Refiguring Techniques in Visual Digital Research (New edited book)

Refiguring Techniques cover

This book interrogates how new digital-visual techniques and technologies are being used in emergent configurations of research and intervention. It discusses technological change and technological possibility; theoretical shifts toward processual paradigms; and a respectful ethics of responsibility. The contributors explore how new and evolving digital-visual technologies and techniques have been utilized in the development of research, and reflect on how such theory and practice might advance what is “knowable” in a world of smartphones, drones, and 360-degree cameras. Available here.

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

“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.