Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Related article

In case anyone is interested, I've attached a link to an article below. It is from 2004, and in it, Charles Shaw deals with a few of the issues we've discussed in class, mainly the physicality of infrastructure and questions of place within electronic networks. It is basically about Chicago's push to become the central hub in global knowledge circuits. A quick but interesting read.


Activism in the Network Society

Related to the “scaling up the network” note, I heard about something called a “cell phone protest” on Democracy Now this Monday. A Congolese student activist studying in DC encouraged people to turn off their cell phone last Wednesday and change their voice mail in order to bring attention to the conflict in the Congo. Clearly there are many ways to get creative in using ICTs to bring attention to issues of justice around the world.

Our discussion today and Juris’ description of the networking logic that brings together multiple movements and organizations in global justice movements made it seem like there is much potential for these movements, now aided by this “cultural logic of networking.” But as Jim suggested today regarding post-Seattle/WTO activism, I wonder how much it is fear of larger (in terms of more, but also better organized) movements that is leading such actors as the RNC and the city of Minneapolis police to take more preemptive measures to stop large protest events from occurring. Is there more (or less!) space for social conflict where the network meets the man?

Optional Readings: Network Analysis

If you read the four optional articles related to network analysis I would consider reading them in the following order: Emirbayer & Goodwin; Granovetter; Downey; and MacPherson. If you only read two then I would read the last two. They are the most insightful (and shortest).

Emirbayer & Goodwin provide an overview of the emergence and evolution of network analysis in sociology (with an eye toward the analysis of historical processes done by social theorists and historical sociologists). They critique three major approaches towards doing network analysis (structuralist determinism, structuralist instrumentalism, and structuralist constructionism). While recognizing that these approaches each bring something to the table, they argue that previous attempts at network analysis inadequately conceptualize the complex interactions between culture, networks, and agency. They argue that cultural formations can be analyzed autonomously (i.e., independent of their interrelationship with networks). Historical processes are structured in part by cultural and political discourses, as well as by networks of social interaction. In other words, while network analysis serves as a tool for social analysis by bringing to light the patterned relationships between historical actors, it fails to take into account the dynamics of the cultural moment – e.g., it ignores the actors (and their identity/identities) and the role of their ideals, values, beliefs in shaping networks and historical processes. They also ask, but don’t answer: how are networked relationships reproduced and reconfigured over time?

In his article for this week, Granovetter (1983) builds on his hypothesis that in many cases weak social/network ties are more important than strong social/network ties. He mainly does this by presenting research studies that use his 1973 paper “The Strength of Weak Ties” as either their starting off point or as a theory to help explain emergent findings. Note that Granovetter does not cite research that contradicts his earlier assertions. He does, however, use the studies to make his original claims more nuanced. In the end, he concludes that context is important in analyzing weak ties and not all weak ties are created equally. He also suggests that network analysis needs to be concerned with developing more dynamic models that seek to understand how systems develop and change. It seems that Emirbayer and Goodwin would question Granovetter’s emphasis on conducting a structural analysis of networks at the expense of better understanding the cultural contexts and actors involved.

Greg reviews three books that have “Network Science” in their title. Why three books with this phrase in the title and why now? One, network analysis has found its way into numerous disciplines and “has reached a ‘critical state’ of its own”. Two, the books are an attempt to legitimize the network analysis as a science.

As part of his review Greg raises some of the same key concerns / themes that have been part of our class discussions. For example:

  • What is the purpose of network science – how can it help us understand the networked world, especially as they play out “on the ground” in a messy, heterogeneous world?
  • How do network scientists conceptual distance? The notion of distance is network analysis is static and de-contextualized and does not take into account new forms of mass communication. It also fails to account for cultural, social, and economic complexities (e.g., language differences, socio-economic class).
  • Be concerned about the universal claims of network science. Pay special attention to how it can be used to explain and naturalize power, hierarchy, inequality, exclusion etc.
  • What can other disciplines (read Geography) add to the critique and theoretical development of network analysis?

