Thinking on the Move: the possibilities and risks of walking sociologically

Date: Thursday 5th to Friday 6th September, 2019

Location: Goldsmiths, London: The event will take place primarily outside in Southeast London

What are the risks and the opportunities of thinking on our move? This two-day conference explores what it means to walk sociologically. The event will provide an opportunity to examine the potentials of using walking within sociology including; walking as method, walking as theorizing, walking as a way of knowing the city, walking as activism. Rather than talking about this in a conference room we will do this on the move exploring the practice of walking and its significance for the production and communication of sociological knowledge. The event draws on the success of the sociological walks and movement session at the Undisciplining conference by interrogating and providing space for critical reflection on sociological walking practices. All walks will take place in the environs of Southeast London near the conference base of Goldsmiths.

Alongside a series of guided sociological walks, exploring topics including the histories of anti-racist struggle and sound system cultures and an exploration of the relationship between material infrastructures and the urban form, we are also open for proposals for different short walks. Organisers are particularly keen for submissions of more experimental walks, for example, those that might involve, but are not limited to: situationist walking practices, taking a transect, walking as theorising, walks that follow a theme, sensory walking. If you would like to submit a proposal to facilitate a walk, please submit a title, rationale, route (if known) and assessment of accessibility via the submission site.

Proposals for walks should take in the following into consideration:

  • Walks will need to take place in the environs of Southeast London near the conference base of Goldsmiths.
  • Walks should last two hours, including walking time from conference base (Goldsmiths) and back again. Please also consider mobility issues. If the route is known beforehand and involves hills or long staircases, please state this on the proposal form. We hope to run one accessible walk at all times and particularly wish to receive submissions which reflect this.
  • Walks should not bypass into prohibited land and/or properties and should take place in public areas or venues that do not incur a charge to delegates.

Deadline for walk proposals is: April 30th 2019, 17.00 BST. Decisions will be communicated in late May to early June 2019. Please note we cannot accept late proposals.

For any queries about walk proposals please email: Emma Jackson <E.Jackson@gold.ac.uk>, Les Back <l.back@gold.ac.uk> and Mark Carrigan <mark@markcarrigan.net>, copying in events manager Jenny Thatcher events@thesociologicalreview.com

Bursaries 

As with all of our events, we are making a number of bursaries available on a competitive basis to facilitate the attendance of those who might otherwise struggle to meet the costs of attending.

Bursaries are available for unfunded postgraduate research students and early career research in precarious positions as well as others on the grounds of need. Bursary support available to apply for include; travel funds (limited to £100.00), 2-night overnight accommodation (organised by TSRF), and support with childcare (£50.00 per day).

Application for bursaries for walk proposal applicants are available via the call for walk form. Deadline for bursary application is April 30th 2019, 17.00 BST. Decisions will be communicated in at the same time proposal decisions are.

*Please note, applications for bursaries for attendees only will via the registration form to open in July.

For any queries about the bursaries events manager Jenny Thatcher events@thesociologicalreview.com

Registration

Registration to this 2-day conference will be free and there will be an option to attend one day only as well. For those interested in attending the conference, registration will open in Late June.

At all times during the walking section of this conference one walk (route) will be fully wheelchair accessible.

I’ve been writing this morning about how platform engineers and entrepreneurs justify what they do, as well as the assumptions implicit within these justifications. I then stumbled across this  example offered by Anand Giridharadas on pg 39 of his Winners Take All and it’s a really good one:

Guided by MarketWorld’s win-win values, Rosenstein decided to improve the world by starting a company, Asana, which sold work collaboration software to companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Dropbox. Like Asher, he was eager to help, but it was hard to step outside of the realm of his assumptions and tools. He believed that Asana’s software could be his most forceful way of improving the human condition. “When you think about the nature of human progress,” he said, “when you think about the nature of, like, whether it’s improving health care or improving government or making art or doing biotechnology or doing traditional philanthropy—whatever it is, all the things that can move the human condition forward, or maybe the world condition forward, all are about groups of people working together. And so we were, like, if we really could build a universal piece of software that could make everyone in the world who’s trying to do positive things 5 percent faster, right?—I guess we’ll also make terrorists 5 percent faster—but on the whole, we think that that’s going to be really, really net-positive.”

If anyone has other examples they could share, I’d be very grateful to receive them. I’m interested in cases where people are explicitly talking in abstract terms about why the platforms they’re building are good in a moral sense, above and beyond any expectations of economic return.

You were gone when we found you
You were practically surrounded, you were trapped
But the opposition stalled, their blood ran cold
When they saw the look of love in your eyes
Maybe the times we had, they weren’t that bad
And everything else was part of the plan
We sang: “I don’t know where we go from here”
This is the alpha, omega, beginning and the end
And we all just idolize the dead
So you were born, and that was a good day
Someday you’ll die, and that is a shame
But somewhere in the between was a life of which we all dream
And nothing and no one will ever take that away
You had a love and that love had you
And nothing mattered, you were fine
And some will complain, they’re just bitter, what a shame
They know that loving and losing is better than nothing at all
Maybe the times we had, they weren’t that bad
And everything else was part of our path
We sang: “I don’t know where we go from here”
This is the anthem, the slogan, the summary of events
And we all just idealize the past
So you were born, and that was a good day
Someday you’ll die, and that is a shame
But somewhere in the between was a life of which we all dream
And nothing and no one will ever take that away
Yeah the times we had, they weren’t that bad
And everything else was part of the plan
We sang: “I don’t know where we go from here”
This is the alpha, omega, beginning and the end
And we all just idolize the dead
So you were born, and that was a good day
Someday you’ll die, and that is a shame
But somewhere in the between was a life of which we all dream
And nothing and no one will ever take that away
And someday soon my friends, this ride will come to an end
But we can’t just get in line again

