Mutable Matter


AAG Subconference Call For Black Lives Matter ‘T-shirt Book Bloc’

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Calling all AAG (Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting) attendees!

Some of us UK Subconference folks thought it would be nice to show our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign through making and wearing t-shirts to the AAG  in Chicago. These will have books on them by black authors, and authors of colour, whose writings engage with institutional racism and/or who have been absent from the mainstream geographical canon despite their contributions to geography (kind of like a t-shirt book bloc).

With this, we not only want to highlight systemic racism, but also want to highlight geography’s (and also academia’s and education’s) implication in this system through citational practices, teaching, recruitment, admissions et cetera.

You can bring and make your own, and we will also be making them in Chicago with iron-on patches. If you have any ideas for books, designs generally or want a tshirt, get in touch! Please e-mail Angela Last (angela.last@glasgow.ac.uk).

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Statement of Solidarity from University of Glasgow Geographies of Labour, Social Movements and Activism Group

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Image: Chris Young for the Globe and Mail

As members of the University of Glasgow Geographies of Labour, Social Movements and Activism Group, we stand in support of the current labour actions taking place at the University of Toronto and York University. We are proud of their brave efforts to improve working conditions at a moment when corporate agendas are undermining public universities and intellectual integrity around the world.

We are concerned that precarious work conditions at these institutions are hindering contract instructor’s ability to engage in their own research and confidently invest their energies in the classroom. We respect the excellent contributions contract faculty make but it is unacceptable that it comes at such a significant cost. We are also distressed by the lack of sufficient funding available for PhD students at both universities. Funding packages that require students to subsist below the poverty line hinder new research and teaching.

It is deeply inspiring to see the variety of connections being made across occupational, socioeconomic and political lines in the course of this strike. These connections establish a precedent for relations of solidarity elsewhere, and produce critical insights that have value beyond the specific struggle from which they have arisen.

(Disclaimer, we write this in a personal capacity and do not represent the views of the University of Glasgow)

Heather McLean
Diarmid Kelliher
Laura Jane Nolan
David Featherstone
Peter Martin
Lazaros Karaliotas
Erin Despard
Kye Askins
Paul Griffin
Neil Gray
Peter Martin
Bridget Holtom
Angela Last


Dead Wasps Fly Further

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This month, I will be participating in two events. ‘Geo-Studio’ (20 March), a geography-arts symposium at Northumbria University, and ‘Dead Wasps Fly Further‘ (Tote Wespen Fliegen Länger), a five-day workshop in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name at the Museum for Natural History in Berlin (26-30 March). The latter is a semi-public event, so here is some more information about it, in case anyone happens to be in town. The exhibition runs from 3-29 March 2015.

‘Dead Wasps fly further’, organised by STS scholar Tahani Nadim and artist Åsa Sonjasdotter, will bring together scholars, artists, activists and curators to discuss and develop issues raised by the exhibition. The exhibition and the workshop attend to the ‘traffics and trajectories of museum objects and the troubles that become tangible by accounting for these movements’. I really loved the framing of the project:

“The exhibition will consist of 3 distinct interventions: a display and wall painting, theatrical tours into the non-public collections and a short film. These interventions assemble humorous, poetic and troubling stories about anthropocentric biodiversity, colonial cultivations and cosmic care. At the same time, they represent an experiment in engaging natural history and making research public.
We consider the workshop collective conclusions as a collaborative attempt to “stay with the troubles” (Donna Haraway) catalysed by objects and research at the museum.”

Questions to be tackled – through debate, performance and activities such as zine-making – include:

“How do we narrate routes and roots without reproducing the exclusions, inequalities or expectations of Eurocentric geographies? How do we insert the human into the narratives presented by the natural history museum? Or, how to de-naturalise the natural history museum? Should we consider the wishes and wants of the Moon, comets and other planets in our explorations of them? How can the museum and its collections help us learn from their troubles, account for other histories and figure a language to tell these?”

Participants were asked to engage with the museum’s collections in the kind of material and talks they bring to the workshop. I will talk about reappropriations of museum objects by anti-colonial activists such as the négritude writers who extensively re-read the findings of Leo Frobenius, a controversial German ethnologist and archaeologist specialising in African history and art.

There will be at least one public event (I definitely remember the 30 March Monday morning one!). I will be posting details here, as soon as they become available. The project is supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes) and the Museum für Naturkunde.