McPherson explores the online world of Neo-Confederates to challenge some of the beliefs about cyberspace as placeless. She also problematizes the notion that cyberspace provides a utopian playground where people experiment with and project multiple identities.

She is concerned about racial identity as it plays out online (especially as it ties to the neo-Confederate South) and claims that neo-Confederate sites are engaged in a process of cyberwhitening issues of race by shifting from traditional or overt discourses of race to more covert ones.

She also suggests that for the neo-Confederates, the web is not placeless. Instead, she argues that the web is a new battle ground where neo-Confederates are at work developing a cyber-mediated South (what I might call a New, New South). McPherson notes that the South (and the type of Southron) projected through the sites is not geographically bound, plays up Lost Cause sentiments, and promotes a specific version or vision of white, southern masculinity.

A few questions come to mind for me: 1) Wasn’t there already a more covert path taken by Southrons prior to the web? For example, Michael Grissom published Southern by the Grace of God (The Rebel Press) in 1988. If so, this challenges that claim that cyberspace was THE cause of this shift 2) My own quick review of 20 or so sites uncovered a lot more overt racism than I would have guessed from McPherson’s analysis. While I did find some sites that negotiated or sidestepped race “more covertly”, I also found many that were less concerned with being covert.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Network Society Part 2 of Part 2

Picking up where Dale left off, here’s a summary of part 7 and the afterward with occasional commentary.

Tubella is interested in the collective identity that is being (re)constructed by the new media of the globalizing world. Looking at sub-national autonomous television, she finds that the creation of Catalan Television has been “instrumental in normalizing Catalan culture, recovering knowledge of the language, and strengthening the country’s cohesion” (395). Tubella makes a bold claim that “cultural and collective identities are constructed in new ways that signal a fundamental transformation of human experience” (387). But I don’t think her evidence sufficiently backs up this claim about “fundamental transformation.” Also the connection between this chapter’s argument to the network society (which she calls a “new language” for analysis, 386) and the Internet (of which clear evidence of identity building does not exist, 398) are weak at best.

Chatterjee uses a case study of television structures in India to challenge claims of cultural hegemony/media imperialism, reporting “the gradual importation of media products into developing countries was mitigated by the state’s control over television, limiting the contradictions surrounding the creation of independent systems that relied on the West” (416). In the Indian example, community and regional elite were able to extend control over these media channels, despite the efforts of “well-resourced external players” (405), such as Star TV.

Himanen revisits the three primary characteristics of Weber’s “Protestant ethic” and revises them to construct the “hacker ethic” of the network age. For him, the hacker ethic is epitomized by 1) a culture of innovation arising from creative passion, 2) a new emphasis on project-based work which leads to more self-managed time, and 3) the importance of financial markets where money is made from money. Although Himanen tries to distinguish the hacker ethic from the dot-com economy, his analysis is clearly situated in a late 90’s mentality. To add to his misfires, he glowingly compares the hacker ethic to Florida’s concept of the creative class (425), naively claims IT “makes it possible to transcend time and place” (427), and optimistically(?) sees the culture of innovation creating “a culture of people fulfilling themselves with creative joy both in their work and leisure lives” (430).

Williams closes the collection by providing a historical perspective to the preceding discussions of technology. As “technology” is rather new as a concept, “[t]he emergence of the history of technology is therefore an inherently presentist application of a category of current importance back into history where technological activities abounded, but where the concept of technology as an historical agent was absent.” (437). Still she cautions scholars to avoid the tendency to substitute technology for history, but rather recognize that “technology and history cannot be separated, and we are destined to create history as well as technology” (447).

First half of the second half of Network Society

Doesn’t really do it justice, but here are sections five and six of The Network Society in 250 words:

E-learning is a significant factor in education, though teaching and learning have not radically changed. E-learning provides flexibility in education but employs many of the methods of the traditional classroom. Bates’ wonders: who benefits from an e-learning environment?

Centralized health websites have great information but not the popularity or psychological support of decentralized sites. Doctors approve of the self-health care initiative but really don’t want emails from their patients. Katz, Rice and Acord say the greatest potential of e-health is still unrealized: universal access to individualized patient information management and resource tools.

