Code and the City workshop videos: Session 2

Following up from last week’s videos, we are now into our second session of the Code and the City Workshop!

Session 2: Code and mobility

Moving applications: A multilayered approach to mobile computing
Jim Merricks White, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Mobile computing plays an increasingly important role in the way that space is experienced in the city. This has political consequences, both at the micro level of everyday production and consumption, and at the macro level of institutional and political economy. While geographers have explored the ontological role which might be played by hardware, software, data and mapping within this spatial paradigm, there remains little concerted effort to explore mobile computing as a technological system which incorporates all of these socio-technical assemblages. By drawing on adjacent disciplines of science and technology studies (STS) and media and communication studies, this essay proposes a multilayered model for such a holistic inquiry: hardware—software—data(base)—GUI (graphical user interface).

By applying this model to a self-reflexive exploration of the taxi service Hailo and the mobility tracking application Moves, I attempt to demonstrate how it might be put to work as a heuristic tool. Following on from my desire to expose and explore the politics of mobile computing, the model is used to draw attention to the networks of power which make up these mobile computing services.

Digital urbanism in crises: A hopeful monster?
Monika Büscher, With Michael Liegl, Katrina Petersen, Mobilities.Lab, Lancaster University, UK

Intersecting mobilities of data, people and resources are an integral part of a new digital urbanism. Thrift speaks of Lifeworld.Inc, a new entertainment-security sector driven contexture where people’s everyday activities, movements, physiological data, thoughts, desires and fears are so richly documented in real time that commercial enterprise as well as urban services (transport, energy, security) can dynamically anticipate and shape them ‘just-in-time’ (2011). While this opens up novel opportunities for more efficiency, comfort, and sustainability in networked urban mobilities, it also provides new leverage for mobilizing disaster response. In a ‘century of disasters’ (eScience 2012), where urbanization has increased vulnerability and climate change contributes to increased frequency and severity of disasters, this opens up a perspicuous site for investigations of post-human practices, phenomenologies and ethics. Big data analytics and information sharing for risk prevention and disaster response can exacerbate the unprecedented surveillance contemporary societies practice (Harding 2014), Kafka-eske transformations of privacy and civil liberties (Solove 2004) and a splintering urbanism (Graham & Marvin 2001). At the heart of these transformations is a digital phenomenology of invisibility, immateriality and ‘intelligence’ that does not lend itself to human control. ‘Smart cities’ may depend on smart citizens (Greenfield 2013), but the technologies contemporary societies produce do not support human intelligence. We report from ‘inside the belly of the beast’ of innovation in mobilizing Lifeworld.Inc data for disaster response (Balka 2006). Drawing on experience from collaborative research and design projects (e.g., we discuss the relationship between lived cyborg practice, phenomenology and ethics in networked urban mobilities. Using a disaster perspective for a disclosive ethical investigation (Introna 2007) does disclose some potentially disastrous transformations, but it also highlights avenues for alternative, radically careful as well as carefully radical design (Latour 2009).

Abstract urbanism
Matthew Fuller and Graham Harwood, Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths

The urban riots of the USA in the late 1960s were some of the most powerful political events of that era. As well as drawing numerous responses from media, the civil rights movement, black nationalists, and groups such as the Situationist International, the uprising also triggered a range of research responses including some of the first computational models of cities. T.C. Schelling’s “Models of Segregation” attempted to provide a logical model for racial segregation and laid much of the groundwork for what later became agent-based modeling. Such work is expressed contemporarily for instance in the riot and insurgency modeling of J.M. Epstein and others. For the state, such events mark a schizophrenic relationship to the contingency of riot and how the algorithms play out in such a scenario. How can it govern events that both demonstrate and excite its power and also undermine it? This paper will propose a tracing of the genealogy of such models alongside a reading of other ways of using urban modeling in relation to the urban riots of that era and now. A parrallel reference point here will be the work of W. Bunge a quantitative geographer and spatial theorist. Bunge consistently argued that geometrical patterns and morphological laws express disadvantage and injustice under contemporary capitalism, and that identified patterns could be remedied by rational methods.

The history of computing, from G.W. Leibniz onwards, tangles with the problematic of developing rational approaches to complex, multi-dimensional problems with a high-degree of what J. Law describes as “messiness”. This paper will examine the ways in which rationality, or ratio, is positioned in relation to urban conflict as a means of discussing the relations between the city and software. The paper will develop a discussion of ratio in relation to questions of abstraction, reduction and empiricism. We are especially concerned to find a relationship between abstraction and the empirical that, by working with the materiality of computational systems recognises, and perhaps works with, the tendency to reduction(ism) but through which modes of abstraction may also work with the highly and complexly empirical.

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