thesinkhole.org

130301151745-02-sinkholes-0301-horizontal-large-gallery*from: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/28/asia/japan-sinkhole-fukuoka/

There is an odd combination of care and mockery with regard to infrastructure devoted entirely to sinkholes. Please, please go to thesinkhole.org and check them out. It is not a complex blog, but it is dead serious (for example, note that a number of the stories covered by the blog record casualties). A curious resource and one to keep your eye on.

Complexity management and the information omnivores-versus-univores dilemma

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I recently had the opportunity to see the film Sully (2016), which recounts the 2009 emergency landing of a jetliner on New York’s Hudson River. Despite some critical flaws, the film is not only a thrill to watch but also provides much food for thought to those studying infrastructure. Even the flaws are instructive. One of them – certainly the most discussed – regards the portrayal of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that, as per protocol, investigated the accident. Whether due to Hollywood convention or directorial choice, the NTSB team are neatly cast as the villains, out to get the story’s hero by discrediting his decision-making process.

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Incentivizing “Repair” in Sweden

This is an idea worth reviewing — imperfect, of course, but something of this ilk should be developed, at scale. You can see reports on this all over now: the Guardian, CNN, Washington Post, BBC, and so on.

This comes on heels of much needed attention to maintenance, especially in terms of infrastructure, but with a new mechanism for incentivizing these behaviors on a wide swath of products, which re-articulates attention toward “demand” in a fresh way and away from “demand” as merely “voicing political concern” (which seems not to work, other than verbally). 

Sweden proposes tax breaks for repairing things, extra tax on unrepairable things.

Demand for Infrastructure Essential

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After reading a short piece by Christopher Jones (assistant professor of history at Arizona State University and author of Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America, 2014), I was reminded of just how essential “demand” is when it comes to actually getting politicians to invest in shared infrastructure (rather than fall back on ill-advised cost-savings measures that delay or push-back maintenance).

The basic idea is that we are focused on “game changing innovations,” rather than the day-to-day maintenance of our infrastructure. For most of us, of course, effective roadways and public transportation are at least as important as ground-breaking innovations. But Jones goes a step further in our understanding of this, effectively suggesting that innovations primarily promote/aid/help the already wealth, monied upper-class elites who can benefit socially, politically, and financially from emphasis on innovation as opposed to maintenance on, for example, roadways, subways, waterways, and all manner of other ways.

Jones’s solution: Demand it! (after all, we once did, and worked out rather well). See his new piece “New tech only benefits the elite until the people demand more,” and start demanding!

Who Self-Driving Cars Should Kill

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Scholars from “MIT’s Media Lab, [in a group] called the Moral Machine,” are testing “a thought experiment that seeks answers from humans on how a driverless car with malfunctioning brakes should act in emergency situations.” Here is the piece.

These situations are bound to happen with self-driving cars. In this case, “The situations all involve the same scenario, where a self-driving car is traveling toward a crosswalk, and it needs to choose whether to swerve and crash into a barrier or plow through whoever’s at the crosswalk. The test is basically to determine what humans would do in these rare, life-or-death situations.”

 

NYC’s circulatory system and skin

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If you’re teaching infrastructure and you need some metaphors to communicate how certain kinds of infrastructure operate, consider this: Street as vein and skin. 

“Streets are both New York City’s circulatory system and its skin.”

Part of New York 101 from the New York Times, Why are the streets always under construction?” is a great short, readable resource for students about the “subterranean layer cake” underneath the streets of any major city.

 

Internet Railroad?

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I will return to this piece each year teaching STS. Living in Central Pennsylvania, we are sitting right on top of PRR country (Pennsylvania Railroad). It is useful for students to understand the sunk costs, the path dependency (literally, in this case), and the reverberations through history that simple technological infrastructure decisions can make. “How railroads shaped Internet history.”

New Essay: Hail the Maintainers

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“Hail the maintainers” — a must read.

Innovation is overrated. “Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more.”

* Image from original post: Workers at the Blue Plains Waste Water Treatment Plant, Washington DC.Robert Madden/National Geographic Creative

Infrastructure Collapse, India

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Collapsing bridges (again and again), this time a flyover under construction in Kolkata (Calcutta). “India bridge collapse: Kolkata rescue efforts under way,” “India bridge collapse: At least 23 killed in Kolkata,” “Kolkata overpass collapse kills 24; rescuers dig for survivors,” “India Kolkata flyover collapse: At least 20 dead,” and it goes on.

Uncommon Walking Tour of Bristol

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In a fascinating post about walking, Will Self offers an uncommon walking tour of Bristol. According to Self, “walking was the way to break free from the shackles of 21st-century capitalism.” Walking tours, sometimes also called pedway tours, are growing in popularity; pedways are pedestrian walkways and they can be both above ground and below; they are sometimes discussed as a form of ungoverned or unplanned civil engineering.

Self, who guides the walking tours, gets meta pretty quick; he “began with a brief introduction to the situationists – the Paris-based artists and thinkers of the 1960s who championed the concept of “psychogeography”, the unplanned drifting through an urban landscape to become more in tune with one’s surroundings.”

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Post 1 of 3: The Architecture and Infrastructure of Memory (MAI)

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Hobbes’ Leviathan frontispiece revisited: Dingpolitik and object-oriented governance.