Saving this here to come back to later:

CALL FOR BOOK CHAPTERS

Knowledge Socialism

The Rise of Peer Production: Collegiality, Collaboration, and Collective Intelligence

  1. Peters, T. Besley, P. Jandrić & X. Zhu (Editors)

 

Knowledge socialism is a term that refers to a new global collectivist society that is coming online based on communal aspects of digital culture including sharing, cooperation, collaboration, peer production and collective intelligence. This collection aims to explore the way our collective digital tools have the power to create the intellectual commons and reshape our minds.

Keywords: Knowledge Economy, Knowledge Capitalism, Openness, Open Knowledge Production, Knowledge Capitalism, Knowledge Cultures, Knowledge Socialism

 

Knowledge Socialism. The Rise of Peer Production: Collegiality, Collaboration, and Collective Intelligence is an edited collection that takes seriously arguments for knowledge socialism and collective intelligence by inviting a group of distinguished international scholars to contribute essays on the theme of the concept of knowledge socialism as a philosophical concept that has the power both to explain aspects of current knowledge practices but also certain contradictions in the structure and practice of knowledge capitalism. Essays may also explore knowledge socialism as a programmatic concept, as a project, as a reality, and as a prescriptive concept. Essays may explain knowledge socialism as an historical practice, as a part of knowledge capitalism, or as a complicit aspect of algorithmic capitalism. Sub themes of knowledge socialism include:

 

  • the rise of peer production
  • the history of peer review
  • openness – open science, open access
  • the model of open knowledge production
  • cognitive capitalism
  • knowledge capitalism
  • knowledge cultures
  • forms of collegiality
  • creative labour vs human capitalism
  • collective intelligence
  • social innovation

 

Important Dates

1 July 2019 – Deadline for extended abstracts (500-800 words)

1 August 2019 – Deadline for reviewer feedback

1 December 2019 – Deadline for full chapters

1 January 2020 – Deadline for reviewer feedback

15 February 2020 – Deadline for final chapters

The book will be published by the end of 2020.

 

Editors

Michael Adrian Peters, Beijing Normal University, China, mpeters@bnu.edu.cn

Tina Besley, Beijing Normal University, China, tbesley@bnu.edu.cn

Petar Jandrić, Zagreb University of Applied Sciences, Croatia, pjandric@tvz.hr

Xudong Zhu, Beijing Normal University, China, zhuxd@bnu.edu.cn

 

Please submit your papers to Petar Jandrić, Zagreb University of Applied Sciences, pjandric@tvz.hr

At the end of next month, I step down as Digital Engagement Fellow at The Sociological Review Foundation. It will have been five years at that point since I first received an e-mail from then editor Bev Skeggs inviting me to get involved, joining Marcus Gilroy-Ware to get the digital operation off the ground for what became The Sociological Review Foundation. It strikes me in retrospect that saying ‘yes’ to that invitation was one of the best things I’ve ever done, though I find it hard to imagine how I would have responded differently. I’ve learned so much through my involvement with it that has changed me as a sociologist, practitioner and person. In many ways, it’s responsible for what has been a pretty wonderful post-phd trajectory in many respects, as I got involved soon after submitting my PhD in March 2014 and leave just as I approach the fifth anniversary of being awarded it in September of the same year.

But it’s also left me juggling very different demands during that time and after years of pursuing a dual career as sociologist and social media practitioner, I’ve realised that I want to be a full time researcher. I’ve never done this before, with my part-time PhD taking six long years to finish and the idea has been playing on my mind for the last year until I realised I had to pursue it. I’m sad to be leaving but I’m excited to be  throwing myself into research in a way I never have before, albeit with six months or so of freelancing while I make the transition. It’s definitely the right move but there are so many highlights to my time with The Sociological Review I wanted to share before I go:

