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.


Black Screens: A Visual Essay on Mobile Screens in the City

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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.

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.


In praise of HT

Bourdieu, in his Homo Academicus, presents a comprehensive panorama of how the elites are reinforced by the hierarchical system, where “academic capital is obtained and maintained by holding a position enabling domination of other positions and their holders” (1988, p. 84). In this sense, the academic career could sometimes be perceived as an “obstacle race and a competitive examination” (Bourdieu, 1988, p. 87). There are plenty of scary and frankly disappointing stories about how power is held (and performed) in academia. Nobody seems to be free from those stories and I even have one (or two) friend that had left the academic career for some of those reasons; they were tired of banging against the wall of authoritarianism or following the path of deception. They simply gave up because they lacked support, mentorship, trust or resources.

IMG_0216There are, nevertheless, other kind of stories that are always important to be told. Mostly to remind us why we are here, why we keep doing this against all odds and why we are still in love and engaging with the academic world. This is not a very British thing to do but my Mexican self allows me to do things “unquiet and non-soberly”. This is my small and humble homage to one of the most amazing friends and colleagues I’ve ever had as a Homo Academicus. Continue reading “In praise of HT”

Próxima estación: Terra Australis Incognita

“La experiencia es la única cosa que genera conocimiento, entre más tiempo estés en la tierra, más experiencia tendrás” El Mago de Oz al Espantapájaros.

“Tienes suficiente valentía, estoy seguro. Todo lo que necesitas es confianza en ti mismo. No hay ser vivo que no sienta miedo al enfrentarse al peligro. El verdadero valor está en enfrentarse al peligro cuando tienes miedo, y tú tienes suficiente de esa clase de valor” El Mago de Oz al león.

La mítica tierra desconocida del sur, la Terra Australis Incognita, dio su nombre a esa isla-continente que es Australia. Una tierra que aparece siempre como legendaria, la última frontera, lo desconocido y lo mágico, el desierto y la abundancia. James Cook, el famoso capitán inglés que reclamó la Costa Este de Australia para el Reino Unido, en el siglo XVIII, era oriundo de Yorkshire, la tierra que me acogió estos tres últimos años. Estoy a punto de seguir sus pasos.

Australia es mi próximo destino. Recibí un contrato de investigador por tres años en el Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT para los cuates) y tendré el enorme privilegio de trabajar en el Digital Ethnography Research Center con algunos de los colegas y amigos que más admiro y con quienes podré compartir proyectos, discusiones y aprender de ellos. Muchas aventuras se avecinan, un nuevo cambio de continente, un nuevo inicio, nuevos retos, esperanzas renovadas.

En su libro, El Maravilloso Mago de Oz, Lyman Frank Baum, sitúa la historia en “La Tierra de Oz”, una tierra que nunca ha sido civilizada “porque nos han apartado del resto del mundo. Por lo tanto todavía tenemos brujas y magos entre nosotros”. Al explicarle a Dorothy, la protagonista, lo que es Oz, los habitantes lo describen como “un país que aquí es rico y placentero, pero por el que debes pasar lugares peligrosos antes de alcanzar el final de tu camino”. Se abre una nueva etapa a partir de noviembre, en una tierra austral.


Cerrando un ciclo I (Recuento académico)


Estoy a punto de cerrar un ciclo que comenzó hace tres años, cuando llegué a Inglaterra a trabajar en la Universidad de Leeds. Fueron varios proyectos en los que participé y de los que doy cuenta aquí por tres motivos: 1) como un recuento personal del tiempo pasado en esta isla y que termina en unos meses y 2) Porque los resultados de estos trabajos serán publicados en su totalidad en inglés y sigo sintiendo una responsabilidad auto-asumida para con la cultura académica en castellano. Por lo tanto, comento brevemente estos textos por si a alguien le resultaran de utilidad y quisiera más información sobre ellos (o copia de los que no están publicados todavía). Y, finalmente 3) Porque siempre he sentido debilidad por el carácter confesional de los blogs que se ha perdido por la espectacularización de lo cotidiano en las “redes sociales. Continue reading “Cerrando un ciclo I (Recuento académico)”