 

What is the connection between the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the National Holocaust Monument currently being built in Ottawa, Canada? (Chalmers:105) Though this question seems rather peculiar at first, the answer is far less obscure when considered within the context of memory architecture and infrastructure (MAI). This is because MAI is intricately bound up in both remembrance and sovereignty.

The connection between memory and the authority or power to govern is nothing new: the correspondence between the two was established in early Greek mythology. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, the ability to rule over others was granted to certain favoured individuals by the Muses through their unique bond with their mother Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and guardian over what should be remembered. As history would have it, memory would be stolen from Mnemosyne along with Hephaistos’ fire (thanks to our friend Prometheus) and humanity (led by the privileged few) became able to record their own past via material culture and technology. Mnemonic technologies (texts, film, photographs, commemorations, digital memory, the internet, etc.) have become increasingly complex, varied, and augmented as those responsible for filling the void left by Mnemosyne go about constructing our past(s).

However, though the figuration of memory has changed over time, the relationship has remained very similar: those who possess the ability to shape what is remembered and how it is re-collected are in an auspicious position to exercise sovereign rule, and inversely, those who wish to maintain such authority take a special interest in doing so. This is in part why memory studies scholars have written so extensively on both the more recent proliferation of commemorations (memorials, monuments, etc.) and their role as part of modern state attempts to reconstruct the past. The salience of state-sponsored memorials and monuments is particularly distinguishable in national capitals, where commemorative landscapes are often extremely composite and interconnected.

As a specific example of mnemonic technology, memorials and monuments are durable structures that have become delegates or heads of populations that are the punctualized result of previously formed assemblages composed of a multiplicity of actors (politicians, special interest groups, community organizations, artists, architects, city planners, academics, government organizations/departments, etc.). To say that these sites and their structures are delegates is to say that they ‘speak’ on behalf of the array of different actors who had gathered to establish them (and have since become ‘silent’ – an effect of punctualization), but it is also to say that they represent histories, specific events, ideologies and ideals, among other knowledges. Additionally, they participate in a discussion with a host of other such memorial delegates that exist within local, national, and international commemorative networks: with other delegates representing punctualized networks that then come together to form even larger commemorative networks.

It is these networks that form what is referred to here as memory infrastructure, or the organization of various punctualized assemblages that have been made durable (and to an extent more stable) through practices of art, design, and architecture.

Why is it important that we recognize MAI? Just like roads, sidewalks, trails, electricity, the internet, power plants, etc… MAI facilitates (and limits) possibilities and creates complex connections between these possibilities for both individuals and governments. This is how Canadian economic or foreign policy can be connected to a mass genocide in Europe during the 1940s (as well as a myriad of other seemingly unrelated issues). Memory infrastructure and architecture establish thoroughfares that align a variety of translated interests in order to guarantee (as much as possible) a certain range of agencies: in this case, the governments ability to successfully deploy policy decisions.

Squirrels, Sharks, and Eagles, oh my!

While teaching STS, I was recently talking to my students about what constitutes an “internet attack.” The students arrived with clear examples in mind (and in hand, which was part of the assignment). The answers were primarily in the form of human-based hacking projects, and, as most of you know, they are abound. Giving the timing of the assignment, most of the cases had something to do with hacks against the US, hacks against power production facilities, and financial institutions.

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However, one student brought this: Sharks, replete with jokes about Sharknado as evidence of the prowess of the shark. Seeing as how a previous lesson was about ANT, with an emphasis on non-human agents as not-to-be-ignored agents in understanding social order, broadly speaking, this was a sign that at least one student “really got it.”

Another student brought in this: an eagle hitting a drone, hard.

Not a few days pass, and the blog’s oldest friend, dmf, sends me to a great website, half-serious, half-satire, CyberSquirrel1. The site is a terrific description of how our critical infrastructure is seemingly the most danger from other nation-states; however, the empirical materials do not seem to suss-out such an explanation; in fact, squirrels and other non-humans are responsible for more “attacks” than anyone else.

Makes for a great lesson if you want to find a fresh new way to bring infrastructure and the agentic role of nonhumans into the classroom in a way that is, to my mind, far better to the early discussions that Latour made about stop signs or door hinges.

NEW BOOK: Assembling Policy

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I am Sebastian Ureta and Nicholas has invited me to discuss my new (November 2015) book Assembling Policy.

Also, I owe a big thank you to MIT Press for publishing Assembling Policy!

For readers of the blog: Given past interest in Foucault, the origins of governmentality, and hybrid infrastructures, I thought the book would be of interest, seeing as how I mix classic STS with governmentality studies (among other things). I’ve published in The Information Society, Social Studies of Science, Organization, Public Understanding of Science, Urban Studies, and a few other places, if you’re curious about other work.

The case: I analyze the Transantiago, a mayor infrastructural policy carried out in Santiago, Chile in 2007 with utterly disastrous results. You can see the publisher’s overview bellow.

*I am happy to expand/comment on any of the book’s contents — please ask in the comments!

