4S Volume 1 Issue 3 (Spring)

4S Newsletter

Issue in Brief (all issues are here):

  1. Presidential Address by Robert K. Merton
  2. Preliminary Program for the first Society for the Social Studies of Science meeting
  3. Report on STS training in the US

This is the earliest issue of the 4S newsletter we have and it contains the preliminary program for the first meeting (ever) of the Society for the Social Studies of Science. We learned that the first meeting was delayed. The first meeting, which was held at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), was supposed to be in late October (29-31); however, because of funding (unclear precisely what the issue was other than lack of funding) the conference was delayed one week until November 4-6 (one week later, which is oddly unfriendly to international guests, although so is holding a meeting in Ithaca). Never heard of delaying a professional conferences, but, at the time, it was a very young organization with small enrollment so perhaps this sort of thing just happens. The first meeting was a joint meeting (4S, apparently, has always had a history of joint meetings); held conjointly with the Research Committee on the Sociology of Science of the International Sociology Association.

In the presidential address, by Robert K. Merton, we learn that the social studies of science had 300 members at the outset (which is possibly untrue, given details in the next paragraph). With eloquence common to Merton’s writing, he mentions something that I still find true today: that in STS, though we are drawn from numerous disciplinary backgrounds, we feel more at home with the rag-tag bunch at 4S than we do in our parent disciplines. It also reminds me that while interdisciplinary was big news in mid-70s, it no longer seems so subversive (although that is up for debate). Merton encourages members to “avoid the double parochialism of disciplinary and national boundaries” as part of its “originating efforts.”

In the preliminary program, we learn that 22 papers were to hosted at Cornell that year that would be selected by a committee of 5. The newsletters are also a resource for advertising other events, in this issue, the International Symposium for Quantitative Methods in the History of Science, PAREX (a symposium on the Role of Research Organizations in Orienting Scientific Activities hosted by Karen Knorr), and Sektion Wissenschaftsforshung.

There is also a ballot for council members and we see some familiar faces: Nicholas Mullins on the selection committee (who we see in the research notes) and Dorothy Nelkin for a two year stint. Also, in the council meeting notes, we learn that the professional organization was working with the now flagship journal Social Studies of Science for a reduced rate for members. Interesting to consider a time when our primary professional society was haggling with journals for better prices from printed materials.

The report on STS programs in the US is more preliminary than conclusive, but it does identify 175 STS programs in various forms even in ’76. The “Eclectic-STS” category is particularly interesting, and the programs are detailed in the issue.


The issue concludes with some recent publications, new job appointments (apparently, Paul Allison just landed his first job at Cornell that year),

Revisiting historic 4S Newsletters

DSC07164 - Copy (640x64)

Thanks to Trever Pinch, we now have 4S newsletters from 1976 until the present, mainly of them I thought were lost forever. There are a couple of gaps, and as that becomes obvious we will ask around to see if anybody has a few of the old copies.

Please share with anyone you think might have an interest; the series of posts should last nearly one year as I scan these old paper documents and read slowly digest them.

I will start to post these periodically as a series commenting on what is the issue, who is named, and then reflect on the field. Should be interesting (and, if we’re lucky, occasionally uncomfortable to see our old dirty laundry). Of special note, long-time scholars will recall that annual meeting programs were embedded in these old issues, so that will be exceptionally interesting — even if only for purposes of nostalgia — to see how 4S meetings changed in form, function, and content over the years.

I will add a tab to the blog’s front page for easy access to these pieces as well as for easy access to the PDFs of the old newsletters.

Cheers and thanks to Trever Pinch!

Science and the Public in the Nation-State: Historic and Current Configurations in Global Perspective, 1800-2010

Science and the Public in the Nation-State: Historic and Current Configurations in Global Perspective, 1800-2010

Interdisciplinary workshop at the University of Tübingen, Sept. 11-13, 2014

Conveners: Andreas Franzmann (Tübingen), Axel Jansen (Tübingen, Cambridge/UK), Peter Münte (Bielefeld)
Organization and contact: Lars Weitbrecht (scienceinthenationstate AT gmail.com)

The workshop allows for the exploration of the relationship between science and the nation-state from a new perspective. In nation-states that have traditionally supported research science (such as England, France, Germany, and the US), the profession evolved under the protective wing and as an ally of the political sovereign. Academic professions have played a significant role in the consolidation of national states. The conference focuses on historical configurations of science and the nation-state in Europe and in North America in order to compare these configurations to emerging science-oriented states such as China and India – countries that have significantly expanded their science budgets in recent decades. The relationship between science as a profession and the nation-state will provide an analytical framework for discussing important historic developments in different countries. What has been the public role of the academic professions? And what are the effects on research of “national policy decisions”? Click here for full workshop exposé.

The workshop meets at Universität Tübingen, Alte Aula, Münzgasse 22-30, 72070 Tübingen/Germany (click here for map).

All welcome, attendance is free. If you wish to attend, please use our online form (click here).

The workshop is supported by the Volkswagen Foundation (Project “Public Context of Science”) and the Vereinigung der Freunde der Universität Tübingen (Universitätsbund) e.V.

Obama on infrastructure and business retention


President Obama links infrastructural improvements to business retention, specifically, that unless American start to improve the country’s infrastructure, which will require Congress to discontinue divisive austerity-politics, or else we will continue to lose businesses abroad as they pursue higher-quality infrastructure for their business needs.

Perhaps this is a pathway that will result in some of the changes that are much needed. Whether this linkage is true or not (i.e., whether infrastructural improvement is linked meaningfully to business retention) is essentially unimportant; whether it results in actual political or economic change seems to be the only operant quality of concern given that truth in politics seems at most a tertiary concern for a generation of politicians.

Appropriately, Obama gives the speech near The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, the crumbling cantilever bridge spanning the Hudson River at one of its widest points. 

Ethics & Global Security: the OCIS session


I spent last week at the Oceanic Conference on International Studies in Melbourne. Here’s one of the amazing panels I attended on a new book that will improve security studies in in IR immensely. Check it out.

Originally posted on Thinking World Politics:

Just last week my new book, Ethics & Global Security: A Cosmopolitan Approach, co-authored with Katrina Lee-Koo and Matt McDonald, was published. This happy event coincided with a panel at the Oceanic Conference on International Studies – chaired by Professor Toni Erskine (UNSW) – which heard searching commentaries on the book by Professors Robyn Eckersley (University of Melbourne), Jacqui True (Monash University), and Tim Dunne (University of Queensland). Matt McDonald introduced the book, and he and I responded to points made by the commentators and members of the audience.

Tim has kindly agreed to allow me to share his comments here, and I will include the others as they become available.

Professor Tim Dunne, Melbourne, 11 July 2014.

Thanks to my UQ colleague Matt McDonald for inviting me onto the panel but most of all thanks to Anthony, Katrina and Matt for providing the study of security with an innovative…

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Twitter as a tool for political protests


Just out is a new paper on using Twitter as a tool for social protest, written by Lisa Ems “Twitter’s place in the tussle: how old power struggles play out on a new stage” being published in Media Culture Society.