  1. Undisciplining was unspeakably exhausting but I was so proud of what we did, as a small team led by events manager Jenny Thatcher (who herself did a team’s worth of work) as we put on what I think was a truly different sociological conference
  2. I often say we shouldn’t treat social media metrics too seriously but I’m still proud of the nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 25,000 on Facebook we’ve accumulated in the time I’ve been running them.
  3. Watching a network of people coalesced around a journal become a charity, with its legal existence, routines, identity and culture. I honestly feel I’ve learned more about organisations by being part of this process than anything I’ve ever read in a book or paper.
  4. Publishing creative outputs like From Stigma Power to Black Power: A Graphic Essay and University: A New Way of Life. My passion for social media began with a sense of how it could be used to ensure an audience for innovative ways of working outside of traditional publication systems. Not only do I love the outputs we’ve published, including a whole series of films, but I love the fact that I’ve had the chance to put ideas I had written about in the abstract into practice through my work with TSR.
  5. This piece by Bev Skeggs describing her experience of navigating the social care system with her elderly parents is the best blog post I’ve ever read by an academic. It also kicked off one of my favourite sections, exploring the contemporary sociological imagination in a way blogs are so well suited to yet rarely seem to be used for.
  6. On a similar note, asking Ashleigh Watson to edit a new fiction section  is one of the things we’ve done that I’m most proud of. It’s provided an online platform for sociological fiction, something which has been a passion of mine for years despite the fact I’m terrible at writing it, ensured by Ashleigh’s immense skill as a writer and editor.
  7. The events 😍 there have been so many I’ve had the pleasure to organise with Jenny Thatcher, learning so much about how to organise accessible, inclusive, engaging events in the process. My highlights include Social Media and Doing a PhD (with the wonderful Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson), The Sociological Review and the History of the Discipline (at the Keele Foundations of British Sociology archive), Social Media: Problems and Prospects and The Practice of Public Sociology. These are just the ones I took the lead on though and I’ve been involved in countless other, either helping Jenny in some way or just attending because I was interested.
  8. Stating the Sociological was a series we coordinated after an infuriating Times Higher Education feature on the state of sociology. Rather than snipe on Twitter, I instead co-ordinated a series of responses which offered a much deeper perspective on the issues which the lacklustre THE article had claimed to address. The highlight for me was this piece by Des Fitzgerald which has the best closing line of anything I’ve ever been involved in publishing.
  9. Our feature on the legacy of Zygmunt Bauman which offered an engaging, sophisticated, critical yet respectful appraisal of his work and a chance to reflect on what he had contributed to our journal over time.
  10. Chronic Illness and the Academy was a feature coordinated by Anna Ruddock and we did nothing more than provide a platform for it. But the fact we had that platform to provide made me really happy, as we hosted a powerful, multifaceted discussion about an issue which is often ignored, simplified and/or marginalised. The feature on self-harm currently underway by Brigit McWade is shaping up to be similarly important and I’m so pleased we’ve been able to provide a platform for these conversations.
  11. #SociologicalPets continues to make me happy, even if it did provoke accusations of sociologists sharing cat pictures while rome burns. I come back to it every six months or so and inevitably find that new people have used it in the meantime.
  12. Discovering the Foundations of British Sociology archive at Keele, getting the opportunity to organise an event around it and being inspired by the early British sociologists with their vast theoretical ambitions and powerful commitment to public sociology avant la lettre.

Above all else, it’s been a pleasure to work with so many wonderful people, particularly Bev, Michaela, Emma, Jenny, Chantelle, Zoe and Attila. But there are so many others, including the editors, trustees and the editorial board members. It’s been particularly fantastic working with Emma as digital editor of the journal, with whom all this work on the blog was undertaken, and Jenny in her role as events manager but as a whole it’s just been full of wonderful collaborations with interesting, passionate and thoughtful people. I could go on for a long time… thank you The Sociological Review Foundation for a wonderful five years and the opportunity to contribute to what I truly believe is the best thing currently underway within British Sociology.

CFP – Special issue of Internet Policy Review on

What do digital inclusion and data literacy mean today?

Topic and relevance

As more of our everyday lives become digital, from paying bills, reading news, to contacting companies and services, keeping in touch with your friends and family, and even voting – it has become crucial to include everyone in the online world. But the meaning of digital inclusion keeps on changing and with it also the set of skills that are necessary to be ‘digital’ (Jaeger et al., 2012). What type of skills do people need to ‘be digital’ today? Is access to the internet enough, or do people need to understand how the internet works as well? Which kind of training programmes should be developed? Should there be one type of skills and training programme or different ones who cater to people from different backgrounds and needs (ableism, age, education, gender, race, religion)? With the automation of many jobs, how can we foresee what skills will be needed for future work? These questions have been occupying the private sector and policy makers, and as more tasks become automated and digitalised, addressing them becomes ever more crucial.

Discussions of inequality in the use of digital media and systems have predominantly focused on issues measured by access to the internet and skills such as checking emails, finding information and downloading music (van Dijk and Hacker, 2003, van Dijk, 2005). These topics have been key issues for policymakers (Yates et al., 2014; 2015a; 2015b) and are central to the development of many governmental digital strategies in Europe, the UK, and the USA (Mawson, 2001). Recent academic work on issues of digital inclusion and inequalities has shifted the focused from quantitative indicators and looks at issues of digital skills in relation to the social support networks people receive (Helsper & Van Deursen, 2017). As such research shows, there is strong evidence that the quality of support people have access to is unequally distributed and replicate existing inequalities. Evidence shows that inequalities in access to and use of digital media have measurable impacts on the life chances, health and economic wellbeing of citizens. In other words, it is not only a matter of skills but also the context and communities people live in that influences people’s inclusion in the ‘digital’.

Scope of the special issue

Since the introduction and widespread use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in different decision making processes relating to citizens’ life (health, justice, policing) and onto entertainment (e.g., Netflix and Spotify) and news, research on digital skills has shifted. This is because inequalities now involve more complex issues of how these technologies work and what they can influence and manipulate. In addition, as ‘fake news’ and misinformation have become common practices by various entities, new avenues in the types of digital literacies citizens need have been introduced. These include digital understanding of how the internet works (Doteveryone, 2018), how to engage with online news (e.g., fact checking), how digital advertising / adtech works (ICO, 2019) and how to use different tools to be able to control and manage the type of information shared with other parties. This shift has become central to some governmental digital strategies, such as those of the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) (2019) and their equivalents around the globe, in countries such as Brazil, India, and the USA, or the Norwegian Ombudsman (Forbrukerrådet, 2018). After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, governments have realised the power of technology giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, to shape and influence people’s behaviour. Consequently, many aim to regulate and force them to change how they are designed and the way they present information (from content to advertisements).

