AAG 2015 notes – day 1

At 8:00 I’ve attended the Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries  session asking ‘what difference people expect better connectivity to make at the world’s economic peripheries’. I took notes from the presentations of Nancy Ettlinger, Dorothea Kleine and Lisa Poggiali.

Nancy Ettlinger analysed crwodsourcing from governance perspective – using Foucauldian analysis. She looks at rationalities of non-inventive but skilled activity. There are some differences with innovative activities – but the treatment people is the same. The line between classes and intellectual outputs became blurred – data collection, translation, patterns. Algorithms are managing non-innovative work. There are algorithms that are being deployed turning the crowd into human computers. Third party platforms such as AMT that broker requests for jobs and workers. There is also feedback to the software during the process. Crowdsourcing spanning the globe, and the active learning is going to the computers. The work regime is wage-less with less than $10c for an hour of work. Employment is not linked to payment, and the labour is people on demands – people are commodified – most of the crowd are dispersed and working at home. There are IT people in ‘body shopping’ – code monkeys in the IT industry. Precarisation of the workforce. Acceleration of time to completion of tasks magnifies job insecurity. While the companies are working in the regular economy, the workers are actually in the informal sector, invisible, and insecure. Need to imagine new frontier of resistance across the digital landscape will require cooperative-based on web 3.0 network.

Dorothea Kleine – looks at digital inclusion and female enterpreneurship in chile and Tanzania. ICT4D is an emerging field, a lot are focusing on economic growth – the paper focus on capabilities approach (Amartya Sen). The choice framework provide a way to deal with the capabilities approach. The discourse of ICT4D – includes powerful neoliberal framing. Under which conditions women are invited to be included? In ICT4D, women participation is becoming more central (it wasn’t before). Too much ‘counting of women’ and not on the relationship and power. There is focus on female entrepreneurs – invited to become responsible neoliberal subjects who are ‘excited about change. They are if there are conformist, reformist or transformative approach to what ICT4D is. In Tanzania, they found issues of limited mobility, access to IT only in specific places – many female participants wanted a secure job. In a participatory video, they use videos to explore gender violence – but then it was offered to turn the experience into a venture with films – so instead of transformative, it found a conformist trajectory. In Chile, they follow a group of women learning IT. Only minority explored entrepreneurial activities – wanted to be employed. Business ideas competition an indigenous women won, she lost regular employment in teaching the local language, and because of the lost of the job, she looked for opportunities to get some funding – she was able to charge story telling about indigenous practices. ‘I sell my culture. I am not going to give out information just like that, I can’t’. The knowledge moved from public good, to commodity. Women Enterprise Development discourse is conformist and reformist – and what about the women who are not successful? Conformist trajectory peddling impoverished vision of the world. entrepreneurship.

Lisa Poggiali analysing informal settlement mapping in Muhimu (not the real place name) in Nairobi. There are plenty projects in Nairobi and ICT4D became a topic – Silicon Savannah. Most of the narrative, the iHub received special attention – various events and tech-hub. Muhimu is a place where technology is implemented – Miroslav and Sarah (the people behind the initiative) carried out work with local people to record things that don’t work. Maps are symbolic conduit – there is exclusion of slum dwellers from digital technologies. The maps provide a way to map an area – the land is owned by the state. The mapping project using satellite imagery with donated areal maps they were able to create a representation of their area. The mapping infrastructure will encourage bringing resources – so they mapped sewage, incomplete public toilet. They assume that mapping will lead to action by the project initiators Sarah and Miroslav . The map provides a way to allow the locals to emerge as experts that are respected – it created a sense of anxiety for the participants. Noticing that local data collection can be eclipsed by other, more powerful. There is a dominant narrative of digitisation is about efficiency, and dealing with corruption. The digital is assumed to make corruption impossible. During the period or research, there was no results from the mapping.

At 12:40 1487 Where’s the Value? Emerging Digital Economies of Geolocation (panel session) with Jeremy Crampton, Rob Kitchin, Elvin K. Wyly, Agnieszka Leszczynski, and Julie Cupples. Only captured some of the discussion. It started with the observation that the data brokers need to continue and convince the businesses that there is value in geolocation. Like any other business, big data is sold to businesses as ‘something that works and increase revenue’. This is part of a wider claims about efficiency, productivity etc. Within Smart Cities – there is scepticism by public servants at city level that don’t believe the narrative, so there are situations, such as the UK, where the government invests in ‘creating the market’ for large IT corporations. There is a perception that the data in itself has value. Data will have value down the line.
Regarding the concept of value – Elvin: there is proliferation of what is value – the concept of monetization and turning new things into value. Multi dimensional concept of personhood and it circulate among institutions which construct it. The illusion of the value is preformative in the way that it plays in the world. Julie noted that in universities there is work on creating meaningless correlations from data and offer simplistic policy conclusions.
Julie: People have different levels of technical competancies and therefroe they are locked into a wider system. Quant Self movement is participatory to a larger extent, and subverted by the individual at the same time. There is no way to be outside the system as non-participation is also costly. Rob: there are changes inside – e.g. legal framing as in right to be forgoten, under which condition Uber is allowed to a city. The objects are moving so fast, and the legal situation has not captured their operation and come with solutions. Although this is self serving narrative, there is a question about to what degree it is possible to put the genie back in the bottle – although it is possible to consider to legislate ‘privacy by design’. Agnieszka noted that teens and social media that there are complex and creative approaches to have anonymity and obscurity that are happening. Many teenagers disabled location information in apps – different cohorts are working differently with the services. We want to control flows of information about ourselves, but we can’t do that – we don’t know who got our data and what they put it for. Rob: the project ‘the Secret life of Data’ provide an insight to the black boxes through which data is travelling. Elvin: there is digital Murphy Law is operating – there are conflicting laws in operations that conflict with each other and can’t work towards common goals.
Rob: doing the work and critiquing Big Data, there is plenty of inertia and resistance within the political system so neo-liberalism is not the only force in operation. The global financial crisis amplified neo-liberalism instead of causing it to think. Sharing economy is worsening the conditions of labour.  It is easy to see technology in utopia or dystopia, but it is important to understand how it shaped and evolve. Elvin: there is struggle between utopia/dystopia – we need to be careful of Silicon Valley libertarian approach that information is only good. Rob: There is an alternative to the California Ideology if you want to compete with them. The effort of merging data is fairly challenging.

