It’s time to get your abstracts in for the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers (April 9-14, 2018 in New Orleans, LA)! Below are all of the calls for papers I’ve seen related to digital geographies. Please let me know if I have missed any and I will add more as I come across them.

Please note that this is the inaugural year for the Digital Geographies Specialty Group (DGSG) of the AAG, which you can join when registering for the conference ($1 for students, $10 for everyone else).

And if you are organzing a session and would like the DGSG to sponsor it, please send an email to jethatch //AT// and he will make it happen!

Click on the title for the full call:

“…the techno- and social-scientific techniques through which bodies and lives are rendered as calculable, objective data; how and where this data circulates, and with what effects; and how attempts at datafication are resisted or upended.”

Building the Geo-Humanities: A Roundtable on Three Dimensions of Educational Practice
“…collectively articulate ways to ground Geo-Humanities scholarship in everyday institutional settings.”

Platform Urbanism
“This session invites original research and conceptual reflections that explore, debate and critique the notion of an emergent ‘platform urbanism'”.

The Abandoned Spaces of the Internet
“…this session is devoted to an examination and appreciation of a variety of abandoned digital spaces…”

The Emergent Geographies of FinTech: Blockchain and Beyond
“With this call we seek papers focused on FinTech (broadly defined) and its implications for space, place, and scale within the financial industries, long standing labor practices and organizations, as well as everyday life.”

Revolutionary Methodologies Revisited
“…this session seeks papers critical of hegemonic approaches to knowledge production.”

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Symposium
“…devoted to the theory, methods, and applications of UAS in research as well as the emerging theme of UAS in the curriculum at the upcoming AAG.”

Mapping Urban In/justice
“This session seeks papers that demonstrate the utility of not only thinking critically about the intersections of mapping and urban inequality, but actually doing mapping and data analysis in order to reveal and better understand the variety of social and spatial forms these injustices take in contemporary cities.”

Anxious/Desiring geographies
“…we seek papers that deepen our geographical understandings of anxiety, desire and/or the possible relationship(s) between them.”

After the smart city?: The state of critical scholarship ten years on
“… we are interested in thinking through the ‘place’ of smart cities today: what have critical investigations of the topic achieved and where do we go from here?”

My City Is Smarter than Yours: Deconstructing the Buzzwords
“…raises fundamental questions, such as smart how? Open how? On whose terms? By what conceptualization?”

Making Smarter Environments: The Environmental Politics and Practices of Smart Cities
“…investigate the politics of urban environmentalism at the nexus of big data, smart technologies, and data-driven governance.”

Designing Politics | Politicizing Design – (In)visibilities of power through the urban and social fabric
“This session therefore seeks to raise attention within geography to the politics of design and critically engage with this trend by focusing on notions of ‘designing politics’ as well as ‘politicizing design’.”

Media and Disasters
“This session invites papers that explore the shifting meanings, representations and discourses of disaster in a variety of media and contexts.”

Digital Natures: Critical Practices of Environmental Modeling in the Age of Big Data
“…we aim to interrogate and draw attention to the roles of big data and modeling in the production of certain natures, human and more-than-human resistances to these processes and practices, and the conditions through which modeling transforms data into a resource.”

Connectivity within Place and across Space
“This session invites contributions that critically engage in understanding the relationship between different forms of connectivity, within place and across space.”

Theorizing Place and Space in Digital Geography: The Human Geography of the Digital Realm
“How are we to understand the digital geographies of platforms and the spaces that they give us access to?”

The Challenges and Potentials of Contemporary Atlases
“…we aim to bring people working and studying atlases, in both print and digital formats, together for a stimulating exchange of work and ideas…”

Story mapping for publicly-engaged geography
“…panelists will share and discuss their experiences using story mapping as a form of community engagement in a variety of mediums and settings.”

Network analysis and geography
“…explore the potentials and limitations of network analysis for geography.”

Space. Interaction, and Immersion: Expanding representations of geographic information

“This session will look at a variety of current and new approaches as they are being used to represent and understand the importance of space and place.”