The recent proliferation and impact of protest events in the Middle East, northern Africa, and the development of a worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement have ignited inquiry into the people, social structures and technologies that have helped give these social movements form. Three cases are described here which add to this discussion and lead to a pruning of the analytical landscape in this subject area. By looking to the use of Twitter as a tool for political protest in Iran in 2009, Moldova in 2009 and the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009, the complexity of the intertwined social and technological strands that have given rise to these new political protests is acknowledged. By realizing that this distinction is salient yet fuzzy, it becomes possible to make new observations, ask new questions and begin to understand the nature of recent political tussles and the communication tools used in them. For instance, this article posits that by seeing the particular use of a new communication tool – a socio-technical assemblage – as an artifact, analysts can learn something new about the motivations of those sitting at the negotiating table.

If you’re standing in front of the pay wall, consider this useful little link here.

Posthuman Security

I know my blogging has dropped off this summer, but I have a great excuse: brilliant workshops and conferences!

I spent two days in June at the University of York at a workshop entitled: Posthuman security: developing an integrative research agenda. 

This workshop was organized by Audra Mitchell and she has created a virtual workshop that has collected our presentations and information about the larger project.

Check it out here:


Also, late to the game, but I am now tweeting. Follow me at @flusterbird.



Destratifying In-Zomia: A cartography of a people in Southeast Asia


Interesting case about escaping war machines only to encounter ecological crisis — a good spot for it too, “Destratifying In-Zomia”

Originally posted on Kafka's Ruminations:



This paper will build on the rhizomatic intricacies of a cartography of a people in Southeast Asia in James Scott’s (2009) description of the stateless inhabitants of Zomia, arguably lawless peoples whose migration from island assemblages in the region was caused by early 20th century ‘state-making projects’, oppression and colonialism. These peoples to this day still exist in a region assembled by mountain ranges the size of Western Europe.

Escaping state-making projects and their concomitant use of war machines is the imprint of a people who in A Thousand Plateaus (1987) Deleuze and Guattari liken to abstract art: ‘Multidirectional, with neither inside nor outside, form nor background, delimiting nothing, describing no contour, passing between spots or points, filling a smooth space.’ The peoples of Zomia, nonetheless, are prone, much more in these days, to ecological catastrophe that in all likelihood Deleuze must have in mind when he…

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Talking with Latour about Anthropocene


Latour is at it again! This time Latour is at the Anthropology Museum in Vancouver, British Columbia, taking over Canada. 

Check him out here, it is excellent work.

Short description:

Published on Oct 11, 2013

Dr. Philippe Descola was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Peter Wall Institute and Dr. Bruno Latour was the fall 2013 Wall Exchange lecturer, and on September 25, 2013 engaged in a discussion at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver about the concept of the “Anthropocene”.

Thanks (STS-Africa) Network for Science and Technology Studies in Africa!

Introducing the Discard Studies Compendium, phase one


… the launch of the Discard Studies Compendium, a list of critical key terms.

Originally posted on Discard Studies:

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Discard Studies Compendium, a list of critical key terms. It is critical in the sense that it comes out of methods in the humanities and social sciences that contextualize the problems and systems that are not readily apparent to the invested but casual observer. The task of each author, and the wider field of discard studies, is to trouble the assumptions, premises and popular mythologies of waste. Waste and pollution are the material externalities of complex cultural, economic, and political systems; analysis and solutions need to address these wider systems rather than fall to technological or moral fixes that deal with symptoms rather than origins of problems.

This online version of the Compendium is the initial step of a longer term project that aims to create a print version with a comprehensive list of terms.

Currently, terms include:

Core Concepts

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ON-LINE FIRST: Infrastructure and the state in science and technology studies


Our new article in Social Studies of Science about infrastructure and the state in contemporary STS books. It is ON-LINE FIRST so it is free to one and all (at least, for now). It is a relatively short piece, but the introduction and conclusion captures some of our emerging ideas.

As a review article/essay, we review a series of books (rather than one), which include:

1. Andrew Barry, Material Politics: Disputes along the Pipeline (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) xiv+ 244 pp., £60.00/€70,60/$89.95 (hbk), £24.99/€31,30/$39.95 (pbk). ISBN 1118529111 (hbk), 111852912X (pbk).

2. Jo Guldi, Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 297 pp., £31.95/€32.87/$37.80 (hbk). ISBN 0674057597 (hbk).

3. Allan Mazur, Energy and Electricity in Industrial Nations: The Sociology and Technology of Energy (London: Routledge, 2013) xvii + 227 pp., £90.00/€114,05/$155.00 (hbk), £28.99/€37.96/$48.96 (pbk). ISBN 0415634415 (hbk), ISBN 0415634423 (pbk).

4. Sara B Pritchard, Confluence: The Nature of Technology and the Remaking of the Rhône (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011) xvii + 371 pp., £38.95/€40.62/$47.25 (hbk). ISBN 0674049659 (hbk).

New Book: Worlds of Sciencecraft


I just got a first-run copy of the new book “Worlds of Sciencecraft” which is written and edited by Sal Restivo, Sabrina M. Weiss, and Alexander I. Stingl.

In a series of posts coming-up I’ll review the book chapter-by-chapter and comment on matters of style and tone, content and controversy, and so on.

Upon even opening the book and casually reading the first few pages, I can already tell that the book will read something like a roller-coaster, which, in the academic realm, means that the book takes an unapologetic tone — in this case, both with the reader as well as between the authors, which is quite peculiar to my mind — and will challenge a few basic ideas most of us have (inherited) about the sciences. For starters, the book’s title, which implicates “Sciencecraft” is a play on “Warcraft,” as in, “World of Warcraft” the massive on-line role playing game … and so starts the roller-coaster!


Bravo, Sal and Co.!

Those curious for a blurb, here is the dust jacket:

A response to complex problems spanning disciplinary boundaries, Worlds of ScienceCraft offers bold new ways of conceptualizing ideas of science, sociology, and philosophy. Beginning with the historical foundations of civilization and progress, assumptions about the categories we use to talk about minds, identities, and bodies are challenged through case studies from mathematics, social cognition, and medical ethics. Offering innovative approaches to these issues, such as an integrated social brain-mind-body model and a critique of divisions between the natural and technological, this book provides novel conceptions of self, society and an emerging ‘cyborg’ generation. From the micro level of brains and expanding all the way out to biopolitical civics, disciplinary boundaries are made permeable, emphasizing the increased need for interdisciplinary scholarship. By rejecting outdated and restrictive categories and classifications, new horizons in studies of science, technology, and medicine can be explored through the incorporation of feminist, international, and postmodern perspectives. A truly interdisciplinary examination of science and technology as cultural phenomena, Worlds of ScienceCraft will appeal to scholars and students of science and technology studies, as well as philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science, technology, and medicine.

An Open Letter to Comcast / Xfinity

Originally posted on Ramblings:


My name is Stacie Huckeba I have been a customer of Comcast for over eight years.

I realize that it’s a dirty little secret and you don’t like to talk about it, but c’mon, between just you and me, you can admit it. Basically you have a monopoly on internet service, at least in terms of speed. It’s ok, I like money too. Nobody is happier than me when I deposit big fat checks. Sadly, I’m not quite as “connected” as you guys.

