RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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252 Surveilling Global Space
Affiliation History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group
Transport Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Weiqiang Lin (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
Chair(s) Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Friday 04 September 2015, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Peter Chalk - Rooms 2.2 & 2.3
Session abstract This session explores the cultural and historical subjection of ‘global’ spaces to practices of surveillance.

While recent years have most conspicuously seen growing scholarly interest in the surveillance of human mobility across international borders, there has so far been little sustained effort in examining how a wide range of other large-scale spaces—including those populated by nonhuman subjects—can likewise be a target of such methods of scrutiny. These social techniques of control are arguably responsible for the creation of a variety of ‘new’, expansive spatial categories that are deemed risky and transnationally actionable. They impel particular responses from powerful states or parties, and strategic anticipations aimed at containing the said risks.

Papers in this session will open themselves up to these global geographies of surveillance. Specifically, they will interrogate what these practices of watching, sorting and ordering, over extensive fields, mean to the imagination of space and to the governance of human/nonhuman populations. Research will draw eclectically from a variety of contemporary issues, from the survey of airspaces and night skies, to the monitoring of global finance, diseases and environmental resources. This session aims to uncover how the invention and appropriation of these spaces have (re)shaped social life in a time of globalisation. As well, it is concerned with the material and political effects of these surveillance techniques and their rationalities.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Sky Watch: Surveillance for Aeromobility
Weiqiang Lin (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
Geographical research on aerial surveillance has typically leaned towards analyzing the effects of the ‘cosmic view’ on war, security and military action. Seldom is airborne seeing understood in terms of its civilian functions, including in aeromobilities. This paper seeks to turn the present aerial optic inside out by examining another strain of (non-pernicious) surveillance related to the air, this time not from its high vantage point of being ‘above’, but from the perspective of the ground and/or outer space on airspace’s state of occupation. Drawing insights from modern air traffic management and practices in enroute surveillance of aircraft, this paper illuminates two key techniques—radar and satellite surveillance—geared at visualizing the sky and its contents at the global scale. The second part of the paper then unpacks these techniques for their ideologies and economies of safety, their entanglements with materialities on the ground and in the sea, and their technogeopolitical negotiations among states. Conclusions will be drawn on how such surveillance regimes have enabled globally uniform methods of managing aviation collision risks, through particular technologies and imaginations of the air as a medium. This assemblage is what has arguably given birth to the concept of an inter-operable global airspace since World War II, if one still plagued by the specter of disappearing aircraft and interfering elements.
Surveilling Outer Space: Astronomy and Landscape
Oliver Dunnett (Queen's University Belfast, UK)
This paper will consider the interactions between astronomy, mapping and landscape in the surveillance of the night sky and cosmos in Britain and Ireland. A number of case studies will illustrate the different ways in which large-scale understandings of the universe have been mediated through methods of surveillance conducted by astronomers and artists. Such examples will include, firstly, the UK Dark Skies maps, which purport to show levels of light pollution, second, the activities of ‘deep sky’ astronomers, including their search for supernovae, and finally, a selection of landscape art installations which connect to astronomical data sources. This paper thereby seeks to animate the notion of surveillance as a more inclusive and open category of behaviour, that will perhaps provide a counterpoint to the notion of surveillance as associated with the state and/or regimes of power.
Algorithmic Surveillance in Finance
John H. Morris (Durham University, UK)
In this paper I will reflect on how surveillance is enacted in the context of global financial governance. In this particular context, I take surveillance to be the ordering and sorting carried out by algorithms. I focus on the example of adaptive behavioural analytics in an attempt to tease out contemporary changes in financial risk management. Prior to the Global Financial Crisis, risk management practices such as Value-at-Risk, involved self-policing techniques in which risky behaviour is rendered calculable. What I aim to ask is how are we to understand the emergence of new types of algorithms which aim to ‘understand intentions’ and ‘predict behaviour’? Such algorithms are being used to improve security, identify fraud, and minimize risk by financial institutions.

This paper seeks to contribute knowledge of the global temporalities, spatialities and local materialities at play in the use of adaptive behavioral analytics. Further, I will gesture towards what it is that the algorithm developers mean when they claim to have access to ‘true insight’ into already observable behaviour. A final consideration will be the societal impacts of tracing such politically charged global connections. In other words, what sort of connections are needed to render global spaces calculable by algorithms? My theoretical discussion will be supported using interviews and ethnographic research with the developers of the Bayesian statistical algorithms used in adaptive behavioural analytics, a company based in Cambridge.
Participatory Disease Surveillance, and Health: Changing the Surveillance Interface between Participant and Researcher
James Lester (University of Cambridge, UK)
Syndromic surveillance, the collection of symptom data from individuals prior to or in the absence of diagnosis, is used throughout the developed world to provide rapid indications of outbreaks and unusual patterns of disease. However, its low cost makes it highly attractive for surveillance in the developing world. Classical approaches to syndromic surveillance hinge upon top-down implementation, and the use of pre-existing healthcare hierarchies - for instance the interviewing of participants by researchers, or the collation of clinical records. Whilst effective in certain contexts, these approaches may scale poorly to larger populations, can heavily limit the studied population, particularly in the context of limited healthcare access, and limit the type of data which can be gathered. For instance the collection of longitudinal data on mild disease status is highly inefficient using these approaches, precluding detailed analysis of transmission and illness duration.

However, alternative approaches do exist, making use of increasingly available modern technologies to fundamentally reshape the interface of disease surveillance into one built around participant-led reporting. Both the internet and mobile phones provide a means by which participants themselves can lead the process of disease reporting, enabling them to do so regularly, at their own convenience, and with minimal, or indeed no financial cost. I will be focussing upon many of the real-world challenges of performing disease surveillance with this novel approach, specifically within the context of work performed in rural Western Uganda, the ways it challenges its typical ‘top-down’ structure, and the potential value of these participatory surveillance systems for public health. Whilst this approach is very much in its infancy, with personal communication devices increasing ubiquitous and interfacing with biometric devices, might disease one day be forecast, and detected in part using disease surveillance data supplied by participant reporting? Furthermore, what might this mean for our attitudes towards public health?
Rethinking Global Environmental Surveillance and the Resource Extraction/Deforestation Nexus in Indonesia: On "Seeing from Above" and (Not) Seeing Space for Livelihoods
Sameul Spiegel (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
As global concerns about deforestation-related climate change have deepened recently, new initiatives linking environmental surveillance and law enforcement have increasingly emerged. In Indonesia, donor projects are using various GIS tools and expert land use mapping models to inform forest protection laws and strategies. Whether these initiatives are sufficiently in tune with local livelihood challenges and complex struggles over resource control, access and rights is a matter of burgeoning debate. This paper examines the global politics of rural environmental surveillance in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, which is one of Indonesia’s pilot cases for REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). This region was memorably cast into the global spotlight when Hollywood actor Harrison Ford visited Central Kalimantan in 2013 and, in a celebrity-packed TV series, brought scrutiny to physical impacts of illegal deforestation. Using this TV coverage as a point of departure, this paper re-visits mainstream approaches for visualizing spaces of environmental dispute in deforestation hot spots and how micro-level power dynamics and livelihood challenges are - or, in some cases, are not - represented. The paper draws on fieldwork in Katingan District (Central Kalimantan), involving interviews with women and men who depend on income generated by unlicensed small-scale resource extraction as well as non-governmental organizations and government officials. The paper explores how conventional approaches and tools for ‘seeing from above’ in environmentally sensitive spaces have important ‘blind spots’ and why critical interdisciplinary approaches are needed that pay careful attention to unmapped informal livelihood practices and multi-scalar power dynamics in rural areas.