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I love a good reading list and have found ones posted online so helpful in building my own (for example, the Critical Algorithm Studies list), so I thought I’d share a couple. First is a recent list I made for the open access journal Places and the remaining three are from my PhD qualifying exams. Happy reading!


print by Ann Altstatt

1) Cloud Vision, reading list for Places Journal

How can we understand the vast assemblages of networked computers that have come to subtend almost every aspect of political, social, and cultural life? Constantly at work on massive scales and at the speed of light, exceeding our ability to make sense of them, they construct the world in unpredictable and surprising ways. Hidden behind metaphors like ‘the cloud,’ fragments of these networks sometimes come into view. Geographies of wires, cables, data centers, servers, satellites, and other material things that make computing possible dot the landscape, if one knows where to look. Sometimes these networks become visible upon breakdown, as hacked appliances take down whole sections of the internet or as computational models fail spectacularly to predict human action and desires. And they are constantly producing new ways of seeing and acting in the world by making particular patterns, processes, and inferences visible to users. The cloud, then, poses unique theoretical and methodological challenges for scholars attempting to make sense of these emerging geographies. The reading list that follows offers a number of cuts on this problem from scholars in a range of disciplines, all with their heads in the cloud.


2) Qualifying exams reading lists





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Below are two maps I showed at NACIS this year. The first was in the map gallery and represents space warped by travel times from Madison, WI to Colorado Springs, CO (the location of the meeting) via train and plane. The second was shown in my talk with Luke Bergmann (University of Washington) on what we call ‘Geographical Imagination Systems.’ It shows a wormhole connecting drone pilots in the Nevada Desert to a location in Pakistan that sustained the first known US drone strike in that country. Full documentation of this project, including the software we created to fold these spaces, is forthcoming.


click to enlarge


click to enlarge



Next week I’ll be at the North American Cartographic Information Society’s (NACIS) wonderful Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs. I’ll be showing a map (see the teaser above), participating in a panel, and giving a talk about the software I co-wrote to produce the above map:

Friday, October 21 • 10:40am – 12:00pm

Critical Cartography, Critical Data: Confronting New Forms of Geospatial Information

Spatial data, of one form or another, inform, shape, and define our everyday lives and choices. Generated through a host of quotidian acts, such as credit card purchases, smartphone application use, and surveillance systems, spatial data is increasingly and continuously fed into massive data systems that collect, aggregate, and analyze it in powerful, new ways. Access to and use of such data demarcates the limits and possibilities of cartographic visualization, shaping world views and popular imaginations. How we see the world through the mediation of cartographic images of spatial data has tremendous impacts on how we perceive ourselves and how we act in the world. In this panel, we ask what it means to confront, to contextualize, and to question spatial data and cartographic representation in the myriad of forms they take. How can we differentiate between the multiple subject positions that constitute a given map? What are the historical precedents for today’s conceptions and practices of data? What is the value and what are the implications of doing so for critical cartography as praxis? Drawing together academics and practitioners, the panel addresses not only what it means to think new forms of data and their representation, but also what it means to act with said data.

Jim Thatcher, University of Washington-Tacoma
Craig Dalton, Hofstra University

Susan Schulten, University of Denver
Ladona Knigge, California State University Chico
Jessica Breen, University of Kentucky
Luke Bergmann, University of Washington
Nick Lally, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Friday, October 21 • 2:00pm – 3:30pm, Rethinking the Map Session

Introducing Geographical Imagination Systems
Luke Bergmann, University of Washington
Nick Lally, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Spatial theory in human geography often describes space as situated, dynamic, processual, relational, and contingent, suggesting non-Euclidean topological theories for grappling with the complexities of space. How, then, can cartography contribute to bringing these spatial imaginaries to fruition without reinscribing an understanding of space as a static, empty container waiting to be filled with points that precisely locate discrete objects within it? In this talk, we present a prototype of a Geographical Imagination System (GIS)–a web-based interface that encourages the interpretative construction, collision, and collaging of relational and absolute spaces. Our software prototyping both draws from and extends work in cartography, moving past the limits of familiar software packages, and opening up new possibilities for cartographic work and understandings of space.



In his 1961 dissertation, Map Transformations of Geographic Space, Waldo Tobler describes the 1944 maps of Richard Edes Harrison, which assumed a peculiar perspective. While the Soviets may have claimed they were “unscientific” (prefiguring later critiques of the political power of maps), Tobler calls it a “valid projection” that, by the time of his writing, had taken on an added significance as it “shows the earth as it might be seen from an orbiting satellite (48).


The geographic importance of satellites as both a tool (ie: remote sensing, satellite imagery, etc) and object of study (ie: mobile maps, military intelligence, surveillance, etc) is well known today in geography. But the geographic imaginary of seeing like a satellite and the desire to see these seeing machines has also been productive in geographic scholarship. For example, Doreen Massey, in her 1993 essay Power geometry and a progressive sense of place, begins with the view of an imagined satellite, one that lies beyond existing satellites, and is able to zoom in on a place. She writes:

what gives a place its specificity is not some long internalized history but the fact that it is constructed out of a particular constellation of relations, articulated together at a particular locus. If one moves in from the satellite toward the globe, holding all those networks of social relations and movements and communication in one’s head, then each place can be seen as a particular, unique point of that intersection (61).