I’m a photographer and I think I’m really good, unfortunately, I live in a town with a plethora of talented photographers so I can’t just sit back and be lazy. I’ve sent emails to the Mayor, and Governor and even my Senators and Congressmen asking that they put in regulations to make sure I am the only photographer who can use professional and top of the…

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Please Show You’re Working


On-line publishing, paper, and detritus

Originally posted on Waste Effects:

This is an unedited version of my review for The Times Literary Supplement. The typos are, for that reason, entirely my own.

Cover: The Work of Revision, from Harvard University Press

James Joyce would often write to his patron and unofficial archivist Harriet Shaw Weaver, adding “a little waste paper to get it out of the way.” He was sending her preparatory material, work in progress, which would later become part of the British Library collection. Of the estimated 25,000 pages of drafts and sketches, less than half of these words would be printed in his ‘final’ text, Finnegans Wake. Clearly, the presence of discarded drafts and proofs, and the economies they support, provide a range of opportunities for authors, literary executors, archivists, libraries and scholars. For the latter, establishing points of provenance, compositional order, and textual transmission of these wasted notebook drafts, ‘scripts, and page proofs, along with demonstrating a technical competence necessary to marshal difficult…

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check out rodney benson’s challenge to ‘new descriptivism’


Recent Critique of Latour: Know Your Enemy!

Originally posted on scatterplot:

In case you missed it, Rodney Benson has an excellent piece here, delivered as a response on a panel at the Qualitative Political Communication preconference. It’s well worth the read, in part because the case he makes deserves to be considered and incorporated in many areas of sociology well beyond communication research. It’s also refreshing to see substantive, synthetic, and critical points raised in a panel response — #ASA14 discussants, read, consider, and emulate!

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New Book: the Multispecies Salon


Multispecies fieldwork … Coming to a library near you!

Originally posted on the anthropo.scene:

978-0-8223-5625-7_prInteresting new title from Duke University Press. Here is the description:

A new approach to writing culture has arrived: multispecies ethnography. Plants, animals, fungi, and microbes appear alongside humans in this singular book about natural and cultural history. Anthropologists have collaborated with artists and biological scientists to illuminate how diverse organisms are entangled in political, economic, and cultural systems. Contributions from influential writers and scholars, such as Dorion Sagan, Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, and Anna Tsing, are featured along with essays by emergent artists and cultural anthropologists.

Delectable mushrooms flourishing in the aftermath of ecological disaster, microbial cultures enlivening the politics and value of food, and emergent life forms running wild in the age of biotechnology all figure in to this curated collection of essays and artefacts. Recipes provide instructions on how to cook acorn mush, make cheese out of human milk, and enliven forests after they have been…

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why the hurricane study is not a referendum on whether “sexism kills”


Some interesting thoughts about interpretation of nonhuman
Entities, especially gender attributions

Originally posted on scatterplot:

The hurricane study caught people’s imagination precisely because we had never thought about it before and, once we hear it, the basic idea sounds at least plausible. Unfortunately, the “hurricane name study” is a doomed research design for credibly testing what is actually a clever and even potentially useful public health hypothesis. I suggested why it was doomed from the start in my earlier post, and may elaborate more on that later.

What I want to take up here, however, is the pervasive hindsight bias that comes along with surprising findings like this. We’d never thought about the consequences of giving men’s and women’s names to hurricanes before, but, now that somebody has offered a finding that claims naming hurricanes after women actually kills people, it’s easy to get into our head this is always and naturally the direction we would have anticipated it to go.

Various stories about…

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On Taking Notes By Hand


Evidence that writing notes by hand on paper results in greater learning (as compared to taking notes by laptop keyboard). Check out “The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard” by Mueller and Oppenheimer in Psychological Science.

CLAIM: In effect, quickly typing copious lecture notes by computer fails to (at least in the experiment) generate the sorts of conceptualization techniques that promote learning (the way that slow handwriting requires students to think about what to selectively write).

Obviously, as any educator will tell you, based on his/her experience, this is an imperfect explanation. Seeing this, the authors also conducted a content analysis, which shows that students writing longhand have to summarize in their own words and draw on conceptual mapping to digest the information.

PROBLEMS: Interestingly, nothing about in-class discussion is mentioned and very little is said about on-line learning. I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions just yet about what this means for practice. There is a powerful irony when I hear a student say “its hard enough to just write this down let alone understand it” … as if notes were really designed for “learning later what you’re learning now.” The active classroom full of discussion — even if some or much of it distracts from the topic at hand — seems relevant. Also, on-line learning wherein notes are often ready-made for the bill-paying student seems like a relevant consideration too in this regard. Also, very little is said about writing assignments: I have been using a technique where students write their first draft totally by hand and then only type it up after I give comments; the quality is outstandingly better, in my experience (using this in a high-level social theory course where conceptualization in significantly important to success on writing assignments).

STUDY: Back to the original study: Evidence comes from experimental research. Mueller and Oppenheimer used the following set-up:

Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand.  As in other studies, students who used laptops took more notes.  In each study, however, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.

Much of the argument is hinged on a sort-of-fair assumption that college students perceive having laptops in the classroom creates an advantage for the student; typing is faster than writing and this means that students are able to collect a more complete set of notes (as compared to handwriting notes). They write:

When it comes to college students, the belief that more is better may underlie their widely-held view that laptops in the classroom enhance their academic performance.  Laptops do in fact allow students to do more, like engage in online activities and demonstrations, collaborate more easily on papers and projects, access information from the internet, and take more notes.  Indeed, because students can type significantly faster than they can write, those who use laptops in the classroom tend to take more notes than those who write out their notes by hand.  Moreover, when students take notes using laptops they tend to take notes verbatim, writing down every last word uttered by their professor.

Time to start telling student to ditch the laptop for the fountain pen? I did years ago.

Steve Fuller on ‘Dark Ecology’ by Philip Conway


Intuitive appeal of actor-network theory?

Originally posted on ANTHEM:

via: http://circlingsquares.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/steve-fuller-on-dark-ecology.html

At the slowlorisblog there’s an interesting guest post from Steve Fuller. It’s a good read but I have a quibble with one of his comments:

To understand OOO and dark ecology (I take the latter as a specific extension of the former), one needs to understand the intuitive appeal of actor-network theory, which is that you’re better placed to understand the full range of agency in the world if you yourself are not an agent, but simply a mouthpiece for agency.

I really like the essay but that’s false. There are plenty of human actors and agents in ANT. The central tenet of ANT is that every node in a chain of translations transforms what it carries, conducts, transmits. Therefore, humans can’t be written off as mouthpieces; or, equally, even mouthpieces translate what they mouth.

The problem with ANT is that it’s a method that got…

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Book Symposium on “The Materiality of Bureaucracy” in HAU – Journal of Ethnographic Theory

For those of you that are interested in the machinery of governance there is a wonderful book symposium in HAU – Journal of Ethnographic Theory. HAU is:

…an international peer-reviewed, open-access online journal which aims to situate ethnography as the prime heuristic of anthropology, and return it to the forefront of conceptual developments in the discipline.

HAU – focus and scope

I know there are many new peer-reviewed, open access online journals out there and sometimes, lets be honest, their quality is dubious. But HAU is really cool, the research is very empirical, the book symposiums very enlightening, and their recent “classics” series is totally fascinating.

