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
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.
from: http://www.paglen.com/?l=work&s=othernightsky&i=5 KEYHOLE 12-3/IMPROVED CRYSTAL
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: http://lifewinning.com/projects/networks-of-new-york/
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:
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.”
“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.”
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 reddit.com, 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.
Lally, N. 2016. Crowdsourced surveillance and networked data. Security Dialogue. doi: 10.1177/0967010616664459
I have new work in an upcoming show in the Fed Galleries at the Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI. The show, titled The Land of Here and Now, is a collection of work by 27 artists who have participated in the amazing Shared Space Studio residency in Pentwater, MI. The show opens on Thursday, June 9, 5:30-7:30pm (I’ll be there) and runs through July 23.
Other artists include: Rose Beerhorst, Aliya Bonar, Melissa Borell, Alex Difiglia, Evan English, Eliza Fernand (Co-Curator), Marlee Grace, Elodie Goupil, Emily Harris, Elijah Jensen-Lindsey, Amy Johnquest, Amanda Kennedy, Joey Korein, Jeffry Kriksciun, Amanda Matles, Michelle Murphy, Joshua Orion-Kermit, Brian Perkins, Amber Phelps-Bondaroff, Paul Richardson, Kenny Riches, Mary Rothlisberger (Co-Curator), Scotty Slade Wagner, Heather Smith, Morganne Wakefield, Natalie Woodlock
In the Fall of 2014, I visited the Friday Harbor Laboratories to “revisit” critical GIS with a group of about thirty scholars. This month, our commentary on the workshop is making its way to print in Environment and Planning A. If you have institutional access, you can download it on their website. If not, you can download the accepted manuscript version. Or, if you want the TL;DR version, skip to the last two lines: “We are continually revisiting critical GIS. Join us.”
Thatcher, J., L. Bergmann, B. Ricker, R. Rose-Redwood, D. O’Sullivan, T. J. Barnes, L. R. Barnesmoore, L. Beltz Imaoka, R. Burns, J. Cinnamon, C. M. Dalton, C. Davis, S. Dunn, F. Harvey, J.-K. Jung, E. Kersten, L. Knigge, N. Lally, W. Lin, D. Mahmoudi, M. Martin, W. Payne, A. Sheikh, T. Shelton, E. Sheppard, C. W. Strother, A. Tarr, M. W. Wilson, and J. C. Young. 2016. Revisiting critical GIS. Environment and Planning A 48 (5):815–824.