This special issue draws on over two decades of research, policy, and practice. Over this time digital inequalities, digital inclusion and digital literacies have changed in response to developments in digital technologies and media. Key themes have remained, such as: material and financial access to technological devices and services; skills and digital literacy; effective use by citizens and communities to participate in political and civic discussions and activities; the impact of socio-economic factors; motivation and attitudes; and, more recently socio-economic and socio-cultural variations in patterns of usage. Digital inequalities therefore have become an important part of broader persistent issues of social equity and justice.

Focus of the papers

The primary aim of this special issue is to link up international policy efforts to address contemporary and future digital inequalities, access and skills with the outcomes of research from around the globe. The intention is on sharing best practice and research insights, while acknowledging that these problems are not the same in different parts of the world and so there are no universal solutions. We invite authors to submit papers that cover empirical research as well as policy and practice interventions, such as:

● Data analysis of levels of digital inclusion / exclusion and engagement

● Studies on the link between misinformation and data literacies

● Studies of the impacts of digital exclusion

● Policy interventions

● Case studies of initiatives and programmes

● Case studies of community impact

Special issue editors

Dr Elinor Carmi (Elinor.Carmi@liverpool.ac.uk<mailto:Elinor.Carmi@liverpool.ac.uk>)

Postdoc Research Associate – Digital Media & Society,
Department of Communication and Media,
Faculty of the Humanities and Social Sciences,
School of the Arts, Liverpool University, UK.

Professor Simeon Yates
Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor
Research Environment and Postgraduate Research
Liverpool University, UK.

Important dates

Release of the call for papers April 2019

Deadline for full text submissions / All details on text submissions can be found under http://policyreview.info/authors 25 August 2019

Comprehensive peer review feedback by October 2019

Deadline for submission of revised papers November 2019

Preparation for publication April 2020

Publication of the special issue May 2020

References

DCMS (2019). Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report. Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/1791/1791.pdf

Doteveryone (2018). People, Power and Technology: The 2018 Digital Understanding Report. Available at: http://understanding.doteveryone.org.uk/

Forbrukerrådet. (2018). Deceived by Design: How tech companies use dark patterns to discourage us from exercising our rights to privacy. Available at: https://fil.forbrukerradet.no/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2018-06-27-deceived-by-design-final.pd f

GoodThings Foundation (2018). The economic impact of Digital Inclusion in the UK. Available at: https://www.goodthingsfoundation.org/sites/default/files/research-publications/the_economic_im pact_of_digital_inclusion_in_the_uk_final_submission_stc_0.pdf

Helsper, E.J. and Van Deursen, A.J. (2017). Do the rich get digitally richer? Quantity and quality of support for digital engagement. Information, Communication & Society, 20(5), pp.700-714.

ICO (2019). Internet users’ experience of online advertising. Available at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/internet-and-on-demand-research/internet-use-and-attitudes/internet-users-experience-online-advertising

Jaeger, P. T., Bertot, J. C., Thompson, K. M., Katz, S. M., & DeCoster, E. J., 2012. The intersection of public policy and public access: Digital divides, digital literacy, digital inclusion, and public libraries. Public Library Quarterly, 31(1), 1-20.

Mawson, J. (2001) ‘The end of social exclusion? On information technology policy as a key to social inclusion in large European cities’, Regional Studies Journal, 35(9), 861–877.

Van Dijk, J., & Hacker, K. (2003). The digital divide as a complex and dynamic phenomenon. The information society, 19(4), 315-326.

Van Dijk, J. A. (2005). The Deepening Divide: Inequality in the Information Society. Sage Publications.

Yates, S., Kirby, J., & Lockley, E. (2014). Supporting digital engagement: final report to Sheffield City Council. Supporting Digital Engagement: Final Report to Sheffield City Council.

Yates, S., Kirby, J., & Lockley, E. (2015a). Digital media use: Differences and inequalities in relation to class and age. Sociological Research Online, 20(4), 12.

Yates, S. J., Kirby, J., & Lockley, E. (2015b). ‘Digital-by-default’: reinforcing exclusion through technology. IN DEFENCE OF WELFARE 2, 158.

My notes on Njenga, J. K. (2018). Digital literacy: The quest of an inclusive definition. Reading & Writing, 9(1), 1-7.\

On a view which associates digitalisation with the globalisation of the economy, digital literacy is “synonymous with the ability of individuals to participate in the economy through skills and creativity enabled by the digital technologies” (1). In spite of the many definitions which can be found of digital literacy, Njenga argues that they converge on a focus on “essential competencies of the present-day citizens’ success in today’s highly competitive and globalised market, which often require the performance of basic tasks using technology” (2). It is a competence view of literacy.

However there is good reason to be sceptical of this view: a lack of socio-economic development arising amongst the marginalised from their use of digital technology, the gap between a macro focus on economic indicators & the reality on the ground, the circumscribed character of investigations into digital impact which focus narrowly on field sites and fail to grasp dynamics which unfold beyond and past the field. If we develop these criticisms, Njenga argues we can see a way to a view of digital literacy which is emancipatory, realising the potential benefits of digital technology for marginalised and indigenous communities. Instead we need a contextualised definition of digital literacy, liable to reveal the material inequalities which shape the situational challenges people face as well as the capacity of digital competency to help realise benefits for them within these contexts.

