Counting by other means’ 4S/EASST conference preview

A pre­view of our “Count­ing by oth­er means” 4S/EASST con­fer­ence track has been pos­ted on the Soci­ety of Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence Backchan­nels blog. I’m run­ning the track with Sarah Kem­ber and we’re excited to have these papers included:

Session 1

The Slow Times of the Digit­al, Paul Dour­ish
Digit­al Access­ib­il­ity: Age­ing and the Mat­ter­ing Counts of Arts Engage­ment, Aman­da Windle
Count­ing the Future; the designed arte­facts of pre­dic­tion, Dav­id Ben­que
Mak­ing inven­tions count: the gender polit­ics of design pat­ents, Kat Jung­nick­el
Phoe­be Sen­ger — Dis­cussant

Session 2

Writerly (ac)counts of finite flour­ish­ings and pos­sibly bet­ter ways of being togeth­er, Sarah Kem­ber and Alex Taylor
Cap­it­al num­bers and the obscure numer­ic­al­ity of code, Adri­an MacK­en­zie
Reima­gin­ing Work: Heart Labor, Heart Time, Lucian Leahu
Sec­ret­ar­ies, Count­ing Time and AI, Jes­sa Lin­gel and Kate Craw­ford
Repair as Trans­ition: Tem­por­al­it­ies of Break­down, Main­ten­ance and Recu­per­a­tion, Steve Jack­son
 

See the backchan­nels post here or just see the pre­view text for our track below:

Tick… tick… tick.
B

eneath us there is a tick­ing, the tick­ing of a com­pu­ta­tion­al count that winds its way down to the next inter­rupt. This count­ing joins up a web of sur­pris­ingly stat­ic things—an inter­net of sensors and input devices. But, below, the oper­a­tions are lively; data of all sorts and at every per­ceiv­able scale are com­bined and mined to report, fore­cast, and act on a dizzy­ing array of pos­sib­il­it­ies. Pace­makers, coch­lear implants, smart watches, activ­ity mon­it­ors, smart homes, trans­port sys­tems, power grids, traf­fic lights, com­mu­nic­a­tion sys­tems, logist­ics, cash­less pay­ments, emer­gency ser­vices, sur­veil­lance sys­tems, space stations—everywhere, an unend­ing amal­gam of algorithmic sys­tems that keep our bod­ies and spaces tick­ing.

Yet, as the sequen­tial and relent­less count keeps tick­ing, how and where exactly do the agen­cies that pulse through these com­pu­ta­tion­al sys­tems entangle with our own? Where do sub­stance and sys­tem con­join, or ‘intra-act’ (Barad 2007), to enact the bod­ies, spaces and worlds we share in com­mon? What capa­cit­ies are afforded and ‘author­ised’ (Despret 2004) through such worldly becomings—with their obdur­ate logics of effi­ciency and rationales organ­ised by num­bers? And how do they give shape, per­haps, to a dif­fer­ent kind of crit­ter, new vari­et­ies of “trans-corporeality” (Alaimo 2012), gen­er­at­ively fig­ur­ing dif­fer­ent worlds of num­bers (Ver­ran 2001)? Who and what else might come to count in this pro­lif­er­a­tion of count­ing?

Fol­low­ing their own hunches and leads, human­it­ies and social sci­ence schol­ars have been grap­pling with such ques­tions by work­ing through their own examples of this “regime of com­pu­ta­tion” (Hayles 2005). Kath­er­ine Hayles star­ted early with her writ­ings of a ‘uni­verse’ where “com­pu­ta­tion… is taken as the ground of being.” (1999: 34). Since then, many of us have sought to account for beings of this sort through all man­ner of sub­stances (Fujimura 2011; Kruse 2013; Taylor et al. 2014); bod­ies (Craw­ford Lin­gel and Karp­pi 2015); prac­tices (MacK­en­zie 2003; Beer 2015); places (Kaika and Swyngedouw 2000; Ken­ney 2015; Kit­ch­in Lauri­ault and McArdle 2015); (infra)structures (Jack­son and Bar­brow 2013; MacK­en­zie 2015); and polit­ics (Miller 2005; Nel­son 2013; McQuil­lan 2015). Although dis­par­ate, what this mix­ture of work might be seen to point to is an uneasy uni­form­ity of time-telling, a struc­tured time that is enacted via the com­pu­ta­tion­al count and that con­fig­ures a pecu­li­ar set of rela­tions between life and labour. The count col­lapses life as labour-time, con­sti­tut­ing it in terms of quan­ti­fied met­rics, per­form­ance and pro­ductiv­ity.

