Video: Ecological Reparation & Blockchain Food Imaginaries

Under what techno­sci­en­tif­ic con­di­tions might the scarci­ty of food be under­stood as con­tin­gent on het­ero­ge­neous actors? And how might the pos­si­bil­i­ties of food abun­dance be approached as a repar­a­tive project of valu­ing their man­i­fold rela­tions? Blockchain promis­es to be an infra­struc­ture that presents both pro­duc­tive imag­i­nar­ies and also chal­lenges to such restora­tive and sus­tain­able work (Sei­dler et al 2017; Rozas et al, 2018).

In a series of work­shops, we crit­i­cal­ly exper­i­ment­ed with these pos­si­bil­i­ties and chal­lenges. Work­ing with diverse par­tic­i­pants includ­ing com­mu­ni­ty grow­ers, organ­is­ers, artists, and tech­nol­o­gists  we used a vari­ety of play­ful meth­ods to act out fic­tion­al sce­nar­ios set in 2025, when all of Lon­don had been trans­formed into a city farm. For organ­i­sa­tions and par­tic­i­pants, repa­ra­tion meant work­ing in the after­math of social and envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse to bring into being more-than-human-val­ue sys­tems that rad­i­cal­ly decen­tred human knowl­edge and experience.

Published Data and life on the street

We’ve pub­lished a short com­men­tary on the Teni­son Road project in the new Big Data & Soci­ety jour­nal. Down­load it here (open access).
Tay­lor, A. S., Lind­ley, S., Regan, T., & Sweeney, D. (2014). Data and life on the street. Big Data & Soci­ety, 1(2).

Abstract: What does the abun­dance of data and pro­lif­er­a­tion of data-mak­ing meth­ods mean for the ordi­nary per­son, the per­son on the street? And, what could they come to mean? In this paper, we present an overview of a year-long project to exam­ine just such ques­tions and com­pli­cate, in some ways, what it is to ask them. The project is a col­lec­tive exer­cise in which we – a mix­ture of social sci­en­tists, design­ers and mak­ers – and those liv­ing and work­ing on one street in Cam­bridge (UK), Teni­son Road, are work­ing to think through how data might be mate­ri­alised and come to mat­ter. The project aims to bet­ter under­stand the speci­fici­ties and con­tin­gen­cies that arise when data is pro­duced and used in place. Mid-way through the project, we use this com­men­tary to give some back­ground to the work and detail one or two of the trou­bles we have encoun­tered in putting local­ly rel­e­vant data to work. We also touch on a method­olog­i­cal stand­point we are work­ing our way into and through, one that we hope com­pli­cates the sep­a­ra­tions between sub­ject and object in data-mak­ing and opens up pos­si­bil­i­ties for a gen­er­a­tive refig­ur­ing of the man­i­fold relations.

Talk at “Austerity Futures?”

Abstract for upcom­ing talk at Aus­ter­i­ty Futures? sem­i­nar 4.
houses long B&W [Big] data futures, from the street.
Sto­ries about big data are every­where. We’re being told how sig­nif­i­cant the impact of big data will be on our lives by all kinds of peo­ple in the know. And yet I’ve been grap­pling with what (big) data might real­ly mean to peo­ple who aren’t ful­ly signed up mem­bers of the digerati, those shapers, mak­ers and mod­ers of tech­no­log­i­cal futures. I’ve pon­dered, in short, on two sim­ple ques­tions: how does data mat­ter to ‘peo­ple on the street’, and how might they want it to mat­ter. In this talk, I’ll reflect on a project we’ve been build­ing up at Microsoft Research to begin work­ing through these ques­tions. I want to dis­cuss our efforts to ground a tech­no­log­i­cal imag­i­nary in ordi­nary life or, to put it anoth­er way, to enable a pro­duc­tive re-imag­in­ing of ‘big data futures’—to coin a phrase—from ‘the street’. I’ll describe how we’ve tak­en this chal­lenge quite lit­er­al­ly. Just over three weeks ago we began work­ing with one street in Cam­bridge, Teni­son Road. For at least a year, we plan to think through what data means for the Teni­son Road com­mu­ni­ty and in some cas­es to enable ways for the com­mu­ni­ty to inter­vene in the future imag­i­nar­ies. Although this won’t be a talk or for that mat­ter a project about aus­ter­i­ty, I cer­tain­ly think it is one in which aus­ter­i­ty and its reper­cus­sions will come to mat­ter. My aim, then, will be to reflect on how this is a project con­cerned with futures, futures that are heav­i­ly con­cen­trat­ed in the minds of the tech­no­log­i­cal elite, but also some that are more pedes­tri­an that might just offer alter­na­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties for what (big) data could mean and what we might do with it.
web: | email: [email protected] | twit­ter: @tenisonroad

