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.

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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.

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.

Mobile Media: Making-Cooperation-Work

The Charting the Digital team will be making an appearance at the upcoming ‘Mobile Media: Making-Cooperation-Work’ conference in Siegen from the 19th-21st June 2014. As the conference organizers posit:

The growing mobility of people, data and infrastructures is presenting media with new challenges. Where virtuality was till the centre of attention in immobile use, smart-phones, in particular, are currently showing us how central social connectivity, contextual sensing, micro-coordination, and haptic feedback are to our understanding of media practices. At the same time, a variety of phenomena that could be understood as mobile media, such as map apps or connected vehicles, reveal that more and more infrastructures, goods and tools have to be digital and networked in order to make a mediation process possible, as actually portrayed with the Internet of Things. Thus, what this conference aims to focus on, is the specifities of certain media as forms for cooperation.

Led by Nanna Verhoeff, we intend to present on a recent collaborative experiment soon to be carried out in Oxford, UK. Tentatively titled Footage, the experiment is an attempt to bring together playful, navigational and temporal themes in a practical, urban setting.

More details are available at the conference website here. A brief outline is below:

In Footage we [will] use…playful and mobile methods to experiment with notions of temporality, mapping media and space. As a collaborative “experiment” it builds on the ideas of Michel de Certeau: of walkers’ traces and tactics and of spatial and navigational forms, conducted in teams in the city of Oxford as “laboratory” (May 2014). It aim[s] to engage with performative and playful navigational practice-based mobile methodologies and the development of analytical tools for analyzing these mobile and collaborative practices. In this (collaborative) presentation, we will present the goals and design of the experiment, and our experience as researchers working as a team and working with groups of participants.

This mobile game/experiment [i]s specifically designed to reflect on the way in which the city of Oxford holds time and how it comprises a multitude of differing temporalities. The interpretation of these temporalities is experiential – navigational and chronological versus networked and relational. In the experiment we [will] work… with different media maps (still images, moving-image footage, sound, etc.) that encourage…participants to think differently about the way in which you read these maps, experience navigating with them, and then respond to the different temporalities these inform.

Living Maps

Apologies for the silence on this blog of late, because despite coming across a wealth of mapping articles, videos and whatnot, I’ve been rather busy putting together a few pieces of work that have had to take precedence! I will try to remedy this in the next month or so, despite the continuation of these efforts. As a good start, I would like to draw people’s attention towards the 2014 Living Maps Seminar Series which had its launch earlier this month.

The first was entitled ‘Mapping the Field’ and saw input from Phil Cohen and Christian Nold, following a screening of the short film The Map is Not the Territory. Here are details of the remaining 6 seminars:

 
SEMINAR 2 : Hidden Histories
Exploring strategies to excavate hidden layers of cultural and natural histories and put them on the map.
VENUE: The Building Exploratory, London 11/02/2014
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

SEMINAR 3 : Grounding Knowledge
Looking at maps that have site specific and partisan purposes, addressing issues of power and politics.
VENUE: City Centre Queen Mary University of London, London 11/03/2014
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

SEMINAR 4 : Marginalised Bodies, Liminal Spaces
Looking at issues of disability and the fight for access to the city.
VENUE: UEL Docklands Campus, London 13/05/2014
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

SEMINAR 5 : Constructing New Geographies
Addressing the contradictions of mapping the post-modern city: the self-defining spaces and the centres of power.
VENUE: Dept. of Geography, Environment and Development Studies, Birkbeck University of London, London 10/06/2014
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

SEMINAR 6 : Communities of Resistance
Case studies in regeneration and gentrification, communities of resistance and the role of ‘counter mapping’.
VENUE: UCL Urban Laboratory, 4th Floor Central House, London 08/07/2014
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

SEMINAR 7 : Mapping the Future
How far can GIS be mobilized for radical action; can artists maps offer a representation of emergent political landscapes?
VENUE: The Young Foundation, London 22/07/2014

“Capturing”

Matthew Wilson and Sarah Elwood’s chapter on “capturing” for the SAGE Handbook of Human Geography is now available as a preprint version here. It contains a superb quote by Bill Bunge on the problem of certain kinds of academic enterprise:

We are in the computer center watching the printout to see if it is raining  outside. If the ghetto burns down we will not know it because it does not  show on the symap. If it is not in the census, it is not sensed. If remote  sensing is efficient, and it is, why does it follow, and it does not, that intimate sensing is not? We have become so situational that we have lost sight of the site unless we can cite it in a senseless census. (1974, 488)

There are sections on ‘junctures’, ‘representation and data’, ‘analysis and interpretation’ and ‘production and participation’.