping. In it I mentioned I had a forthcoming article in a themed issue of Media Fields on ‘Spaces of Protest’. Since I mentioned it the issue still isn’t live is now live. Until that time I’ve decided to upload the pre-publication author copy to The full version is now on my ‘selected publications’ page. If anyone is so kind as to reference it please do so as: ‘S. Hind (forthcoming, 2015) Please reference as normal. I’ll post a link to the entire theme issue when it goes live – hopefully sometime soon. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the other contributions.

In short the paper is on ‘the art of playful disruption’, and attempts to draw some connections between Situationism and recent playful, urban protest events involving ‘maps, kettles and inflatable cobblestones’. I argue that these are ‘urban embodiments of jouissance, playful articulations of political matters’.

I make this case with reference to Alice Becker-Ho and Guy Debord’s A Game of War (1987) strategy game – something I’ve mentioned briefly on this blog before, in November 2013. Rather than go over (once again) some of the classics of Situationism, I’ve drawn on A Game of War because, as I’ve suggested in the article, it ‘was the closest any Situationist work had got to actually devising a practically and tactically useful guide to territorial engagement’. That it did so via the medium of a board game is ‘testament to the movement’s enduring playfulness’.

Two case studies testify to this continuing sensibility. One concerns a smartphone app created by student activists in London in 2010, another centres on the design of so-called ‘inflatable cobblestones’ by the Eclectic Electric Collective (now Tools for Action). Again, I’ve mentioned both previously: here and here (in relation to the Disobedient Objects exhibition). Needless to say I find both quite wonderful examples of what Graham St. John (2008: 172) has called ‘carnivalesque hacking’, i.e. a way to ‘provide creative possibilities’ to ‘deliberately danger the smooth running’ of otherwise sanitized and restricted protest events.

The cobblestone of course has deep links to urban revolt, and specifically to Situationist rebellion, echoed in the famous evocative call of “Sous les pavés, la plage!” (“Under the cobblestones, the beach”). The design of glossy, enlarged, inflatable cobblestones for the purposes of contemporary protest gestures towards this history, but also subverts it in its obvious fragility. As police officers – disarmed by the frivolity an inflatable object brings to a protest demonstration – attack, deflate and confiscate the cumbersome objects it mocks and ridicules them. Watching a police officer attempting to attack an inflatable with a weapon is, well, rather funny, if not wholly farcical. Thus laying bare the unnecessary force of the state for all to see. Each example ‘depends on the successful mobilization of ludic action’. In other words, on the ‘playful articulation of political matters’.

Digital mapping as double-tap: cartographic modes, calculations and failures

Somerset SPOT 5 EA Jan 11 2014

I have a new co-authored, open access article (with Sybille Lammes) recently out in Global Discourse. Entitled ‘Digital mapping as double-tap: cartographic modes, calculations and failures’, the paper is a constructive reading of Bruno Latour’s latest project: An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME) from a critical cartographic perspective. It should be part of a special forthcoming issue on AIME, although at the moment it sits orphaned under ‘latest articles’.

It aims to do a few things. In the first instance it’s a reading of AIME in relation to Latour’s previous cartographic work. That is, his Visualization and Cognition chapter (1986), the Paris: Invisible online project (2006), the co-authored article with Valerie November and Eduardo Camacho-Hubner (2010) and various other texts in which he’s employed some kind of cartographic metaphor or narrative in order to construct, elucidate or strengthen a conceptual argument. We think it’s worth re-visiting and re-analyzing them in light of the mapping stories that litter AIME.

Secondly it’s a constructive critique of AIME. In particular, it aims to strengthen Latour’s account of the moderns, by re-framing the double-click mode (introduced in previous articles, but foregrounded in AIME) as double-tap. Although this may seem like an inconsequential revision, the tweak in terminology allows Latour (and others) to actually further strengthen a conceptual argument concerning access and knowledge to the world. With the rise of ‘double-tap’ devices – touchscreen phones, tablets and other such technologies – talk of ‘double-clicking’ sounds oddly outdated.

