“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

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“Hackathons, data and discourse: Convolutions of the data (logical)” (new paper)

Led by Helen Thornham we just published a paper (Big Data & Society journal). Here is the link to the open full text and here is the abstract:

This paper draws together empirical findings from our study of hackathons in the UK with literature on big data through three interconnected frameworks: data as discourse, data as datalogical and data as materiality. We suggest not only that hackathons resonate the wider socio-technical and political constructions of (big) data that are currently enacted in policy, education and the corporate sector (to name a few), but also that an investigation of hackathons reveals the extent to which ‘data’ operates as a powerful discursive tool; how the discourses (and politics) of data mask and reveal a series of tropes pertaining to data; that the politics of data are routinely and simultaneously obscured and claimed with serious implications for expertise and knowledge; and that ultimately, and for the vast majority of hackathons we have attended, the discursive and material constructions of data serve to underpin rather than challenge existing power relations and politics.

Fotografía Digital y vida cotidiana: Estudios Empíricos sobre prácticas visuales materiales (nuevo libro)

Hace más años de los que quisiera contar, Guillermo Orozco, ya entonces uno de los académicos más renombrados en México dijo, en el marco de un encuentro de CONEICC en Toluca (¿o era Querétaro? Ya dije que son demasiados años), que ningún académico escribía nada que valiera la pena antes de los 40 años. Sea cierto o no este “dictum” lo cierto es que éste es el primer libro que publico pasada esa marca. Afortunadamente de éste puedo decir que sí, que vale la pena. Bien es cierto que es un libro editado (no seré yo quien defienda la importancia de los libros editados pero aquí tienen algunos argumentos interesantes al respecto). En mi opinión no creo que haya escritura académica que valga más la pena que aquella que es colectiva, y lo que más me llena de orgullo de este libro es que confluyen dos generaciones de académicos interesados en la fotografía digital, unos que inician su carrera con mucho impulso, otros cuyo trabajo nos ha servido de inspiración y a quienes admiramos profundamente. Digital Photography bookEl libro, que edito junto con un colega finlandés, Asko Lehmuskallio, y que representa un esfuerzo colectivo de más de dos años, comenzó a gestarse cuando Asko y yo nos conocimos en Finlandia, en el primer congreso Photomedia. Visto en retrospectiva no hay nada aleatorio en ello. El libro, que todavía no sabía que lo sería, siguió su historia en el maravilloso jardín frente a la biblioteca de Berkeley en un día soleado que supo a gloria aterrizando del invierno infernal inglés. Nuestra colaboración se extendió en encuentros en Leeds, Helsinki dos veces más e innumerables correos y sesiones de skype. Es un placer haber trabajado con todos ellos. Y ya me dirán si vale la pena o no.

[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.

A Vignetthnography of artists (in the wild)

I finally had the time to edit another “Vignetthnography“. This one was shot at the Burbage Valley in the Peak District and was part of the Inhabiting the Hack project funded by the CCN+ and organised by Helen Thornham and Alex McLean.

While I was editing the video I was thinking that, hopefully in the near future we could  develop an academic culture that allows us to produce more visual content as research outputs (it is quite a lot of work but also a good counterbalance to writing articles).

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.

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”