Symposium: Frantz Fanon: Concerning the Psychoanalysis and Cosmopolitanism of Violence

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[reblogged from Warwick Sociology; thanks to Uli Beisel for sending this to me]

Wednesday 18th March 2015, 1pm to 7pm
University of Warwick (A0.28, Millburn House)

Frantz Fanon, the son of Martinique who first fought for colonial France in World War Two and then against colonial France in Algeria, is taken as the preeminent thinker of decolonization. Although Fanon died in 1961, his work and life still stir debate and discussion today about the lived reality of racism and the nature of violence and revolution in the post-colonial world. This one-day symposium and screening of Göran Hugo Olsson’s documentary Concerning Violence is designed to engender critical and collaborative engagement between researchers, students, practitioners, and activists with an interest in Fanon’s work and its contemporary connotations. This symposium seeks to establish dialogue between different disciplinary perspectives, such as psychoanalysis, postcolonial theory, and histories of globalization, on Fanon’s two major texts Black Skin, White Masks (1952), and The Wretched of the Earth (1961) and his lesser known works such as the essays contained within A Dying Colonialism (1959) and Towards the African Revolution (1964).

Paper Presentations

Dr. Robbie Shilliam (Queen Mary, University London)

Dr. Sheldon George (Simmons College, US)

Professor Kimberly Hutchings (Queen Mary, University London)

Film screening introduced by Mireille Fanon-Mendes:

Göran Hugo Olsson’s documentary Concerning Violence (2014).

Roundtable Discussion

Mireille Fanon-Mendes (Frantz Fanon Foundation)

Professor Gurminder Bhambra (Warwick University)

Dr. Julie Walsh (Warwick University)

Dr. Kehinde Andrews (Bimringham City University)

Dr. Peter Nevins (the Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis)

Chair: Dr. John Narayan (Warwick University)

It is not necessary to register for this event, but to help us get a sense of likely numbers we’d be grateful if you could email one of the organisers if you are planning to attend (either Julie.walsh@warwick.ac.uk or j.c.narayan@warwick.ac.uk ).

This event has been made possible through the financial support of The Global History and Culture Centre at the University of Warwick, University of Warwick Humanities Research Centre, The Leverhulme Trust and the British Sociological Association’s Race and Ethnicity Study Group. The event is also supported by the British Sociological Association’s Sociology, Psychoanalysis and the Psychosocial Study Group. The BSA exists to promote Sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235.


Guest talk at the New Centre for Research & Practice

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On Monday, I gave a virtual guest lecture at the New Centre for Research & Practice. It was the first instalment of a seminar on ‘Global Politics of the Anthropocene‘, organised and taught by Carlos Amador. You can still join the remainder of the discussion, either as a ‘student’ (which enables you to join the discussions) or as a silent listener (‘audit’ option). The upcoming Monday events (UK time: 11pm – 1:30 am) include speakers across disciplines, including fellow Scottish academic Zoe Todd (Anthropology, University of Aberdeen).

The paper I had prepared was on Daniel Maximin‘s geopoetics, which focus on undoing hegemonic geopolitical images by utilising the geophysical. The talk also drew attention to the violence of academic knowledge production, including citation practices. Both themes, for me, relate very strongly to Anthropocene discourse, where attention to the colonial/imperialist dimensions of geophysical phenomena, as well as of research practices themselves, has been lacking.

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Image source: New Centre for Research & Practice


CFP: Uniconflicts in Spaces of Crisis

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11-14th June 2015

Department of Architecture at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece)

 

International Open Gathering

UNICONFLICTS in spaces of crisis

Critical approaches in, against and beyond the University

 

visit the website uniconflicts

download the calling UNICONFLICTS (en)

 

The group “Encounters and Conflicts in the City” calls radical research groups, critical workshops and researchers, students and collectives that are placed in, against and beyond the neoliberal university in an open gathering on the 11-14th June 2015 at the Department of Architecture at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece).

Through this gathering, we aim to create a public space of dialogue transcending divisions among academic and scientific disciplines and to critically approach the urban issues of the era of crisis, through a dialectic, intersectional and postcolonial approach.

The central questions that we wish to raise are two:

  1. What is the role of knowledge, of the university and of researchers in the era of crisis?
  2. What are the critical epistemological and methodological tools for studying the spatial expressions of the ongoing crisis at multiple scales?

Within this context, we seek to examine the ongoing crisis not just as an over- accumulation crisis but also as a crisis of social disobedience and of the inability of the circulation of capital, patriarchy and nationalism. Moving against the mystification of the crisis, we are interested in critical approaches that focus on the spatialization of social relations and examine the spaces of dissent. Particularly, we wish to examine the articulations, the limits, the contradictions and the dialectic relation of commons, enclosures, inclusion, exclusion, insurgency and counter-insurgency as well as their hybrid intermediate forms, which emerge in and through physical space, modes of communication and the constitution of communities. Overall, we aim to break the North/South or East/West dichotomies and to focus on the fields of gender, race, class and culture.