Publisher’s Overview:

Policymakers are regularly confronted by complaints that ordinary people are left out of the planning and managing of complex infrastructure projects. In this book, Sebastián Ureta argues that humans, both individually and collectively, are always at the heart of infrastructure policy; the issue is how they are brought into it. Ureta develops his argument through the case of Transantiago, a massive public transportation project in the city of Santiago, proposed in 2000, launched in 2007, and in 2012 called “the worst public policy ever implemented in our country” by a Chilean government spokesman.

 

Ureta examines Transantiago as a policy assemblage formed by an array of heterogeneous elements—including, crucially, “human devices,” or artifacts and practices through which humans were brought into infrastructure planning and implementation. Ureta traces the design and operation of Transantiago through four configurations: crisis, infrastructuration, disruption, and normalization. In the crisis phase, humans were enacted both as consumers and as participants in the transformation of Santiago into a “world-class” city, but during infrastructuration the “active citizen” went missing. The launch of Transantiago caused huge disruptions, in part because users challenged their role as mere consumers and instead enacted unexpected human devices. Resisting calls for radical reform, policymakers insisted on normalizing Transantiago, transforming it into a permanent failing system. Drawing on Chile’s experience, Ureta argues that if we understand policy as a series of heterogeneous assemblages, infrastructure policymaking would be more inclusive, reflexive, and responsible.

Co-opting Participation Infrastructure?

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Kenny Cuppers has a cool set of papers on the rise of shared “cultural centers” in major Postwar European cities. His is the first substantive chapter in a not-yet published book, which seems tailor-made for his research line, and which acts as a kind of companion piece for his published article “The Cultural Center: Architecture as Cultural Policy in Postwar Europe.”

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Infrastructural Lives, Reviewed

Add this one to your reading list: Steve Graham and Colin McFarlane have edited a book, which has just come out, Infrastructural Lives

Contributors include AbdouMaliq Simone, Maria Kaika, Vyjayanthi Rao, Mariana Cavalcanti, Stephanie Terrani-Brown, Omar Jabary Salamanca, Rob Shaw, Harriet Bulkeley, Vanesa Caston-Broto, Simon Marvin, Mike Hodson, Renu Desai, Steve Graham, and myself.  Arjun Appaduria kindly provided a thoughtful foreword for the book.

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3:1 — Post-Neutrality — Post 2 of 3

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Neutrality is under fire, or, at minimum, “not finalized” (whatever that means), possibly, even dead. I am surprised, in light of discussions of postmodernism over the intervening decades, that we humor the metanarrative of human emancipation embedded in “net neutrality” in the first place. Continue reading

3:1 — Post-Neutrality — Post 1 of 3

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Thirty years ago, in 1985, the historian Mel Kranzberg proposed a “series of truisms” starting with Kranzberg’s first law: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”

Eighteen years later, in 2003, the law professor Timothy Wu coined the term “network neutrality” to refer to a “a system of beliefs about innovation.” Wu characterized defenders of this system of beliefs as “Internet Darwinians.” He approved of their theory of innovation—namely, that the Internet should be “indifferent both to the physical communications medium ‘below’ it, and the applications running ‘above’ it.” As a result, Wu argued, network neutrality was an “attractive” and “suitable goal of Internet communications policy.”

The simple version of my argument here is: listen to Kranzberg, and be wary of Internet Darwinians. Technologies aren’t neutral, so we shouldn’t defend norms or make laws that pretend they are.

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Presentation: 4S, 2015

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4S 2015 Denver is our (Jan-H and I’s) presentation from, unsurprisingly, 4S 2015 (Denver), wherein we reflect on the trends and recurrent themes in our five years of organizing panels around STS, governance, and the state, which we are now calling simply “Social Studies of Politics.” We have a chapter summarizing a bit of this in “Knowing Governance,” but the paywall is steep, steep!

IO: Infrastructure Observatory

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Infrastructure Observatory (IO) is a “community devoted to exploring and celebrating the infrastructural landscape.”

Their mission: “to render visible the oft-invisible guts of modern life, and foster chapters of enthusiasts around these structures throughout the world.”

The group recently came out with this pocket-sized waterproof book about “shipping containers and the corporations that own them” (The Container Guide, 2015). They also held MacroCity, a cool-looking group of critical panels and city infrastructure tours wrapped into one conference.

Their main page is a little with interesting photographs of urban infrastructure — check it out. As of right now (late 2015), they are — somewhat obviously — set in major metropolitan areas: San Francisco, New York, and London. However, I’d love to see, in the future, groups like this China, India, or elsewhere.

Pankaj Sekhsaria: Guest Blogger

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Pankaj Sekhsaria (doctoral candidate from Maastricht University Science and Technology Studies) will join us for the next month on the blog. You might recall mention of research on jugaad, but Pankaj’s work is so much more than that. If you review the academia.edu page, then you’ll see a substantial amount more about jugaad, including an engaging and well-read newspaper piece about the topic,  along with a piece in Current Science, India’s leading science journal, and there is also a chapter is an edited volume that is worth the read. Pankaj is also author of The Last Wave, a novel that is engrossing — I’m learning — and that was well-received on the topic of deforestation and, I think, finding meaning in a world ravened by capitalism’s insufferable appetite.

This is truly a joy to welcome Pankaj to the blog. Please join me in welcoming our guest.

Infrastructure Toolbox

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This is a useful resource for anyone writing about or thinking about infrastructure from a big name (Gupta) and a rising star (Anand), it is the notion of an “infrastructure toolbox.”

