*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 – A Reply from Gavin MacDonald

Gavin MacDonald has been kind enough to offer a reply to the article Sybille Lammes and I wrote in Global Discourse recently on Latour and digital mapping. This is a short personal response – and does not necessarily represent the views of my co-author, Sybille – just to avoid any possible confusion.

In it Gavin draws attention to Latour’s celebration of ‘touching at a distance’ – rather than the aura of immediacy (in the form of ‘double-tap’) we identified as the ideal focus of Latourian work at present. In so doing, MacDonald attempts to qualify our own efforts at conceiving the relationship between phenomena and representation, vision and touch.

In short, MacDonald plays up Latour’s use of haptic terminology – especially the likening of mediation to the work of termites (!) and other ‘blind insects’. As MacDonald says:

Access depends on a relay of mediators, each of which touches the next. For Hind and Lammes, vision and touch are bound up with each other in the operation of touchscreen in such a way that the latter secures the former. A question that isn’t explore or answered here is whether or not we can conceive of these glossy interfaces [of phones, tablets etc.] in a way more attuned to Latour’s celebration of ‘the world at your fingertips’.

Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with MacDonald in this – Latour is remarkably keen to show how mediation is an inexact haptic science; of groping, fumbling and struggling to make connections, I’m keen to see how the interface erases this distance and smooths the otherwise unstable relays. It may be true that in order to load OSM or Google Maps onto my smartphone a huge number of commands need to be issued – to code, capacitors and cell towers – but I don’t need to (or do) consider this each and every time I do so. Put otherwise: the interface user barely – rarely – experiences this. Until, of course, like we say in the paper, things go wrong. I’m interested in this normalizing force. I think this as much an issue of methodological orientation as any conceptual approach – do we look being the scenes or into the audience itself? To use a theatrical metaphor.

MacDonald also rightly questions whether Latour’s notion of immutability mobility is still fit for purpose. I think this is an incredibly valid point – especially in relation the digital map. Is there value in attempting to trace the various im/mutable or im/mobile elements in each enterprise? As MacDonald says, we’ve stretched Latour’s sense of the term somewhat and pushed it out to refer to wider systems rather than objects themselves. I think this is necessary – to refocus our attention away from the objects and specifically the map – but I don’t think we need to do so in reference to exclusively  Latourian terms. Indeed, squeezing our efforts back into an ill-fitting framework is a recipe for disaster. Nonetheless, I’m still intrigued by the tension in immutability mobility. There is no agreed answer; maps are ‘in general’ neither immutable or mutable mobiles. Moreover, there is no need to find one.  As ever, we need to trace the connections in each and every case – just as Latour would rightly suggest.

Once again, thanks to Gavin for his reply.

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

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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.

#FuckUber: 8 Reasons Why Uber is Bad for All of Us

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Apologies for the lack of updates on this blog. I’m busy doing a few other things at the moment and The Semaphore Line has taken a backseat. However, last week I wrote a short article for Novara Media on Uber, and why I think it’s dangerous. The link is here: http://wire.novaramedia.com/2014/11/fuckuber-8-reasons-why-uber-is-bad-for-all-of-us/. I could have added another 6 or so points, but decided, for the sake of brevity, to keep it to 8. I’m looking to write something more substantive on Uber at a later date. The debate around its impact is fascinating, and it crosscuts a whole load of contemporary issues around digital technology, politics and space.

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.