Building on the critical evaluation of social relations, the circulation of social struggles and subjects and communities in motion, we search for their contentious spaces and their spatial transformations, limits, possibilities and contradictions in the era of crisis. Moreover, understanding education as a unity of theory and practice, we seek these epistemological and methodological tools that emerge from and aim to the deepening and the circulation of social struggles and social movements. In the context of today’s global and local crisis, we note that while a plethora of social struggles and insurgencies emerge, the academic research often appropriates and commercializes their ideas. It is exactly here that we identify the dead-end.

Hence, we seek to surpass the so called academic activism and to set as a main target of this open gathering the critical examination of the following:

 

Α. The role of knowledge and of researchers in the university and in social movements

The neoliberal University and the educational system constitute strategic mechanisms for the production and reproduction of social relations. In particular, within a dynamic process of neoliberalization, the university studies are intensified and are linked more and more to the labour market. Within this context, we wish to examine issues such as the production of knowledge, knowledge as a common, the neoliberalization of the University, the new educational enclosures and the concept of Anti-university.

The transformation of knowledge into private property and consequently into a commodity creates new enclosures in the field of knowledge. These new enclosures in neoliberal education are expressed both through the commodification of the physical space of the universities and through the objectification of human abilities. Some indicative examples are the increase of studying costs, the studying loans, the control of access to information, the commercialization of academic papers and books, the securitization of the University space, the criminalization and the rhetoric against student mobilizations, the suppression of the struggles of university employees and the restriction of the freedom of speech.

However, since 1960s and 1970s, the universities are spaces of collective emancipatory movements, of social struggles and of radical experiments of self-organization for the production of knowledge. As a response to these movements, since 1980s, a number of educational reforms has been introduced. These reforms seek to promote the marketization of the university, aiming to produce the appropriate competitive workforce and to supress student movements.

Yet, during the last decade, many dynamic student movements have emerged in France (2006), Greece (2006-2007), the USA (2009-2010), the UK (2010), Italy (2010-2011) and so on, which targeted the enclosure of knowledge and were connected and inspired many other urban social movements.

 

Axes of discussion

 

A.1 Social education and emancipatory movements in the universities

– Student movements: limits and contradictions, connection with other urban movements, confrontation of their suppression and criminalization

– Perspectives of a radical pedagogy towards the knowledge as common

– Ideas and practices of free-autonomous universities beyond the education of the neoliberal university

 

A.2 Control and commodification of knowledge

– Public, state and private education in the neoliberal era

– Politics of knowledge enclosures and copyrights

– The suppression of academic freedom and of the freedom of speech

– Knowledge as private property and commodity for the production of value and surplus value

– Student loans and study costs as mechanisms of disciplining

– The cultural politics of the neoliberal university

– Paid and unpaid work at the University

 

A.3 The role of the researcher

– Lifelong education, competitiveness and the precarious status f the researcher

– The researcher as producer of dominant discourses and her/his role in the reproduction of power

– Competitiveness, academic carrie and academic divisions and hierarchies

– The biopolitical character of the neoliberal education and the construction of new identities

– Education as praxis, understood as a unity of theory and practice

 

– Researchers, networks and groups against and beyond the neoliberal university

 

Β. Critical epistemological and methodological tools for the study of the crisis’s spatial expressions at multiple scales

Against the privatization and commodification of the academic knowledge and the intended hegemony of the neoliberal perspectives, we seek those critical epistemological tools of knowledge production that encourage social emancipation.

During the last years, urban movements and a plethora of visible and invisible practices of resistance and emancipation offer a variety of tools for the destabilization of the dominant ideologies, ways of disaggregation of power, negotiation of contradictions and visibility of differences. In parallel, today there is the urgent need for the promotion, circulation and deepening of these critical perspectives and their linking to social struggles. Thus, we aim to discuss epistemological and methodological tools, such as the following:

B1. Dialectic critical urban theory

Which are those critical approaches that assist us to perceive and examine the multiple dimensions of urban space? How do dialectic approaches and critical urban theory contribute to the understanding of the spaces of social movements and the spaces of capital, racism and patriarchy?

B2. Intersectionality and urban space in the era of crisis

How does intersectionality contribute to the study of the urban space? Which are the intersectional crossings of the multiple systems of domination, oppression and discrimination such as race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, dis/ability, age, cast, language, culture, body size, education level or citizenship?

