This collaboration between geographers and artists, which I helped organize, is happening next week! The Thursday lecture is in-person on the University of Kentucky’s campus. You can join the Friday panel in-person or via Zoom: 


In an article in Cartographica I describe a new tool that I call shaping. The abstract reads:

shaping is a Web-based tool that enables direct manipulations of cartographic space to sculpt, cut, expand, and contract map regions. Breaking with rigid Euclidean understandings of projected space found in GIS, these operations support creative cartographic work that understands space as fluid, dynamic, relational, and situated. Each operation is described in detail, along with possible use cases informed by literature in geography and cartography. Most manipulations of space found in shaping can be translated into QGIS, enabling the transformation of vector and raster layers of geographic information. By enabling direct and real-time manipulation of cartographic space, shaping acts as an expressive tool that engages with geographic information. It is also an example of how accessible tools can be built that are interoperable with existing GIS while still being useful on their own.

Lally, Nick. 2022. “Sculpting, Cutting, Expanding, and Contracting the Map.” Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization 57 (1): 1–10.

If you are fast, you can download a copy using this link. If that doesn’t work, email me and I will send you a pdf. You can find the code for the project and play with the online demo on my github repository:


(1) Madison’s Race to Inequity, 2020
This piece was originally written in 2015 for the digital magazine, Edge Effects, following the shooting of teenager Tony Robinson by a Madison police officer. Concerned about our explicit critiques of the police department and mayor, some of the editors attempted to introduce changes to the text that toned down and whitewashed the discussion of Madison’s complex history of anti-Black racism. Feeling that our original statement should appear as originally written, we declined to make the changes. The piece never appeared in Edge Effects. The Abolition Geographies Collective have kindly invited us to include this piece on their website. While it responds to events from over five years ago and while many of the key figures – such as the mayor – have changed, it sadly feels just as timely today. This summer saw widespread mobilizations in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. And the struggle for justice for Tony Robinson continues. We humbly offer this document in solidarity with current police and prison abolition organizing in Madison, UW–Madison, and elsewhere.

Lally, Nick, Elsa Noterman, and Keith Woodward. 2020. “Madison’s Race to Inequity.” Abolition Geographies Collective. || local version

(2) For geographical imagination systems, 2020
For many, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related libraries for programming languages define the terrain of geographical computing today. But what if GIS were locales within wider realms of geographical imagination systems (gis), realms more adequate to diverse theoretical commitments of geographical thought? Examining how various thinkers in spatial theory have conceived of phenomena, space, knowledge, and their entanglements, this article advocates for geographical imagination systems that change the infrastructures of geographical computation and broaden its associated objects of intellectual inquiry. In doing so, it centers questions such as: What if knowledge were understood as interpreted experience? What if phenomena were represented as individuated out of process and internal relations? What if spaces and coordinates were co-produced with phenomena? Interludes juxtapose such considerations with concrete possibilities realized by an experimental prototype gis under development. But, as the article also argues, crucial to the future of geographic computation adequate to geographical inquiry will be diverse creative conversations in code (valued alongside and) intellectually interwoven with scholarly interventions made through mediums such as the written word.

Bergmann, Luke and Nick Lally. 2020. “For geographical imagination systems.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers. [Published version (paywall) || Accepted manuscript version (free)]

(3) Computational parasites and hydropower: A political ecology of Bitcoin mining on the Columbia River, 2019

Over the past three years, the dams of Chelan County, Washington, its watershed and fish, the electrical grid and the laborers who maintain it, and cleared land with warehouses filled with computers, have all been enrolled as part of the decentralized digital infrastructure of Bitcoin. While popular accounts of the Bitcoin network correctly report the massive scale of energy it consumes and its potential environmental ramifications, in practice, the material geographies of Bitcoin are highly uneven and intertwined with specific infrastructural, ecological, and economic systems. In this article, we examine Bitcoin’s impacts on Chelan County, untangling the processes that occur as the distributed, digital infrastructure consumes the very real material resources of one place to produce digital goods used in another. In so doing, we examine not only the material costs of networks like Bitcoin, but also their historical ties to older processes of accumulation.

Lally, Nick, Kelly Kay, and Jim Thatcher. 2019. “Computational parasites and hydropower: A political ecology of Bitcoin mining on the Columbia River.” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. [Published version (paywall) || Accepted manuscript version (free)]


Below are all of the sessions I could find on critical approaches to computation, GIS & cartography, and digital geographies for the upcoming Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers (April 3-7 in DC). Please let me know if I’ve missed anything!

I have also put together a more detailed schedule, which includes all presenters’ names and talk titles.

Schedules and rooms are subject to change, so check in with the official website for the latest.