One of the bottom-line insights appears to be that STS has had an impact on general thinking about infrastructure, in particular, legitimizing the “social” study of it (think: infrastructure ethnography, which I’ve discussed before too, especially in relationship to jugaad). Thus, we ask, what does infrastructure mean, even metaphorically, for “theory-making?”

Here is the opening passage (and it is freely available on-line): 

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New Zealand Grants River Personhood

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Great ANT case for teaching: “New Zealand Grants River Personhood

Want to take it to the next level in the classroom? challenge students to understand how a person-like “state” (in this case, New Zealand) is apparently accorded the ability to do this!

Ask them, which is weirder, a river being a person or a state granting the personhood?

Louisiana Needs a Mud-Hose

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Cajun culture on the bayou in southern Louisiana is being eroded as the bayou beneath them erodes, by some estimates, a football field of land lost per day (BBC reports).

Costal restoration projects are planned long-term, over the next 50 or so years, with some palpable success. The BBC link above links Gulf oil exploration to the quickening of erosion, especially based on land mistreatment without recovery efforts. This Huffington post piece, “Oil and Cultural Genocide,” is a little less equivocal.

According to the BBC piece, another culprit is to be identified in the erosion of Cajun culture and that is the Mississippi River, in particular, the way that the mouth of the mighty Mississippi has been channelled and controlled as it flows into the Gulf. Previously, the logic goes, the Mississippi used to act like a giant land-making mud-hose spraying silt across the Bayou thereby rejuvenating the land; however, as the river became more controlled, this rejuvenating process slowed considerably, and in its place these massive land moving operations — featured in the costal restoration projects — took their place.

*The image above is from a great website about Isle de Jean Charles: http://www.isledejeancharles.com/environment

Jugaad, Siqizai, Bricolage

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New article about jugaad, which we’ve discussed here a bit, by Pankaj Sekhsaria (a graduate student at Maastricht’s Department of Technology and Society) is available on academia.edu (note: if you click the link, you’ll find the paper starts on page 21 of the larger PDF file — the paper is short and to the point).

Infrastructure Discourse: Poorly Regulated and Explicitly Not Sexy?

John Oliver comments on infrastructure in the news. He comments on how poorly regulated infrastructure is in the US (the low grades America receives on its infrastructure report card) and hints that one of the reasons that we are so inattentive to infrastructure is its explicit “not sexiness.” Catastrophe is apparently one of the only reasons to be attentive to infrastructure …

Pacification of Rio’s Favelas

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Infrastructure is often seen as a pivot-point for addressing social ailments, directly or indirectly. That is what you’ll read — that assumption fully addressed — in Mariana Cavalcanti‘s “Waiting in the Ruins” a book chapter in Infrastructural Lives. What social ailments? Anything in the way of establishing Rio de Janeiro as a world Olympic city.

Questioned is the rhetoric championed by proponents of the favelas pacification programs as a form of “state intervention” — finally! Continue reading

On Revanchist Policy and Water Infrastructure

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In “Water Wars in Mumbai,” a book chapter in Infrastructural Lives, we learn an important lesson about infrastructure as a material-social entanglement, in particular, in relation to the poor: infrastructure — or the lack-thereof — can be used to subjugate the poor — thus, reproducing their impoverished state — but infrastructure also, with rare exception, binds the poor to the non-poor. 

This lesson dovetails nicely with Simone’s insights about postcolonial urban environment, and speaks to the fecundity of the chapters housed in the edited volume Infrastructural Lives. Continue reading

Simone on Infrastructure in Postcolonial Urban Environments

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AbdouMaliq Simone’s “Relational Infrastructure in Postcolonial Urban Worlds” is a book chapter in Infrastructural Lives, and provides a broader context for understanding the art of urban living with emphasis on adjustment, impromptu innovation (or “jugaad“), improvisation with focus on understanding the negotiated and lived experiences of individuals that inhabit these postcolonial urban “worlds.”

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Jugaad and the Workaround

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Jugaad is Hindi for “an improvised solution bom from ingenuity and cleverness” (De Vita, 2012: 21). Sometimes referred to as “frugal innovation,” jugaad is a way to think about most of the world’s experience with and approach to infrastructure, according to Vyjajanthia Rao (2015) in an essay featured in the edited book Infrastructural Lives. Defined as “innovative, improvisational urban practices and the objects they produce as temporary “fixes” or solutions to systematic problems,” Rao (2015: 54) notes that while the dominant “decay discourse” overwhelmingly depicts infrastructure as dilapidated and falling apart, this dominant discourse provides an almost too perfect foil for the conviviality and colorfulness with which jugaad is often celebrated with. 

ETHICS OF CELEBRATING JUGAAD

Celebrating jugaad, however, is not an innocent act, especially from the “outside looking in.”  Continue reading

“Infrastructural Lives: Urban Infrastructure in Context”

Line one of the foreword by Arjun Appadurai reads: “This timely book is sure to become a definitive work on the now growing literature on urban infrastructure” (xii).

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And Appadurai is not overstepping or overstating by saying as much. “Infrastructural Lives: Urban Infrastructure in Context” is edited by Stephen Graham and Colin McFarlane, both themselves big players in the academic discussion or urban infrastructure. McFarlane has a great blog, “cityfragment” that the book was recently showcased on. Some of the book’s materials are available on google-books here.