Servon and Pinkett argue access to and the ability to use technology is necessary to combat income inequality. Community technology centers help, providing services from access and assistance to job training and placement. While somewhat successful, they lack both funding and a repeatable model.

Technology-based social movements are an alternative political structure, with the anarchist ideals of grassroots autonomy and direct democracy. As global media networks, they exchange mobilization messages with a diverse audience. Juris says they will spark changes in – not replace – current political institutions and processes.

The internet is a new political space, used most commonly as simply another delivery method for top-down information, but with the potential – as demonstrated by Howard Dean in 2003 – to facilitate uncontrolled democratic participation in the political process; to circumvent the media-determined confines of political discussion; and, most importantly, to fundraise. These functions, Sey and Castells argue, will address the crisis of legitimacy in today’s politics created by media framing.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Castells' Binary Logic of Inclusion/Exclusion

I read with interest Castells' hypothesis on pg.23 that discusses a structural feature of the network... one that, "allows the network to search for valuable additions everywhere and to incorporate them, while bypassing and excluding those territories, activities and people that have little or no value for the performance of the tasks assigned to the network."

Networks, according to Castells, work on the basis of a binary logic of inclusion/exclusion, to gain position, to communicate and to outcommunicate.

I have to admit that I really dislike the idea of excluding people in society. It's possible that I feel that way because I have regularly been a part of the excluded. As a tribal member having grown up on a reservation and later having worked on another reservation, I am well aware of how certain groups are excluded and often, in my opinion, they are excluded for no particularly good reason except the lack of money.

As I read the section on Russia it occurred to me that their lack of infrastructure and access was similar to what many tribal members face living on remote reservations. Companies that offer broadband services or cable T.V. do not see reservation communities as particularly desirable in terms of their size and probable number of new customers, especially when considering the cost of bringing the technology to remote areas.

The lack of technology or "network" connection can have many adverse affects. I worked as the Education Director for the Lac du Flambeau tribe, which is located in northern Wisconsin, for the past 14 years. In that role, I saw first-hand what happens to people who are excluded from the "network". It was not uncommon for at least 50 percent of my students, especially those aged 30 and up, not to have an e-mail address. About 80 percent lacked a computer of any sort and relied on the computers of friends, relatives or the local library to check their free e-mail accounts or to do their homework. Of course, this also hinged on transportation. If an individual does not have a car and lives 17 miles from town, access to a computer becomes a once a week luxury rather than a daily or hourly necessity.

While television access is not usually considered a luxury, it can be in rural, remote locations. There was cable T.V. service in Lac du Flambeau until about four years ago when road construction disrupted the service and the company went bankrupt. Since then tribal members have had to use rabbit ear or roof mounted antennas or subscribe to satellite. Satellite service was of course limited to those individuals who actually had a credit card for payment.

Lack of credit and poor financial literacy greatly affects an individual's access to technology. About 40 percent of my students had no telephone access and relied on friends and relatives' cell phones as contact numbers. Some 90 percent of my students had no checking or savings accounts. Many did not have tax forms from the previous year, or copies of their employment, unemployment, social security or social services income forms. Due to lack of computer or internet skills, getting copies of these forms was often difficult, which made filling out their federal application for student financial aid challenging. Of course I bring all this up to characterize the roadblocks encountered when living and functioning in a world of network exclusion.

Castells points out that the global network society is dominant over activities and people who are external to the networks(p.23). In the case of rural reservations where access to technology is limited and financial literacy is rare, tribal members pay the price by being unable to apply for financial aid, by not being able to easily participate in online courses, by paying high interest rates on tax-season loans because they have no checking or savings accounts for electronic payments and must either take out a short-term loan or wait six or more weeks for a paper check to arrive in the mail.

