Reading “Accounting for Slavery”

Rosen­thal, C. Caitlin. (2018). Account­ing for Slav­ery: Mas­ters and Man­age­ment. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, Cam­bridge MA. 

I’ve read a num­ber of Caitlin Rosen­thal’s aca­d­e­m­ic papers and have been antic­i­pat­ing this book for a while. The book does­n’t dis­ap­point. It cements and builds on her past work, and draws her insight­ful ideas togeth­er. Rosen­thal con­vinc­ing­ly shows how the sys­tems of account­ing used in the (large­ly) ante­bel­lum South­ern States of the US served to man­age (and mas­ter) slaves, method­i­cal­ly sus­tain­ing the vio­lence we know too well.

I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed Rosen­thal’s care­ful exam­i­na­tion of the paper-based records, show­ing in detail how forms, tables and cal­cu­la­tions objec­ti­fied peo­ple’s bod­ies as machin­ery in a cap­i­tal project, in effect autho­ris­ing the bru­tal­i­ty. What I’d real­ly like to see in any future work is how this line of inquiry ties into con­tem­po­rary slave stud­ies, with its strong and vital nar­ra­tive forms. This will no doubt present a chal­lenge, but one worth pursuing.

Book cover for Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management - Caitlin Rosenthal
Account­ing for Slav­ery:
Mas­ters and Man­age­ment
Caitlin Rosen­thal.

Reading “Critical Fabulations”

When we real­ly need it — amidst so much dark­ness and gloom — Daniela Ros­ner has woven togeth­er an inter­ven­tion­ist design with a crit­i­cal fem­i­nist view to pro­duce some­thing so full of promise. The gen­er­a­tive the­o­ris­ing set out in the works of Don­na Har­away, Anna Tsing, Saidiya Hart­man and so on (all such out­stand­ing fig­ures in con­tem­po­rary fem­i­nist schol­ar­ship) is put into prac­tice through an assort­ment of design inter­ven­tions. The design work is clev­er­ly pre­sent­ed through a range of dif­fer­ent voic­es and per­spec­tives, alto­geth­er show­ing Rosner’s impulse to work cre­ative­ly. But the book is much much more than this, it is about the sto­ries we are able tell in doing design and because of design. It is about a design prac­tice done dif­fer­ent­ly — redo­ing design so that the absences and alter­na­tive imag­i­nar­ies come to life.

Rework­ing the Meth­ods and Mar­gins of Design

Photo of 10 copies of Critical Fabulations book

What I real­ly enjoyed in read­ing this book is that it offers a way for those of us in design to think with the kind of hope­ful schol­ar­ship com­ing out of fem­i­nist the­o­ry. For so many, schol­ars like Har­away are a chal­lenge to read, but not only does Ros­ner make this schol­ar­ship acces­si­ble, she spins some­thing new into the ideas. She takes Haraway’s ‘spec­u­la­tive fab­u­la­tions’ and pro­vides very tan­gi­ble ways to think ‘with’ sto­ries, and think ‘oth­er’ and ‘more than’ with sto­ries. Her design inter­ven­tions (con­sti­tut­ing a patch­work across the book) pro­vide exem­plary ways of both under­tak­ing design and also think­ing with it. The cen­tre­piece, the work Ros­ner has done with oth­ers on weav­ing the Apol­lo mission’s ‘core mem­o­ry’, speaks then to both a design­er­ly prac­tice for doing tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion and a way to do design in respon­si­ble, sen­si­tive and open-end­ed ways.


What are you reading?

Hap­py to have the short con­ver­sa­tion I had with @danielarosner pub­lished in Inter­ac­tions Mag­a­zine’s reg­u­lar “What are you read­ing?” col­umn. We exper­i­ment with a brief inter­change about two won­der­ful books: Anna Tsing’s The Mush­room at the End of the World and Sarah Ahmed’s Liv­ing a Fem­i­nist Life.
Below is the long-wind­ed ver­sion before tidy­ing and editing.

Tsing, A. L. (2015). The Mush­room at the End of the World: On the Pos­si­bil­i­ty of Life in Cap­i­tal­ist Ruins. Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press.
Ahmed, S. (2017). Liv­ing a Fem­i­nist Life. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press.