I’m reviewing the book this week, and will post commentary about it as I go.

Here are some thoughts and concerns about the foreword, and, thus, the project as a whole: Appadurai is an important figure for the burgeoning area at the intersection of sociology, anthropology, geography, political science, urban studies, and so on and so forth — many are invited to the table to dine on the topic of urban infrastructure. What makes this book extraordinary, Appadurai notes, is the approach:  Continue reading

Infrastructure and Enchantment

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A friend recently turned me onto the idea that somebody, somewhere is embedding USB ports into infrastructure in various places around the world — like a treasure hunt (sometimes called a “USB dead drop“). Turns out that some of these early devices were embedded in 2010 by Berlin artist Aram Bartholl. There is even a manifesto — interesting, in my mind. This is part of, I think, the broader DIY culture, and, though it is dated, it is a bit cool.

The idea of inhabiting infrastructure like this — they claim that it is the data equivalent of geo-caching for P2P file sharing, but the implications are bigger — is not merely as an expression of “un-clouding data” or even DIY freedom (from the Borg); the promise of this sort of intervention into infrastructure is “enchantment.” I do mean this, in the Weberian sense of the word, although Weber mainly referred to rationalization and secularization in reference to their de-mystifying or “disenchanting” quality for our world.

The reason I bring this up is that I recently found a documentary film set in San Francisco called “The Institute.” 

The film, for all its flaws, contains something I found powerful about engaging our infrastructure and intervening in it to produce enchantment out of the ordinary. Granted, it is like an artistic way to play in infrastructure, to transform the ordinary world. There is some promise, as idealistic as it might sound, in the logic of these USB dead drops for producing such an effect in our cityscapes. I get the feeling that university settings in urban areas could really make this work.

It is called “[Re]Build”

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I have just read: 

We propose the creation of a zone of experimentation with the intention of bringing together dissenting agencies with critical practices in hopes of finding prototypes and models for a post-capitalist society. Such a platform calls for a cross-pollination of ideas, a shared and in-depth dialogue, and easily accessible means for hands-on experimentation. This new space will be open to all wanting to participate.

At Deterritorial Investigations Unit there is a call for contributions and participants for a project called “[Re]Build” and part of the hook is in the above italicized text. The full details are here, and, I quote, “Anyone who is interested need only drop us a line here, or you can email me at Edmund.b.berger@gmail.com.”

I’ll be answering the call momentarily … 

Free PhD Class at Roskilde University

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Free 3-day PhD Course: “Criticizing Contemporary Technology: From Drones to Google Glasses and Self-Driving Cars” w/ Prof. Evan Selinger (RIT, USA)

Deadline for sign-up: Monday 20th April to Søren Riis, soerenr@ruc.dk

Relevant dates: 29 June 2015 (day 1), 30 June 2015 (day 2), and 01 July 2015 (day 3).

Background: Prof. Evan Selinger is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Media, Arts, Games, Design, Interaction and Community Center (MAGIC) Head of Research Communications, Community, and Ethics at Rochester Institute of Technology. In addition to publishing widely on issues in philosophy of technology in the standard academic sources, he has also written extensively for popular media, including places like The Atlantic, Wired, Slate, The Nation, Salon, and The Wall Street Journal. Starting September 2015, he will spend a sabbatical year as a Senior Fellow at The Future of Privacy Forum. You can find out more by going to Prof. Selinger’s homepage (http://eselinger.org/) and following him on Twitter @EvanSelinger.

Summary: In this 3-day PhD course, Prof. Evan Selinger gives a general introduction to the field of philosophy of technology and dedicates a day of presentations and discussions to three disputed topics: obscurity and privacy, automation and the ethics of outsourcing, and technology and public scholarship. The course is developed for graduated students across different disciplines: humanities, media studies, social sciences, IT and engineering.

If you’re in Denmark, happen to be in Denmark, or are close, write Søren!

 

Is Access to Darkness an Equality Issue?

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“… many people have never experienced true darkness,” a report reads. The discussion is mainly about light pollution, and the body-burdens associated with 24 hour light exposure, which are on the rise:

It’s estimated that the amount of light in the night sky globally is increasing by around 6 per cent a year, but that statistic can be deceptive, according to Paul Bogard from James Madison University [author of The End of Night].

There is hope, however, from the marketplace: 

The Amsterdam-based company Tvilight is one of those firms leading the way in the practical roll-out of smart lighting technology. Tvilight manufactures street-based lighting systems that automatically respond to traffic and pedestrians. The idea is to create urban lighting systems that limit light pollution in suburban areas, with lights dimming or illuminating depending on the level of human and vehicular traffic detected.

