RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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140 A Critical Geopolitics of Data? Territories, Topologies, Atmospherics?
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Political Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Andrew Dwyer (University of Oxford, UK)
Nicholas Robinson (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Chair(s) Andrew Dwyer (University of Oxford, UK)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Glamorgan Building - Committee Room 1
Session abstract This session aims to invigorate lively discussions that are emergent at the intersection between political and digital geographies on the performativities of data and geopolitics. In particular, we grant an attentiveness to the emergent practices, performances, and perturbations of the potentials of the agencies of data. Yet, in concerning ourselves with data, we must not recede from the concrete technologies that assist in technological agencements that explicitly partake in a relationship with data, such as through drone warfare (Gregory, 2011), in cloud computing (Amoore, 2016), or even through the Estonian government’s use of ‘data embassies’ (Robinson and Martin, 2017). Recent literature from critical data studies has supported an acute awareness of the serious and contentious politics of the everyday and the personal, with geographers utilising this such as around surveillance and anxiety (Leszczynski, 2015). In recent scholarship, a geopolitical sensitivity has considered the contingent nature of data, the possibilities of risk and the performances of sovereignties (Amoore, 2013), or even the certain dichotomies found in data’s ‘mobility’ and ‘circulation’, and its subsequent impact upon governing risk (O’Grady, 2017). In this, we wish to draw together insights from those on affective and more-than-human approaches in their many guises, to experiment and ‘map’ new trajectories, that emulsify with the more conventional concerns of geopolitics to express what a critical attention to data brings forth.

In this broadening of scope, how we question, and even attempt, to capture and absorb the complex ‘landscapes’ of data is fluid. How do our current theorisations and trajectories of territory, topology and atmospheres both elude and highlight data? Do we need to move beyond these terms to something new, turn to something else such as ‘volume’ (Elden, 2013) or indeed move away from a ‘vertical geopolitics’ in the tenor of Amoore and Raley (2017)? Do we wish to work and make difficult the complex lineages and histories that our current analogies provide us? Has geopolitical discourse, until now, negated the multitude of powers and affects that data exude? In this session, we invite submissions that offer a more critical introspection of data – its performativity, its affectivities, its more-than-human agencies – upon geopolitical scholarship, and even reconfigure what geopolitics is/are/should be.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Data as (hyper)object?
Daniel Webster (Queen's University Belfast, UK)
Our understanding of new media technologies is often viewed through a lens of postmodernity, with Deleuzian notions of de/re/territorialisation, assemblages and dividuals coming to establish a toolkit for viewing a world perceived as fluid, multiple and fractured. Data itself can be seen as an immaterial substance: a flow of packets and bits to be controlled by those who can capture them, traversing international and continental borders through the sharing of security intelligence, immigration records and growing political marketing practices. This paper instead explores whether new interpretations of data and its mobilities can be constructed through the object oriented ontology (OOO) concept of the hyperobject. Through an ethnographic study of consumer data mobility in and across borders within contemporary marketing tools and devices, data is explored as a unified and material object that spans our globe and operates on the outreaches of human perception: viscous, nonlocal, phased, and interobjective, performing more than human realities that ‘police our collective life’ (Shaw & Meehan, 2013) and defy traditional notions of time and space (for example by being in more than one place at any one time). Rather than being an ethereal flow to control, data instead presents us with a material and global agent of change, issuing asymmetric and unknowable implications out of the reach of all those it sticks to, ultimately calling for - and presenting the possibility of - a new politics of action and care.
At the intersections of borderless and bordered digital learning in higher education: The geopolitics of the ‘international student data’
Paul Prinsloo (University of South Africa, South Africa)
Parvati Raghuram (The Open University, UK)
Clare Madge (University of Leicester, UK)
F Melis Cin (Lancaster University, UK)
Jekaterina Rogaten (The Open University, UK)
Jenna Mittelmeier (The Open University, UK)
International higher education have access to greater volumes, increased granularity and variety, and greater velocity of student data than ever before. In this context, learning analytics has emerged as a particular discourse and praxis that aim to collect, analyse and use student data to inform, often in real-time, strategic decisions regarding pedagogy, assessment, resources allocated to a student and access to student support. Despite the seemingly borderless mobility of students’ digital data, our definitions and data practices are strangely bordered by geopolitical realities and the lived experiences of international students. Considering that data are defined and framed in technical, economic, ethical, temporal, spatial and philosophical ways, we need to account for the fact that our definitions of data and different data practices are entangled in the assumptions, hard and software, practices, knowledges and geopolitical contexts that are used to generate, process and analyse data (Kitchen, 2014).