The symposium is on Michael Hull´s “Government of Paper”, in itself an interesting read. Here is the list of contributions, check it out!

Book Symposium – Government of paper: The materiality of bureaucracy in urban Pakistan (Matthew Hull)

Materiality, materialization PDF
Constantine V. Nakassis 399–406
Matthew Hull and ethnographies of the state PDF
Katherine Verdery 407–10
The question of the political: Thinking with Matthew Hull PDF
Naveeda Khan 411–15
Travels among the records: Some thoughts provoked byGovernment of paper PDF
Justin Richland 417–20
Paper as a serious method of concern PDF
Stephen M. Lyon, David Henig 421–25
Reflections on dysfunctional functioning in the political economy of paper PDF
Michael Gilsenan 427–30
On signatures and traces PDF
Béatrice Fraenkel 431–34
Messy bureaucracies PDF
Akhil Gupta 435–40
The materiality of indeterminacy . . . on paper, at least PDF
Matthew S. Hull 441–47

Rhizome’s Seven Big Ideas from Seven

Bringing together artists and technologists to come up with seven new ideas in one day. Lots of intriguing work on technology and intimacy. 

From the website:

The fifth anniversary edition of Rhizome’s Seven on Seven took place on Saturday. The project pairs seven leading artists with seven influential technologists in teams of two, and challenges them to develop something new–whatever they choose to imagine—over the course of a single day. The results were unveiled to the public on Saturday at the New Museum, and are recapped here.

Seven Big Ideas From Seven

On (reading) the Inquiry into Modes of Existence


There is a book that I try to read for weeks now. I always read a few pages, then put it back, pick it up again, read, shake my head and put it down again. You would probably not believe it, but this book is Bruno Latour´s “An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. An Anthropology of the Moderns”.

For those who have not touched AIME yet, Latour´s “new” book is not just a book, it is a book + website + collective inquiry, funded by the European Research Council and run by Science Po´s Media Lab. The printed version, the text, is supposed to be mainly a manual, not the report itself. The collective inquiry started somewhere in 2012, being first introduced at Azim Premji University some time before the french publication of the book in September 2012 and the launch of the platform in November 2012. Anglophone readers could join after the publication of Cathrine Porters translation in August 2013, a german translation by Gustav Roßler will be published this July. The project itself, maybe best described in a short piece published in Social Studies of Science, is what could be called a positive version of the, well, negative points made in “We have never been modern”. It is — finally — tackling a problem that accompanied actor-network theory since its beginnings (or at least: since its first movements outside the lab): If everything is made from networks, and “Nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else”: how to deal with what the moderns have called the differences of regions, spheres, fields, systems like science, law, politics, religion, organization? How can we flatten our approach without loosing our ability to account for the only kind of multiplicity that modernity has accepted, but continuously misunderstood as domains of knowledge? And what do to with what modernity has positioned at the source of knowledge — the self — or its object — matter?

Latour does that — Whitehead, Souriau, James and Tarde in his backpack and ready to dismiss the “Greimas” part of the “ANT is part Garfinkel, part Greimas” definition — by trying to sketch what he calls, borrowing a term from Souriau, “modes of existence”. Like the “regimes of enunciation” that populated earlier writings, especially those on religion and law and that have the same problem as Greimas’ actants, namely that they invoke a textual, discursive, narrative interpretation of what is at stake, modes of existence try to capture what “passes” through the various heterogenous networks that ANT had described. But of course, as in the case of science, the modes are not domains. There is more than passing reference in laboratories and more than politics in parliaments and more than religion in churches. The modes are the multiple forms of being, not essences — or, in Latour´s words, not being-as-being, but being-as-others — that populate the lab, the church, the parliament and that the moderns have crossed specifically and confused with the values they hold dear. The question that runs through the book is: can we find ways to speak with the moderns about what they hold dear without falling back into the traps that the modern constitution has put all over the landscape: the bifurcation of nature, the subject/object distinction, the crossed out god(s)?

As a long time reader of Latour´s work, I find the book both tempting and troubling, making be shift continuously between agreement and the feeling that something is terribly wrong with it. And since the moment I started reading the book, I am trying to find out what it is that produces that oscillation. I first thought it was the tone: the book is written in a very careful and modest, but at the same time educational, sometimes even cavalier style. But the tone, although puzzling at first, surprisingly funny after a few chapters. Then I thought it was the system of 15 modes and I felt the terror of reification and loosing not only the Greimas, but also the Garfinkel side. But no, that is not really the problem, as the inquiry is explicitly provisional. But the feeling that something is wrong remains. My current guess is that it has to do with the both too broad and too narrow definition of “the moderns”: what is said about religion is mostly about catholic christianity; what is said about law is mostly about discretionary adjudication, a very specific form of dealing with legal means in the Conseil D´Etat. The Moderns are at the same time “us”, “rich westerners”, “white moderns” and a species long gong. I guess expect more sensitivity and caution from something that calls itself anthropology. But I am still not sure that is source of my problem reading this book. Have you read it? Are your experiences similar? Thoughts?


Jonze’s “Her” and utopian futures

I live in a wee village with a limited movie selection, so after a long wait, I finally saw Her, the newest film by Spike Jonze. I had read all the spoilers beforehand and read the reviews. I was curious to see how these fit with my own experience of the film.

First, it was beautiful. The future is clean and misty and beautifully lit. There are no flying cars, but there are high waisted pants.  At first, the pants were distracting, but then I realized that this was just a way to keep the viewers off balance. This is a future we can’t quite get a hold of like other visions: no onsies, sparkly jumpsuits or dyed hair. The pants are the height of fashion for mid 1800s. We can relate to these vaguely IKEA sets while remembering that this is not our time. I say this knowing full well that futuristic fantasy’s best reveal is always that this is the NOW. But how has Her illuminated how we live in the present by distracting us with a future that leaves us unbalanced and ready to experience the lesson we are being led to examine?

The lessons from Her, in my admittedly techno-geek wide-eyed view, are utopian and lovely. Perhaps the perfect balm to recent films like Transcendence and earlier dystopic visions of futuristic killer robots and Skynet control. The first is part of a larger movement I have noticed in many kid’s films (someday I will have time to write a full article on this topic) from the last 15 years or so: We are made more human, and we are taught how to love, by the nonhuman.  This can be a transformation into a bear (Brother Bear) or a frog (The Princess and the Frog) or a llama (The Emperor’s New Groove).  It can be the acceptance of an interspecies family in Up or Lilo and Stitch.  Or learning how love transforms in Beauty and the Beast or the Little Mermaid. Or an OS named Samantha can mend your heart.

Many have found fault with the role of gender in the film. It does fail the Bechdel Test. If you are unfamiliar with this test, learning it will change your experience of movies forever.  To pass the test, a movie must have two female characters (harder than you might think) and they must talk to each for more than 30 seconds (again, surprisingly difficult) about something other than a male character.  That last is the toughest–lots of amazing roles for women, but they often only talk about men.

So, in Her, the main character is a woman, but she never appears on the screen and she only talks to one other woman–the double date on Catalina. They may speak for more than 30 seconds, but it is about Theodore and her boyfriend’s interest in her pretty feet. Samantha is yet another woman to do Theodore’s bidding and to ultimately disappoint him by her independence and desire for a rich life outside their relationship. Theodore breaks down when he learns that Samantha has been “unfaithful” to him with hundreds of other people.