Reading Sloterdijk’s Spheres, alongside Stengers and Barad

Aman­da Win­dle has kind­ly invit­ed me to par­tic­i­pate in her small seminar:

Informed mat­ters
Dig­i­tal media materialities.

The sem­i­nar is sum­marised as follows:

Con­sid­er­ing Peter Slo­ter­dijk’s ren­der­ing of a Hei­deg­ger­ian ‘being-in’ this infor­mal sem­i­nar will be a sit­u­at­ed read­ing. The dis­cus­sion will be locat­ed at the Roy­al Soci­ety of the Arts to spa­tial­ly think through an approach to Peter Sloterdijk’s ‘spher­ol­o­gy’ across dis­ci­plines. How, where and with what mat­ter­ings do we embark our dai­ly read­ings is no triv­ial mat­ter? Sloterdijk’s writ­ing can both inform and trou­ble read­ers and so the adja­cent read­ings from and will open up fur­ther ques­tions and provo­ca­tions. Sloterdijk’s recent pub­li­ca­tions have been aimed at a design audi­ence (name­ly archi­tects) and with his media the­o­ry the fol­low­ing dig­i­tal media ques­tion will be pro­posed.  With a broad­ly expe­ri­en­tial and per­for­ma­tive approach in mind the dis­cus­sion will loose­ly con­sid­er spher­ol­o­gy in this respect:

  • This for­mu­la­tion opens to the some­what irrev­er­ent ques­tion (fol­low­ing Slo­ter­dijk’s own irrev­er­ence) of how his think­ing can be turned into an app or an appli­ca­tion (app dis­plac­ing appli­ca­tion dis­plac­ing the­o­ri­sa­tion dis­plac­ing philosophi­sa­tion, the last term bare­ly being a word)?
  • How might Sloterdijk’s work be repar­a­tive­ly ques­tioned through a fem­i­nist enquiry? How might Sloterdijk’s metaphors engage us intra-actively?

I’ve sketched out my response to the lat­ter: (more…)

Barad, K. (2003). Posthu­man­ist Per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty: Toward an Under­stand­ing of How Mat­ter Comes to Mat­ter. Signs: Jour­nal of Women in Cul­ture and Soci­ety, 28(3), 801–831.
Stengers, I. (2013). Intro­duc­to­ry notes on an ecol­o­gy of prac­tices. Cul­tur­al Stud­ies Review11(1), 183–196.

Reading “Yes to Life = No to Mining:”…

This strik­ing arti­cle from Diane Nelson—in SF Online’s spe­cial issue: Life (Un)ltd—has stuck with me over the last few weeks.

Nel­son, D. (2013). “Yes to Life = No to Min­ing:” Count­ing as Biotech­nol­o­gy in Life (Ltd) Guatemala. The Schol­ar and Fem­i­nist Online, 11(3).

Nel­son weaves togeth­er a com­pelling if some­what bleak sto­ry of min­ing in Guatemala and the impact it is hav­ing on small vil­lages and local peo­ple. (more…)

On “How Apple is Giving Design a Bad Name”

Thanks to Richard Banks for point­ing me towards this piece pub­lished on Fast Com­pa­ny’s site by Don Nor­man and Bruce Tog­nazz­i­ni (Tog):

The arti­cle is a hard hit­ting cri­tique of Apple’s cur­rent design phi­los­o­phy. More than this, though, the two long time inter­ac­tion design gurus set out a clear project for design, one that they see Apple hav­ing been instru­men­tal in but now devi­at­ing from. Their gen­er­al argu­ment is, on the face of it, pret­ty con­vinc­ing. Yet dig­ging a lit­tle deep­er it’s one that I have prob­lems with. This post is real­ly an effort to sort things out in my own mind. (more…)

Reading “Counting, accounting, and accountability: Helen Verran’s relational empiricism”

Just read Martha Ken­ney’s “Count­ing, account­ing, and account­abil­i­ty: Helen Verran’s rela­tion­al empiri­cism”.
The arti­cle is cur­rent­ly avail­able through the Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence Online­First ser­vice. Inten­tion­al­ly or not, it sits nice­ly with oth­er arti­cles brought togeth­er to exam­ine .

