Monday, February 22, 2010

Reading Information Studies 2010

Reading Information Studies 2010

Coming back from several years of inactivity, the Reading Information Studies group will reconvene during summer 2010 on the Terrace as usual.
Books required, brats optional.

Planned theme:
International Digital Divides and Differences

We will read at least two or three books focusing on ICT/information inequalities with a primary focus outside of the United States.

All are welcome to join the reading group: f2f or virtually. Email Kristin Eschenfelder or Greg Downey to be added to the blog membership.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Book group meeting notes

Attendees: Kristin E., Greg, Barbara, K8, Jeff, John, Kristin J.

Kristin: we chose this book to fit with the broader SLIS diversity goals, and it also fits nicely with our interests in information/IT and society.

Greg: So given the time limitations given the end of summer - how much of this book did people read? What did you like? What chapters if any should we be assigning to classes?

KE didn't read the book : ( K8 admits she read the book with watching tv : ) Several people skimmed. Selective skimming is a VERY important grad school skill. Barb read the WHOLE thing!

Jeff: What is "everyday life?" Refers to some guy who wrote a book on everyday life - a transcendant everyday life. All ideas have been flattend by the idea of competitive advantage. What is everyday life anymore? Everything is dominated by competitive advantage.

Greg: The use of the term in the title was just a signal that they weren't talking about information technology in the work context. Think they were referring to recreational uses - kareoke, fan groups, etc.

K8: Thinks it was referring to the "invisible" everyday things that people don't think about.

Greg: Part of it stems from the fact that it is an anthology and they have to build a frame around what they get. Look at the first couple of chapters, they usually represent the main ideas they were trying to get (at least initially). Here they probably thought they were going to talk about digital divide, but they ended up getting a lot wider range of things.

Barbara: and the chapter about low rider cars. low riders are not really a digital technology.
K8: there is a cool article about low riders as performance.

Greg: skimming the TOC, what was your sense of what this book was about? Class? Power?

Kristin J: I thought it was about participation - who can participate and how.

KE: could the pinch and kline car/washing machine article have been reprinted in this book? (appropriation)
Barb: remember the book is about race.

Greg: what class would this be good for?

John: I enjoyed the interviews with the technology entreprenuers
K8: The gender articles could have been taught in womens studies
John: Interestingly, those ones are the articles that have stayed the most current.
Barb: I would have enjoyed reading some things about the assesmbly line aspects of technology work in the labor class.

Greg: the oldness of the chapters has historical value. Would some students miss that? Or would they value the historical perspective? But the H1 visa thing is still very current.
k8: they might appreciate the retro value - they like 80's music. Girls are wearing blue eye shadow again : )

When you saw the book assigned on the blog - what did you expect it would be about?
k8: I expected more new media: virtual community, gaming - I was happy to read about low riders.
Kristin J: I expected a whole book on the digital divide
John: I was looking for theory - but its sort of a bring your own theory sort of book.
k8: that is only because we've been brainwashed to expect theory and millions of footnotes. Maybe they were trying to make it more accessible purposefully. Read Janice Joplin biography by Alice Echols for an example -Scars of Sweet.. something???
Barb: I was expecting more theories, but glad that it didn't have a lot. I thought it was good it was so accessible.
Greg: I wanted some theoretical pointers to be there.
Barb: But if you have some theories in your head, you just sort of fit it in yourself. You don't have to be hit over the head with it. But undergradutes might need some orientation.

Greg: would it be nice for them to define/explain what they mean by race? They could have something in the intro. Do they mean black/white? Do they mean what whiteness means? Do they mean ethnicity in the USA? How does this book compare with other things you have read that are about race? What chapters would still be good for a class on race and technology?
k8: asiatic geek girl, the silocon valley chapter
Barb: I thought it was more about ethnicity than race.
k8: but was is ethnicity vs race? Students in my class got offended by a piece that referred to rural Appalachians as having an "ethnicity." They thought white people couldn't have ethnicity.

ke: but I thought that white Wisconsinites would be more aware of white ethnicity - the whole polish, german, swede, scando thing...
k8: they may not have realized that white appalacians tend to come from a distinct culture (scottish?)
Greg: if it were published today, maybe the book would use the term "identity"
k8/john: they should add ethnicity and gender to the title - but race may sell better.
Greg: in some cases the term "identity" is used to avoid talking about race.
k8: yeah, identity is too vage
Greg: too academic - a book you don't want to read

John: conscienceness of white race is very shallow now. In the 1980's there was a big interest in small town life in Wisconsin. Kristin, be careful with your "scando" comment because the different groups see themselves as quite distinct and had been at each others throats. Lately it hasn't been as big a deal. Maybe because of the fall of communism there has been a let's all get along sort of feel?