Short note on Solove’s ‘Nothing to Hide’

Some ear­ly thoughts on data and pri­va­cy, think­ing with Solove’s Noth­ing to Hide:
Ear­ly on in his 2011 book, Noth­ing to Hide, Daniel Solove makes a provoca­tive claim. He writes:
“Legal and pol­i­cy solu­tions focus too much on the prob­lems under the Orwellian metaphor—those of surveillance—and aren’t ade­quate­ly address­ing the Kafkaesque problems—those of infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing” p.26
Solove’s point here is that much of the legal wran­glings and pol­i­cy mak­ing sur­round­ing pri­va­cy are based on the premise that peo­ple have some­thing to hide. Thus the aims have, by and large, been tied to secur­ing pro­tec­tions against surveillance—operating with­in the rubric of an “Orwellian metaphor”.
The broad­er argu­ment Solove makes is that this treat­ment of pri­va­cy is miss­ing the prover­bial trick.  As a con­cept, pri­va­cy doesn’t sim­ply entail peo­ple want­i­ng to hide things. For starters, accord­ing to Solove, “[m]any peo­ple don’t care about con­ceal­ing the hotels they stay at, the cars they own, or the kind of bev­er­ages they drink.” p.25 “[M]uch of the data gath­ered in com­put­er data­bas­es isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly sen­si­tive, such as one’s race, birth date, gen­der, address, or mar­i­tal sta­tus.” P.25
It isn’t so much the gath­er­ing of infor­ma­tion that mat­ters, Solove con­tends. It’s what agen­cies like gov­ern­ments are doing with it—the “infor­ma­tion processing”—that counts. The allu­sion is to a Kafkaesque world in which the rela­tions between agen­cies and indi­vid­u­als are man­aged and con­trolled through the analy­sis of infor­ma­tion or data. The pow­er, so to speak, is held by those who can both access the data and sub­ject it to sophis­ti­cat­ed analy­sis. I take this use of infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing to be anal­o­gous to big data ana­lyt­ics and cer­tain­ly most of the exam­ples Solve refers to sup­port this.
I don’t know what Solove’s sources are for sug­gest­ing “most peo­ple” don’t care about the con­tent of the infor­ma­tion being gath­ered about them (this recent Guardian arti­cle appears to con­firm this). I do get his broad­er point though. Cer­tain­ly, it’s lim­it­ing to see pri­va­cy as exclu­sive­ly based on the premise that peo­ple have some­thing to hide. More­over, the pos­si­bil­i­ties big data ana­lyt­ics open up for dis­cov­er­ing some pret­ty per­son­al things about peo­ple do seem daunt­ing, if per­haps over-hyped.
Yet, with­out want­i­ng to dis­count Solove’s argu­ment, I want to pro­pose a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing about this issue of infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing. Seen from the ground up, we might also start to ask what peo­ple them­selves want to say through their data and using ana­lyt­ics. When Solove writes about “most peo­ple” I think we need to begin think­ing about what this actu­al means and if there are ways of mak­ing claims like this action­able. So, a counter to the “noth­ing to hide argu­ment” could be that most people—given the knowl­edge and tools—have “some­thing to say”. That is they may want to have some say over how their infor­ma­tion is dis­trib­uted, aggre­gat­ed, analysed and inter­pret­ed and, ulti­mate­ly, how it is pro­duc­tive­ly put to work. This cer­tain­ly won’t solve the mul­ti­ple prob­lems sur­round­ing pri­va­cy, but it may at least redis­trib­ute the pow­er and, in the process, give peo­ple some new ways of express­ing themselves.
Oh, and as it hap­pens, this ques­tion of how to enable peo­ple to have some sort of say and con­trol over what gets done with their infor­ma­tion is one of the moti­va­tions for the new project we’re ramp­ing up in my group at Microsoft Research.
* A thank you to Jes­sa Lin­gel for point­ing me to the first quote above from Solove.

Announcing Tenison Road launch

Final­ly post­ed some fly­ers to announce the launch of the big data project we’ll run for a year. We hope to work with the res­i­dents and pro­pri­etors on Teni­son Road in Cam­bridge to bet­ter under­stand how big data mat­ters and what peo­ple on the street want it to be. This is a project that is aim­ing to get at the inter­min­glings of data and local­i­ty, and to inter­vene in the entan­gle­ments in pro­duc­tive ways. That’s the hope! … Fin­gers crossed.