OpenCUNY Workshop: Fri 4/29

From OpenCUNY:

OpenCUNY is hosting its first site-building workshop for the CUNY Graduate Center community on Friday, April 29, from 1-3pm in 5409. This free, hands-on workshop is open to all levels of participants and will cover both basic WordPress questions and more advanced topics according to the needs of workshop attendees … plus … free pizza!

Walk-ins are welcome, but we strongly encourage registering for the workshop so we know how many to plan for:

Informationell Deutschland

In preparation for the 2011 Graduate Center-Humboldt University Summer Seminar that I’ll be participating in, I thought it would useful to take stock of some of the recent informational happenings in Germany:

  • Germany is now the largest market for video games in Europe, driven primarily by German interest in the Wii Fit (more …).
  • German laws banning the distribution of photos of people or their property without their permission is forcing Google to modify its StreetView functionality before its launch in Germany (more …).
  • A number of German states, led by Lower Saxony, are now trying to prevent web services such as Amazon, Facebook, or Google from aggregating and sharing visitor information without the explicit consent of the visitor (more …).
  • Facebook has grown by 260% in Germany over just the past year and Germany is now the 18th largest country in Facebook with over 2M members. However, Facebook still remains much smaller in Germany than the Berlin-based StudiVZ social network which boasts over 13M members (more …).
  • A Hamburg court has ruled that YouTube can be held liable for damages when it hosts copyright-protected material without permission (more …).
  • Dead Drops — an anonymous, offline, p2p file-sharing network in public space — has been established by Berlin based media artist Aram Bartholl. Dead Drops embeds USB flash drives into walls, buildings and curbs in public space, allowing anyone to plugin their laptop to share their favorite files and data (more …). h/t jgieseking

This is, but of course, a very small sample of recent happenings. Hopefully I’ll have more to report post-seminar.

Narratives vs Experiences: The Case of Jackie Speier

False narratives crumble when confronted with lived experiences, and I can’t think of a better example than the case of Jackie Speier.

Borders and barriers are thrown up to segregate people, places, and things from each other so that the privileged few with mobility are afforded a position of power — a position to influence public perceptions of the environment (see Walter Lippmann’s discussion of pseudo-environments in Public Opinion). This routinely gives way to false narratives that are communicated via various media to explain to the public what other people, places, or things are really like.

You can see this at play in the US debate over abortion and Planned Parenthood — where the patriarchal power structure gives men undue influence over shaping media narratives. We, the public, are told by Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) that abortion services are well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does when it’s actually 3%. And, we’re told that abortion procedures are gruesome acts of violence against the unborn, not by people who have performed or endured them, but mostly by men with political axes to grind.

So, why not use media to communicate lived experiences rather than to peddle false narratives — to elevate a public debate by grounding it in lived experience rather than dragging another red herring across the trail? This is what happened when Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) took to the floor of congress to challenge Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-NJ) description of what abortion is really like:

I’m one of those women [Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)] spoke about just now.

I had a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant with a child who moved from the vagina into the cervix.

And that procedure that you just described is a procedure that I endured.

… I lost that baby.

But for you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous.

It is preposterous. And it’s hard to image false narratives like these gaining traction in government debates if there were real gender equality in our congressional representation (only 16.6% of Representatives are women, and only 17% of Senators are women). It would also be hard to image false narratives like these gaining traction in the daily news cycle if every time a John Kyl or a Chris Smith spewed their fact-less disembodied nonsense in front of a camera they were forced to confront the lived experiences of some one like Jackie Speier. One might even call that “fair and balanced.”

The video is more powerful than any quote. Watch it:

SIDE NOTE: Back in February 2008, Lawrence Lessig was considering a bid for the congressional seat left open by the death of Rep. Lantos. At that time, I promoted the Draft Lessig for Congress campaign. Lessig ultimately abandoned his bid and endorsed Jackie Speier, who went on to win the seat in a special election. Lessig made the right decision.

AAG Presentation: iLearn

I’ll be presenting “iLearn: Space, Time and Social (Re)Production in Young People’s Informational Environments” tomorrow at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Seattle. If you’re attending the AAG, stop on by!