I hope that somehow the global network society finds a way to include the excluded. Unfortunately, I believe that until individuals who are currently being excluded can be seen as having value for the capitalistic society we live in, the status quo will remain. Exclusion means continued road blocks to entry into universities. Exclusion also means that creating new businesses will be hampered due to lack of infrastructure, lack of credit history, lack of computer skills and lack of external support which will continue to discourage any form of upward mobility.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Castells’ Network Society and the Space of Flows in 250 Words or More

Castells sets the theoretical stage for the book by boldly arguing that we live in a new society (1970s – present) constructed around microelectronic-based information and communication technologies. This society is organized according to a logic of networks, rather than hierarchies, and is enhanced by the “flexibility, scalability, and survivability” of our sociotechnical environments.

Crucial for understanding his argument is the historical trajectory he paints for the emergence of this new form of social organization. He claims that 3 historical and independent processes converged to create the social structure of the network society:

  • the crisis and restructuring of global political-economic relations associated with the dismantling of the welfare state and widespread deregulation of state-owned markets
  • the freedom-loving hippies, environmentalists, feminists, and other cultural movements that eventually come to symbolize anti-globalization
  • the ‘revolution’ and developments in whacky information electronics and technologies

These processes became intertwined in unintentional ways to constitute a fundamental departure from industrial society (and presumably its predecessors). Its impact was the reconfiguration of work, labor, and value. Most critical to our analysis of Castells are the implications of his theories for power.

In a way clearly influenced by the Actor-Network Theory of B Latour and the disciplinary (productive) capacity of M Foucault’s power, Castells casts networks as an assemblage of overlapping networks governed by rules encoded within protocols of connectivity. Governments, the media institutions, individual leaders, and wealthy classes are not the holders of power. Instead power is exercised via the network itself through sets of exclusions and inclusions, the recoding of network alignments and procedures (“programmers”) or the connecting of different networks (“switchers”).

Castells attempts to distinguish his conception of the network society from other models of social organization. For one, ours in neither a knowledge nor an information age. Rather, information and communication have special meaning because of the specifically digitalized, electric-power nature of our current communications infrastructure. This network society is crucially characterized by simultaneous “time-sharing” without contiguity, a “space of flows” where the spaces of place are subordinated to nodal points within the network. Finally, Castells sees a post-industrial culture of innovation, yes, but also of collaborative and creative processes that supplant even the content flowing throughout the network in importance.

And then there’s chapters 2 – 10.

The Network Society

I tried to keep this short, but apparently I didn’t try hard enough…

Informationalism, Networks and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint, Manuel Castells

Castells hypothesizes that the inherent culture behind a networked society is based on the synergy from giving and receiving. He proposes that this culture is a culmination of the communication between all cultures in the world and points to emerging networks (as interacting cultures) as having a common desire to place value in sharing. Networks based on technology thrive when flexibility, scalability and survivability are given proper consideration but he rejects the idea that either social evolution or technology inevitable results in a networked society.

Castells proposes that three independent processes contributed to the rise of the network society: the cultural movement of the 60’s and 70’s, the revolution in communication technologies and the restructuring of industrialism. By enabling a more open platform for the exchange of human thought, innovation became a commodity that was funded heavily by venture capitalists as new business models emerged.

Institutional Models of the Network Society: Silicon Valley and Finland, Pekka Himanen and Manuel Castells

The vastly different social and institutional models of Silicon Valley and Finland are examined to provide insight into the growth of each network society. Himanen and Castells compare and contrast the “unfettered capitalism” atmosphere historically present in Silicon Valley with the “comprehensive welfare state” that exists in Finland. The article addresses the expansive technology industry in Silicon Valley, but focuses primarily on Nokia in Finland. Citing a high tax rate, the chapter explains that although a high value is placed on innovation in Finland, entrepreneurship is rather hamstrung.

The flows of talent for the two areas are intrinsically different based on state controls, which the authors feel have a substantial impact on long term growth. Although private businesses and government are key actors for growth in both regions, fundamentally different approaches provide different atmospheres for innovation.

The Russian Network Society, Elena Vartanova

With a somewhat simple assessment, Vartanova looks at the concept of the network society after the collapse of the USSR and the following change in intellectual paradigms. Privatization, liberalization and decentralization spawned a new elite assembly in the form of young, rich urban dwellers that became the core of the network society. The transformation of the internet from an academic enterprise into a mainstream social device has been met with technical and social obstacles, while demand is increasing on par with the rest of the developed world. Vartanova does not address intellectual property rights in Russia, which many see as an obstacle to technological development.