Crit­ic­ally examin­ing these rela­tions between time, the count, and forms of life/labour, our research might also be seen to point to more care­ful and caring ima­gin­ar­ies of who and what could count in/through com­pu­ta­tion. With what we would want to call a “fem­in­ist time-telling”—that is to say, one that thrives not in the sin­gu­lar­ity but promis­cu­ity of time-telling—we find the pos­sib­il­ity for altern­ate encoun­ters with the ubi­quit­ous count. The allur­ingly sin­gu­lar, tele­olo­gic­al organ­iz­a­tion of time is dis­rup­ted through anom­alies raised by such things as redemp­tion, regres­sion, repe­ti­tion, and rup­ture (Fel­ski 2002: 21). Sur­faced are the mul­tiple bod­ily, polit­ic­al and eth­ic­al entan­gle­ments and becom­ings, the tem­por­ally bound ‘pro­cesses of medi­ation’ (Kem­ber and Zyl­in­ska 2012), in com­pu­ta­tion­al regimes. The count, then, is ‘geared towards meas­ur­ably enhanced pro­ductiv­ity, per­form­ance, trans­par­ency and effi­ciency’, coin­cid­ently ‘core val­ues of neo­lib­er­al­ism’ (Kem­ber and Zyl­in­ska 2012). Like­wise, we find it intens­i­fies and extends the reach of gendered biopower by enfor­cing an alarm­ingly regress­ive por­tray­al of women’s labour in/of time. Yet through the hope­ful but mod­est stor­ies we tell about the lively com­plic­a­tions, we show a care for dif­fer­ence and how it might be given space amid­st the count­ing.

The prob­lem is” as Grosz relays in her con­cep­tu­al refig­ur­ing of fem­in­ism, mater­i­al­ity and freedom, “… how to enable more action, more mak­ing and doing, more dif­fer­ence.” (2010: 154). Our two ses­sion track is designed to provide a for­um where top­ic­ally diverse works like those above might mingle, and pos­sibly inter­mingle, to enliven new inter­con­nec­tions and muta­tions that make a dif­fer­ence. As well as offer­ing a moment in which we might inter­rupt or make a cut along the lines of counts and com­pu­ta­tion, we invite pos­sib­il­it­ies for fric­tions, laughter, exper­i­ment­a­tion, (dis)agreements, and gen­er­at­ive refig­ur­ings of where we might go with all these counts—where we might reima­gine who/what really could count amid­st this count­ing. A count­ing by oth­er means.

Ref­er­ences

Alaimo, S. (2012). States of Sus­pen­sion: Trans-corporeality at Sea. Inter­dis­cip­lin­ary Stud­ies in Lit­er­at­ure and Envir­on­ment, 19(3), 476–493.

Beer, D. (2015). Pro­duct­ive meas­ures: Cul­ture and meas­ure­ment in the con­text of every­day neo­lib­er­al­ism. Big Data & Soci­ety, 2(1).

Craw­ford, K., Lin­gel, J., & Karp­pi, T. (2015). Our met­rics, ourselves: A hun­dred years of self-tracking from the weight scale to the wrist wear­able device. European Journ­al of Cul­tur­al Stud­ies, 18(4–5), 479–496.

Despret, V. (2004). The Body We Care for: Fig­ures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis. Body & Soci­ety, 10(2–3), 111–134.

Fel­ski, R. (2002). Telling Time in Fem­in­ist The­ory. Tulsa Stud­ies in Women’s Lit­er­at­ure, 21–28.