Beyond School: Geographies of Informal and Alternative Learning Practices II

Grand Ballroom C – Sheraton Hotel, Second Floor

Tuesday, 4/12/2011, from 2:40 PM – 4:20 PM

Presentation Title/Abstract:
iLearn: Space, Time and Social (Re)Production in Young People’s Informational Environments

This presentation will draw on, a participatory action research project with New York City youth ages 14-19, to unpack the reciprocity between informational development and contemporary geographies of education. The near ubiquitous presence of cyberspace in young people’s everyday life has both compressed and expanded the space of the ‘traditional’ school and the time in which ‘formal’ learning occurs. Amidst the current transition from industrial to informational capitalism within the U.S., this space-time compression and expansion provides both opportunities for youth empowerment as well as domination. How contemporary spatialities, materialities, and practices of informationalism become produced and reproduced in young people’s everyday learning will be discussed as will the role of securitization in formalizing the boundaries, relationships, and flows that operate between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ spaces of education. This presentation will conclude with a discussion of the participatory action research methods developed to investigate such (re)production as well as strategies for reworking educational boundaries, relationships, and flows towards young people’s situated interests and concerns.

Berners-Lee on Nature and the Web

From Berners-Lee’s Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality:

. . . people seem to think the Web is some sort of piece of nature,
and if it starts to wither, well, that’s just one of those unfortunate things we can’t help.

Not so.

We create the Web, by designing computer protocols and software; this process is completely under our control. We choose what properties we want it to have and not have. (emphasis added)

Competing Narratives: Internet Freedom, National Security and Social Reproduction

Evgeny Morozov has an excellent post at Foreign Policy that addresses the competing narratives emerging around WikiLeaks. Namely, WikiLeaks as an internet freedom issue vs WikiLeaks as a national security issue.

Discussing these narratives in the context of the pro-WikiLeaks DDoS attacks “organized” by Anonymous, Morozov touches on the same point I made yesterday:

I don’t think that their attacks are necessarily illegal or immoral . . . I like to think of DDoS as equivalents of sit-ins: both aim at briefly disrupting a service or an institution in order to make a point. As long as we don’t criminalize all sit-ins, I don’t think we should aim at criminalizing all DDoS . . . The danger here is obviously that if the narrative suddenly becomes dominated by national security concerns, we can forget about DDoS as legitimate means of expression dissent — that possibility would be closed, as they would be criminalized. (emphasis added)

Morozov also discusses how the dominance of a national security narrative around this issue could rationalize more state-based surveillance of everyday cyberspatial behavior:

I seriously doubt that U.S. authorities would be able to effectively go after Anonymous, in part because there are too many people involved, they are scattered all over the globe, and attributing cyber-attacks to them would be impossible (and would surely require reading a lot of chat transcripts from IRC). The only other possible policy response at their disposal is to make it easier to trace such attacks in the future — most likely by empowering the likes of NSA/Cyber Command. I would imagine that after the current cyber-attacks on credit card companies — even if they didn’t cause much damage — this would enjoy bipartisan support in the United States. (emphasis added)

Two points worth adding to Morozov’s analysis:

  • It’s not only likely the U.S. will use this event to enact pro-surveillance policies that strengthen the role of the NSA/Cyber Command in everyday internet use, but virtually guaranteed (no pun intended). However, these security initiatives are never achieved through policy alone, social production is always necessary to normalize these policies and socialize a public into compliance (or at least attempt to). Since young people are among the most active internet participants and — let’s face it — will be using the internet much farther into the future than today’s adults, they will be a primary target. “Get ’em while they’re young” is a common phrase for a reason.
  • While the U.S. government has yet to arrest anyone affiliated with the recent DDoS attacks, the Netherlands’ recent arrest of a 16 year 0ld — for doing little more than encouraging people to ping servers via an IRC chatroom — is a sign of things to come and an example of this social production.  Based on how the U.S. has thus far framed “file-sharing” as “stealing music” and singled out certain youngsters for unjustified and disproportionate punishment, we have a glimpse of what’s around the corner. Watch WikiLeaks/Anonymous (the distinction is almost irrelevant in the public imagination) become the new internet predator, and online civil disobedience the new cyberbullying.

WikiLeaks and InfoYouth

Big government collaborates with big business to deny service to WikiLeaks, everyday people get organized and deny those big businesses the ability to offer services . . . and a 16 year-old Dutch kid gets arrested?