B3. Cultural and postcolonial approaches

How do cultural and postcolonial studies contribute to the understanding of urban space and the conceptualization of body, identity and modes of communication. How does the criminalization and the suppression of alternative modes of culture, information and lifestyle operate as mechanisms of control, disciplining and normalization? What is the role of social media in the communication of social struggles? We seek the expression of the ongoing crisis through the spaces of architecture, art, media, and internet.

 

Within the above context, we call critical research groups, workshops, collectives and individuals to participate in a gathering during 11-14 June 2015. If you would like to participate, please provide us with your abstract (300 words) by 1 March 2015 at the latest, to the following e-mail:

urbanconflicts@gmail.com

Participation is free and we will try to provide accommodation for as many participants as possible.

 

“Encounters and conflicts in the city” group

Costas Athanasiou, Eleni Vasdeki, Elina Kapetanaki, Maria Karagianni, Matina Kapsali, Vaso Makrygianni, Foteini Mamali, Orestis Pangalos, Haris Tsavdaroglou

 

“Encounters and conflicts in the city” group

https://urbanconflicts.wordpress.com/

e-mail: urbanconflicts@gmail.com

blog «Uniconflicts in spaces of crisis»

https://uniconflicts.wordpress.com/ 


Useless Knowledge? Notes from the K/V Dark Data Workshop

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No, not that Dark Data

According to many IT dictionaries, dark data is defined as data that is collected, but merely stored and not actively used. Much of this data is collected in compliance with regulations or as a by-product of research processes. This definition, however, was complicated by the participants of the ‘Dark Data’ workshop, organised by the Knowledge-Value research group. Across speakers and interlocutors, there was a sense that ‘dark data’ is produced by, and has an impact on, anything from scientific dating to qualitative evaluation. Almost every speaker presented their own taxonomy. Sharon Traweek, for instance, provocatively stated that ‘all data are dark’, explaining her definition by drawing attention to the similarities of data types rather than differences, whereas Carlo Caduff claimed the opposite, namely, that ‘dark data is anything but dark’. There were many other positions and provocations. Sabina Leonelli offered a contrast with ‘open data’, emphasising the effects of ‘newly institutionalised openness’ on the status of ‘dark data’. Alison Wylie, discussing archaeological methods, reminded the audience of the challenges that archaeologists are facing in working with many facets of ‘dark data’ including ‘legacy data’ (inherited from past research) and data gaps. Jennifer Cuffe, using the example of drug safety policy-making, illustrated how changes in coding can also produce ‘darkness’ (she also offered five types of ‘dark data’ that I was too slow to write down, and I also missed Sally Wyatt’s high speed differentiations).

Overall, speakers agreed that there were many types of absence, darkness, obscurity – from mindless ‘data dumping’ (Rachel Ankeny) to deadly secrecy (Brian Balmer, Neal White) – and also different ‘data vernaculars’ (e.g. Mike Fischer) that warrant a more nuanced approach to ‘dark data’. A key distinction, for me, was that between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ production of ‘dark data’. Emilia Sanabria, for instance, touched on this through her discussion of obesity campaigns: ‘what can be known… what is actively made unknown?’ Her paper pointed to a very urgent issue: how are we being affected by data that is deliberately withheld? This partly addressed the implicit question of the workshop (I’m remixing questions by Kaushik Sunder Rajan here): why should we care about data that is sitting around and seemingly not of value to anyone? What determines the value of data? What determines audiences of data? To this, Gail Davies added a concern with the geographical distribution of data: how, and between whom, does knowledge move? Other participants complemented this by asking: Who defines what is sensitive or accessible? And how can one intervene in such ‘dark’ or grey spaces?

These questions were tackled through a focus on sharing experiences about working with ‘dark data’, big data, open data – or data in general. Brian Balmer talked about an ‘ecology of practices’ around data: the everyday maintenance and curation of data by collectors and users. He also pointed to the fact, that even in the ‘darkest’ spaces, these mundane levels of processing exist: what do we include under the heading ‘top secret’? (Balmer contributed a tragi-comical anecdote from the 1950s about Whitehall civil servants complaining about the overuse of the classification ‘top secret’). Similarly, Rachel Ankeny argued that it is the activities around data that are important, not data itself. In her example, she contrasted data dumping with data sharing – amassing versus fostering collaboration (although, for her, sharing does not necessarily imply collaboration). Pointing to the shaping of knowledge by relationships and goals, her questions could be summed up as follows: How is data used as knowledge? What are the implicit social contracts when we collect data? How is data rendered ‘dark’ by that? Sally Wyatt usefully added a reminder that ‘persuasion is part of working with data’ and that this dynamic has consequences on knowledge production.