Then we look to how thinking in different modal registers – ontological, cartographic and methodological – can help us to identify the ‘operative elements’ in different mapping enterprises. As critical cartographers have also talked of ‘modes’, we’ve drawn connections between Latour’s ontologically-pluralist variant, Matthew Edney’s cartographic version and Chris Perkins’ methodological one. Whilst there are huge differences between the three, we think this can serve as a kind of matrix for thinking about mapping endeavours – whatever they may be.

In the final section of the article we work with the above to expand on Latour’s conceptual legacy within critical cartography (the use and re-use of various terms including: immutable mobility, inscription, calculation etc.), to suggest another productive path: through cartographic failures rather than successes. Two cases – a flood event (image above) and a protest demo – are introduced to provide evidence for this methodological re-emphasis. Whilst Latour is keen to stress the contingency of socio-technical systems, we argue that there is still comparatively little space given in his many texts for failed projects (Aramis notwithstanding). In short, we think failure – and specifically failure in cartographic systems – needs to be attended to more thoroughly. This is a modest attempt to do just that.

‘Print this Map. Get off the Internet. Take to the Streets’: 5 of the Left’s Best Mapping Moments

utopia-map

Mapping and activism have a long history. In the final days of the Paris Commune the military advances of the Versailles army were mapped on a daily basis as the revolutionaries sought to keep them at bay. Fast forward nearly 100 years and the Situationists were once again mapping Paris in altogether more abstract ways – this time to resist the advances of the modern city. In more recent times we’ve seen the rudimentary mapping of protest camps in Madrid, New York and Hong Kong.

The above is from another article I wrote for Novara Wire. This time on mapping and activism. There’s at least one in there that critical cartographers should be familiar with (Detroit) and a few more they may not be. It’s hardly a definitive list but just a couple I think crystallize some of the political issues the left has dealt with historically, notably race relations, anti-globalization, immigration/detention and student activism. The maps themselves aren’t particularly radical in the sense of production and style, I’d argue, but they certainly contain radical content. Moreover, all were produced by extra-state, autonomous actors – historically those without the power to map.

If you want a little more on the intersection between mapping and activism there’s plenty to go at. A recent open-access article [PDF] by Rhiannon Firth (UEL) in Interface is fantastic, and draws on the wonderful map archive at the 56A Infoshop in Southwark to argue for an ‘anarchist pedagogy’.

On the notion of ‘radical cartography’ I’d suggest reading Mark Denil’s critical piece in Cartographic Perspectives, as it seeks to explore what radicality really means in relation to mapping practice. He also suggests the Fürth map I selected has a radicality due to it ‘cutting across the cartographic schema itself’. In other words, it pushes the boundaries of what a map is, and can be. Hackitectura‘s work does similarly.

The final map I chose (‘Sukey takes it off again’) is the subject of my PhD work, and I have an upcoming article in a special issue (‘Spaces of Protest’) of Media Fields on the connection between it and playful protest action. I’ll post a link when it’s live.

Playing with Protest / Call for Research Participants

**Please circulate widely**

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The project is actively recruiting research participants who plan to attend either (or both) upcoming protest events in London, UK:

  • BRITAIN NEEDS A PAYRISE demonstration organized by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on Saturday 18th October 2014. More details can be found here: http://britainneedsapayrise.org/
  • FREE EDUCATION: NO FEES. NO CUTS. NO DEBT demonstration organized by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) on Wednesday 19th November 2014. More details: http://anticuts.com/

The expectation is that (a) participants are committed to attending either or both of the above events, (b) they are willing to record their involvement using a personal video camera or other device (smartphone etc.), (c) desire to be interviewed on the footage at a later date, and (d) be willing for the recorded data to be used in further analysis across the course of the Playing with Protest research project.

Any and all attendees are welcome to sign-up. Participants with specific mobility needs are especially encouraged to get in contact. There is no expectation that participants walk or otherwise participate in the ‘official’ routes/route lengths in its entirety.

