Toward a Popular Theory of Algorithms (New paper)
This paper establishes dialogs between theories on the popular and critical studies on algorithms and datafication. In doing so, it contributes to reversing the analytical tendency to assume that algorithms have universal effects and that conclusions about “algorithmic power” in the Global North apply unproblematically everywhere else. We begin by clarifying how Latin American scholars and other research traditions have theorized the popular (“lo popular”). We then develop four dimensions of lo popular to implement these ideas in the case of algorithms: playful cultural practices, imagination, resistance, and “in-betweenness.” We argue that this dialogue can generate different ways of thinking about the problems inherent to algorithmic mediation by drawing attention to the remixes of cultural practices, imaginative solutions to everyday problems, “cyborg” forms of resistance, and ambiguous forms of agency that are central to the operations of algorithmic assemblages nowadays.
Everyday anthropo-scenes: a visual inventory of human traces (new paper)
Presenting an inventory of discarded Adhesive Bandages (ABs) in the city, this visual essay reflects on the pervasive presence of human traces, using the figure of anthropo-scenes. The ABs become a visual metaphor – what used to be a momentary relief for pain, a protective layer, turns into a reminder of the active role humans are playing in the earth’s destruction, a reminder of the tension between human power and their own fragility.
WhatsApp as technology of life (new paper)
In this paper, we present a few ethnographic vignettes on the use of WhatsApp from a study in Mexico City. We suggest WhatsApp is a paradigmatic example of how a particular technology becomes an infrastructure to sustain, and therefore shape, a wide range of quotidian activities, from personal to economic, from spiritual to political. WhatsApp exemplifies what we call technologies of life, as such technologies mediate almost all aspects of social life. On this basis, we propose two interventions into the research agenda that go beyond data-centric approaches and focus on the lived-experiences of individuals, families, and communities.
En este artículo presentamos algunas viñetas etnográficas sobre el uso de WhatsApp en la Ciudad de México. Proponemos que WhatsApp es un ejemplo paradigmático de cómo una tecnología en particular se transforma en una infraestructura para sostener, y de esa forma, generar, un gran número de actividades cotidianas, de comunicación personal a intercambios económicos, de conexiones espirituales a prácticas políticas. WhatsApp ejemplifica lo que denominamos Tecnologías Vitales, tecnologías que median casi todos los aspectos de la vida social. Sobre esta base, proponemos dos intervenciones en la agenda de investigación proponiendo ir más allá de las aproximaciones centradas en datos y plataformas y enfocándose en las experiencias vividas por individuos, familias y comunidades.
Black Screens: A Visual Essay on Mobile Screens in the City
I just published this visual essay based on my photographic series Black Screen in the Journal of Visual Communication
This visual essay, along with the Black Screens photographic series upon which it is based, has two aims. On the one hand, it is intended as a visual exploration of the increasingly central role that mobile phones have in our everyday lives. In a time when digital technologies are ubiquitous in urban settings of developed countries, the images reflect, visually, on what this pervasiveness looks like. The other aim is to present suggestions of how methods borrowed and/or inspired by art and street photography could potentially expand the toolkit of ethnographic inquiry.
Mobile screens and the public event: screen practices at the Anzac Day Dawn Service (new paper)
A collaboration with my colleague Shanti Sumartojo was published in Continuum. Journal of Media and Cultural Studies.
Following current literature on public and mobile screens, this paper discuses the relevance that screens have in our everyday lives by focusing on the combination of mobile and temporary screen-based practices in the digital mediation of a single public commemorative event. We present an ethnographic account of different screen practices at the Anzac Day dawn Service, an annual Australian commemorative ceremony on a public holiday, 25 April. By focusing our analysis in a single place for a limited time, we analyse how people relate to screens in different ways, from media reception to spatial organization to online connection. We suggest that screens form a fundamental element of the entanglement between public space and political narrative that needs further investigation because this relationship holds implications for both urban life and citizenship.
I have some free eprints, if you are interested, just ask.
Street Photography as an ethnographic method?
When I started my job in Melbourne, I was very keen to pursue an idea I’ve had for long time: Could we think of street photography’s ethos as an ethnographic technique? I didn’t have a clear point to make (still don’t) but I was keen to playfully experiment combining my favorite photographic genre and my usual research method. My starting point was that both, street photography and ethnography, were interested in the ways people behave in everyday life. Both present interesting ethical challenges and, ultimately, both are connected to ways of seeing, imagining and thinking.
I tried a small “pilot project” in Japan that was unsuccessful and never saw the light (no pun intended). Now that I’m moving to Sydney and starting a new job, I thought I should give it another try, after all, I was really excited about the idea and I wanted to invest more time on it. This time, it is happening. I pitched the project outside academia and FujiFilm Australia came on board. They will be supporting the project and providing the equipment. During 2018 I will carry out a number of discrete “fieldworks” in different cities; thinking, photographing, talking and writing about street photography and ethnography. Building upon some recent scholarly work on photography as a visual method, and a growing interest on street photography, as a cultural form, and as a photographic “syntax”. But more importantly, inspired by “hybrid genres” such as the extraordinary Blind Spot of Teju Cole, in 2019 I will prepare a book with the experience.
To kickoff this cool project that is intended to be academic but that is also very personal, I put together a number of images in what could be considered a “teaser for the future”, or simply a “shared photographic album”. The printed version is insanely expensive as it’s always the case with self-publishing but I have a pdf version that I’m happy to distribute if anyone is interested.