RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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269 Geographies of the body and technology (1): objects and subjects
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
Cordelia Freeman (University of Nottingham, UK)
Chair(s) Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room RGS-IBG Education Centre
Session abstract Research foregrounding the body has challenged geographical scholarship. A focus on the body has opened up alternative geopolitical sites, illustrated diverse locations of work, and served as focus for everyday consumption practices (e.g. clothing and food). In such scholarship the body poses questions of where the limits of ‘political’ and/or ‘economic’ activity are drawn; which movements across and within these boundaries count, and how such borders and their transgressions are rendered visible. These strands of geographical thought on the body are influenced by (and influence) cultural geographies stressing the relational emergence of embodiment. Rather than asking how the body changes geographical understandings of geopolitical and economic space, the question here is how does the body ‘itself’ alter in relation to various spaces/senses.

This session examines how bodies question geographies and how geographies challenge bodies by focusing on technology. We build on research that considers how (digital) technologies can be understood as (‘subject’-producing) ‘objects’ of study, but also accounts of technology as, or in interaction with, ‘backgrounds’ of everyday life. The session asks how geographies of the body and geographies of technology might intersect, and more broadly, the purchase of geographical thought for understanding contemporary social life with technologies.
Linked Sessions Geographies of the body and technology (2): technologies of embodiment
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Digital intimacy: non-human object-choice and the changing spatial biopolitics of sexuality
Daniel Cockayne (University of Waterloo, Canada)
Agnieszka Leszczynski (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Matthew Zook (University of Kentucky, USA)
In recent scholarship, geographers and others have begun to examine the relationships between the digital, technology, and sexuality, often through the lenses of subjectivity and identity. Building on these trends, in this paper, we examine the prospects offered or deferred by digital technologies, both online and offline, for sexual encounter. Through Rubin’s concept of “benign sexual variation” that argues against hierarchical understandings of consensual sex between adults (i.e., against the idea that some kinds of sex are necessarily ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others), as well as Dean’s suggestion that studies of sex should be “more promiscuous about promiscuity,” here we explore what sexual encounter might mean and do in the context of digitally-mediated human and, potentially, non-human object choice. While arguing that there is clear conceptual precedent for non-human object choice in classical psychoanalysis, we also cite contemporary empirical examples such as the Ashley Madison case, in which many users appeared to draw satisfaction (sexual or otherwise) from conversations with non-human algorithms imitating woman-gendered users. We argue that the digital offers the possibility of a new Foucauldian “incitement to discourse,” allowing or denying new kinds of sex in the modern biopolitics of sexuality, with distinctly spatial implications that confound straightforward distinctions between ‘physical distance’ and ‘felt closeness.’ We eschew narrowly optimistic or pessimistic interpretations of digitally-mediated sex as either (1) a queer or radical reorganization of heteronormative monogamous relation and attachment, or (2) an inauthentic experience that evinces the deterioration of ‘real’ in-person human relation. Instead we offer an ambivalent perspective that posits digitally-mediated sexual encounter as troubling without entirely dismantling the established hegemony of procreative sexual politics.
Self-objectification and subject-optimization and in smart environments
Anke Struver (University of Hamburg, Germany)
The contribution focuses on the users of information and communication technologies, i.e. on those people who actively use digital technologies and smart connectivities in their everyday life, especially to track and to compare bodily activities. They can be described as "smart producers" and "smart selfs". Next to a brief discussion of the interrelations between digital urban environments and smart selfs, the paper addresses the question to which extent urban processes and spaces are produced by smart technologies in interaction with people’s practices.
Empirical indications drawn from a case study among fitness communities in Hamburg, Germany stress the various forms of self-digitization and self-management with the objective of subject-optimization. Special emphasis in their analyses is put on the effects of technologies on human bodies using smart devices and moving in urban spaces on the one hand and on the interactions between smart environments and smart selfs.
Creative practice for geographical enquiry and Creative Geovisualisation
Deborah Dixon (University of Glasgow, UK)
Philip Nicholson (University of Glasgow, UK)
Recent geographic scholarship has addressed how creative practice animates, and can animate, geographic research (Marston and De Leeuw, 2013; Hawkins, 2011; Gallagher and Prior, 2013). Despite some keen interest from GIS scholars – for example, Kwan (2008, 2007) writes about working with GIS as a creative medium, and Kitchin et al (2013) discuss new mapping practices as ‘ontogenetic’ – there is little as yet, however, on how creative practice can indeed renegotiate ‘what’ GIS is. Here, we outline a project geared towards animating a ‘third stage’, or ‘creative’ GIS. This involved working with established social science methods (interviewing, observation) as a means of providing a reservoir of objects, words, images and performances from which a creative practice could be produced. We introduce several artworks produced to tease-out, distil, and probe the aesthetic qualities of GIS.
Digital Methods: a post-phenomenological approach for studying embodied responses to interfaces, websites and apps
James Ash (Newcastle University, UK)
Digital interfaces, in the form of websites, mobile apps and other platforms, now mediate user experiences with a variety of economic, cultural and political services and products. To study these digital mediations, researchers have to date followed two methodological strategies: the modification of pre-existing qualitative research methods, such as content analysis, discourse analysis and semiotics, amongst many others; or, more rarely, experimentation with new methods designed to make visible the operation of data aggregation, analytics and algorithms that are hidden from users. In contrast with both of these strategies, the paper sets out a post-phenomenological approach to studying interfaces, websites and apps that explicitly interrogates the significance of their visual surface appearance. Drawing upon work on software and sound, the concepts of unit, vibration and tone are developed to unpack interfaces as sets of objects that work together to shape the embodied experiences and responses of users. As such, the paper provides a methodological vocabulary for the analysis of the ways in which interfaces operate to modulate embodied user response and action on a series of habitual and un-reflected upon levels, and thereby to create outcomes that suit their owners and operators.