More details will be given to prospective participants once they have signed-up. To do so, please fill in the contact form on the Participation Sign-up page on the Playing with Protest website. If you have any questions regarding ethics, practicalities, technology use or other such issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email at: s.m.hind@warwick.ac.uk.

http://playingwithprotest.wordpress.com/

Call for Papers: The Politics of Failure (AAG 2015)

Call for Papers: The Politics of Failure 
Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting
21-25 April 2015
Chicago 

Organizers: Sam Hind, University of Warwick and Clancy Wilmott, University of Manchester

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”
Samuel Beckett (1983)

Although there has been a significant literature on the topic of failures – of design and engineering (Petrovski, 2013), of infrastructure (Graham, 2010), of architecture (van lersal et al. 2014), of technology (Virilio, 2007), of machines (Graham and Thrift, 2007), of economics (Rutherford and Davison, 2012) – there has been less attention given to the concept of failure itself.

Failure is a remarkably commonplace occurrence. Failures disrupt the otherwise smooth flow of bodies, objects and other things and can arise in the banal. Navigation devices ‘fail’ when signal is lost. Social movements ‘collapse’ when individuals fail to mobilize. Redevelopment plans ‘stall’ when market conditions change. Designs are ‘follies’ when they fail in their intentions. The state of failure, therefore, is also one of implied negativity – an event that signals misjudgement, decline, deterioration and defeat.

Can failure, then, be recast as a valuable epistemological state? In what ways does failure allow us to think laterally, experimentally and perhaps even radically as researchers and producers of knowledge? Put otherwise, as we invite potential participants to address, can knowledge be more novel, ‘valuable’ or emancipatory in failure than in success? How can failure interrogate, obscure or reinforce the systems, representations, processes, ideologies, actors, discourses, experiences, apparatuses and politics in the world?

This session seeks contributions that approach failure from a critical and philosophical perspective, that challenge, critique or explicate the nature of failure in relation to spaces or spatial processes. Such contributions should aim to move beyond the axioms of failure as a negative and destructive process, and vie away from purely ‘iconic…disruptions’ (Graham 2009) to take account of the plethora of fails, glitches and errors that emerge through everyday practices, spaces and texts. Papers that work towards reconceptualizing and reimagining failure as a political state, which offers an alternative way of understanding the world, are especially welcome.

We invite submissions from a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives, and are open to a wide range of topics. Themes may include (but are not limited to):

  • Failure of technology platforms (Apple Maps etc.)
  • Failure of knowledge-production/collaboration
  • Spaces of failure/space for failure
  • Critical connections between disruption, disobedience and other forms of resistance
  • Failure and technology start-up culture
  • ‘Glitch’ aesthetics and visual failures as playful, creative
  • Interface ‘errors’ and the ‘blackboxing’ of failure
  • Failure as methodology/epistemology
  • Epistemic breaks as failures
  • Failure of urban visions (Modernism, ‘smart’ or ‘resilient’ cities etc.)
  • Immanence and anticipation of ‘future failures
  • Experimentation, risk and failure
  • Failure as tactic/tactical
  • Failure as mode of existence
  • Communication failures
  • The ethical implications of ‘failure-thinking’
  • Failure(s) in research

We welcome abstracts of 250 words (max) via email to Sam (s.m.hind@warwick.ac.uk) and Clancy (clancy.wilmott@manchester.ac.uk) by October 16th, 2014. Please include a title for your submission, name of author(s) and a short bio. Final notification will be received by October 20th, 2014.

References
Graham, S. (2010). Disrupted cities: when infrastructure fails. New York, Routledge.
Graham, S. and Thrift, N. (2007). ‘Out of Order: Understanding Repair and Maintenance’. Theory, Culture & Society. 24 (3), 1-25.
Petroski, H. (2013). Success through failure: the paradox of design. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Rutherford, J. and Davison, S. (2012). The Neoliberal Crisis. London, Soundings/Lawrence and Wishart.
Van Iersel, M et al. (2014). Failed Architecture (website),www.failedarchitecture.com [accessed 14 September, 2014]. Virilio, P (2007). The Original Accident. Cambridge, UK, Polity.