In this paper we use a critical techno-cultural discourse analysis (CTDA) (Brock, 2015; Dinerstein, 2006) to map the phenomenon of the ‘brokenness’ of data at the intersections of the current data doxa in higher education and researching the learning behaviour of international students in the context of a mega distance education institution, the University of South Africa (Unisa). As such the findings point to the inherent ‘brokenness’ of international student data as ‘a new normal’ that contradict and often oppose the orthodoxies of data practices in international higher education.
Battlefield digitalization: a critical assessment
Amaël Cattaruzza (Paris-Sorbonne University, France)
The possibilities offered by digital tools on the battlefield have been a subject of various developments, but their limitations and the socio-spatial transformations they imply, have been less studied. Actually, hyper-connected battlefield leads to major transformations at different levels (troop management, command procedures, resilience, etc.). That is why we need to question this new "rationality" of warfare (Amoore, 2013; Kitchin, 2014)? How does digital mappings affect the way we legitimate and conceive military operations (Gregory, 2010)? In the background, this process is blurring the very notion of battlefield. In the modern war, this notion has been defined as a specific place away from civil places. But in the post-modern conflicts, digitalization is profoundly weakening this distinction. Connected battlefields are topological places, embedded in the civil numeric world. Where are the warriors and their leaders? At the time of social networks, how can we face the “hyper-personalization of war” (Dunlap, 2014)?
Three leading questions will be discussed in this paper:
1/ Could the decision-makers have an autonomous and critical point of view on the data (Mayer-Shönberger & Cukier, 2014)? Can we challenge the neutrality of “expertise” and of “experts” in the interpretation of data (Amoore, 2013) ?
2/ What is the difference between battlefield and connected battlefield? What does this difference means on a geopolitical point of view?
3/ Can we discuss the differences between a technical and a political (or geopolitical) approach of security (Nissenbaum, 2005)?
Communicative Capacities of the Elemental: Exploring the Geopolitics of Atmospheric Media
Nat O'Grady (University of Southampton, UK)
The paper extends the critical geopolitics of data by bringing debates into dialogue emergent work concerning atmospheric media (Amoore, 2016, Edwards, 2010, McCormack, 2016, Peters-Durham, 2015). Empirically, I focus on the set of procedures and technologies designed by government authorities to share information with one another during emergencies. The paper demonstrates here how the force of the elemental (Adey, 2015) that is physically constitutive of emergencies takes on varied, nuanced roles in facilitating information sharing. At the same time, I elaborate on the notion of excess (Anderson and Wylie, 2009) to conceptualise ways in which this force of the elemental proves disruptive to the information sharing practices it otherwise gets enveloped into. Using these observations as a base, the paper continues to outline how the operations of atmospheric media sheds new light on well-established geopolitical issues that need reappraisal considering the hegemony of data assemblages in matters of governance. Specifically, the paper asks how are atmospheric media generative of new ontologies for emergency events that compel a response from the state? In turn, how does the introduction of atmospheric media reshape the long-standing politics surrounding the decision-making processes and actions collectively constitutive of security intervention?
网络主权 (wangluo zhuquan) and Multipolar Data Sovereignties in an Era of Cosmotechnic Conflict
Tom Sear (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Data now defines sovereignty and geography. De –and, re -territorialised data reframes geopolitics around multipolar hemispherical Stacks (Bratton). Spatial securitisation of information produces strategies of enclosures at planetary scales which reflect tech giant corporate and post-colonial memory. In addition to global parameters, governance of data simultaneously functions at non-human temporal machine scales where fire walled deep packet inspection create a non-human nomos of communication regime (Parikka & Ernst). Further via the politics of ontologies, each Stack demonstrates cosmotechnical expressions of a renewed relation between nature and technology in the urban Anthropocene. (Yuk Hui) This paper explores the development of these concepts in relation to the Chinese Stack. This paper will explore how the CPC, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent manage data to produce a governance and economic framework. The paper explores how the military technological conflict and competition which defines the great power interaction between China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific realm is maintained and undermined between these data borders in an era of emergent AI.