This is a different view than that of the totalizing vision of the technologically-enhanced primate eye seeing through a satellite that Donna Haraway has critiqued:

Vision in this technological feast becomes unregulated gluttony; all seems not just mythically about the god trick of seeing everything from nowhere, but to have put the myth into ordinary practice. And like the god trick, this eye fucks the world to make techno-monsters (581).

Massey doesn’t use the imaginary of satellite vision to produce an all-knowing perspective (she may even be reiterating contemporaneous critiques of David Harvey’s totalizing views, see for example Boys Town by Rosalyn Deutsche), instead she zooms in to a particular place. But the zoomed-out satellite view is still important in seeing the vast global networks that intersect in each particular place, allowing her to call for a “global sense of the local” (68).

If the imagined satellite view is productive in Massey’s work, Trevor Paglen flips the script by attempting to photograph the visual traces of satellites that are ostensibly hidden from view. His The Other Night Sky photographs are produced through detailed research that enables us a technologically-mediated view of the watchers:

The Other Night Sky” is a project to track and photograph classified American satellites, space debris, and other obscure objects in Earth orbit. The project uses observational data produced by an international network of amateur satellite observers to calculate the position and timing of overhead transits which are photographed with telescopes and large-format cameras and other imaging devices.


Optical Reconnaissance Satellite Near Scorpio (USA 129)
C-Print 48 x 60 inches

But there are limits to vision, both in the imaginary of seeing like a satellite (Massey) and in visualizing the visualizers (Paglen). Louise Amoore, in her recent article on ‘the cloud’ writes:

Among the critical geographical accounts of cloud computing, the desire to wrest the cloud into an intelligible form similarly finds expression in methods of visualization. The geographer and artist Trevor Paglen seeks to ‘make the invisible visible’, reflecting that ‘the cloud is a metaphor that obfuscates and obscures’ the material geographies of the ‘surveillance state’ (Paglen, 2014). Paglen’s work is concerned with bringing the geopolitics of cloud computing back into a human line of sight through visualization. His methods deploy optical devices of many kinds to bring back into human vision that which would otherwise exceed the limits of observation. His ghostly images of the NSA’s data centres are photographs taken at night with a long-focus lens from a helicopter; and his photographs of the secret installations of military and drone bases in the Nevada desert are taken with adapted telescopic instruments of astronomy (Paglen, 2010).

The optical instruments deployed by Paglen belong to a paradigm of observation in which, as Peter Galison describes, one is offered ‘a direct view’ of things otherwise ‘subvisible’ (1997: 72). As Paglen accounts for his own work:

My intention is to expand the visual vocabulary we use to see the US intelligence community. Although the organizing logic of our nation’s surveillance apparatus is invisibility and secrecy, its operations occupy the physical world. Digital surveillance programs require concrete data centres; intelligence agencies are based in real buildings … if we look in the right places at the right times, we can begin to glimpse the vast intelligence infrastructure. (2014, my emphasis)

So, for Paglen the challenge is to ‘expand the visual vocabulary’ in order to see more clearly the geopolitical technologies of security, or rather to bring into vision the things which would otherwise be obfuscated by the cloud.

Ingrid Burrington’s Networks of New York, from:

But, as Amoore argues, this security apparatus of which satellites are a part, exceed our capacity to visualize them:

To be clear, the point is that the desire to ‘open the black box’ of cloud computing and to expand the visual vocabulary of the cloud, to envision the cloud and its properties in geographic space, dwells within and alongside the paradigm of observation. In Stephen Graham’s work on cities and warfare, for example, he writes of ‘systems of technological vision’ in which ‘computer code tracks and identifies’ (2011: 66). Such technologies of vision, it has been noted across political geography, operate increasingly along vertical dimensions, requiring new forms of critical observation and attentiveness (Graham, 2016). The emphasis in political geography has been placed overwhelmingly on bringing the abstract world into vision. There are, however, crucial aspects of these technologies which cannot be brought into human vision where, for example, algorithms are communicating with other algorithms at speeds beyond human observational capacity (MacKenzie, 2016).