Call for Book Chapters: ‘Temporality and Digital Mapping’

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Editors: Sybille Lammes, Chris Perkins, Nanna Verhoeff, Sam Hind, Alex Gekker, Clancy Wilmott.

Call for Chapters

Digital mapping, though generally conceived as a spatial activity, is as strongly grounded in time. With the digital era disintegrating representational fixity, scholars, adept at grappling with the spatial implications of digitality, continue to struggle to conceptualize and communicate the temporal consequences of maps that shift with each moment.

In this peer-reviewed collection we seek to take up Doreen Massey’s (2005: 107) still critical concern: how do we cope with the ‘ongoing stories’ in the world. Mapping has long wrestled with the difficulty of enrolling time into such narratives. This collection aims to examine how this is impacted by the presence of digital mapping technologies that, arguably, have disrupted our understanding of time as much as they have provided coherence.

We are looking for contributions that move beyond the descriptive to pay particular attention to what might be called the ‘critical dynamics’ of time. Examples of such approaches may include drawing on phenomenology and the body (Massumi, Merleau-Ponty, Husserl), theorizing play and ludic devices (Huizinga, Caillois), employing network/assemblage thinking (Latour, De Landa), reading such concerns through philosophers of technology (Stiegler, Simondon etc.). In each case contributions should focus on, or cross-cut between , digital maps, digital mapping or digital locative-media.

We encourage contributions on a range of themes:

  • Rhythm (mapping and/or analysis of rhythm(s)
  • Inscription, folding or layering of temporality
  • ‘Real-time’ data visualization
  • Playing with mapping time
  • Urban ‘ghostings’ or hauntings
  • Surveillant temporalities
  • The temporality of designing maps.
  • Present absences / absent presences
  • Methodologies of temporal recovery / analysis
  • Changing everyday digital mapping cultures
  • Political valence of temporal dynamics
  • ‘Capturing’ and the flows of everyday life
  • Affective technologies and the half-second delay
  • (Digital) mapping moments or events
  • Fast/slow cartographies
  • Temporal dashboards
  • Play time
  • Attention, interest and changing modes of temporal production
  • Temporality at the interface: haptic and participatory presence
  • Interfaces and digital ‘feeds’ / content immediacy
  • The blackboxing of temporality
  • Futures and/or loss of futurity
  • Spatial stories and narrative cartographies
  • Embodied mapping practice
  • Temporality of creative processes
  • Designing time
  • Temporal complexities

We invite contributions from range of methodological, theoretical and practical vantage points, and are particularly interested in bringing together a variety of approaches, from junior and senior researchers, and from diverse disciplinary backgrounds.

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Please send a full chapter of between 4000 and 8000 words (Chicago manual of style), with a short biography of 100 words by 18 December 2014 to: chartingthedigital@gmail.com. We use Easychair as our submission system:

https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=chatemp2014

For other inquiries please contact: chartingthedigital@gmail.com.

PDF version. Word version.

‘Feminist Geographies of New Spatial Media’

An important article on the gender inequalities of ‘new spatial media’ by Agnieszka Leszczynski and Sarah Elwood has just been published in The Canadian Geographer.

The strength of it is in the number of rich case studies provided. The gendered nature of OSM gatekeeping and moderation is a critical but so far underexplored dimension. As they rightly identify, open-source narratives merely mask the gendered roles at play, and their analysis of a debate over childcare typologies on the platform, for example, is frightfully revealing.

In the example they use, OSM moderators did not believe three separate types of amenity were necessary for could broadly be conceived as kinds of  ‘child-care’. An editorial board rejected the more specific ‘childcare’ as an separate category, despite neither the existing ‘kindergarten’ nor ‘baby hatch’ categories aptly denoting the function of a childcare type. Commonly, this would amount to a space or place designed to look after older children, perhaps doubling-up as an ‘after-school’ club of some kind. Kindergarten is typically for young children (say, before school age – whatever that may constitute), whilst baby hatches are safe places where parents (usually mothers) can leave babies anonymously with the hope they are cared for. They might, for instance, be used by mothers too poor to look after a child. In leaving their baby at a place such as this, there is a greater guarantee the child will be brought up safe and well. Plainly, each of these constitutes a very specific place of child-care with very particular kinds of motives for their use. Needless to say, the types of practices engaged in at each location are incredibly different.