Other speakers struggled with the complexity of ‘dark data’. Sharon Traweek commented on how all fields have their coping strategies, and that the identification of coping strategies is useful. She named a myriad of perplexing questions that researchers had to face when working with ‘open data’, including ‘should collected data on an open data project be open, too?’ For her own topic, Emilia Sanabria offered two frameworks of complexity as a starting point: one ‘romantic’ (coherent model of relations), the other ‘baroque’ (without final coherence, but rich with uncertain/partial relations). Alison Wylie wondered about the necessity to sometimes ‘pull the data away from the question’, whereas Rachel Akeny found that, perhaps, academic standards were changing altogether, extrapolating from a potentially eroding distinction between ‘real scientific literature’ and grey literature. Within this context, temporality emerged as provocation. Whether it was Neal White’s bemusement at the fact that incredibly big and complex data infrastructure appear to be necessary to access incredibly small amounts of ‘time’ or information – whether this was at CERN, stock trading or military surveillance – or Ann Kelly‘s insights into the role of the temporality of data in emergencies such as epidemics – in particular the clash between the need for an urgent, pragmatic response and the slower temporality of scientific research that deals with complex situations. She also introduced the terms ‘charismatic data’ and ‘pragmatic liveliness’ of data from her field.

Connected to the practices of working with data was the theme of ‘data imaginaries’. Whether it was data as ‘currency’ (Elena Aronova), as property (John Kelly), or as ‘resource’ (Alison Wylie)– how we value data matters. Here, Elizabeth Johnson offered some interesting thoughts about data imaginaries in the context of global environmental change. For her, data was oriented around four major tensions around ‘demand’ (demand for data versus seemingly ‘never enough data’ to prove a particular environmental problem); ‘intervention’ (desire to not bring the future we see into being); ‘wager’ (the moment where one has to decide to intervene, despite ‘unknowns’) and ‘imagination’ (where is the line between data and fiction). Gail Davies further raised the role of data visualisations, citing examples such as the controversial ‘burning embers’ climate change diagram. How do images shape imaginaries? This led to discussions of boundaries between art (or style) and data circulation, archiving & access. Lastly, participants pointed out that ‘dark’ should not only have negative associations. Many speakers noted the enjoyment that they or their research participants showed in the ‘detective work’ surrounding ‘dark data’ (Cuffe, White, Davies). Elena Aronova even contested the negative framing of secrecy and offered a view of secrecy as enabling: ignorance can be a resource. This was later taken up by Brian Balmer, Neal White and Linsey McGoey who argued around the productive potential of ignorance – from the fearlessness of ‘overt research’ to a more subversive kind of ‘strategic ignorance’ (more below).

A further theme that emerged was that of knowledge production and epistemic injustice. This began with a discussion of the ‘crafting practices of data’ by Sharon Traweek who asked about who and what is involved in these practices. According to her, issues of epistemic injustice start with ‘funding ecologies’ and gender/race inequalities in research hierarchies. Others, too, criticised ‘strategic blindness’ and ‘white ignorance’ in the service of authority maintenance (McGoey, Balmer), as well as the colonial history of archives and the on going unequal status of knowledges (Sunder Rajan). What are the researcher’s responsibilities? (Sanabria) Against this background, many participants called for academic data related activism. Whether it was the need to subvert the economic rationale behind data handling in universities (Fischer), the use of data to strengthen academic activism against metrics (Traweek) or the involvement of students in the analysis of debt and its history. This tied in with a wider discussion of capitalist structures. Here, Kaushik Sunder Rajan noted the difficulties of analysing together economic knowledge, logic of capital and corporate power. Linsey McGoey added a critique of the endemic forgetting of the caveat ‘for use for the public good’ in intellectual property legislation. Returning to the earlier theme of ‘legacy data’, Mike Fischer addressed the conditions of data inheritance through the underfunding-privatisation dynamic, using the example of environmental services, where companies are stepping in & generate/inherit data with different systems. He lamented that experts managing data ‘commons’ were being laid off.

Potential paths of action were also considered. Neal White’s ‘overt research’ represented one tactic, where secrecy was countered with open and assertive public scrutiny. An almost opposite approach came from Elizabeth Johnson, who drew on French philosopher Frédéric Neyrat and his proposal for strategic withdrawal from data to refuse the constant demand for it and for its rationality. Both tactics, despite their differences, aimed at the production of alternative imaginaries of politics and activism. Linsey McGoey further alerted to the necessity to pay attention to definition – that how we define things, particularly to do with uncertainty and ambiguity, can undermine our own ability to critique. In addition, art emerged as a medium of contestation. Again, Neal White argued that art has the capacity for ‘creating room for what is un-thought’. He also (rightly) joked that ‘an artist can get into anything these days’, alluding to the diversity of places with ‘artist residencies’. Other participants hoped, too, that the presence of artists through residencies in unusual places would ‘make something happen’ (Fischer) or that artists such as the Critical Art Ensemble posed a dual critique for both biopolitics and art (Joe Dumit). Artistic experiments were regarded as especially effective, because they combined the experimental and the experiential. Other than art, experimental, marginal ‘institutions in the wild’ that create a sense of common trajectory towards something (Sunder Rajan; White), were seen as a promising means of contestation. Elena Aronova contributed a historical example of contestation from the times of the Cold War: contestation through the use of a new medium. While the US focused their research on computers, the Soviet Union turned their efforts to micro-film. Will we see a return to the analogue? And, if so, does analogue still represent a contestation?

Finally, the usefulness (or not) of the term ‘dark’ was debated. On the one hand, the metaphor was appreciated for its associations with contrast, with darkness being essential for ‘making things sharper’ (Jim Griesemer). It was further appreciated as a ‘frontier metaphor’ – dark data as a frontier and ‘site on the verge of exploitation’ and colonisation, bringing into focus the ways this frontier is ‘crafted’ in both good and bad ways (Caduff). On the other hand, there were concerns about other inheritances and connotations of the word ‘dark’. Does it have racist connotations? Is it unfashionably ocular? Are we trying to bring light into darkness in an Enlightenment sense? What is our project, if there is one? Or, as one participant asked: if we are not doing enlightenment (of ‘dark data’), what are we doing? This challenge was countered with a critique of the critique of Enlightenment. John Kelly, for instance, lamented (as part of his critique of imperialist histories of theory) that it almost seems as if ‘to be ethical you have to be against reason’. He noted that he was against the idea that the Enlightenment is the problem and that, instead of the image of ‘shedding light’, a more realistic critique is needed that takes into consideration the situatedness of reason. As part of the same discussion, Kaushik Sunder Rajan offered that ‘Enlightenment not negotiable, but how we do it is negotiable’. For him, it could also be a project of attentiveness. In the end, was no consensus on how best to deal with the term ‘dark’, although some interesting references to Enlightenment critiques surfaced, such as Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s ‘Undercommons of the Enlightenment’ challenge and Moten’s ‘Touring Machine‘.

As this blog post hopefully illustrates, despite its many ‘absences’ (I could go very ‘meta’ on data and blogging here!), the two days of discussions were very rich and dense, and also constructively challenging in their interdisciplinarity. I was pretty exhausted at the end just from listening and felt seriously sorry for the workshop participants who were in for the ‘long-haul’ – another three days of debating data-intensive science at a follow-on workshop. As someone who has mainly engaged with big, open and dark data as an occasional visitor to Open Tech and CCC meetings, it was interesting to see how these debates play out in a purely academic context. Despite the heavy theorisation, there was a hopeful parallel: like at these more practitioner and activist orientated events, I came away with a feeling that data handling concerns everyone, and that everyone has some means of accessing the debate through the many ways one is affected by data. I was particularly pleased that the university itself was ‘brought to light’ as a problematic data space in need of closer scrutiny and intervention, thus dissolving the boundaries between topic and setting. Everything was suddenly (and uncomfortably?) data. And here it is perhaps fitting to end with John Kelly’s opening questions to his talk (that played on both Tolstoy and Martin Luther King): Where have we been? And where do we go from here?

The workshop, titled ‘Knowledge/Value and Dark Data: Absences, Interventions and Digital Worlds’, was held at the University of Exeter on 15-16 December 2014 and was organised by Sabina Leonelli, Gail Davies, Brian Rappert and Kaushik Sunder Rajan.


Why I blog

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Image: Mutable Matter as part of Guerrilla Science at Secret Garden Party music festival 2008

Thanks to Patricia Noxolo and Gail Davies for prompting this post. I keep getting asked why I blog and how I find the time. A few years ago, I tried to answer these questions on the ‘Critical Geographers’ mailing list, and the following is an edited/expanded version of this, as the blog has considerably changed over the last few years.

I started Mutable Matter in 2007 as an experimental part of my Open University PhD project on public engagement with nanotechnology. Initially, I was discouraged from starting an academic blog, as it was seen as a distraction from my PhD, but later, the reactions I received from my readers led to a change in perception. Eventually, the blog even became a model for public engagement activities. Originally, Mutable Matter was intended as a feedback forum for Open University undergraduates whom I wanted to involve in the study. While the blog ended up functioning less as a feedback device, it helped me explore (to some degree at least) who responded to my topic and posts, and what kind of information the site visitors were after. As a blog administrator, I could see what kind of word combinations people enter into a search engine to get to a specific post, as well as the links they click on while reading a post. Over time, the blog evolved into more of a research diary on materialism in general – a place for me to process and share information about events and other things that I attended or came across. Today, I tend to cover subjects where I feel that I can contribute a different point of view, often by bringing works or topics into dialogue with one another.

In general, I enjoy the spontaneity of blogging – you can quickly respond to an urgent topic, even if it is just urgent for yourself. I find this spontaneity psychologically beneficial when I am involved in something seemingly endless: working on a difficult piece of writing, preparing grants or waiting for a peer-review outcome. In such instances, I need a moment of ‘instant satisfaction’ in-between to keep going. I used to set myself a two-hour time limit for a post, but nowadays, I’m giving myself the licence to take longer, particularly if the post promises to help me with a thought problem. On the other hand, I am still concerned not to overwork a post. I still blog when I want to make contact with others on a particular subject, and offering ‘rough work’ can help others to find holes or hooks that they can attach to. Further, the blog helped me to experiment with writing and curating – you can see that older posts are comparatively short and clumsy. I was used to writing academic essays and running a satire zine, but not an academic ‘zine’. As a consequence, earlier posts were still, often unhelpfully, inflected with satire. I did learn a lot from these embarrassing early stages, however. For instance, I noticed how even slight changes in writing style attract very different reactions and audiences, especially when it comes to controversial topics.

Many bloggers also write to change perceptions. A good example is the ironically titled ‘Africa is a country‘ blog or, sadly, the many bloggers that have been arrested for their activities. While I am aware that my own blog has a rather limited, self-selected audience, and that I am, as they say, probably ‘preaching to the converted’, I am also trying to contribute to change. As I mentioned before on this blog, a post or statement can add to the formation of a ‘critical mass’ (in both senses of the word). There is also the question of where content travels. Academics can be quite paranoid about where their content may end up. Despite my obvious desire to control my content, I rather enjoy this part, and am always hoping for unexpected connections. So far, I have had quite a few interesting surprises in terms of correspondence and referencing. Blog content has appeared on in teaching syllabi, science communication sites, exhibition catalogues, academic articles, public lectures, calls for papers and Facebook debates (where I was suddenly copied into on-going discussions). As part of this ‘travelling’, I have also occasionally received information about related projects or invitations to visit or to give a talk. In all of these ways, the blog has made some minute contributions to debates or ‘shaping knowledge’.

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Image: Simone Weil by Annerose Schulze

The latter is also increasingly important for a new dimension of blogging for me. Over time, blogging has more and more turned into a form of personal protest, during a time where every idea needs to be quantified (apart from the really significant ones, ironically). There are things that I just want to write for other people or for myself – I don’t want to have to think about them in such instrumental ways. For me, the current quantification of research works fatally against intellectual projects, risk and community. Being a public intellectual – sharing, exchanging and debating knowledge – is made almost impossible by the mechanisms of the ‘academic factory’. Here, blogs can provide a space both for breathing, sharing and for contestation. For example, I deliberately did not publish my Afrofuturism blog post as an article – on the one hand, because I did not want to contribute to the appropriation of the movement by white academics, on the other, because I relate to Afrofuturism primarily as a musician, and it is kind of sacred to me in that sense. In fact, the politics of this blog post ended up being discussed in social media, and the debate (whose 58 comments printed out to 18 A4 pages) affirmed my impulse.

I made a similar decision a poem based on Simone Weil’s work that I published on this blog, since Weil stands for not using knowledge to achieve professional advancement. In fact, her work raises questions about the tensions around political academic publishing. One the one hand, I want to write about intellectuals such as Simone Weil for political reasons (e.g. expand the current academic canon on materialism, to advance women theorists or to criticise current academic structures), on the other hand, I do enter into a contract that affirms intellectually/socially/culturally destructive practices. Against this background, I do hope that blogging continues to be a source of (fighting for) academic freedom and debate, and hopefully one where the full implications of ‘the medium is the message‘ are seriously being reconsidered.


CPA 2015 Annual Meeting ‘Shifting the Geography of Reason XII: Technologies of Liberation’

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Reblogged from the Caribbean Philosophical Association via Lisa Tilley:
(apparently, the deadline has been extended)

Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico
June 18-21, 2015

Technologies of liberation could refer to the interrelated use of the computer, Internet, radio, mobile phones and applications including social media that, through their decentralizing character, enable people to reach large numbers of others who they can engage in multi-directional communication as journalists, commentators, and organizers. Facilitating the exposing of wrong-doing and the mobilizing of protest, scrutiny, and expanded participation, in the recent history of democratic rebellion in North Africa and the Middle East, we might think of liberation technologies as including the utilization of social media to organize the events that together culminated in the Arab Spring. The centrality of technology to processes of liberation, social justice and political transformation remain apparent across generations and across the world.

The Zapatistas were among the first to use digital technologies in the struggle against neoliberal globalization, and their efforts attracted the attention of many sympathetic intellectuals and non-governmental organizations throughout the world. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) used social networks to cross borders and build transnational alliances in real time; they were able, through their use of the World Wide Web, to promulgate their message and capture the imagination and support of other marginalized peoples fighting for liberation.

The meeting of reflections on liberation and technology is also present in Frantz Fanon’s reflections on the radio and medicine in Algeria during its war of national independence from 1954 to 1962, in addition to many of the similar reflections in the speeches of Malcolm X. As Malcolm X and Fanon’s 90th birthdays will respectively be on May 19th and July 20th, 2015, this theme could be addressed in celebration of ancestral contributions and recent world events.

Considering whether under the right conditions, in Fanon’s language, technologies can take on positive coefficients, please send individual paper and panel proposals to caribphil@gmail.com by December 15th, 2014.  Be sure to include the full name, email address, institutional affiliation, and paper title of each potential participant and an abstract outlining the nature of the proposed panel and/or paper(s). As always, we will also accept proposals that do not directly address the conference theme.

Founded in 2003 in Mona, Jamaica, the principal goal of the CPA is to support the free exchange of ideas and foster an intellectual community that is truly representative of the diversity of voices and perspectives that is paradigmatic of, but not limited to, the Caribbean. The Caribbean is thus understood not solely as a geopolitical region, but as a trope to investigate dimensions of the multiple undersides of modernity. Likewise, philosophy is conceived, not as an isolated academic discipline, but as rigorous theoretical reflection about fundamental problems faced by humanity. Understood in this way, Caribbean philosophy is a transdisciplinary form of interrogation aiming to elucidate fundamental questions that emerge with discovery, conquest, racial, gender, and sexual domination, genocide, dependency, and exploitation as well as freedom, emancipation, and decolonization.


CFP: ‘Not drowning but fighting': Decolonising the Anthropocene

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Image: Tokelauns protest during Pacific Warrior Day of Action (Te Mana: Litia Maiava) via ABC Australia

We all may be a geophysical force, we may all be geology,
but we don’t matter, are matter and own matter equally.
Despite this realisation, we feel like we’ve been rendered geologically active,
but politically rather passive.
We pass through premature fossilisation in the face of nature’s agency
that we are suddenly able to perceive, apparently through Bruno Latour.
Shouting, flailing, we spew forth a deluge of cultural production
that portrays us as just that: already dead.

While the Anthropocene is embraced as an opportunity to reframe our engagement with the ‘geo’ in geography or even geopolitics, the on-going struggles against the dynamics that gave rise to the phenomenon of the Anthropocene are rarely mentioned. At best, the image of the Anthropocene serves to confirm the excesses of capitalism or is used to fantasise about a complicity of the Earth with socialist ideals of revolution. But mostly, discourse around the Anthropocene extends the experience economy into deep time and the earth’s core through affective engagements. The great Promethean realisation of the (M)anthropocene liberates us from paying attention to the everyday struggles against continued injustices against humans and nonhumans alike. In this session we would like to make present the not-so-present narratives of the Anthropocene in geographical discourse, especially around violence, inequality, white supremacy and on-going colonialism.
What does it mean, to use Aimé Césaire’s words, ‘to inhabit the face of a great disaster’, to witness and participate in its continued (re)production, both inside and outside of academia? What examples of contestation and intervention provoke re-inscription?

We invite responses for a session for the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference ‘Geographies of the Anthropocene’ in Exeter, UK (1-4 September 2015).
Please e-mail abstracts (250 words) to  Kathryn Yusoff (k.yusoff@qmul.ac.uk), Anja Kanngieser (a.kanngieser@gold.ac.uk) or Angela Last (angela.last@glasgow.ac.uk) by 1 February 2015.


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