I get the feeling, however, that access to darkness is going to become another equality issue: the wealthy in wealthy areas will get access to the diminishing resource of darkness based on their access to other resources (which, quite ironically, may have been earned through the bright lights of some other company) while the less than wealthy suffer light pollution. The capitalist logic is breath-taking: Sell them light and then sell them darkness! (this would work as a case lesson for students about resources and access to those resources, especially something as “given” as access to darkness … no doubt, college students have low access to darkness many campus locations)

Infrastructure Making People in Europe circa 2030

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Two months ago the European Commission’s Mobility and Transport wing announced “Infrastructure – TEN-T – Connecting Europe,” an approximately €700 billion financial investment (into 2030), which is an extension of previous efforts to unite Europe infra structurally, where TEN-T means Trans-European Transport Networks. Continue reading

3:1 — On “Decoloniality” — 1 of 3

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“Decoloniality” is our topic for the week. It is immediately important to note that decoloniality is not the political process of decolonizing previously colonized nations (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced process of decolonization); decoloniality is not the academic study of living, thinking, and acting in a decolonized land or producing theoretical models of it (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced to academic research in post-colonial studies); decoloniality is also not the equivalent critique of modernity that post-modernity offers either (i.e., decoloniality cannot be reduced to post-modernism because post-modernism was/is a critique of Western modernity from the inside).*

In contrast, coloniality is what Walter Mignolo refers to as the “darker side of modernity;” the idea that modern science, modern capitalism, belief in progress, gargantuan architectural and infrastructural advancements (the brighter side of modernity, one might say) all brought with them a few genuine liabilities such as major justifications for colonialism largely based on selective understandings of Europe’s “advanced place in history” and the advent of scientifically based racial hierarchies. Obviously, this dates as far back as the Renaissance.

Coloniality is a logic. We think and act through it; the logic is undergird. It lasts longer than the colonized peoples of a colonized nation are no longer colonized. It is a logic of many things, many things good and bad, for example, a logic of selective intervention, selective classification, de-personalized knowledge, and so on (this is quite complex, so, to those interested, this list will expand as you read more). The impact is long lasting, as well. When a panel of men determine women’s access to reproductive rights, we can see the logic — not in the outcome, but in the very existence of of such a panel being legitimate in the first place; we might say this is the colonization of reproduction (which is not to say that discussing women’s access to reproductive rights is wrongheaded, it is only to say that the idea of intervening into such matters for women or on behalf of women is perhaps not so legitimate as it may at first glance appear). Likewise, when poor individuals living in cramped urban environs, and the “right answer” is to start a war on poverty and intervene into the lives of people, build a massive public housing infrastructure and then step away from such matters, we might say that this is the colonization of poverty. This sort of coloniality is perhaps the most obvious when indigenous knowledge about the environment and nonhuman inhabitants comes into contact with outside forces like the state, for example, in this herring fishery controversy featuring fish, bears, aboriginal peoples, police at fishing docks, and more (one of the more difficult parts of this case is that the fishing industry is not pressing for fishing rights in these waters off of British Columbia and scientists seem to have heard and support local indigenous knowledge on the need to leave herring alone in these fragile waters). So, this is something of the lasting logic of coloniality as might be apparent even now in our postmodern times, and the pillars of science, the state, modern medicine, and the like help to produce the long-lived “colonial matrix of power” (along with all the distinctions Latour is happy to point out regarding the split between human and nonhuman, man and beast, culture and nature, and so on).

The goal of the decoloniality project (writ large) is to “de-link” from the colonial matrix of power by as many means as are possible, and so far, this has mainly implied decolonial thinking and doing (i.e., epistemology and political praxis, respectively). The goal is to identify “options confronting and delinking from […] the colonial matrix of power” (Mignolo 2011: xxvii).

This week, I (Nicholas Rowland), Stef Fishel, and Mary Mitchell, contributed to a panel session about decoloniality at the Eastern Sociological Society’s annual meeting (in good old New Amsterdam … er. New York). This week, we will be talking about the cases we shared at the conference to give readers a sense of what STS might be able to offer this line of research and research activism which largely comes from the non-Westernized world, the Global South, and academically speaking from the humanities. Also, we are deeply indebted to those who presented in the panel and specifically to Sabrina Weiss and Alexander Stingl for overseeing and organizing the panels!

*As you might note the wikipedia page for decoloniality is marked at the top by a message claiming that it is not balanced and fair by wikipedia’s standards. Given what has been discussed about the colonial matrix of power, this is both a cautionary thought and possibly evidence for the difficulties of de-linking from the colonial matrix of power (especially the critique that the piece is not neutral, with the implied message “it should be neutral,” given that neutral can be used precisely to neutralize political or radical ideas).

Ship Breaking in Bangladesh

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Worth seeing: The Ship Breakers. Ships, at the ends of their lives, are rammed into the beach, thusly beaching these “end of life” ships onto the shores of ship-breaking yards of Bangladesh, India, and a few other states. The work is dangerous and the environmental consequences are visually obvious. There are other examples here, here, and especially this piece in the Atlantic here.

Free City Infrastructure Course On-line

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Thanks to our friends at “Politika i Technologija” we just learned about a free city infrastructure course on-line called “TechniCity (brought to you by the Ohio State University. I’ve got mixed feelings about free on-line courses, but this one might be interesting if you’re curious about how technology is used to engage people in city spaces to help improve our cities. While my usual response is “try fixing bridges” when I am asked about crumbling US infrastructure, the course appears to contain some techniques and strategies for mapping human emotions and frustrations onto cityscapes in order to determine which spots in town are positive environments and which could use some improvement (i.e., where are the traffic jams and unhappy pedestrians).