However, OSM editors didn’t think as much and refused to designate separate categories. OSM users would thus be left to have to decipher the ambiguous labels of both kindergarten and baby hatch on their own. Presumably those searching for childcare locations would have to carry out further research as to whether either of these types doubled up as, or were in fact, childcare places. In their own words Leszczynski and Elwood suggest that

[t]he voting down of the childcare amenity re-relegates spaces of care—and women—to the private sphere by rendering them invisible and leaving them, literally, off the map. (6)

And, as we know, the in/visibility of phenomena on the map is testament to the power of those who firstly render such places as mappable, and secondly, decide whether it is worthy of being visualized. Whilst OSM claims and is claimed to be an ‘open’ platform for contribution in the sense that all and any individual can upload data to OSM, decisions on map labels and typologies is strictly controlled.

Leszczynski and Elwood position this editorial decision alongside a second typology. That of public sex establishments. In doing so they are pitting a series of commonly female spaces (those of care) alongside those of predictably male spaces (those of pleasure). OSM makes distinctions between three types of public sex establishments: strip clubs, swinger clubs and brothels. Whilst they note that the first of these ‘says nothing about the gender of the performers’ (6) and swinger clubs could easily be visited by heterosexual couples

longstanding gender norms around the expression of sexuality accord men roles as sexual actors and presume women to be passive and submissive recipients of that activity (6)

Thus, giving space to a ‘fine[r]-resolution taxonomy’ (6) in the case of the sex establishments accords men a greater public – and digital presence. The claiming of space thus literally being reserved for male pursuits (and visions) over those of traditionally female practices such as care. Discourses pertaining to a proliferation of open platforms and initiatives risks obscuring the multiple ways in which gender inequalities are wrought. This case goes some way to illuminating them.

Leszczynski and Elwood also discuss two location-based applications designed for users to find women in their local area based on ‘public’ social media data. In truth, each of these apps scrape personal information on women without consent, locating them for the users based on recent spatial log-ins. The array of promotional material – both visual and textual – strongly suggest each is aimed at the hetereosexual male market. Specifically, it seems, the ‘introverted’, tech-savvy or ‘geek’ male.

Both play into a rather disturbing heteronormative discourse that legitimizes and normalizes sexual harassment. The use of both would undoubtedly amount to stalking, bearing in mind that any such encounter with a user on either platform would be wholly unsolicited, based as they are on the collation of personal data without explicit consent. Leszczynski and Elwood argue that this debate is often framed through victim blaming; ‘privacy-shaming’ (12) women for their failure to secure social information from prying eyes, rather than contesting the practices of attaining personal data on strangers without their knowledge. In any case these types of engagements would constitute stalking. But commonly, they are seen in a different light. So-called ‘Facebook stalking’ is deemed OK, whereas snooping through the fence at a neighbour is deemed creepy. What is interesting in this case is that each of the apps in question uses online data scraping as a tool to facilitate offline stalking. Perhaps because of the qualitative differences in the types of practices associated with each is Facebook stalking deemed acceptable to many, and those discussed in this paper are not.

The gendering of socio-spatial media is an important debate if we are to fully understand the ways in which digital platforms modulate spatial practices. There is, I think, space for even more investigation. Leszczynski and Elwood point to some salient issues and, indeed, some notable platforms and spaces where gender inequalities are laid hopelessly bare. It is within these associative practices that we need to look more closely. Misogyny is rife on many digital platforms. For critical cartographers the task is how these gender inequalities manifest themselves across bodies, spaces and places and write themselves into platforms, architectures and infrastructures.