Greg: this discussion of community is very interesting. Did it show up in the book? It was in the silicon valley chapter, the techno in detroit, but a lot of this stuff was place-less. Do less sexy places get overlooked for studies of their ethnic communities (e.g. Appalachia?)
John: the low rider one could easily have been more "localized."
Greg: and there is a big global industry behind low riders. That transcends place. But it would be interesting to examine locational differences - how are the Chicago low riders different from the CA low riders?
John: and some Asian communities are now doing car modifications.
Greg: it reminds me of this concept of "tinkering" that is very popular now. Theoretically it is about the deinfition of expertise? and what is the relationship between tinkerers and manufacturers? Do they encourage a culture of modification or discourage it? They could talk about low riders in this way, but it would really make it too abstract. In making it abstract, do you end up focusing more on the dominant tinkerers (white male geeks). Do you have to localize to due credit to minority tinkerers.

Final thoughts?
Barb: I wish someone would do something more contemporary.
ke: I'd want to see a cell phone texting article
Barb: I've been hearing that there really isn't that much of a stark generational difference in technology use - tho that is more identity than race.
k8: I have to teach my freshman lots of stuff.
johN: yeah, they know IM, but they don't know a lot of other stuff: email attachment, open a PDF.
Greg: there is a cool book Mobile communication and global perspective that is about global phone use. Castells did a chapter for it. He was able to get areally wide range of people. Our book was very US oriented in comparison to this newer book. It is an interesting literature review. They did find a generational difference: older people are doing different things with phones than younger people. They don't talk about race/ethnic differences.
Barb: So much of what we read is USA focused.
John: Take cell phones, people talk about very private stuff on their cell phones in public.
This is the economic elite. The elite is abandoning privacy for convenience. They have lost the sense of a private space. Take myspace, facebook.
k8: I saw an article about how colleges have been getting roommate change requests after they view the roommates myspace info!

Ok, now we are drifting into some conversation about Facebook....

Thursday, August 16, 2007


This collection of essays about race and technology seems to offer something to the academically-inclined of various persuasions, from traditional labor studies in essays about marginalized technical workers and resistance on the assembly line to contemporary cultural criticism surrounding a modern urban musical genre ( Detroit techno), to sociological interpretations of activites such as low-riding. Pick the approach that suits you best. All bring to the foreground a concept that minorities traditionally viewed as absent from the world of technology, or passive consumers of technology at best, are in fact active shapers of contemporary technology whose unique use and role in technology production does not necessarily mirror that of non-minority society.

From my own perspective, I appreciated especially the essays about low-wage Latina assembly-line workers in what we think of as affluent Silicon valley, and the discussion of marginalized Indian workers on special visas for ëxpert" workers. The assembly-line workers are viewed in a somewhat traditional fashion, focusing on their gendered resistance to the strictures of assembly -line work under the direction of male non-Latino bosses. The Indian workers are subtly reclassed in their worklife from higher-status computer programmers to lower-status "temporary workers" whose rootless existence in spite of their superior education and qualifications is presented as one aspect of global migration.

The presence of traditional assembly-line work in such a supposedly contemporary venue as technology production as well as the downgrading of the abilities and status of immigrant groups, are traditional themes that seem to be playing out in contemporary high-tech settings. Just how revolutionary is the supposed computer revolution, anyhow? In aspects of labor and production, it seems that traditional themes are still applicable.