The two faculty sponsors for the course are up to the task:

Dr. Jennifer Evans-Cowley is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Administration in the College of Engineering and Professor of City and Regional Planning in the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University. She has passionate interests in technology that can help the public engage in participatory planning for the future of cities. She was named by Planetizen as one of the top 25 leading thinkers in urban planning and technology. She has won numerous awards for her teaching, advising, and research. Cowley publishes and speaks widely on technology and the future of the city. You can follow Dr. Evans-Cowley on Twitter @EvansCowley.

Dr. Tom Sanchez earned his PhD in City Planning from Georgia Tech in 1996 and has since taught at Iowa State University, Portland State University, the University of Utah, and is currently professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech. Dr. Sanchez conducts research in the areas of environmental justice, technology, and the social aspects of planning and policy. He also serves as editor of Housing Policy Debate and is a nonresident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution. You can follow Dr. Sanchez on Twitter @tomwsanchez.

Teaching STS: Defensive Architecture

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Opportunity: Have students map “defensive architecture” and “infrastructural discrimination” on campus or in a local city environment. 

We are not talking about the defensive structures of yesteryear (large, impenetrable fortresses), defensive architecture now constitutes a major infrastructural investment in major cities (even as bridges crumble and roads decay).

What’s the point? Those spikes are about keeping homeless people from laying down or loitering (above, an imagine from China), although many readers might be more familiar with the anti-skate boarding elements of our urban landscape, like these below (the most supremely dick-ish one I could find):

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Here is a broader array of these sorts of defensive architectural moves from around the world. This form of blatant infrastructural exclusion (or infrastructural discrimination, if that makes sense) is surprisingly obvious in everyday life.

No doubt, those of you teaching on college campuses have seen elements like this. A viable assignment, especially if you live in an urban area, might be to map (cartographically) where defensive architecture is in your city.

Berlin-Map

If you’re not in an urban area, then perhaps less obvious forms of infrastructural discrimination might work, for example, sending students around to determine what school entrances are up to code, for example, related to wheel chair entry or fire code. Surely, this won’t make you popular with the higher-ups, especially if you find the college wanting in some regard; however, it will turn campus into a living laboratory for these sorts of infrastructural investigations. A campus map is usually just as easy to get as a city map, after all.

Infrastructure Makes Prime Time Slot

Infrastructure Makes Prime Time Slot

This Sunday, Nov. 23, CBS’ 60 Minutes will feature an interview with American Society of Civil Engineers Past President Andrew W. Herrmann, P.E. SECB, F.ASCE discussing our nation’s infrastructure deficit while flying via helicopter over Pittsburgh.

The interview is part of a larger piece on the Highway Trust Fund hurtling once again toward insolvency. Tune in or set your DVR to 60 Minutes, which airs at 7:30 p.m. ET7 p.m. PT, to see ASCE tell the story behind our nation’s bridges.

Below are additional details of the segment.

AMERICA’S INFRASTRUCTURE IS “ON LIFE SUPPORT,” SAYS FORMER TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY RAY LAHOOD.  NEARLY 70,000 BRIDGES IN THE UNITED STATES NEED TO BE REPLACED OR SIGNIFICANTLY REPAIRED – “60 MINUTES” SUNDAY
November 21, 2014
Federal Highway Trust Fund  – Which Funds Road and Bridge Repair – is Nearly Broke

Ray LaHood, the former U.S. transportation secretary, tells 60 MINUTES  many of the roads and bridges we drive on every day are “on life support.” What’s more, nearly 70,000 bridges in the U.S. are deemed structurally deficient.   “I don’t want to say they’re unsafe. But they’re dangerous,” says Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation during President Obama’s first term.  “Our infrastructure’s on life supports right now. That’s what we’re on,” says LaHood, now co-chair of Building America Future, a bipartisan coalition of current and former elected officials seeking to increase spending on infrastructure. LaHood  speaks to Steve Kroft for a

60 MINUTES report on the state of America’s crumbling infrastructure.  It will be broadcast Sunday, Nov. 23 (7:30-8:30 PM, ET/7:00-8:00 PM, PT) on the CBS Television Network. Watch an excerpt.

60 MINUTES cameras capture the rust and the cracked concrete on bridges across the country, especially in Pennsylvania, where the problem is most acute according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.  LaHood says that the broken roads and bridges need to be fixed now, but the Federal Highway Trust Fund, the pot of money states rely on for new construction and maintenance of roads and bridges is just as broken.  The Highway Trust Fund is financed by the federal gas tax – about 18 cents per gallon – and it hasn’t been raised in 20 years.

“It’s falling apart because we haven’t made the investments. We haven’t got the money,” says LaHood.  “The last time we raised the gas tax, which is how we built the interstate system, was 1993.”  LaHood goes on to say “Politicians in Washington don’t have the political courage to say, ‘This is what we have to do.’ That’s what it takes…They don’t want to raise the taxes. They don’t really have a vision of America the way that other Congresses have had a vision of America,” he tells Kroft.

The failure is a bipartisan one says Rep. Earle Blumenauer (D.-Ore.),  a member the House Ways and Means Committee, just one of a handful of Committee’s responsible for funding long term transportation bills. Blumenauer says he’s been asking for a hearing on funding for the Highway Trust Fund for 44 months “It has, to this point, not raised to the level of priority for the Republican leadership. Although,  in fairness, when the Democrats were in charge, we had a few hearings, but not much action.”

