The geographies of capitalism, a king of Geography, and the destruction of political dreams

Camila Bassi with her take on the despicable events at my university (Warwick) over the past few weeks.

Anaemic On A Bike

“It would be difficult to deny the difficult days that the world is going through. One might say that the four horseman [sic] of the apocalypse have moved from a quiet trot to a full gallop and this increase in activity has been accompanied by the rise of Right-wing politics of various kinds which are clearly associated with a series of state and corporate ideologies and practices that must be denied any more room in the world and that, in time, must be rolled back.” (Nigel Thrift and Ash Amin, What’s Left? Just the Future, 1995, 236)

Did you foresee when you were writing this, Nigel, the danger of you becoming a horseman of capitalism? When naming as a value for the Left, “a constant and unremitting critical reflexivity towards our own practices” (Amin and Thrift, 1995, 221), at what point did you relinquish and decide on the other side? In proposing for the Left, “an…

View original post 979 more words

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

14212567658_54884b01ba_b

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**

**********************************************************

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’

Banner Plain

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.

//

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.

‘Thinking the Volume’ podcast with Stuart Elden

A re-blog of an interview with Stuart Elden over at Archipelago in which he tackles some of his recent work on volumetric territory. Some important discussions of the area/volume relationship including the issues inherent in ‘flat’ discussions. He draws on Eyal Weizman‘s much-lauded and highly-recommended Hollow Land in order to talk about the architectures and infrastructures of volumetric control with reference not only to Israel/Palestine,  but also to urban exploration and subterranean politics.

Elden’s recent work is of much use for critical cartographers. There’s an underlying assumption that maps cannot do justice to volume. Instead, they only have capacity to cope with area. I don’t necessarily disagree with this. In fact, I think critical cartography has been incredibly poor at picking up on the area/volume debate. Flat maps of, say, Hong Kong just don’t work. See the Cities Without Ground book that I’ve talked about before. Indeed, talking simply about maps of areas fails to take into account the labyrinthine and vertical nature of many urban environments. Although maps attempt to render height through contouring and shading – which obviously requires a degree of knowledge about how these work – they are restricted to still-grounded geological phenomena such as hills and mountains. Bridges, buildings and other ‘human’-made architectures are left flat.

Further, maps deal even more hopelessly with atmospheric or tactical flows, currents or trajectories although this does not preclude their involvement in affecting response to them. Real-time wind maps, for example, are more analytically rather than practically useful visualizations. They do not allow us to experience the swirling effects wind has on the body, but they do condition our bodily and spatial responses to them. I.e. in whether we decide to travel or not.

Digital protest mapping platforms also do not cope well with volume. Sukey, the platform deployed during the anti-cuts demonstrations in the UK, was very good at displaying road blocks and other grounded phenomena but did or was not able to visualize the contingency of verticality. Say, in how, protesters could maintain contact across these boundaries with projectiles, speech or vision. Barriers thus not only prevent areal movement but also volumetric action preventing individuals from simply seeing other possibly enclosed protesters, talking to fellow protestors, or in a more material sense launching items (water bombs, paint, sticks, bricks, stones etc.).

In fact, confirmation that the London Met will be able to purchase three water cannon should only outline this volumetric dynamic as protestors are possibly attacked from above. New tactics will undoubtedly be deployed by both protestors and police in order to account for this change. The use of helicopter support is already common in the capital as a strategic, visual aid to the police. But again, these are dynamics difficult to capture on (digital) mapping platforms.

The questions for critical cartographers thus must be: how do maps render volume and do they generate or modulate actions towards volumetric phenomena? Elden’s recent work is a must-read, then.