Ken­ney, M. (2015). Count­ing, account­ing, and account­abil­i­ty: Helen Ver­ran’s rela­tion­al empiri­cism. Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence, 1–23.

Ken­ney’s arti­cle is very much a homage to Helen Ver­ran and her won­der­ful book Sci­ence and an African Log­ic. She pays spe­cial atten­tion to Ver­ran’s efforts at decom­po­si­tion and frames these through a lens of account­abil­i­ty. Care is giv­en by Ken­ny to dif­fer­en­ti­ate this kind of account­ing from that of “con­tem­po­rary neo-lib­er­al bureau­cra­cies” that run the risk of strength­en­ing “the aca­d­e­m­ic cul­ture that priv­i­leges cri­tique and rev­e­la­tion over oth­er, more sub­tle and cre­ative, approach­es.” (more…)

See, for exam­ple, Mar­tin, A., Myers, N., & Viseu, A. (2015). The pol­i­tics of care in techno­science. Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence, 1–17.

Reading “Not just neoliberalism…”

Berman, E. P. (2014). Not Just Neolib­er­al­ism: Econ­o­miza­tion in US Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Pol­i­cy. Sci­ence, Tech­nol­o­gy & Human Val­ues, 39(3), 397–431.

The title of this paper says it all real­ly. It’s good though to have a cogent argu­ment about the rela­tions between ide­ol­o­gy, pol­i­cy and the changes in how sci­ence is being done. I for one very eas­i­ly slip into an accusato­ry refrain when talk­ing about and usu­al­ly crit­i­cis­ing what I’ve seen to be the neolib­er­al (non)interventionist and pol­i­cy direc­tion in edu­ca­tion and sci­ence. Eliz­a­beth Berman presents a much more mea­sured posi­tion and con­vinces me that it’s bet­ter under­stood as an econ­o­miza­tion, as she calls it, where the broad­er shift is towards pri­ori­tis­ing sci­en­tif­ic research and inno­va­tion vis-a-vis the econ­o­my and specif­i­cal­ly see­ing them as eco­nom­ic inputs. This recog­nis­es the ten­sions and com­pli­ca­tions and the com­pet­ing inter­ests that have run through the chang­ing sta­tus of the sci­ences (in the US, but sim­i­lar­ly, I think, in the UK).
Some­thing I think Berman leaves open is the rela­tion­ship between sci­ence and inno­va­tion. She makes it clear that sci­ence and inno­va­tion become inex­orably linked when sci­ence is seen in eco­nom­ic terms. I want, though, to bet­ter under­stand the nexus. Indeed, but con­flat­ing sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy (“S&T” as Berman refers to it), I think there are fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions here that need unrav­el­ing, ones point­ing to the entan­gle­ments of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and where progress or inno­va­tion sits between (or around) them. Can we talk of tech­nol­o­gy with­out inno­va­tion? If S&T are two-parts of a unit, how can we dis­en­tan­gle innovation?

on “Leakiness and creepiness in app space”

I recent­ly had an email exchange with Iri­na Shklovs­ki in which she kind­ly sent me the paper she pre­sent­ed at the CHI con­fer­ence this year. It’s a great paper, with some care­ful­ly thought through insights into the data we pro­duce and (often inad­ver­tent­ly) share when using smart phones. 

Iri­na Shklovs­ki, Scott D. Main­war­ing, Hal­la Hrund Skúladót­tir, and Höskul­dur Borgth­ors­son. 2014. Leak­i­ness and creepi­ness in app space: per­cep­tions of pri­va­cy and mobile app use. In Pro­ceed­ings of the 32nd annu­al ACM con­fer­ence on Human fac­tors in com­put­ing sys­tems (CHI ’14). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2347–2356. 

The paper got me think­ing about some broad­er (and long-stand­ing) issues I’ve been work­ing through myself relat­ed to the researcher’s agen­tial (and often inad­ver­tent) role in empir­i­cal research. What fol­lows are some slight­ly amend­ed com­ments I’ve shared with Iri­na. (more…)