Unfortunately a dichotomy between production and consumption in existing definitions of DL gets in the way of building such an approach. This implicitly valorised production, relegating the rural and the marginalised to the status of mere consumers. If we can retain a sense of the context within which digital activity takes place, we can resit the reduction of digital literacy to mere competency. This helps us recover the critical aspects of learning (problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and self-regulation) and the contextual features (social, economic and cultural) which shape the use of digital technology within particular social contexts. This leaves us with the social model of digital literacy rather than the competency model.

As well as the aforementioned advantages, the social media also helps us recognise the variability in how social and digital factors interact, leaving us with a much more refined empirical picture of the the reality of digital technology use (or its absence). In doing so, we can grasp the uses that are made of a technology ‘on the ground’ which might exceed or trouble the intentions of its designers and those with a material interest in maintaining it. This opens up the question of how uses of digital technology might be empowering or otherwise, defined in the terms of the individuals and groups taking it up.

And this is how we rise by taking the fall
Survive another winter on straight to the thaw
One day you’ll learn to strain the tea through your teeth
And maybe find the strength to proceed to the peak
Press on into the thin again till I cannot breathe
I swallowed so much of my damn pride that it chokes me
The real risk is not a slipped grip at the edge of the peak
The real danger is to linger at the base of the thing

I often come out of meetings feeling that what we’ve been discussing is utterly transparent to me. I feel I hold the issue in my hands, seeing how the initial steps connect to a broader horizon of action. It couldn’t feel more straight forward. However partly for that reason, I never take notes at the time. I often scribble stuff on a whiteboard, piece of paper or notebook file which vaguely captures my sense at the time before coming back to it a week or more later to find that what was lively has now become dead, what was transparent has now become opaque and what was in my grasp now feels alien to me.

It’s left me obsessing about the discipline involved in a note taking practice. I suspect I’d gain so much from forcing myself to spend twenty minutes quietly writing out long form notes after important meetings, before going on to other things. I’ve had this discipline for thinking for a long time. It varies depending on the time and energy available to me but I’ve trained myself over time to seize on what C Wright Mills called the feel of an idea and force myself to elaborate it while it’s fresh in my mind. The post you’re reading is an example of this. So why do I find it so much more difficult to get myself to do this with ideas which emerge in meetings?

There’s an interesting section in Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain discussing Ross Ashby’s experiments in building cybernetic systems and the design philosophy these undertakings led him to articulate. As Pickering describes on pg 128:

If, beyond a certain degree of complexity, the performance of a machine could not be predicted from a knowledge of its elementary parts, as proved to be the case with DAMS, then one would have to abandon the modern engineering paradigm of knowledge-based design in favor of evolutionary tinkering—messing around with the configuration of DAMS and retaining any steps in the desired direction.

This is a design philosophy orientated towards an esoteric class of projects in electrical engineering. But it also conveys an epistemic libertarianism, in which the impulse to build projects around established knowledge is suspended in order to create the space for exploration. It’s not a dismissal of existing knowledge and practice, only a reduction of its role to that of direction finder rather than final arbiter of epistemic legitimacy.

It left me thinking about the temporal conditions in which this epistemic libertarianism can flourish. Not only might it take more time, in the sense that it will be as conducive to missteps as to advancements, it also comes to look suspicious to any managerial techniques which asks people to account for their time. In both senses, the accelerated academy entails a subtle epistemological conservatism and chips away at the space in which which this exploratory work could take place.

I’m saving this here to come back to because I’m very interested in this theme.

Call for Workshop Participation
Algorithms on the Shop Floor: Data-driven Technologies in Organizational Context

Deadline for applications: April 19, 2019
Workshop date: June 14, 2019 in NYC at Data & Society <http://datasociety.net/>
Application link: http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor <http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor>
For questions, email events@datasociety.net <mailto:events@datasociety.net>

On June 14, 2019, Data & Society will host a workshop in NYC on the intersection of technology and organizational theory and practice. The workshop arises from an increasing need to understand how automated, algorithmic, AI, or otherwise data-driven technologies are being integrated into organizational contexts and processes.

The workshop will convene researchers who study how new technologies are introduced, incorporated, resisted or maintained within organized groups, and the changes this integration brings. Such changes might include processes (workflows, tasks, “re-skilling,” “changed” skills, augmentation) or in structures (roles, jurisdictions, authority), or other key sociological issues (such as power, culture, diversity, expertise, risk, rationality, legitimacy, and solidarity). In a world where new technologies are being integrated into organizations of all sizes and types, how can we make sense of what gets lost, what gets gained, and what gets changed? Many of these questions are long standing themes in organizational studies and ethnographies examining the social complexities of working on the machine shop floor, to which the title of our workshop alludes. Still, how do such integrations provoke new shifts in power relations and social values?

The range of field sites and research questions appropriate for this event is wide. The only requirements for participation are that: 1) you must be a researcher (with or without an academic affiliation); 2) your research questions must address a dimension of socio-technical practice in the context of a formalized organization.