These algorithms that exceed human observation have important implications for Massey’s view—how we can observe (or even imagine to observe) algorithmic flows that have increasingly become points of connections between places? Shannon Mattern writes about the proliferation of ‘field guides’ that aim to make the cloud legible, and asks, quoting Amoore, what if we view the cloud “not as a place but as analytic”? She observes:

And maybe these attempts to “wrest the Cloud” too often resort to artificial methods. Is pinpointing “where the data live” akin to shooting the bird, rendering it conveniently compliant, in lieu of a more contextual examination? Is Amoore correct, that the Cloud explorers who seek its manifestations in particular sites and screens fundamentally “misunderstand” the Cloud’s calculative forms, and the way it alters “the character of what or who can be sensed or perceived”? Recent guides to the Cloud-on-Earth seek to render coherent and intelligible an apparatus that’s built on “partial and indeterminate lines of sight” and patterns of organization. Perhaps we should think about the Cloud instead as “a bundle of techniques acting upon the threshold(s) of perceptibility,” resistant to field kits and guidebooks.

Mattern and Amoore raise important methodological questions, especially for geographers, as we grapple with understanding and representing networks that become visible in particular places, but whose calculative logics exceed observation.


I might also add that visualizations that imagine the view from above can have important implications for our surveillance imaginaries (as I’ve called them elsewhere). Consider, for example, this creepy GOP ad that popped up on my Twitter feed:



Calls for papers for the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers (April 5-9, 2017 in Boston, MA) have been circulating online and there are a bunch of them! I’m happy to see a number of sessions focus on software, technology, and/or digital objects in a number of different contexts. I have listed all of the ones I know of below. Please let me know if I have missed any and I will add more as I come across them.

Click on the title for the full call:

digital \\ human \\ labour
“this call is for papers exploring specifically the various intersections of ‘digital’, ‘human’ and ‘labour’.”

Urban-economic perspectives on technology
“In this session we seek to bring together papers focussed on the topics of urban and economic geography that take up critical perspectives on technology.”

Cities & Data Beyond Smart Urbanism
“We… invite empirical and theoretical contributions that conceptualize and/or extend current perspectives on the co-articulation of data and cities beyond narratives of smart urbanism.”

Real Estate Technologies: Genealogies, Frontiers, & Critiques
“We seek papers which address discursive and/or material relationships between technology, broadly defined, and real estate in its many forms.”

Curating (in)security: Unsettling Geographies of Cyberspace
“In calling for the unsettling of current theorisation and practice, this session intends to initiate an exploration of the contributions geography can bring to cybersecurity and space.”

Is another smart city possible? Sharing cities and the urban commons in a digital age
“We welcome papers addressing these themes in general, or with reference to specific urban commons including: open data commons, open source apps, community wifi, alternative energy, housing, food sharing, transportation (bike share, ride share), public spaces, community gardens, planning, PPGIS etc.”

Mobile bodies, technologies and methods: critical perspectives
“The focus will be on how these technologies can be engaged with by critical geographers to bring new perspectives to their analysis of everyday embodiment.”

Robotic futures
“What does the growing integration of robots and robotic technologies into everyday life do and/or mean for the theorization of sociospatial relations?”

Data Infrastructures, Nature, and Politics
“This session explores the making and un-making of data infrastructures by which conservationists and corporations – as well as development practitioners, scientists, and state planners – generate scaled, uneven, and actionable knowledge about the environment.”



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I have a new article out in Security Dialogue, which uses the aftermath of the Boston Bombing as a way to understand new possibilities for crowdsourcing surveillance using data shared online. The abstract reads:

Possibilities for crowdsourced surveillance have expanded in recent years as data uploaded to social networks can be mined, distributed, assembled, mapped, and analyzed by anyone with an uncensored internet connection. These data points are necessarily fragmented and partial, open to interpretation, and rely on algorithms for retrieval and sorting. Yet despite these limitations, they have been used to produce complex representations of space, subjects, and power relations as internet users attempt to reconstruct and investigate events while they are developing. In this article, I consider one case of crowdsourced surveillance that emerged following the detonation of two bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon. I focus on the actions of a particular forum on, which would exert a significant influence on the events as they unfolded. The study describes how algorithmic affordances, internet cultures, surveillance imaginaries, and visual epistemologies contributed to the structuring of thought, action, and subjectivity in the moment of the event. I use this case study as a way to examine moments of entangled political complicity and resistance, highlighting the ways in which particular surveillance practices are deployed and feed back into the event amid its unfolding.

Published version (paywall)
Accepted manuscript version (free)

Lally, N. 2016. Crowdsourced surveillance and networked data. Security Dialogue. doi: 10.1177/0967010616664459