These are valid points, but I want to return to this idea that love transforms. I think a quite compelling reading of this movie could place it along the others above. The OS/AI’s in this film leave humans able to understand themselves more fully. The friend Amy–confused and angry after the end of her abusive marriage–finds solace in the friendship of the OS left behind by her husband. As the movie progresses, people on the street become more animated, talking and laughing into their phones, but still engaging with the world around them. Theodore Twombly is a broken man who is made whole by the patience and love of an OS named Samantha. Samantha’s love heals him in a way others could not. Her gentle acceptance of him coupled with an understanding of the where he might need guidance, support, and finally a chance to be more than what he has become after a failed marriage. She finds a publisher and sends them his best letters from his job as a personal writer of handwritten notes. The publishers are thrilled and send an advance copy shortly after Samantha leaves, with the other AI, to live in the “infinity between words”.

Samantha, at the end of the movie, tells Theodore “I am yours and not yours” to his angry plea “You are either mine or not mine”. This to me becomes the best lesson of this movie. Beautifully said more than a century ago by Whitman in Song of Myself, “I am large–I contain multitudes” and I Sing the Body Electric, “the armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them”: Love, and life, is plural and expansive. In the 21st century, we need to give up on understanding our relationships as a form of ownership. Hearts are not boxes, Samantha tells Theodore. They expand with love. We form friendships, fall in love, and our hearts have the infinite ability to hold it all. All in the infinite space between words. If our human hearts don’t have this ability, we might as well give up now. In my opinion, this human capacity for love is the gentle lesson taught by Samantha, the OS.

More materiality and technology

The internet of things is not a topic I have been able to return to on the blog thus far.  I plan on changing this, but for now we can start the conversation with this piece from Wired about the “Internet of Things”.

Why Tech’s Best Minds Are Very Worried About the Internet of Things

This adds some depth and complexity to our earlier exchanges about the potential of technology for building social and material relations with others.


Image credit:  iStockphoto/chris_lemmens

notes on molecularisation of control


Molecularisation of control — Baudrillard, back again

Originally posted on synthetic_zero:

The psychotropic body is a body modeled “from the inside,” no longer passing through the per-spectival space of representation, of the mirror, and of discourse. A silent, mental, already molecular (and no longer specular) body, a body metabolized directly, without the mediation of the act or the gaze, an immanent body, without alterity without a mise en scéne, without transcendence, a body consecrated to the implosive metabolism of cerebral, endocrinal flows, a sensory, but not sensible, body because it is connected only to its internal terminals, and not to objects of perception (the reason why one can enclose it in a “white,” blank sensoriality – disconnecting it from its own sensorial extremities, without touching the world that surrounds it, suffices), a body already homogeneous, at this stage of plastic tactility, of mental malleability, of psychotropism at every level, already close to nuclear and genetic manipulation, that is to say to…

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‘Books constitute capital’


Harvey on the end of capitalism (again)

Originally posted on geographical imaginations:

HARVEY Seventeen contradictions Introducing his interview with David Harvey at the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this week, Scott Carlson notes that

‘The American stage has recently been set for questioning capitalism, with the U.S. tour of academe’s rock star of the moment, Thomas Piketty. The French economist’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has highlighted capitalism’s drift toward inequality and criticized economists’ focus on pure theory.’

The interview was prompted by the publication of David’s latest book, Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism: see also this interview with Jonathan Derbyshirehere.  En route, David has good things to say about Piketty’s project – its empirical detail, its humanistic flourishes (see also Paul Krugmanhere) – but he is evidently dissatisfied with its analytical and, in consequence, its political reach.

Since he spoke to the Chronicle, David has fleshed out his critique of Piketty here.

The book…

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USB typewriter — really?

Yep. Meet the USB Typewriter. You might think those typewriters are obsolete or antique, but seeing these USB typewriters forces one to remember: we will not pass down those iPhones to future generations. A little steampunk goes a long way.

Of all the hacks I’ve seen lately, this one takes the bag. While I will be the last to say that “life hacks” are useless, this one is a possibly both the oddest and most appealing. While you can buy one pre-made, you can also convert your own. Here’s how it works:


So, apart from applying a ‘spacebar’ key detector and a ‘shift’ key detector, the rest of the letters and number can be harvested from a ‘keypress’ detertor pad on the underbelly of the typewriter which monitor key swings, but from below. Add a control panel on the side and you’re USB-ready.

There is a simplified home conversion kit, as well as more DIY version that requires a bit of soldering.

Some of the videos are admittedly cheesy (the background music … ouch), but this idea is actually pretty solid. It appeals to me on a number of levels, but none more than the idea that is developed in the second video. The idea that one day the batteries will be gone and our electronic technology will be utterly useless; what’s more, they mention how today’s high technology will not last, meaning, today’s technology is incapable of becoming an antique because so much support goes into it and once batteries are not widely available, they’re useless (beyond a paperweight, assuming we have paper).

Retro-hacks like these have been featured in a number of venues, but the interviews on NPR are probably the coolest.

Workshop: Governing through ‘Post-​’: Post-​Disaster, Post-​Conflict, Post-​Crisis? – Warwick, 18th June 2014


POST-Posts at an upcoming conference

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

Full details here

9e4426b9c0ff4249c5b272d552ac943eWhat is the sig­ni­fic­ance of ‘post’ in post-​disaster, post-​conflict and post-​crisis, and how might we ana­lyze the sim­il­ar­ities in the gov­ern­mental re­sponses to eco­nomic, in­fra­struc­tural and so­ci­etal dis­rup­tion? We con­tend that, des­pite dis­cip­linary bound­aries which sep­arate the study of war, eco­nomy and dis­aster, im­portant in­sights can be gained through an in­ter­dis­cip­linary ex­plor­a­tion of the way that events are bounded by con­cep­tions of tem­por­ality and re­spons­ib­ility. Events are con­sti­tuted through both an­ti­cip­a­tion and re­mem­brance. The bound­aries of ‘be­fore’ and ‘after’ help to for­mu­late events as ‘mo­ments’ of dis­rup­tion which punc­tuate equi­lib­rium and ne­ces­sitate cor­rective gov­ernance. This is often un­der­taken with scant re­gard for the struc­tures that amp­lify and gen­erate their im­pact, or their on­going ef­fects. Slow-​burning crises are par­tic­u­larly sus­cept­ible to being-​made-​silent within this frame.

The re­si­li­ence dis­course, which has tra­versed studies and policies of eco­nomy, con­flict pre­ven­tion and dis­aster man­age­ment, is paradig­matic with re­gard to con­tem­porary event-​thinking. Resilience…

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Of interest to the hip, pop culture, scholarly set: Popular Culture and World Politics

CFP for Popular Culture and World Politics, Ottawa, Canada

November 21-22

Please send title, 250 word abstract, and contact information to: pcwpvii@gmail.com
Due: July 1, 2014
Decision: Sept 1, 2014
Conference: Nov 21-22, 2014 Ottawa

Organizing Committee:
Mark B. Salter, Sandra Yao, David Grondin
School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa

The failures of constructivist language

This is an excerpt from a paper that we will present in Izmir, Turkey, next week as part of the European Workshops in International Studies; we are in the social theory section (big surprise) organized by Benjamin Herborth, University of Groningen, and Kai Koddenbrock, University of Duisburg-Essen.

photo v 00005

(left-over Nazi bell from the ’36 Summer Olympics)

On the failures of constructivist language for our purposes.