Relevant topics for this workshop might include:
How do formations of power, hierarchy, and discretionary decision-making change when automated and AI technologies are introduced?
How are issues of diversity and equity brought into and reconstituted when new technologies are introduced?
How does the integration of new technologies into organizations intersect with issues of access, inclusion, and disability?
What are sites of unintended use, resistance, or deviance with respect to technology in organizations?
How are new forms of expertise, skill, and training emerging to meet demands of using new technologies in the workplace?
How are new or existing labor organizations confronting the perceived threat of AI?
What are organizational formations or organizational processes that build on digital technologies to advance equity and social justice?
What lessons does the history of organizational theory and practice hold for contemporary dynamics?
How are bureaucratic forms of control (such as auditing or impact policy) integrated into the development of technology?

These examples are by no means exhaustive, but intended to provide a flavor of the kind of relevant research questions. We are especially interested in strange outliers and unexpected studies.

Key Dates
* Application Deadline: April 19, 2019
* Selection Decisions: May 1, 2019
* Full Paper Deadline: May 28, 2019
* Workshop: June 14, 2019

Participation Requirements
The structure of the Data & Society Workshop series is designed to maximize scholarly thinking about the evolving and societally important issues surrounding data-driven technologies. Participants will be asked to read three full papers in advance of the event and prepare comments for intensive discussion. Some participants will be asked to be discussants of papers, where they will lead the conversation and engage the room. Authors will not present their work, but rather participate in critical discussion with the assembled group about the paper, with explicit intent of making the work stronger and more interdisciplinary.

All participants are required to read three papers in advance of the event and come ready to offer constructively critical feedback. We want researchers to constructively spar with and challenge one another to strengthen ourselves across the board. This is not an event for passive attendance, but an opportunity to engage each other substantively.

This event is first and foremost an opportunity to collectively think and help construct a field. Although this event is designed to bring together 30-40 researchers, only 12 papers will be workshopped. Yet, everyone who attends is expected to be an active participant and contribute to rich conversations. We believe that it is through active engagement with other scholars around research that new insights can emerge. In other words, this event is designed to be the kind of intense intellectual engagement that made you fall in love with being a researcher in the first place.
Format

The day will be organized into three time slots, each 75 minutes long. One paper will be workshopped in each session. Multiple sessions will run in parallel so there will be a total of ~12 papers, but each participant will only be responsible for reading and engaging with 3. Within each group, a discussant will open with a critique of the paper before inviting participants to share their feedback. (If you participate in this event, you may be asked to be a discussant on one paper.) All are expected to share feedback, with author response towards the end of the session.

Logistics

The event will take place on June 14, 2019, and will run from 8:45am to 6pm. Paper sessions will run until 4:15pm; afterwards, there will be a reception for all participants.
All meals will be covered during the event. Unfortunately, we have limited funding to support travel for this workshop; however, we’re happy to provide a formal invitation for participation/“speaking” to anyone who may need it to secure their own funding.
Application Process (Deadline: April 19)

For this event, we are looking to bring together researchers from diverse disciplines studying technology in organizations. This can include management, organization studies, communications, information studies, computer-supported cooperative work, computer-human interaction, science and technology studies, ethics, labor, law, policy, anthropology, and design research. As a result, attendees should expect to engage with scholars who are outside of their field of study. We ask that attendees think of the Data & Society Workshop series as an opportunity to engage with a broader cross-disciplinary field, and to strengthen both relationships and research through participation in the workshop.

Because the paper submission date is only a few weeks after the application deadline, you should only apply as an author if you have a paper that you’re actively writing right now and will be ready to share a draft with others by May 28, 2019. If you aren’t already working on this paper, you probably aren’t in a good position to workshop it at this event. Appropriate papers may be a work-in-progress book chapter or a journal article. (Full-length books are a bit too much for this event, so if you’re writing a book, think about the chapter that you most want to get feedback on.)

To apply as an author, please submit the following:
* Name, affiliation, title, email address, discipline.
* Big research question you’re seeking to answer with your research.
* Paper title + 100-250 word abstract.
* The current half-baked, thick-outline, total mess of the paper.**
** We are asking for the disaster of a paper to understand where you are with the piece now, and the arguments you intend to make, so that we can appropriately match you to a discussant. We won’t share this version with anyone (we promise).
Please note: All co-authors for papers must apply separately. If your co-author doesn’t apply, we will assume that s/he is not interested in attending the workshop. It will be hard to add additional participants later, so make sure your co-authors apply if they want to attend.

To apply as a participant/discussant, please submit the following:
* Name, affiliation, title, email address, discipline.
* Big research question you’re seeking to answer with your research.
* 100-250 word description of your research.

Application link: http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor <http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor>
For questions, email events@datasociety.net <mailto:events@datasociety.net>

There’s an interesting aside in Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain on pg 98 which has left me thinking about why I’m so interested in distraction:

Here he tied his essay into a venerable tradition in psychiatry going back at least to the early twentieth century, namely, that madness and mental illness pointed to a failure to adapt—an inappropriate mental fixity in the face of the flux of events.

While I obviously don’t think distraction is a mental illness, I do think it can be characterised as a failure to adapt. But as insufficient mental fixity in the face of events, as opposed to an excess of fixity. It is a failure to find form, a distinct stance towards a situation liable to give rise to action within it.