2:40 1587 #CritGIS: Social Justice and GIS: Past, Present, and Future –  aimed to ‘reflect, reconsider, and prognosticate on the social, political and ethical issues that GIS brings to bear’. The paper in this session included the following.

Clinton Davies looked how reporting of social care work at disciplinary tools to produce power structures. Specifically looking at Homeless Management Information Systems. Data reporting reinforce structures through the different organisations. Looking at Critical GIS and Critical Data Studies. The act of reporting data- what the reporting does? looking how controlling how people go through their everyday, you get an understanding of the power hierarchies. Part of the question is to see if the information system and data management impacted organisational structures such as mergers.

Jonathan Cinnamon looked at ‘The data divide: Placing data in the context of social justice’. Data-driven economy emerged recently, with data as raw material, but there is also interest in the concept of data – there is little inquiry to data in compared to information and knowledge. Kitchin (2014) noted the need to ask what data are and what they do? What force data have in the material world? What divisions are inscribed in the data landscapes? Some the division are being exposed – between data rich/poor , producer/consumer , and people/their data. Rich/poor – the places and people who can produce data or use it. The second gap is between producer and consumer – those that produce data have the ability to shape the world. The producers shape the world according to their worldview. There is also separation between people and the data that they produce.
The questions – what are the social and material consequences of these divides? What tools social justice theory can be used? Harvey in ‘Social Justice and the City ‘ defined social justice as ‘a just distribution justly arrived at’ – Rawls justice theory was and is influential in geography.
However, Nancy Fraser work on justice is useful – we living in abnormal justice in what, who and how of justice and deeply contested. It is difficult to evaluate it. She suggest principle of parity of participation – justice require social arrangement that permit all to participate as peers in social life. She identifies maldistribution, misrecognition, and misrepresentation as the dimensions of justice. So we can see in data divide the maldistribution of uneven geographies and at the city level and between cities. There is also misrecognition in status hierarchy – none counting in the census, or Manovich (2011) concept of data-classes. There is also misrepresntation within the companies that are collecting data are subject to laws of a different teritory and you can’t have proper political control. He argue that open data movement as attempt to redistribute data, recognition can be a movement to reconnect people with their data and give them control over it.

Ellen Kersten described her PhD work in  ‘Spatial triage, spatial justice? A critical evaluation of geospatial approaches to health equity research and policy’ – She looked at health in terms of medical model and a socio-ecological model. Looking at Amartya Sen definition of health equity, with elements from public policy, place and health, community development and critical GIS. Spatial analysis of health equity in terms of life expectancy for example. There is an element of place that appear in these narratives. She compared quantitative tools that are based on GIS but they are missing many aspects that are missing and not captured in numbers so simply. These health atlases play the role of triage to decide who will get funding and who won’t. In the past, spatial triage was used in public renewal and done by experts, targeting neighbourhoods. Today, it is cauched in ‘best return to investment’, a bit more participation but the scale counties/regions and above, and more organisations are involved. The future seem to go further to return on investment and monetary benefits.

Jill Gambill and Mariana Alfonso  – A Radical Trans-Disciplinary Approach to Sea Level Rise Planning in the Southeast. They explore challenges – coastal communities are facing challenges of climate change, but with denial – political ban on climate change discussion while at the same time there is a need for sea level rise planning, and trying to do something about it. Knowledge productions – one in theory and one in politics and actions. Communities in the Souteast of the US are trying to have climate change adaptation policies and actions so they are ready. The approach is to meet communities where they are and having a dialogue – how to deal with flooding and sea level rise and not the source of it. Thinking what will enable the dialogue. The community decide the see level rise that will be model, identify who is vulnerable and then decide on actions. They make information accessible – they develop graphics that helped communicate history of sea level rise. They are focusing on who will pay the costs of climate adaptation – with valuable areas receiving subsidy, so some of the wealthy areas are benefiting. Retreat is something that is not being discussed yet – just starting. The approaches are around engineering resistance, instead of resilience – expensive infrastructure have life span of just 25 years. There are also revealed preferences in action, as in allowing more building in vulnerable places. Doing the modelling with GIS is challenging – you don’t want to create an impression of safety when there isn’t one. Need to visualise the social implications of issues such as sea level rise.

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Professor of GIScience, University College London

2 thoughts on “AAG 2015 notes – day 1”

  1. Thanks so much for reporting out Muki! Lots of interesting intersections with Cit Sci. While there, can you think about what it would be like to have CSA conf linked with AAG some years rather than AAAS? Maybe even ask the key people if it is even a possibility?

    1. Thanks John, I wouldn’t think that being close to such a large conference will be advantageous. We need spaces for developing our own community, and as AAG is 5 days and 90 parallel sessions, having an intense experience such as CSA conference is not something that will attract me!

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