If Latour were a craft-beer-brewer, his name’d be …

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… Steve Wright. Check out this innovative ANT account of craft beer tasting, now on-line, free of charge. Investigation into the flavor profiling of craft beers as well as auto-ethnographic blind beer tasting and tasting exams, this paper — and by paper, I am referring to a 277 page thesis — is replete with outstanding detail.

Also, upon even modest reflection, the teaching potential of this document is striking.

My favorite part is the explanation of language-sensory experience:

The historical construction of the contemporary language of sensory assessment supports the construction of the style guides. Once assembled into an information infrastructure the style guide is extended to act in multiple different ways: its propositions are translated into testable facts with multiple choices, it functions as a technology of material ordering and coordination, as a regulatory technology placing limits on how taste judgements can and cannot be expressed or recorded, and as a re-enactment and materialisation of individual cognitivist models of assessment.

Latour on “Digital Methods”

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In a fascinating, apparently not-peer-reviewed non-article available free online here, Tommaso Venturini and Bruno Latour discuss the potential of “digital methods” for the contemporary social sciences.

The paper summarizes, and quite nicely, the split of sociological methods to the statistical aggregate using quantitative methods (capturing supposedly macro-phenomenon) and irreducibly basic interactions using qualitative methods (capturing supposedly micro-phenomenon). The problem is that neither of which aided the sociologist in capture emergent phenomenon, that is, capturing controversies and events as they happen rather than estimate them after they have emerged (quantitative macro structures) or capture them divorced from non-local influences (qualitative micro phenomenon).

The solution, they claim, is to adopt digital methods in the social sciences. The paper is not exactly a methodological outline of how to accomplish these methods, but there is something of a justification available for it, and it sounds something like this:

Thanks to digital traceability, researchers no longer need to choose between precision and scope in their observations: it is now possible to follow a multitude of interactions and, simultaneously, to distinguish the specific contribution that each one makes to the construction of social phenomena. Born in an era of scarcity, the social sciences are entering an age of abundance. In the face of the richness of these new data, nothing justifies keeping old distinctions. Endowed with a quantity of data comparable to the natural sciences, the social sciences can finally correct their lazy eyes and simultaneously maintain the focus and scope of their observations.

Law on fish ponds and multiplicity

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“A salmon is … ?” that is the ontological question. 

In this free paper, Jon Law addresses practice and theory, and he does it nice and slow with great care to unpack the context of this paper and the broader fields he contributes to, chiefly, of course, Science and Technology Studies. 

Of all people, of course, Law can direct readers through the maze of ANT, but does an even nicer job than usual. For example, regarding theory as coterminous with practice (rather than an appreciable divide):

… And that is the problem when we start to talk about ‘actor-network theory’, or indeed ‘theory’ tout court. Theory including ANT sounds – and often it is – formulaic. It is as if it were there, sitting in a box fully formed, waiting to be applied whole and ready.

Then he shifts gears and moves to “animals,” … “But let me come to the question of actor-network theory in a different way by thinking about how it relates to animals.” He reminds readers that the differences between people and things like animals is not “natural” so much as the difference is an effect of their relationality (and an important step away from “human exceptionality”). Instead of studying scallops (like Callon in 1986), Law studies farmed Atlantic salmon in Hordaland in West Norway. Still, scallops are not irrelevant: “Starting with a focus on multiplicity, I consider how ANT started to put entities such as ‘animals’ back together again after the 1986 relational storm. This, then, is an exploration of strategies for reassembling objects within the ANT tradition.”

I won’t ruin the concluding remarks for readers, but suffice to say, he concludes trying to answer the basic ontological question: “A salmon is … ?”

Obama on infrastructure and business retention

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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. 

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

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

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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”?

Brazilian infrastructure: Boom to nothing

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A disheartening reality-check for the infrastructure boom in Brazil, now reduced to rubble and rust. While we have often discussed infrastructure as a basic economic good, inferior or incomplete infrastructural development may very well have the reverse effect.

These pieces from NYT’s Nadia Sussman, an eery video, and this companion piece from NYT’s Simon Romero (Photographs by Daniel Berehulak), a combination written and visual story, paint a vivid image of a nation striving to build the massive infrastructures similar to those of other nations, but at a time of stagnant and non-existent government budgets, all of which comes on the heels of planning for the World Cup in June, just a couple months away from the time this post goes up. We wrote about the economic impact of similar Olympic stadiums and even a bit on how we might think about their copious infrastructural leftovers.

The article reads:

The growing list of troubled development projects includes a $3.4 billion network of concrete canals in the drought-plagued hinterland of northeast Brazil — which was supposed to be finished in 2010 — as well as dozens of new wind farms idled by a lack of transmission lines and unfinished luxury hotels blighting Rio de Janeiro’s skyline.

Economists surveyed by the nation’s central bank see Brazil’s economy growing just 1.63 percent this year, down from 7.5 percent in 2010, making 2014 the fourth straight year of slow growth. While an economic crisis here still seems like a remote possibility, investors have grown increasingly pessimistic. Standard & Poor’s cut Brazil’s credit rating last month, saying it expected slow growth to persist for several years.