Not just a number? NEETs, data and datalogical systems (New Paper)

Led by Helen Thornham, we just published the paper Not just a number? NEETs, data and datalogical systems in Information, Communication & Society. Here is the link to the paper, and here is the abstract:


This paper draws on empirical research with NEET populations (16–24-year-olds not in education, employment or training) in the U.K. in order to engage with issues around identification, data and metrics produced through datalogical systems. Our aim is to bridge contemporary discourses around data, digital bureaucracy and datalogical systems with empirical material drawn from a long-term ethnographic project with NEET groups in Leeds, U.K. in order to highlight the way datalogical systems ideologically and politically shape people’s lives. We argue that NEET is a long-standing data category that does work and has resonance within wider datalogical systems. Secondly, that these systems are decision-making and far from benign. They have real impact on people’s lives – not just in a straightforwardly, but in obscure, complex and uneven ways which makes the potential for disruption or intervention increasingly problematic. Finally, these datalogical systems also implicate and are generated by us, even as we seek to critique them.

“Trajectories: digital/visual data on the move” (new paper)

RVST_COVER_31-04.inddA paper that I presented at a conference on Photography and Anthropology in 2014 was (finally) published today. It is somehow disappointing that the publishing process takes so long because I would probably approach the paper differently now. In any case, I think it could be useful to expand the discussion about mobile/visual/digital ethnographies. Here is the link to the text and here is the abstract:

This article presents an outline of the concept ‘Trajectory’. I propose to understand trajectory not only as a trace of movement in a path but also as a working concept to reflect on the possibilities of visual/digital data collection for ethnographic research on the move. Images, I argue, along with some digital affordances such as metadata and GPS, can be a powerful device for ethnographic enquiry and a useful tool for reflexivity if used by making sense of the randomness of everyday mobility. The concept of ‘Trajectory’ seeks to reflect on the relationship between four elements: mobility, visual data, digital methods and reflexivity, focusing on the use of the mobile phone as a tool to engage with these elements while reflecting on them. The concept of trajectories is intended to establish a dialogue with that of the flâneur in de Certeau’s and Benjamin’s work and with some current approaches to visual/digital ethnography, especially those related to movement and senses, art and ethnography and mobilities and locative media.

P.S. It was fun that the editors chose my images for the journal’s cover

[Im]mobility in the age of [im]mobile phones: Young NEETs and digital practices (New Article)

We just published, along with Helen Thornham, the article [Im]mobility in the age of [im]mobile phones: Young NEETs and digital practices in New Media & Society. I’m very happy with this paper for two reasons: it is the first paper we publish based on that fieldwork and it is also the first time I publish in NM&S. But I’m mostly happy because I see it as a critical intervention into some common assumptions (that uncritically claim positive “impacts”) about the use of digital technologies, a criticism that comes straight from our ethnographic data. This is the abstract:

This article draws on research with young NEETs (not in education, employment or training) in Leeds in order to contest the assumption that technological qualities informing new media devices (here mobile phones) simply or transparently translate into social or ontological categories. We draw on a long-term ethnographic study of NEET individuals to argue that one of the underpinning principles of mobile phones – that they pertain to mobility and that mobility is positive and agential – is called into question. Our aim is not only to unpack a number of concepts and assumptions underpinning the mobile phone but also to suggest that these concepts unhelpfully (and even detrimentally) locate mobile phones in relation to the technological possibilities on offer without taking into account what is simultaneously made impossible and immobile, and for whom. Finally, when we set the digital experiences of NEETs alongside the discourses around mobile phones, we find that mobility is restricted – not enabling, and that it is forged in, and articulated as part of an everyday life that is dominated by the social and economic horizons set by the groups status as NEET.

Selfies beyond self-representation: the (theoretical) f(r)ictions of a practice (article)

This is a paper that Helen Thornham and I wrote for a workshop in Sweden earlier this year. It is open access which is always a good idea. Just follow this link.