My notes on Brooker, P. (2019). My unexpectedly militant bots: A case for Programming-as-Social-Science. The Sociological Review. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038026119840988

In this thought provoking paper, Phil Brooker takes issue with the scaremongering surroundings bots which positions them as epistemically dangerous due to their quantity and capacity to evade deception. Instead he propose sociologists engage with them as both topic and resource, able to be used critically as a way of intervening in problematic online areas. This entails an upskilling by sociologists, without which any such engagement is likely to be at an abstract distance. He argues that “programming is a vital tool for responding to emerging issues and is potentially transformative across the social sciences in terms of how we understand and intervene in the world” (3).

Sociology lags behind fields like the digital humanities and software studies for reasons which would be interesting to explore but he offers this intervention as part of a broader project to help close that gap. He argues that we should think of “computer programming as a multipurpose toolkit for understanding and intervening in the (digital) social world in lots of different ways” (7). He begins with an exploration of the social character of design, infamously manifested in bots which reproduce the discriminatory features of the environment they take as stimulus. Drawing on Lupton’a work on design sociology, he draws attention to the affinity of design and sociology, with the former increasingly attending to the social context and the role of users within it. He argues that Di Salvo’s conception of adversarial design has particular relevance, with its focus on the capacity of design to disrupt preconceptions and knock users out of habitual ways of thinking.

His focus on social media bots responds to “a shift from depicting bots as insidious infections against which platform users must inoculate themselves, to a more nuanced understanding that reflects the different functions bots hold for those that build and use them” (5). The problem of bots is often framed in terms of computational propaganda such that they are seen to be fundamentally deceptive and manipulative, coming from without and requiring decisive intervention” (5), in spite of the useful and fun purposes bots have long served on sites like Reddit and Wikipedia. He argues that using design approaches instead “opens up a space to think about understanding bot–human interaction as playful, creative, positive and/or useful both culturally and sociologically” (6).

I won’t try to summarise the superb narratives of his two bots and their development. But he positions the first, which randomly generates Facebook updates from a core list of components, in terms of the politics of obfuscation which can be seen in projects like ISP Data Pollution, RuinMyHistory and Noiszy and their significance after the Cambridge Analytica revelations. He explores the latter in terms of the digital picket line, redesigning his Zenbot to proactively inform people it was on strike on the appropriate days, using the relevant hashtag and accompanied by random positive invocations, rather than dispensing zen wisdom on command via twitter. He uses these to signify the potential direction which what he terms *programming as social science* could take for sociology, particularly in terms of its capacity to it help open the notorious black boxes of algorithms and software. On pg 16 he notes other forms PaSS might take:

engaging with new forms of data, designing new methods to investigate social phenomena, developing interactive/alternative/engaging data visualisations, building applications to nurture innovative forms of interaction with research participants, and so on.

But a few steps are needed first. We need to acknowledged the lived experience of interacting with bots, as opposed to engaging in abstract generalisations. We need to grapple with the ethical challenges posed by these potential interventions, currently undertaken with a sociological blank canvas. We need to take bot design seriously as a method of generating social knowledge, currently being taken up almost exclusively by non sociologists. I consider myself enthusiastically signed up to Phil’s project here!

From pg 68 of Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain:

Thus if the arrangement is such that the sound becomes positively associated both with the attracting light and with the withdrawal from an obstacle, it is possible for both a light and a sound to set up a paradoxical withdrawal. The ‘instinctive’ attraction to a light is abolished and the model can no longer approach its source of nourishment. This state seems remarkably similar to the neurotic behavior produced in human beings by exposure to conflicting influences or inconsistent education.” Or, as he put it more poetically in The Living Brain (1953, 183), “in trying, as it were, to sort out the implications of its dilemma, the model ends up, ‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,’ by losing all power of action.

This section of Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain just reawakened my interest in psychedelic drugs and their effects upon consciousness. From pg 73:

Walter’s 1953 book The Living Brain is largely devoted to the science of the normal brain and its pathologies, epilepsy and mental illness. But in different passages it also goes beyond the pathological to include a whole range of what one might call altered states and strange performances: dreams, visions, synesthesia, hallucination, hypnotic trance, extrasensory perception, the achievement of nirvana and the weird abilities of Eastern yogis and fakirs—the “strange feats” of “grotesque cults” (1953, 148) such as suspending breathing and the heartbeat and tolerating intense pain. 

 What should we make of this? It exemplifies the sort of curiosity about the performative brain that I just mentioned—this is a list of odd things that brains, according to Walter, can do. It conjures up an understanding of the brain as an active participant in the world. Even in the field of perception and representation, phenomena such as dreams and hallucinations might be taken to indicate that the brain does not copy the world but assimilates sensory inputs to a rich inner dynamics. The tortoise did not thematize this aspect of the brain (except, to a limited degree, in its scanning mechanism), but it is part of what I tried to get at in chapter 2 by mentioning the work of Kauffman and Wolfram on the endogenous dynamics of complex systems, which we will see elaborated in in the following chapters. 

The significance of such substances lies their capacity to modify the “rich inner dynamics” of the brain, in the process opening out new intersections with the world. What makes them interesting is not the subjective changes they bring about but rather the different relations to the objective world which those subjective changes reflect. They illustrate the range of ways we can psycho-physically inhabit our reality, casting a light upon the usual range as usual through the alternatives which they open up. 