From Bloomberg News:

… a 16- year-old was arrested in the Netherlands in connection with the digital attacks on the MasterCard website and Ebay’s PayPal business. The teenager, whose name wasn’t released, is suspected of being in a larger group of hackers that sympathizes with the work of WikiLeaks, and he will appear before a magistrate in Rotterdam tomorrow …

To recap: a large, loosely affiliated, intentionally disorganized, and geographically dispersed group of people wage distributed denial-of-service (or DDoS) attacks (see Operation Payback) on PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa, because these organizations bowed to government pressure and denied their services to WikiLeaks. A DDoS attack is the informational equivalent of mass non-violent civil resistance and while DDoS may violate terms of use policies or other protocols, it is unclear that participating in them constitutes a crime.

The typical goal of a DDoS attack is to shutdown an internet site or service by coordinating a large and loosely connected group of people to overwhelm the site or service with unusually high web traffic. Thus, at the individual level, people are repeatedly “visiting” and encouraging others to repeatedly “visit” a site until that site becomes overwhelmed and crashes. As Robert Gourley, former cyber-security expert with the Defense Intelligence Agency, states in the same Bloomberg article “At an individual level a person is pushing a button and sending a packet … I don’t know what legal precedents there would be that allows you to take a person to court for doing this.”

Is participating in a DDoS attack wrong? Maybe.

Is participating in a DDoS attack a crime? Unlikely.

Arresting a teen for participating in a DDoS attack? Red Herring.

Call for Participation: Seeks NYC Youth Ages 14-19 is a participatory action research project focused on the interests and concerns of young people growing up in digital environments. The research project is looking for young people ages 14-19 living in New York City, for both Research Participants and Youth Co-Researchers.

  • Research Participants take part in a one-time 90 minute interview at the CUNY Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan and receive a free movie ticket.
  • Youth Co-Researchers help develop an open-source social network that investigates the common concerns and interests voiced in interviews with Research Participants and receive training in qualitative research methods and digital media production, as well as a
    $10 per hour stipend.

All participation is confidential. The Graduate Center of the City University of New York’s Institutional Review Board has approved this research.


Robbins on Political Ecology as Critique

From Political Ecology, p12-13:

As critique, political ecology seeks to expose flaws in dominant approaches to the environment favored by corporate, state, and international authorities, working to demonstrate the undesirable impacts of policies and market conditions , especially from the point of view of local people, marginal groups, and vulnerable populations. It works to “denaturalize” certain social and environmental conditions, showing them to be the contingent outcomes of power, and not inevitable.

… In this sense, political ecology is something that people do, a research effort to expose the forces at work in ecological struggle and document livelihood alternatives in the face of change.

AAG Session: Democracy and the Public Sphere In a Web 2.0 World

WHEN: Thursday, April 15, 2:40-4:20 pm

WHERE: Senate, Omni Shorham

WHAT: What do the much-critiqued ‘classics’ on democracy, civic engagement, the public sphere, and education (by scholars such as Habermas, Dewey, Putnam and others) have to offer critical urban geographers? The urban spaces, forms of social interaction, and modes of education that these scholars theorized are quite different than those that many urban geographers seek to understand today. Public life increasingly plays out in both material and virtual/digital spaces, with interactions and deliberations mediated through purportedly interactive ‘web 2.0’ media, including social networking technologies and interactive mapping technologies. Past geographical critiques of the public sphere emphasized the exclusionary nature of abstract liberal visions, drawing on empirical and embodied accounts of spatial life. In the disembodied world of the digital age, how do we bring our empirical research to bear on these new/old questions of collaboration, civic engagement and democratic space? What is geography’s contribution to democratic theory in the age of web 2.0?

Discussant – Robert Lake, Rutgers University


YouTube Nation
Bruce D’Arcus – Miami University of Ohio

Dominant theories on the intersections of democracy and the public sphere were the product of a media environment dominated first by print media, and later by radio and television typically produced by large multinational capital for the largely passive consumption of viewers and listeners. Indeed, Habermas’ historical narrative of the evolution of the public sphere suggests its gradual demise in the face of the pressures of corporate concentration. Even more recent critics of this thesis have often based their arguments on the role that alternative media may play in constituting the dialog that is understood to be at the heart of a vibrant public sphere. In each case, however, the cultural product of this media is largely read-only. Yet, some commentators have argued, new media forms associated with the internet complicate the relation between the production and consumption of mediated meanings.