Last meeting of the summer tomorrow, Friday August 17

We'll be discussing the ideas and essays from _Technicolor: Race, technology, and everyday life_ tomorrow. Although we had disappointingly low attendance last time around, I'll be out on the Terrace at around 3pm for anyone interested in coming by. Feel free to post reactions to the weblog in advance of, during, or after the meeting.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Planet Management and Memory Practices

Dear Book Group Colleagues:

Since I was out of town for several days surrounding our reading of Planet Management, Greg assigned me to read and compare Planet Management and Memory Practices in the Sciences by Goeffrey Bowker, a book that the group read last summer. I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to re-read Bowker, but I’m not going to assume that all of us are familiar with Memory Practices.

In understanding the origins of contemporary practices in the sciences, including scientific modeling, Bowker locates the development of these practices well before the origins of systems theory in World War II where Elichirigoity begins. The rise of state bureaucracies, and the accompanying need for information in the form of numbers (statistics), and the need to categorize and assign priorities to numbers are primarily the products of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. They are rooted in social processes and changes during these times. Over time, they have changed as priorities and perceptions have changed. Bowker challenges the “perfect”memory posited by scientific institutions, and suggests that the traces left in the world are larger and more complex than those constructed by scientific interpretations based on human-created categories. At the heart of this argument is the notion that “acts of committing to record, such as writing a scientific paper, do not occur in isolation” but occur within a range of technical, formal, and social practices. We project onto nature our modes of organizing our own affairs. These memory practices are a way of framing the present. Scientific memory acts through tools such as standardization and classification which over time have provided the underpinnings to contemporary scientific undertakings, including the activities of the Club of Rome. We need to understand the limitations of these socially-based categories and their influence on scientific thinking. As the database has become central to scientific research, we need to understand the metaphors we have imposed on this data, and avoid production of a frozen present. Both ideology and knowledge are fused in the creation of data, as well as in its interpretation.

Seen from this perspective, Planet Management provides the story of one set of memory practices in the formation of contemporary “globality”-- those produced through the development of cybernetics and computing, Bowker suggests that other global ways of thinking existed earlier, in geology and in the expansion of empires, thus globality may not necessarily be the paradigm shift posited by Elichirigoity though our understanding of it has been aided by new tools such as satellite imaging.

The set of memory practices noted in Planet Management consists of those which would view the Earth as a “system” which includes inorganic, organic, natural and technological subsystems, amenable to systems analysis. They involve a method which depends on computer simulations, based on a variety of data chosen by experts. One interesting rationale noted by Elichirigoity as leading to the process which created the Club of Rome report is the interest in “new” forms of information provided by the computerized database. Information captured in computerized databases was viewed as a break with a past in which information was stored on maps and in print. Yet, the new databases made use of geographical information which was also at the basis of traditional mapmaking, though it was enhanced and expanded by new methods of computer imaging

Elichirigoity notes other social impacts on the work of the planet managers—sociobiology, for instance, a highly contested area of scientific research in which biological factors are seen as highly significant in determining social activities. Cybernetics itself proposed to erase an older distinction between organic and inorganic All of these were transformative and led to contemporary notions of the planet as a system amenable to management. I think that Bowker might possibly regard them less as transformative, and more of a larger continuum of efforts at global thinking fueled by a variety of underlying and possibly unquestioned mindsets.

Furthermore, the process which led to the report of the Club of Rome is deeply involved in a social milieu including the need to obtain grant funding, and the consequent need to act in ways that grantors will approve, along with the need to market the final product to a variety of audiences. It is striking that the commercial success of the first Limits to Growth book almost derailed the subsequent publication of the more technical reports. The process of obtaining support and direction for the Club of Rome project, notably top-down, was also carefully staged to reflect European sensibilities. The significance of a meeting in the Accademia Nazionali dei Lincei, one of the oldest and most prestigious of scientific societies, could not have been lost on potential European sponsors, and played perfectly into the hierarchical arrangement of European society even after World War II. To me it is striking as well, now that I have been made cautious about the creation of categories and alert to their power by reading Bowker's books, Sorting Things Out as well as Memory Practices, how little questioning seemed to go into the acceptance of statistical categories and data from governement agencies.

I think it is possible to argue that the significance of the Club of Rome report might not have been as a paradigm change towards global thinking and cybernetics. I think it is possible to argue that global thinking existed long before this and influenced the formation of this approach, which was enhanced by developments in cybernetics and shifting importance of categories and classification of data.