Another theme which feels important to me in Pickering’s superb The Cybernetic Brain is the ontological gap between entities and interaction. If we imagine the world as composed of discrete entities with defined characteristics, it invites an approach to knowledge in which we merely place them into a taxonomy in a manner which leaves them in principle knowable in full.

If I understand the cybernetic impulse correctly, it rests on the aforementioned ontological gap. Even if we learn stuff through this approach, it tells us little about the interaction of these entities and obscures much that is important about the world in which this interaction occurs. What matters is how these discrete elements enter into interaction with each other, in a manner which is inherently unpredictable and cannot be discerned through the decompositional and representational approach to knowledge previously described. This is why we should start with the performance i.e. the reality of their interaction.

It’s possible I’m translating this too much into the conceptual idiom of morphogenetic theory and perhaps missing something of cybernetics in the process. But I’m finding it a stimulating activity nonetheless, something which I think the cyberneticians would have approved of.

It’s difficult to read Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain and not be swept up in his infectious enthusiasm for the British cyberneticians. They were the fun wing of an approach which “emerged from nowhere as far as established fields and career paths were concerned” with the “cyberneticians and their projects were outsiders to established fields of endeavor” (55). Cybernetics had no social basis, as he terms it, something which was a strength in many ways. The radically open character of its intellectual inquiry clearly had a foundation in modes of academic sociality, such as the Ratio dining club described on pg 58:

Ratio was interinstitutional, as one might say. It did not simply elide disciplinary boundaries within the university; it brought together representatives from different sorts of institutions: people from the universities, but also medical men and physiologists based in hospitals and research institutes, including Walter and Ashby, and workers in government laboratories.

But this strength came hand-in-hand with the weakness of cybernetics, as Pickering describes on pg 59-60:

Academic disciplines are very good at holding neophytes to specific disciplinary agendas, and it was both a strength and a weakness of cybernetics that it could not do this—a strength, inasmuch as cybernetics retained an undisciplined and open-ended vitality, an ability to sprout off in all sorts of new directions, that the established disciplines often lack; a weakness, as an inability both to impose standards on research and to establish career paths for new cyberneticians left enthusiasts to improvise careers much as did the founders.

In this sense, we can see disciplines as a dual-edged sword. They are effective carries of tradition, ensuring insights, ideas and methods get reproduced from one generation to the next. But they do this at the cost of disciplining, with the perpetual risk that creativity and innovation are foreclosed by an adherence to inherited standards.

Is it possible to overcome this by developing nomadic movements within the conservative structure of disciplines? I’m prone to seeing the bias towards novelty within the contemporary scholarly ecosystem as a fundamentally negative thing, as much as I’m well suited to it in many ways. But an optimistic reading of it cold be that it mitigates the stultifying potential inherent in disciplinarity and ensures there is room for creativity which might not otherwise be there.

Despite widespread condemnations of ‘methodological nationalism’, calls for a more ‘global sociology’, and vibrant debates about decolonising the university, sociology cannot sustain the pretence that the ‘global North’ has been decentred. Indeed, sociology, even with its interdisciplinary posturing, remains dominated by theories and methodologies which emerge from and refer to the (over)developed world. In this context, what are some of the challenges for scholars working in and on the ‘global South’? What are some of the difficulties for engagement with the sociological mainstream, both intellectually and institutionally? What might reflexive accounts from scholars who are doing sociology outside the global North teach us about the challenges and possibilities of developing a substantively global sociology?

In a recent piece called The Gentrification of African Studies, Haythem Guesmi explains that ‘Africa-based academics face insurmountable difficulties to attend important African studies conferences, which are often held in western capitals of New York, London, or Berlin. These challenges include issues of air travel funding and registration fees, the dreadful process of visa application, and the rise of hostile immigration policies’. Guesmi argues that Africanist scholars living in the global north thereby ‘shape the trajectory of African studies as a result of their strong institutional support and abundance of available funding’. Clearly, Guesmi has identified a wider issue that relates to the dominance (perhaps imperialism?) of the Euro-American academy; pursuing a genuinely global or decolonised sociology demands that take these kinds of arguments seriously. Indeed, the reflections of sociologists working outside the global North can serve as instruction for all of us struggling to understand, critique and improve our discipline.

This special section of The Sociological Review’s website seeks short blog posts reflecting on the challenges of doing sociology outside the global North. These should be reflective accounts, and might respond to questions such as:

  • What are some of the institutional barriers to doing sociology and gaining recognition outside Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand?
  • What are your experiences of engaging with academics and institutions in the ‘global north’, and how have these experiences impacted your work?
  • What difficulties have you faced applying dominant theoretical and conceptual paradigms to areas and topics outside the global north?
  • If not sociology, which disciplines dominate research in your given area or topic, and how might sociological approaches generate new insights and questions?
  • How do your own experiences shed light on the limitations of calls for a global, decolonised sociology?
  • How do studies on and from the ‘global South’ complicate the scale at which sociologists conceptualise ‘private troubles’ and ‘public issues’?
  • What do your own experiences and reflections reveal about postcoloniality, neo-colonialism, imperialism and racism?

Please read our guidelines before submitting. Posts should be between 1000 and 1500 words, submitted in the first instance to our Digital Engagement Fellow at mark@markcarrigan.net. The special section is edited by Irmak Karademir Hazir and Luke de Noronh. The deadline for submissions is March 31st.