This paper considers this argument by way of an examination of connections between new media, social networking technologies, and concrete space. I examine how conservative activists in the United States have used new media such as online video website YouTube to present particular representations of a resurgent political movement. On one hand, I argue, these new media do change the content and character of political representation and dialog by complexifying the relation between the production of space, and the production of mediated political representations. On the other hand, I suggest the challenge they present is as much to theory and methodology as it is to our understanding of changing empirical circumstances.

Cyberdominance and the Digital Footprint: Young People as Objects of Domination and Subjects of Power in the Cybercity
Gregory Donovan – CUNY Graduate Center

This paper aims to unpack the material forms and practices of the U.S. war doctrine of “cyberdominance,” and its entailments with urban youth at multiple scales. This paper will argue that through decentralized information flows, the cybercity affords new environments for education, self-expression, and civic engagement as well as new environments for surveillance and control — simultaneously challenging and enabling the realization of cyberdominance. As young people’s urban geographies blend with cyberspatial mediums, specifically the Semantic Web (SW), their digital footprints are increasingly recorded, commodified, and aggregated by state and non-state actors. Enabled by the increasing propertization of cyberspace, the SW in part symbolizes a neoliberal restructuring of cyberspace through its privileging of informational control over informational literacy. Under this restructuring, information is semantically coded and mapped for “automatic” circulation across various proprietary environments. Intertwined with the privatization and segregation of urban environments through “gating” and private governance practices, the SW affords the contradictory prospect of a mass public conducive to cyber-dominance, alongside a cascade of publics organized around situated interests that challenge cyber-dominance. This paper will conclude with a discussion of a PAR project, in progress, that engages NYC youth in producing their own social network site as a means of enhancing informational literacy and cyber-environmental consciousness. Through their participation, young people investigate how cyberdominance shapes, and is shaped by, their experiences with property, privacy, and security in the cybercity — and propose strategies for re-imagining such dominance according to their situated interests.

Situated GeoWeb Participation: A Qualitative Assessment of OpenStreetMap Contributors
Josef (“Joe”) Eckert – University of Washington (OSM) is a widely cited example of the burgeoning geoweb 2.0 movement, seeking to spatially crowdsource street-level geographic information for the globe. The recent State of the Map conference for OSM participants held this year in Amsterdam was the first annual meeting that dedicated a day to emergent business interests in relation to the project. Recent literature on volunteered geographic information calls for an understanding of how user participation functions in these practices. While some research has been done on the nature of open-source software projects, the emerging neogeography literature to date has been largely devoid of economic consideration. However, there is a lack of attention to the political economies localized to a single project in neo-geography literature. This paper utilizes participant observation fieldwork from the conference as well as in-depth interviews to understand the resulting subjectivities created by the complex interplay between members of non-profit foundation at the helm of the OSM project, the business interests of for-profit companies utilizing OSM data, and those participants that simply want to “get on with the mapping.” I argue that treating participants as situated within specific economic networks is essential to our understanding of user participation in geoweb based projects. I suggest that while mapping within this project is actualized at the scale of the individual, user participation in practice is shaped by the fiscal networks required to power a transnational geoweb project and that attention to unique networks may provide a more in-depth understanding of differences in participant motivation.

Desperately seeking the public sphere: After school programs and civic life
Sarah Elwood & Katharyne Mitchell – University of Washington

In this paper we rethink notions of the public sphere, in relation to schools and after-school programs in the United States. Habermasian notions of the ideal public sphere as a site where rational individuals can freely deliberate issues of the common good have been strongly critiqued by many scholars. Much of this discussion, however, has focused on existing sites and on adults. Liberal democratic accounts of schools as sites for subject formation have offered a similarly idealistic view of schools as a public sphere, and tended to theorize young people as unformed subjects within these spaces. Drawing from research at a YMCA-sponsored after school program with young teens in South Seattle, we investigate the types of power relations, hegemonic assumptions, inclusions and exclusions that emerge when young people form their own deliberative publics, as part of a collaborative map-making project. We suggest that these deliberative spaces provide an important opportunity for young people to share, examine, and rethink their own knowledge, but that these spaces are also limited in significant ways.

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