Drawing on a wide corpus of ethnographic research projects, including on photography practices, young filmmakers and writers, and current research with young unemployed people, we argue that contemporary understandings of selfies either in relation to a “documenting of the self” or as a neoliberal (narcissistic) identity affirmation are inherently problematic. Instead, we argue that selfies should be understood as a wider social, cultural, and media phenomenon that understands the selfie as far more than a representational image. This, in turn, necessarily redirects us away from the object “itself,” and in so doing seeks to understand selfies as a socio-technical phenomenon that momentarily and tentatively holds together a number of different elements of mediated digital communication.

Call for articles. Special Issue on Expertise and Engagement with/in Digital Media (Convergence journal)


Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies

Special Issue on Expertise and Engagement with/in Digital Media’

Vo1 21, no. 3 (August 2015)

Editors: Caroline Bassett, University of Sussex; Edgar Gómez Cruz, University of Leeds; Helen Thornham, University of Leeds

In an digitally saturated environment digital media users of all kinds, engaged in diverse areas of activity, are increasingly categorized in terms of their ability to use – they are regarded as natives, non-users, experts, literates, for instance. In these contexts the question (1) of how various forms of digital expertise develop, and (2) of how understandings of expertise come into being and come to operate, become increasingly important. Digital expertise might appear to be simply descriptive (of a particular capacity to use), or unproblematically normative (indicating an elevated level of engagement that may be viewed as desirable), however there are multiple understandings of what digital expertise ‘is’ (what kind of skilled engagement with digital materials it delineates/demands/entails), and multiple ways in which it is judged and valued. Our contention is that these conceptions of expertise are contextually produced; they intersect with various social categories and discourses, and they come to operate in social contexts with some force. Our starting point is that digital expertise is at once material and a social construction. Continue reading

Hacia la construcción de una sociología de la imagen digital más allá de la representación (working paper)

Estoy tan desencantado con los (largos) tiempos de publicación en las revistas académicas (más sobre esto pronto) que decidí subir las notas sobre las que basé mi reciente participación en el encuentro “El álbum familiar: otras narrativas en los márgenes” organizado por ViSiONA, Programa de la Imagen de Huesca y la Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo. Si puedo regresar a ellas y redondearlas un poco, sería genial publicarlo en el marco de alguna revista. Si no, pues que quede ahí como un “working paper” y que al menos sirva para la discusión. Copio aquí el preámbulo y aquí está el texto completo:

Este texto se enmarca en una agenda de investigación que busca dar cuenta de las prácticas de fotografía digital más allá de la representación (Gómez Cruz, 2012). Este proyecto ha establecido una serie de reflexiones sobre la fotografía digital: como una red sociotécnica (Gómez Cruz & Meyer, 2012), como una práctica que genera una cierta estética (Gómez Cruz, 2012b), y sobre cómo dichas prácticas pueden tener implicaciones importantes en la concepción de lo público y lo privado (Lasén & Gómez-Cruz, 2009; Ardévol y Gómez Cruz, 2012). El objetivo global de esta agenda es intentar pensar a la fotografía digital más allá de la imagen y su poder de representación y situarla en una discusión amplia sobre los procesos de digitalización y construcción de la vida cotidiana. Este texto busca ser un paso más en este  proyecto que bien podría definirse como una sociología de la imagen digital más allá de la representación.

“Performing photography practices in everyday life” (New article)

My paper: Performing photography practices in everyday life, written with Elisenda Ardèvol, has just been published in Photographies. It is a small paper that was presented at the Helsinki Photomedia Conference last year (2012). I want to thank Martin Lister for the invitation to submit it and to Sarah Kember for her wise comments and recommendations for the paper.

It is kind of strange that someone publish two papers in the consecutive numbers of the same journal but I’m honored and happy for that. Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents a number of examples from an ethnographic fieldwork with a group of amateur photographers in Barcelona. Based on Practice Theory approach, as a theoretical framework, the article stands as an example of the study of photography that moves away from a representational or semiotic approach towards a performative one. The examples described show how different practices enable and enhance mediations that are material, visual and digital at the same time and how these practices are performed by the group while they shape their collective identity.