Grosz, E. (2010). Fem­in­ism, mater­i­al­ism, and freedom. In, D. Coole & S. Frost (Eds.), New mater­i­al­isms: Onto­logy, agency, and polit­ics, 139–157.

Kaika, M., & Swyngedouw, E. (2000). Fet­ish­iz­ing the mod­ern city: the phant­asmagoria of urb­an tech­no­lo­gic­al net­works. Inter­na­tion­al Journ­al of Urb­an and Region­al Research.

Kem­ber, S., & Zyl­in­ska, J. (2012). Life after new media: Medi­ation as a vital pro­cess. MIT Press.

Kruse, C. (2013). The Bayesian approach to forensic evid­ence: Eval­u­at­ing, com­mu­nic­at­ing, and dis­trib­ut­ing respons­ib­il­ity. Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence, 43(5), 657–680.

Fujimura, J. H. (2011). Tech­n­o­bi­o­lo­gic­al ima­gin­ar­ies: How do sys­tems bio­lo­gists know nature? In M. J. Gold­man, P. Nadasdy, & M. D. Turn­er (Eds.), Know­ing Nature: Con­ver­sa­tions at the Inter­sec­tion of Polit­ic­al Eco­logy and Sci­ence Stud­ies (pp. 65–80). Lon­don: The Uni­ver­sity of Chica­go Press.

Hayles, N. K. (2005). My Mother Was a Com­puter: Digit­al Sub­jects and Lit­er­ary Texts. Lon­don: Uni­ver­sity of Chica­go Press.

Jack­son, S. J., & Bar­brow, S. (2013). Infra­struc­ture and voca­tion: field, call­ing and com­pu­ta­tion in eco­logy (p. 2873). Presen­ted at the CHI ’13: Pro­ceed­ings of the SIGCHI Con­fer­ence on Human Factors in Com­put­ing Sys­tems, New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.

Kit­ch­in, R., Lauri­ault, T. P., & McArdle, G. (2015). Know­ing and gov­ern­ing cit­ies through urb­an indic­at­ors, city bench­mark­ing and real-time dash­boards. Region­al Stud­ies, 2(1), 6–28.

McQuil­lan, D. (2015). Algorithmic states of excep­tion. European Journ­al of Cul­tur­al Stud­ies, 18(4–5), 564–576.

MacK­en­zie, D. (2003). An Equa­tion and its Worlds Bri­c­ol­age, Exem­plars, Dis­unity and Per­form­ativ­ity in Fin­an­cial Eco­nom­ics. Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence, 33(6), 831–868.

Mack­en­zie, A. (2015). The pro­duc­tion of pre­dic­tion: What does machine learn­ing want? European Journ­al of Cul­tur­al Stud­ies, 18(4–5), 429–445.

Miller, C. A. (2005). New Civic Epi­stem­o­lo­gies of Quan­ti­fic­a­tion: Mak­ing Sense of Indic­at­ors of Loc­al and Glob­al Sus­tain­ab­il­ity. Sci­ence, Tech­no­logy & Human Val­ues, 30(3), 403–432.

Nel­son, D. (2013). Yes to Life= No to Min­ing’: Count­ing as Bio­tech­no­logy in Life (Ltd) Guatem­ala. The Schol­ar & Fem­in­ist Online, 11(3). Retrieved Octo­ber 15, 2015, from http://sfonline.barnard.edu/life-un-ltd-feminism-bioscience-race/yes-to-life-no-to-mining-counting-as-biotechnology-in-life-ltd-guatemala/

Ken­ney, M. (2015). Count­ing, account­ing, and account­ab­il­ity: Helen Verran’s rela­tion­al empir­i­cism. Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence, 45(5), 749–771.

Taylor, A. S., Fish­er, J., Cook, B., Ish­tiaq, S., & Piter­man, N. (2014) Mod­el­ling Bio­logy – work­ing through (in-)stabilities and fric­tions, Com­pu­ta­tion­al Cul­ture 1(3).

Ver­ran, H. (2001). Sci­ence and an Afric­an Logic. Lon­don: Uni­ver­sity of Chica­go Press.

Leave a comment