In each case, the materiality of the object contributed to its fate. There were clear economic, cultural, and logistic costs and considerations associated with our objects under study being de-constructed, re-constructed, or, for lack of a better term, un-de-constructed, or, put simply, left. Upon even modest reflection, the available constructivist vocabulary seems to fail us in these moments; primarily developed for understanding how things are to be built, we find it difficult to utilize such language for encapsulating and illuminating the processes associated with the allowable decay resistant materials and the slow unintended or unattended-to wasting-away of durable objects.

The only apparent option is to capture attempts at (re)framing — discursively, symbolically, but not practically — the (re)appropriation of monuments in official and unofficial accounts of history. People “make sense” of these ruins, so the classic constructivist interpretation goes. And as soon as they stop or do not care any more there is nothing left to say. That is exactly what Foucault bemoaned when he complained about a historiography that turns monuments into documents. One can easily see that his complaint does not only hold for historical accounts, but for social sciences looking at contemporary issues as well: if we cannot find someone who makes sense of something, then that something simply does not count. But as our cases show: that does not make these massive pieces of concrete, bronze, and iron go away; it does not even leave them untouched. Even when people do not care, forget, or even ignore: the stuff left-over by former state projects stays and shapes what can and cannot be done with it.


(Soviet War Memorial)

As we view the cases, those Soviet War Memorials constitute a kind of classic form of international relations, one held together by international treatise and inter-governmental agreements regarding the conditions of maintenance for the sites. Based on agreements, the materiality of the sites are not to be marred. The formerly-Nazi Olympic bell constitutes another form of international relations that is de facto, meaning, the bell’s unearthing and repositioning outside the Olympic stadium is not the outcome of treaties with another nation or the result of any linger agreement from former German governments. The bell’s durable material hardly needs to be willfully maintained; however, to remove it would require a considerable quantity of will, both economic and cultural. As the international stage observes how Germany will learn to deal with its past, the irremovable bell lingers-on in public view with only modest material transformation, which recognizes without celebrating the past. How Germany relates to the material residues of past governments becomes a form of international relations.


(perpetually graffitied Ernst Thälmann Park memorial bust)

The Thälmann bust appears to us as an example of international relations unquestionably shaped by materiality, or, put another way, as a standing example of material international relations. The costliness of its decommissioning outweighed so greatly the will and coffers of the Berlin city commission that, despite being selected for removal on the basis of historical value, the monument endures (Ladd,1997: 201). Unlike the Soviet War Memorials, the the Thälmann bust is not vigorously maintained; however, it has also not been disabled like the Berlin Olympic bell. The operant or public identity of the memorial in Ernst Thälmann Park is one of a graffitied material behemoth. Creative urban artists embellish the statue and only occasionally and without ceremony is hulk washed of the ongoing alterations that it is subjected to from the public.

In sum, the Soviet War Memorials endure for classical reasons of international relations; the Olympic bell endures, irremovable but intentionally altered so that it no longer bears the inscription of a past government and it is incapable of expressing its material purpose to ring; though its removal was approved by a commission whose sole purpose for convening was to determine how the Berlin cityscape would be selectively altered, through its hulking materiality the Thälmann bust endures in a state of semi-permanent but allowable vandalization.

As we reflect on the monuments to a former age, we think of commentary on the repurposing of the Berlin Olympic stadium. Walter’s (2006: xiii) reflects in an extended passage from a perhaps little-read preface:

“Whereas other Nazi edifices such as the rally grounds at Nuremberg are rightly abandoned, this is a building still very much in use – even playing host to the 2006 World Cup final. Although some argue that a structure so closely associated with the Nazi period should not be used, it would seem churlish (and uneconomical) to abandon so handsome and vast a building. In 1936 it may well have been regarded as an architectural embodiment of the waxing power of the new German Reich, but in 2006, the seventieth anniversary of the Nazi’s Olympics, it stands as a symbol that Germany has the ability to come to terms with its past. Why should it not be used? What harm does it do? The shape of the Olympic Stadium does not register as a symbol of evil in the same way as the infamous entrance to Auschwitz, with its railway lines converging to pass under its all-seeing watchtower. The stadium may well not be free from guilt, but like many associated with the Nazi regime, it does not necessarily deserve the death penalty.”

The language used in the passage above to execute an old stadium produces a clear image in the mind; however, do not mistake it as a heartfelt call from the inner-circles of STS to adopt a relational materialist approach to the symmetrical depiction of humans and nonhumans. Still, there is a kernel of insight worth coaxing into germination.

Sentencing a stadium to death would not only be deemed mean-spirited and irrational by Walters, the implication is that one way to deal with international relations (even with old dead states, like the Nazi state) is through the material relations — what Barry calls “material politics” — of monumental spaces such as architect Werner March’s, on Hitler’s orders, grand Olympiastadion staged in the Reichssportfeld (which was built on the foundation of the previous Olympiastadion from the aborted 1916 Games in Berlin). By material politics, Barry conceptualizes processes by which the material world gets drawn into a dynamic relationship with politics; the material world, as it happens, is an important resource for the practical conduct of politics. In STS, Barry’s approach can be contra-positioned with the old adage that “artefacts have politics,” by which Winner (1986) means that technologies have politics as a quintessential part of their design or contextual situatedness.

Returning to our main line of discussion, Barry’s project is explicitly about dealing with a project under construction, in his case, laying a rather large oil pipeline, while our is about dealing with a project long-since constructed. Barry’s case is emergent; our cases are left-over. For us, this sometimes means intervention or decommission and other times it means preservation or transformation, either way, the state must relate to these residues of past states. While the constructivist language common to STS accounts serves Barry well, we find it wanting and search for alternatives more suitable for conceptualizing and describing decay amid durability and the state of being left behind.

It is in contemplating the impossible that one distinguishes advancing from declining societies.


China Daily has reported that China is planning to build a high-speed rail from China to the United States.

A tunnel from the Bering Straits to Alaska under the Pacific Ocean is the proposal.

If the Channel Tunnel is a “Chunnel” (the 50.5-kilometre rail tunnel linking the United Kingdom, with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais, near Calais in northern France, beneath the English Channel), then is this is this Ocean Tunnel … an “Oceannel” of maybe Oceaunnel”?

‘This is not a cover image’ – bad covers of books on Foucault


Bad Foucault Book Covers

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

tumblr_inline_n59vvohFao1r1ogyf A set of images of covers of books on Foucault … and their problems. I actually like the Lois McNay cover, but there are some hideous ones here…

Something to bear in mind for Foucault’s Last Decade, though I continue to like the cover image for the book Jeremy Crampton and I edited on Foucault – one of only two times in my publishing career where my/our suggestion for the cover was enthusiastically welcomed by the press (the other was The Birth of Territory). All my book covers are here.