Nevertheless, I think this is an important book. In our contemporary era as we contemplate scenarios and conflicts over global climate change, it serves to remind us how long ago some of the warnings of global problems, based on computerized models, appeared and how few actual concrete results they had. Now that we have this book, I think it might be very interesting to write the sequel: Why did the Limits of Growth and the other reports of the Club of Rome ultimately have so little impact? Why was something that was presented as “scientific” rejected by some groups, such as business and management, and embraced by others? Were there other, less obvious aspects of these endeavors that did have some significant impact? It seems to me that it is possible that at some point in the future, the efforts of the Club of Rome will be viewed as some sort of forerunners or precursors to yet another global approach which, I think, did not begin after World War II but has been with us at least since the days of expansion of empires.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Slightly Off Topic...

...but somewhat related to last Friday's discussion: For those interested, Rhetoric Society of America's 2008 Conference Theme is Responsibilities of Rhetoric and it will be in Seattle. Some of the rhetoric and new media stuff we discussed is related to the conference theme. You can reach the info from RSA's site:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Not Late This Time!

OK, this is probably an issue of my academic background coming into play, but I’m having trouble with the seemingly promiscuous use of the term discourse. While I have an idea of how it is being used here, I’d like to see something indicating how it is theoretically grounded here. Particularly, because it seems to move between several usages of the term. For me, it unnecessarily confuses matters.

But anyway...I am interested in the ways the narratives become inscribed in simulated visions of the future, the ways these narratives are propagated and nurtured, and the ways these narratives obtain power, power that then begets new (and sometimes contradictory) narratives. I would like to hear more about the argument that the world is now more dependent on the guidance of NGOs and INGOs. I see them present, and I see them in action, but I’m concerned that it might be easy to ascribe too much power and influence to such organizations. It’s a question of who serves who, I think.

I'll have more to say tomorrow. I look forward to seeing everyone!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Our author will be joining us next Friday -- and not just in cyberspace

Just had a nice chat with our author for next Friday, Fernando Elichirigoity, and it turns out he was planning on being in Chicago next weekend anyway, so he offered to drive up from Champaign-Urbana a day early and meet with our reading group in person on the 20th! Now besides discussing an interesting book with your peers, you get to meet and chat with an interesting (and recently tenured) LIS professor from another great research university. What could be better? (Plus Greg will be buying the drinks.)

Thoughts on the historical context of planetary management, 35 years ago and today

I too really liked the book. While reading it, I was reminded of the circa-1990 atmosphere around the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day when I first encountered Limits to Growth, and its sequel Beyond the Limits. About the same time I also read Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb which was actually published in 1968 and discussed many of the same "overshoot and collapse" issues as Limits to Growth ... however within a framework of nation-by-nation population, technology, affluence, and impact variables, rather than on an undifferentiated globalized scale (and without computer models, though with mathematical models and heuristics). Ehrlich too was criticized for his "predictions" (were they predictions or thoughtful scenarios for analysis?) and he too published a recap about twenty years later, titled The Population Explosion.

So a question for Fernando: In your interviews and documentary research, did you find any suggestion that the Club of Rome / Forrester / Meadows folks might have expected some of the criticism they received, given the earlier reception of the Ehrlich book and research?

And a question for us all to ponder: The book argues well that behind our current practices of and understandings of globalization lurk the entwined conception and technology of population, resource, energy, and environmental management on a global scale, which are enabled by new digital computer based processing, monitoring, and communication technology. But even today, many of the critics of global environmental action (say, to reduce and mitigate the effects of global warming) invoke another kind of globalization "planetary management" discourse, that of free markets and military interventions (in the name of "security" rather than "sustainability"), which seem to also have arisen in the early 1970s, when political and economic actors faced the beginning of the end of US manufacturing dominance (auto industry), US military effectiveness (Vietnam), and cheap fossil fuel energy (OPEC). To put it really simplistically, today does the dream of "planentary management" mean something broader and more contested? Does it belong to the right or the left? To the progressive or the conservative? Or does it somehow complicate and transcend these rough categories?