RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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158 Theorising space and spatiality in digital geographies
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Clancy Wilmott (The University of Manchester, UK)
Emma Fraser (The University of Manchester, UK)
Chair(s) Clancy Wilmott (The University of Manchester, UK)
Emma Fraser (The University of Manchester, UK)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Sir Martin Evans Building - Shared Lecture Theatre
Session abstract Despite the recent establishment of a field of digital geographies (Ash, Kitchin and Leszczynski, 2016), which frames questions around the geographies “through, produced by, and of the digital”, there is still much to be said about philosophical consequences of the digital for theories of space and spatiality. Digital spatialities are characterised by multiplicities which intersect, connect and coform: for instance, hybridities, geometries, image-spaces, affects, politics, narratives, interfaces, fluidities, automations, codes, technologies, practices, exchanges, lives and bodies. Across these analyses, theories of space and spatiality have been complicated, extended and refigured as digital technologies have opened up new critiques towards, for instance, the traditions of the Cartesian, Kantian, Newtonian and the Leibnzian. Alongside these critiques, emerging post-structural, feminist, new materialist, post-phenomenological, object-oriented, post-human and hybrid approaches are directed towards a geography produced through, by and of the digital.

This session brings together an interdisciplinary colloquium of papers that address how traditional theories of space and spatiality might work in the realm of digital geographies and propose new or extended ways of thinking about space drawn from the affordances of digital environments, technologies and mediation. This includes addressing what the digital is and how it operates spatially; using spatial theory to read the digital; and proposing new and radical ways of understanding digital space from digital and non-digital spatial theorists.

Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Session Introduction – Thinking through space and spatiality in digital geographies
Emma Fraser (The University of Manchester, UK)
Clancy Wilmott (The University of Manchester, UK)
This short introduction will foreground key concepts and debates regarding theories of space and spatiality in digital geographies, presenting a brief overview of major (and minor, forgotten, or overlooked) perspectives relevant to the core themes of each paper to be presented. This paper will argue in favour of an expansion of digital geographies research to include myriad theoretical approaches, old and new, from geography and beyond, with particular emphasis on contradictory and complex conceptualisations of space and spatiality. Rather than reterritorialising or creating disciplinary sites or silos, this paper will gesture towards an open field of possibility within which to consider the study of the digital in geography.
Spatialising the theorisation of digital geographies
Parvati Raghuram (The Open University, UK)
Gillian Rose (University of Oxford, UK)
In a recent paper, Ash, Leszczynski and Kitchin (2016) argue that geography is undergoing a ‘digital turn’, as increasing numbers of academic geographers use digital tools to conduct and share their research, and as digital technologies – like those listed in this session’s call for papers – become more and more popular topics for study. The notion of a digital turn rightly stresses the widespread extent of these tools and topics. However, this paper will argue that there is also a need to acknowledge some of the (broadly) shared theoretical assumptions that are organising large swathes of this work. The assumptions underlying theorisations of this digital turn are in some ways quite narrow, with a strong emphasis on: the agency of technolologies; on the effects and affects of code, algorithms and software; and on the movements and flow of data; all of which can be revealed by appropriate theoretical tools. This paper challenges the pervasive rhetoric of revelation which permeates much of this work, and argues instead that digital geographies need to be much more attentive to their own imbrication in digitally mediated situations. Drawing on both Haraway and recent discussions about learning analytics in both the UK and South Africa, the paper will explore how digital knowledges might become more situated, through theorisations that emphasise multiple spatialities, situated knowledges and comparative methodologies.
Ethics and the space of the algorithm
Louise Amoore (Durham University, UK)
On 12th April 2015, Freddie Gray, a 25 year old African American man, died from spinal cord injuries sustained while he was in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. During the days that followed, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) analysed social media data for signals of incipient violence among the assembled citizens protesting Gray’s killing. “Several known citizens have begun to post social media attempting to rally persons to demonstrate”, recorded the Baltimore Police Department, promising to “continue to evaluate threat streams and follow all actionable leads”. What are the harms and violences of this neural net algorithm?

As the people gathered on the Baltimore streets, it may appear to be that their legible rights to peaceable assembly were violated by illegible algorithms. In this paper I address this notion of a legible ethical terrain and an illegible and unethical algorithm. Understood as a spatial arrangement that generates legibilities, the algorithm is always already an ethico-political being in the world. One does not need to look outwith the algorithm for an outside that is properly political and recognisably of ethics. Indeed, amid the many appeals for algorithmic accountability, one cannot have an ethics that seeks to instill the good, the lawful or the normal into the algorithm. For contemporary algorithms are not so much transgressing settled spatial norms as establishing new patterns of good and bad, new thresholds of normality and abnormality, against which actions are calibrated.

Dancing Maps: exploring the dynamic cartographic capacities of African and Caribbean dance
Patricia Noxolo (University of Birmingham, UK)
Dance (alongside song and other forms of movement) has been understood for some time as one of the forms that indigenous African and Caribbean performative maps can take. The Dancing Maps project (www.birmingham.ac.uk/dancingmaps ) has attempted to theorise the cartographic capacities of African and Caribbean dance forms as they have come to circulate internationally.

This paper is part of this process of theorisation, focusing on the material and physical forces that bodies performing African and Caribbean dance can help to represent and codify. McCormack (2014) has recently noted that the many elemental forces that surround us are often appreciated by human beings as they act upon material entities and actions. Noxolo and Preziuso (2012) and others (Barad, 2007) have also noted that those material entities and actions are always in the process of materialisation, always in motion, so that elemental forces become accessible to us as they interact with materialities that are themselves in the middle of processes of materialisation. Beginning with an understanding of the interactions between these dynamic processes, the paper will argue that African and Caribbean dance can be understood as representing and codifying them, working with the flows and tensions between materials and elements, to reveal their constant, powerful presence in the spaces of and surrounding our bodies.

Barad, Karen (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Durham, NC: Duke University Press. McCormack, D. (2014) ‘Atmospheric things and circumstantial excursions’, Cultural Geographies, 21(4) 605–625 Noxolo, P. & Preziuso, M. (2012): ‘Moving matter’, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 14:1, 120-135
Provocations on Space, Spatiality, and Digital Geographies – Discussion
Chris Perkins (The University of Manchester, UK)
A discussion panel will close this session, engaging with the conceptual frameworks that have arisen during the presentations, and offering theoretically driven provocations on the nature of digital space and digital geographies, including perspectives from critical theory, critical cartography, cultural geography, political theory, and the array of digitally-linked perspectives presented by each speaker.

Session presenters and audience members will also participate through an innovative approach of addressing key questions to the room, calling on a constellation of different theories of space and digitality in response to the issues raised.