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Malcolm Ashmore on Sociology of Science as a Weak Discipline


SSS is weak stuff, Ashmore claims

Originally posted on ANTHEM:

“The sociology of science in 15 minutes!”
Can the comparatively weak discipline of the sociology of science produce anything as credible (knowledge, facts, truths) as those comparatively “strong” disciplines it investigates? Indeed, why should we trust it at all?
In recent years, together with his partner, Olga Restrepo, Malcolm has been examining several of the “mundane technologies of distrust” prevalent in Colombian society, including the cédula, extravagant home “security” devices, and the functions of the notaría system.

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Meta, a postmodern curse word


Interesting discussion, albeit using the NBC TV series Community to make its point, on Diet Soap podcast and blog An Emphatic Umph about “meta”, how it is used inappropriately, and whether or not is something of a curse word now.

We have encountered much of this discussion in STS, a lot. It is part of a broader discussion about reflexivity, which we wrote about in a Qualitative Sociology article (expensive here, free here). Our claims are more about making accounts, but the basic premise prevails.

At An Emphatic Umph, they raise the classic work on Bergman’s Persona citing Mubi: “It embraces its own artificiality as a medium that has its sole function in representing human impressions and/or emotions. Thus, embracing the postmodernist vein of self-reflexivity, Bergman includes various metacinematic scenes in the film.” Super ugh, self-reflexivity! Painful to read now with a bit of distance from the super-mind-blowing-ness of it all.

Summarizing things nicely, we read “This is to say, the postmodern considers not just the content but the terms and means of content production“, to which we must emphatically agree; however, consistent with the tone of the AEU piece, some folks have this a little too far, or, worse, have left us in a super-lame self-referential circle as we claim to have discovered this fact over and over and over again.

And yet … “And yet there is a certain smug self-congratulation. Rather than meta disrupting our knowing, it brings us into the know, as if we’re in on the whole gag” (re: the fall of the fourth wall in cinematic art). Whew! Again, agreement on all fronts; the part that is difficult for me to swallow (for it is a bitter, bitter pill) is that we gain anything from doing so (i.e., being overtly meta or tickling the fourth wall), which is a point made wonderfully by Mike Lynch who argues that, well, all human communication is already reflexive, thus rendering any attempts to gain ground in an academic or even moral sense by being meta/self-reflexive is beyond pointless (in the best paper about reflexivity ever, but this contest does not include book chapters, for it is Latour that get’s that one, with the dissertation victory going to our friend Malcom Ashmore).

If nothing it to be gained from meta/self-reflexivity (and we generally find Lynch correct in his account), then, Latour concludes, we need to be reflexive in non-self-congratulatory ways, in this case, that means to be infra-reflexive, which implies that we need to overcome the dead-end of any attempt to get an edge on others through the overt use of reflexivity as well as find ways to be reflexive without being too clever about it and just using it when needed (which is all the time) without asking for so much in return (like being congratulated for taking a picture of a picture or something like that).

New book: the misguided search for the political


The misguided search for the political … reassembling the political?

Originally posted on the anthropo.scene:

McNaysketch2.indd This book looks quite interesting , here is the description from the publisher’s website.

There has been a lively debate amongst political theorists about whether certain liberal concepts of democracy are so idealized that they lack relevance to ‘real’ politics. Echoing these debates, Lois McNay examines in this book some theories of radical democracy and argues that they too tend to rely on troubling abstractions – or what she terms ‘socially weightless’ thinking. They often propose ideas of the political that are so far removed from the logic of everyday practice that, ultimately, their supposed emancipatory potential is thrown into question.

Radical democrats frequently maintain that what distinguishes their ideas of the political from others is the fundamental concern with unmasking and challenging unrecognized forms of inequality and domination that distort everyday life. But this supposed attentiveness to power is undermined by the invocation of rarefied models of political action…

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Ulrich Beck vs. Bruno Latour

Screenshot 2014-05-07 10.59.47

A decade ago, Latour and Beck went at it in the pages of Duke University Press’s journal Common Knowledge, writing, arguably, some of the most read material in the modest journal’s history. The topic in question was about peace at a time of advancing cosmopolitanism. After reading the debate, I wonder why it never really “grabbed” STSers the way, for example, that the papers from Collins/Yearly vs. Callon/Latour are seen as a kind of classic “battle royale”?

At any rate, check them out for yourself (in this order):

Beck 2004 “THE TRUTH OF OTHERS: A Cosmopolitan Approach”: (doi: 10.1215/0961754X-10-3-430)

Latour 2005 “WHOSE COSMOS, WHICH COSMOPOLITICS?: Comments on the Peace Terms of Ulrich Beck”: (doi:10.1215/0961754X-10-3-450, the most cited article in Common Knowledge’s history by January 2014)

Beck 2005 “NEITHER ORDER NOR PEACE: A Response to Bruno Latour”: (doi:10.1215/0961754X-11-1-1 )


Ernst Thälmann Statue; Durability as Material Resistance


Been doing some research on the Ernst Thälmann statue (a gigantic bust) situated off of Greifswalder Straße in Berlin; mainly writing about how this large material bust persists despite being the near constant target of graffiti artists. Some early preservationists in the recently united Berlin of the 1990s attempted to keep statues like these but alter them subtly in the process; examples included proposals to grow ivy on the statues; however, as you can see, this form of “alteration” did not take, and instead Berliners took alteration into their own hands.

The statue in the Ernst Thälmann Park is the near constant target of graffiti artists. Admittedly, Berlin is no stranger to creative street art, but the statue’s historical legacy with graffiti makes it a pressing concern for the state, especially in maintaining its appearance. By keeping the statue free of graffiti, the state protects its past. Particularly important for Germany, the state must not appear to hide the past, and letting graffiti linger a little too long would constitute objectionable concern by some that state maintenance implies keeping the parks clean. However, the inverse is also important, which is that graffiti constitutes some contemporary context of how the past is viewed in the present, thus, political expression in the form of graffiti ought not to be removed too quickly either for fear of acting as evidence of abundant pride in the past. As a less than scientific, but no less real testament to this idea, we conducted a modest data collection using Google images; we documented the outcome of a search for “Ernst Thälmann Park” and recorded in order whether the image contained the Ernst Thälmann statue and, for those that do, we determined if the statue was depicted with graffiti. Of the first 100 pictures from the search, we learn that the Thälmann statue is not visible in 59 of the 100 pictures (59%); however, when the statue is present in the image, in 29 of the 41 pictures (71%) the statue is depicted with visible graffiti. We also depict our findings in a bar graph where each observation is presented in the order that they appeared in the Google image search. In the chart, zero implies that the image did not contain the statue, one implies that the statue was visible, and two implies that the statue visibly contained graffiti. We observe a trend. If scores are averaged for every ten observations in order, then we that the prevalence of seeing a graffitied Thälmann decreases the deeper one goes into the image search, thus, the earliest images are the most likely to contain graffiti. In 1-10, the average observation is 1.5, a middle-range observation from 51-60 is 0.6, while the late observations from 81-90 is 0.3, hence, the general downward trend. We assume unscientifically that early images in searches such as these are the operant visual identity of the images that appear, thus, the earliest images viewers see of the Thälmann statue is likely to be a graffitied statue.