8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Political Economies of Geolocation I
8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

9:55 AM – 11:35 AM
Algorithms and Climate Change: Knowing Acting Governing 1
Empire Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Political Economies of Geolocation II
8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

12:40 PM – 2:50 PM
Algorithms and Climate Change: Knowing, Acting, Governing 2
Empire Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Digital Technology, Tourism and Geographies of Inequality
Calvert Room, Omni, Lobby Level

‘The other mining’: rural communities, autonomy and data production
Johnson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

2:35 PM – 4:15 PM
Cognition, Behavior and Design 2
Embassy Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Critical Digital Geographies: Feminist, Queer, Postcolonial, and Critical Race Perspectives
Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Defending Rural Autonomies in an era of Big Data and Financialization
Johnson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

Digital Technology, Tourism and Geographies of Inequality II
Calvert Room, Omni, Lobby Level


8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Creative GeoVisualisation – Creative Engagements with GeoSpatial Technologies
Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, Lobby Level

Critical Geographies of Education: Why bother with Educational Technologies?
8211, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

Digital Geographies Morning Networking Session
Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Feminist digital geographies I: making spaces
Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Geographies of Digital Games I
Calvert Room, Omni, Lobby Level

9:55 AM – 11:35 AM
Creative Geovisualization – What is creativity with geospatial technologies?
Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, Lobby Level

Feminist digital geographies II: alternatives/methods
Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Geographies of Digital Games II
Calvert Room, Omni, Lobby Level

1:10 PM – 2:50 PM
Beyond Legal Recognition: Mapping Dispossession and Other Methodological Openings for Counter-mapping
Embassy Room, Omni, Lobby Level

#Cyberprotest and Internet Disruption: Critical Geographies of Digital Dissent and Suppression
Truman, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

Digital Enclosures
Palladian, Omni, Lobby Level

Feminist digital geographies III: bodies/subjectivities
Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level

3:05 PM – 4:45 PM
Critical engagements with creative geographies II
8226, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

Feminist digital geographies IV: care/intimacy
Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Financial Geography: State of the Art and Future Research Directions (Part 2)
8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

5:00 PM – 6:40 PM
Critical New Media and the Urban: Productive Tensions, or Conflicted Antagonisms?
Johnson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

Geographical computation where human geography matters IV
Madison A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

Immersive III: Eclectic Topics I – Immersive Experiences and Technologies
Stones Throw 1, Marriott, Mezzanine Level


8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Impact and Engagement: Assessing the Geographical Film
8210, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

Messy Infrastructure, Digital Labor, and the Everyday City I: Labor and Practices
Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Smart urban experimentation 1: Conceptualising urban knowledge politics & decision-making.
8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

Teaching the Anthropocene: New Visions, New Visualizations?
President’s Boardroom, Omni, Lobby Level

9:55 AM – 11:35 AM
Gendering the Smart City 1: Emerging (Gendered) Spaces of Smart Cities
Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Messy Infrastructure, Digital Labor, and the Everyday City II: Territory and Authority
Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Science and technologies of racial capitalism
Cabinet Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Smart urban experimentation 2: Opening the blackbox of knowledge politics & decision-making.
8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

11:45 AM – 1:00 PM
Digital Geographies Specialty Group Business Meeting
8229, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

1:10 PM – 2:50 PM
Current and Future Directions of Geography’s Role in Redistricting and Gerrymandering Studies
Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level

Gendering the Smart City 2: Between Top-down and Ground-up World-making
Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level

3:05 PM – 4:45 PM
Digital Urban Revolutions I: Activating Theories & Imaginaries
Executive Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Immersive V: Digital Socialities – Immersive Technologies and Experiences
Stones Throw 3, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

Smart urban experimentation 3: Developments & resistances in knowledge politics & decision-making.
8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

5:00 PM – 6:40 PM
Digital Geographies Keynote Panel
Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Digital Urban Revolutions II: Digital Field Research -> Theories in Action
Executive Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Historical GIS (HGIS): approaches and methodologies for digital humanities
Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level

Missing Data: Conceptualizing and making sense of the absence of data in a data-abundant age
Hoover, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

Progress in Human Geography Lecture
Marshall East, Marriott, Mezzanine Level


8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Creating a Soundscape of Radical Imagination: Podcasts as Scholarship
Roosevelt 5, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Geographical computation where human geography matters I
Council Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Realizing the value of interdisciplinary research: How can critical theory be ‘applied’ to smart cities? I – Paper Session
Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Smart citizens creating smart cities: Locating citizen participation in the Smart City
8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

9:55 AM – 11:35 AM
Geographical computation where human geography matters II
Council Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Music, Sounds, Practices, Discourses: New Frontiers in Research, Pedagogies and Praxis in Geographies of Music – 2
Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Realizing the value of interdisciplinary research: How can critical theory be ‘applied’ to smart cities? II – Panel Discussion
Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Smart citizens creating smart cities: Locating citizen participation in the Smart City 2
8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level

Smart Environmental Technologies: Art, Design, and Political Ecology in the Expanded Field
Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, Lobby Level

Experimental and Speculative Political Ecology
Marriott Ballroom Salon 1, Marriott, Lobby Level

1:10 PM – 2:50 PM
Geographical computation where human geography matters III
Council Room, Omni, Lobby Level

Geographies of Media III: Internet and Society
President’s Boardroom, Omni, Lobby Level

5:00 PM – 6:40 PM
Reckless Ideas in Geography and GIScience
Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, Lobby Level


8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Community Geography I: Thinking, Doing, and Teaching Community Geography
Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level

Robotocene: The political ecology of automation I; Production
Balcony 2, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

9:55 AM – 11:35 AM
Community Geography II: Reflections from #commgeog19
Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level

Robotocene: the political ecology of automation II; Conservation and Species
Balcony 2, Marriott, Mezzanine Level

3:55 PM – 5:35 PM
Police Geographies of Dispossession and Displacement
Johnson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level


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.”

Continue reading »


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





Continue reading »


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: