surveillance tools

Hi, I am still thinking of a good way to frame the questions for the coming week, but wanted to lay a few points out in the meantime.

First, a quick recap of the Edge Tools event. For convenience I interpret the term as applications of digital methodologies (data mining, storytelling, etc) to social sciences research and beyond, in “an increasingly complex and connected world” characterized by big data. The topics addressed included:

  • monitoring social media data for marketing
  • applying multiple data sources and flexible human organization to military operations
  • locating potential national security threats by data mining children’s stories, collected using a mobile survey platform
  • analyzing diverse forms of information ranging from social media to humanitarian information in order to track the activities of military forces in Syria
  • crowdfunding a successful game through data analysis of successful precedents and storytelling

That all speakers talked about either military or marketing purposes speak to the general orientation of this event. Not surprising since the military and the economic sector have an important role in the history of computation, to say the least. Underlying all of these examples is the current technological landscape where the world becomes data, both because everything seems to be represented as data and tools are developed to be able to deal with the data. What flows alongside this current is the belief that this change offers the potential for a more profound, direct and wider understanding and/or interaction with the world.

Which is exactly what surveillance is about. The extensive communications monitoring by the NSA is an attempt to better handle the soaring amount of information, much as search engines allow one to navigate the web. Bilton describes how the availability of data and tools for gathering it is a given nowadays, quoting Wizner’s claim that “tracking technologies have outpaced democratic controls.” In addition to technical possibility, the industrial structure also facilitates surveillance. Wu’s article provides historic examples of the cooperation between the government and corporate monopolies, which was also repeated in the NSA case. Both articles point to the idea that the current situation is making it very easy to monitor people, be it the technological development or the industrial structure. And as Grimmelman lays out using examples of Google search, the design, use and regulation of a system, by companies, users and governments, are not neutral; all activities have political implications. When the design of the systems we use move more and more towards keeping our data on someone else’s hard drive (the cloud), there is yet another tradeoff between convenience of use and risk of surveillance.

Theorizing the Web 2016 Keynotes

Hey ITP,

The two keynote panels last night were very interesting in light of a number of our conversations about the possibilities and pitfalls of digital interactivity. The first panel (I think it’s called Cool Story) assembles several authors investigating representational possibilities of the internet and the use of the internet as content generation vs. regurgitation, also the difficulties of representing the internet in other media. The second panel (which starts at about 1hr 45 min) concerns the virality of evil on the internet and includes a presentation by ITP guest Jade Davis!

I cannot recommend these panels enough!

Looking forward to conversation tomorrow.


fail this post

Ok everybody, time to get provoked. First, broadly, I don’t think we can treat ‘failure’ as an absolute quality. I think any definition or consideration of failure demands to be understood within its own social context. When failure matters, failure names a relation of accountability, and thus a relation of power–the failure to live up to a certain standard designated by someone with the power to bestow a desirable identity or status. I think that there is a vogue now for failure, and that this vogue has a lot to do with the social and political-economic dynamics we read about in last week’s readings on digital labor.

So I wonder if failure is something of a poisoned gift. When you’re in on the joke, failure can be transformative (as Carr puts it), even ecstatic in its beauty. When you’re called a failure, on the other hand, you feel like a stranger in your own skin. In its present fashionable condition, failure enjoins us to certain affects and stances that are germane to capitalism. In other words, failure in its present guise invokes a certain style, affective posture, or libidinal economy that capitalism (in its current appropriation of user-generated content) can appropriate to its own ends: everything from the popular Jackass movies to YouTube stars, from the glorification of ‘white trash’ on Jersey Shore to the Silicon Valley startup culture of ‘fail fast’ that we saw in the reading of 37 Signals. The libidinal economy is this: ‘don’t worry if you fail, liberate yourself to be free!’ That’s not in itself objectionable, but in practice it often gets deployed within a shallow politics of visibility and lifestyle-expression that means buy, baby, buy. Let’s be honest, failure’s fun!


I say all that just to signpost that we should be critical about the redemptive qualities of failure. On the other hand, I’m rather besotted with the possibilities of failure as a critical praxis, exemplified in this week’s readings on pedagogy. My only question is, if we succeed at failing, have we really failed? In other words, if we enshrine ‘failure’ in order to appreciate its illumination of textual craftsmanship (or social construction, social hierarchies, gender, or anything else), do we domesticate its radical and subversive potentiality? In that way, there’s a certain banality to a text like Allison Carr’s (which is otherwise quite raw and compelling), and I wonder if that banality is simply an aesthetic effect or rather a root cause of failure-as-praxis. So this goes back to my first paragraph and the dangers of fetishizing failure. There’s so much else I want to elaborate, like: does the glorification of failure represent the zombie-like claim to power of an identity–let’s provisionally say whiteness, privilege, masculinity–within a postmodern moment that otherwise enshrouds us in uncertainty? What about those who can’t afford to fail?

I haven’t addressed the texts directly here, rather obliquely–hope I’ve failed. 😉

Article link from tonight’s class

Great class tonight everyone, thanks for a thought-provoking discussion. Here’s the link to that article I mentioned in Jacobin about the perils of the “Do What You Love” mantra (scroll to midway for a discussion of academia specifically):

I also remembered that there’s a Digital Labor working group site right here on the Academic Commons, started a couple of years ago but then-GC students. Not sure how active it is right now, but there’s a reading list in case you’re interested in further exploration:

See you next week!

Hope Labor – The Hunger Artist

While today is not my turn to post, and I hope that I am not enroaching on the other folks, I had a sudden reaction to the peice about Wikipedia editing.

The concept of Hope Labor was really interesting, and quite different than the gift economy that was covered in the other articles. I found it especially pertinent to our discussion about the labor that we do in academia. We left off the conversation last week talking about the publish or perish imperative that drives the academic labor economy. In our PhD suits we have to play a very particular and strategic game in which niche-ing our scholarship is crucial to the cut-throat odds against tenure-track positions in the evolving adjunctification of higher education. At the precipice of any kind of access to the jobs that reward the 5-something years of Doctoral work is an almost frantic focus on positioning ourselves for access through publication. This is certainly a an economy of hope labor that drives many of the relations and hierarchies within academia. But it also reminds me of my work as an adjunct. I never attended an adjunct appreciation event at any of the colleges I labored because the veneer of appreciation for our ingenuity and dedication to teaching masks a more exploitative system that expects educators to act as starving artists- not as professionals but as folks who do it for the love of it. That is not to negate any passion that anyone has for teaching and learning, but to resist the idea that the joy of teaching is payment enough. Institutions that service marginalized students especially try to tug at the heart-strings by clouding the reality of what is going on by thanking you for your “dedication”.


Digital Labor: Possibilities and Pitfalls

Holy smoke! I was blown away by the discussion of digital labor brought forth in these pieces, primarily because of how useful they are in rethinking my own dissertation research. Full disclosure, I’m still reading, but I wanted to post these reflections in good time for everyone. In my first reading, these readings raise a challenge to our endeavors as a class. On one hand, they illustrate the potential that technology brings in revolutionizing access: not only through scalability, knowledge preservation, and new modalities of interdisciplinary collaboration; it also creates new knowledge by appealing to the cognitive and affective affordances of the digital ecosystems that permeate students’ lives. We might hope that this ‘openness’ reveals  unspoken practices and norms in the production of academic theory in ways that provide footholds for subjugated knowledges and critique from institutional outsiders. On the other hand, as these readings make clear, access to the digital is unequally distributed, and the communicative literacy and knowledge systems the digital sphere requires often exclude dissent through the pervasive process of privatizing and commodifying unpaid digital labor.

I found Jung’s piece about “Wages for Facebook” utterly fascinating. With an ethnographic sensibility, Jung reveals how the ethos of unpaid digital labor has become hegemonic, in terms of Ptak’s students who struggle to even comprehend the idea that they should be paid for their activities on Facebook–as Ptak puts it, “it was almost like I had said, your mother’s really ugly.” I found it fascinating and more challenging to read Terranova’s overview and critique of intellectual approaches to digital and ‘immaterial’ labor; especially her readings of the popular (for example, corporate management lit) books on the subject, which reveal how these thinkers perform the logic of capitalism from within by mouthing utopian fantasies of digital labor as an emancipatory new condition of sharing and ‘gifting’.

So my provocation is, how do we use technology and pedagogy in our classrooms in ways that avoid reifying social inequalities based on students’ differential abilities to access, use, and learn from new media technologies? In other words, despite the ability new technologies have in terms of revolutionizing access and collaboration, do we risk further entrenching the dialectic of ‘digital labor’ as a new house-pet of capital accumulation if we simply use these tools without contextualizing their conditions of operability for our students? Furthermore, can a caveat–explaining the argument to them about the conditionalities of digital labor within capitalism–undo its force? Are we just training students to be “excellent sheep” (Deresiewicz 2015) in the new marketplace of skills-based corporate flexibilization? Does the simple praxis of using digital media make the logics of unpaid digital labor performatively true (‘performative’ in the sense that, as J.L. Austin puts it, ‘place your hands together in prayer and you will believe’), and if so how might we work around them?

I’m still reading and thinking through, so I’ll very much look forward to your comments.

How will Open Access change the academy?

As we have discussed open access resources in both semesters of the program, I have been pondering how educators who seek the professoriate will prepare ourselves differently in order to enter the academy. Much importance has been placed on publishing and ownership of  materials and the academy seems to be somewhat reluctant to make a concerted effort to switch. Those of us who are thinking of open source as a positive movement still seem like interlopers

I am just starting to understand the ways in which this softening of the lines may help me to work and publish. I am wondering whether the shift to open source digital authorship will happen in a way that will help or hurt those seeking entrance during the shift. Once the shift happens, those coming behind it will be fine but there are those in power who are a bit behind the divide. Where do they stand on seeing open source as a viable road to authorship?  It represents in my opinion a real paradigm shift  for the powers that be in the preparation for entry into higher education. It is hard to know in the next 5 years what that shift will look like.


1) What are some of the ways in which Open source authorship will change the rigor of preparing for the professoriate?

2) Will open source allow for better access to higher levels of academe or will the perceived threat disallow for serious use in prestigious journals?