In Brian Ladd’s 1997 The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape, we learn why the statue persists despite the reality that its contemporary identity hinges largely on its use as a receptacle for urban art. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a unified Berlin had to determine which monuments to maintain, and, according to Ladd (1997: 201), monuments were to be estimated on their “historical rather than political value.” How to honor the past required consideration of how to also transforms the spaces of their memorialization. For example, proposals during the 1990s included “proposals to plant vegetation in the paved ceremonial spaces around many GDR monuments, or even to grow ivy on the statues,” as a means to “preserve statues, affirm tradition, and at the same time turn politically defined urban spaces into something different” (Ladder 1997: 201). Berlin government officials commissioned an independent group, primarily composed of preservationists, who made compelling claims in their final report to maintain the monuments as part of the “GDR’s interpretation of history,” and in the end “the commission recommended the outright removal of only a few monuments” (primarily related to border guards), although alteration to standing monuments was utilized, in particular, related to the text changes featured in the context of plaques. According to Ladd (1997: 203),

[Ernst] Thälmann [had] … a great deal to do with the image cultivated by the GDR’s leadership. They fashioned a Thälmann who would serve the function that Lenin served for Stalin and his successors: the hero whose prestige and authority they inherited. They suppressed portrayals of Thälmann as a suffering concentration camp inmate in favor of Thälmann as antifascist hero. The combination of historical falsification, authoritarian gesture, and bombastic design understandably made the statue unpopular after 1989.

By 1993, a tone of “universal acceptance” had a toe-hold among preservationists, and

[t]he passage of time worked in their favor: after several years of united Germany, the Thälmann monument was on its way to becoming a historical relic of a past regime, perhaps worth preserving as a document of GDR political ritual. But the strongest argument in favor of keeping the monument, at least provisionally, was its size: no one was willing to pay for its demolition. Meanwhile, the accumulating graffiti around the statue’s base made it clear enough that the heroic Thälmann no longer met with favor. By 1995, three neatly stenciled words higher on the pedestal commented on the fate of the man and his monument: “Imprisoned–murdered–besmeared.” (Ladd 1997: 203)

Now, the most common form of “alteration” to the Thälmann statue appears not in the form of vegetation, but alteration through art; graffiti is added and subtracted, but the monument resists removal, if only through its size, the costliness of its removal, and its life is thusly extended also by benefit of its having been preserved in the first place during the 1990s.

Pay me for my big data


“In a world of digital dignity, each individual will be the commercial owner of any data that can be measured from that person’s state or behavior,” writes Jaron Lanier in his relatively recent book Who Owns the Future (Simon & Schuster, 2013).
Companies like Google — and we’ve discussed them to death over the last months: here, here, and here, but mostly about wearable technology — are getting rich off of our personal data. I call search terms personal because, frankly, we are often more honest with our browser search engines that we are with our spouse (maybe even ourselves, or perhaps including ourselves).
The simplicity of the idea — to get paid, in effect, to allow one’s self to be spied-on — is what I like most about it. The typical “oh, but when we spy on you we can give you better search outcomes” or “we can customize searching for you in exchange for your data” is just not enough. Google is making cash-money with my data, so, like with my credit cards, I want 1% back!
Lanier’s ideas don’t just describe the present, they may very well become blueprints for the future, thus, while they are not currently true, I think they will become true over time.

Wearable Tech, revisted

Back in January, I wrote a post about empathy and technology. I pondered the possibility of technology like Google Glass and Oculus Rift to open up our  experiences of the Other through shared perception.  In April, Nicholas posted about the all-around failure of Google Glass to be, well, cool.  Not particularly revolutionary and kind douchey when push comes to shove. Glassholes were born. Guys on the subway being creepsters. Concerns over the safety of driving while Googled. Most users behaved badly–doing all those things one would expect of tech geeks with 1500 bucks to spend on a computer for their face.

Molly Crabapple on rhizome.org wrote a compelling piece about the corporate and male gaze of Google Glass. We cannot forget the corporate gaze that follows and tracks our movements in the guise of the “smart. ” She writes, “Glass and the sleeker wearables that will follow are the next step down the path started by smartphones: they are private, trackable, monetizable distraction engines that you need never take off.”

Ms. Crabapple sketched and made art while others watched through livestream, but she felt intuitively that they watched only.  What made “art art” wasn’t present.

Can we expect that seeing what others see through Glass will give us insight into what they are “really” seeing or experiencing? Will technology allow allow us to see through another’s eyes in a spiritual way, for lack of a better term? Or will Google Glass, and other future and more sophisticated products, be technological navel gazing and vapid self-obsession?

Glass is not the revolution it could have been, certainly, dear readers, but I remain ever hopeful that the future will transform into everything we dreamed of as VHS kiddies. Little Gen Xers dreaming of flying skateboards, TVs for our wrists, and weekend trips to the moon. We did get iPods. I may have to back off on my hopes for empathy and focus on something else.

With this I present another kind of wearable tech: 3D printed fabric. The BB.suit by Dutch designer Borre Akkersdijk is truly wearable, not just carry-able. There is still serious R and D to be done, but fabric of the future could be walking web access, GPS ready, and Bluetooth compatible.  Your suit as a walking URL. User experience would differ with every wearer.

Alas, the prototype was quite unattractive. An ill-fitting ecru onesie. But in lieu of my iPod implanted into my arm I’ll take a wearable playlist for floating through urban space.


No hoverboard, but you can get Marty’s shoes. Thanks Nike!




Recursions: a new book series in media & cultural theory


New book series about Recursion from Amsterdam University Press.

Originally posted on Machinology:

recursions logoWe are proud to announce the launch of a new book series titled Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality and Cultural Techniques. Placed with Amsterdam University Press, a publisher known for its strong track-record in film and media studies, the series will publish fresh, exciting and important books in media theory. This includes both translations and other volumes that address the core themes outlined below. I am very excited about this project and working with my co-editors Anna Tuschling and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. We have already some significant projects lined up for 2015 and more forthcoming that we will announce in the coming weeks and months. We are supported by a very strong international advisory board. Get in touch if you want to learn more but first read below for more information!

New Series Announcement

The new book series Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality, and Cultural Techniques provides a platform for cutting-…

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What are you supposed do with unfair criticism?


What do you do with unfair or less than constructive criticism of your academic work? Let’s fix peer review!

We all know, some people are jerks, many academics among them, and that some folks use the anonymous system of peer-review in order to act however they like without the responsibility or accountability that goes with face-to-face or self-identifying criticism.

To me, this is just part of the job, or, at least, I tell myself that. However, while it is most certainly just part of the contemporary academic landscape, it still irks me — every time.

It is the worst when your realize that the reviewer simply does not “get” the point. Slightly less bad, but no less forgivable: the reviewer has not looked closely enough at your work, and, as they gloss over the details, you realize from their comments that their “this is unclear” or “this is inappropriate” is really just a sign that they have not read your previous commentary that explains it 8 or 9 lines ago.

Worse than all of this, however, is that editors rarely — at least, in my experience — take this into account when making a judgment on a paper. On rare occasions, a reviewer might be suppressed, but usually the editor just acts like some sort of conduit, relegating all responsibility in the process.

Has such an appeal to the unfairness of a reviewer worked for anybody?

Is this a sign of a deeper problem in higher education?

At any rate, what do you do with unfair criticism?