The Internet in China, Jack Linchuan Qiu

Among other topics, Qiu provides an interesting perspective on the issue of internet censorship within China. The censorship effort and controls by the government generate profits, creates jobs, and allows international collaborators to work with China in a growing global industry. Qui’s viewpoint helps to explain why censorship continues to expand, even with growing international criticism.

Reflexive Internet? The British Experience of New Electronic Technologies, Steve Woolgar

Wooglar’s self proclaimed “more epistemological than sociological” discussion regarding Britain’s overall view of technological acceptance outlines a set of rules developed by the Virtual Society? program. The rules address issues such as new technology uptake, social distribution of fear, virtual technologies as supplements for the real world and globalization. Overall, the studies point to a trend toward analytic skepticism on the part of British observers.

Why Information Should Influence Productivity, Marshall Van Alstyne and Nathaniel Bulkley

Alstyne and Bulkley propose a set of 12 hypotheses which aim to explain how the management of information influences white-collar productivity. The role of information as a tool for productivity is examined by comparing total input with output. The authors seemingly raise questions that may be explored in the future as new avenues of research into business practices intended to increased productivity.

Labor in the Network Society: Lessons from Silicon Valley, Chris Benner

Benner addresses the fundamental difference between work and employment within a flexible labor market. Intermediaries within the Silicon Valley labor market played a major role in the formation and outcome of the dot com environment. These “risky” labor markets, according to Benner, were a contributing factor on power relations with regard to their impact on career outcomes.

Time, Space and Technology in Financial Networks, Caitlin Zaloom

Zaloom’s informative chapter on financial networks examines the technological evolution of the Chicago Board of Trade from a trading pit based exchange to an electronic network. Prior to the modern transformation, the pit was a space with physical and social overlap. Relationships were formed with as a result of the constant social interaction between traders. The electronic network reshaped the physical and social spaces by favoring traders who seemed to thrive as isolated individuals. Technology not only altered the overall function of the trading floor, but redefined the ideal personality traits of successful traders.

Questions about The Network Society

I am interested in hearing the reaction to Manuel Castells’ theory of network society. I find several troubling things about it:

1. Castells claims (page 5) electronic technology makes networks efficient. I wonder: efficient at what? I argue efficiency implies some positive result. People can communicate more with email and text messages in addition to non-electronic communication, but are they happier, wiser or wealthier for it?

2. Do geneticists, like Castells, link electronic communications and genetic engineering? I had never considered these as parallel developments (and I am still having trouble fitting them into the scope and aims of this text).

3. Does socialization (as Castells claims on page 30) happen online? With an idea of the use and content of the internet, this idea frightens me. I am relieved that studies find online social activity follows and complements offline social activity, leading me to argue that socialization occurs offline and that the rules and norms of interpersonal interaction are transferred, and adapted to, online activity.

On a different note, Keith Hampton argues that network society will not erase communities of shared place and I agree. Wisconsinite communities spring up in many other states; while we may not talk to neighbors, place still gives us a reason to treat total strangers as instant friends. I once had a friend start a conversation in a bar over a credit card – it was from a local credit union and we both knew immediately that the stranger next to us shared our home town. Not only can electronic technology strengthen ties to place, it can advertise that connection.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

related blog

I read this blog tonight ( and thought it was pretty interesting in light of our class. In it, the author engages with the question of what urbanism in the future will look like. The author points to three interrelated urban growth patterns: Dubai's model of a city with no urbanism, developing world informal or slum cities, and American sprawl of the boomburg (or edge city). All three are brought together by an idea of infrastructure that recalls Tarr's idea of the sinews of the city, although in the case of Dubai and the American boomburg, much of this infrastructure is missing. These cities seem to exist as cities with no connectivity, collections of buildings but no urbanism. Developing world urbanism, on the other hand, has too much urbanism but not enough city:

These are not cities in any recognised infrastructural or legislative sense; they are, rather, dense collections of buildings. In contrast to Dubai’s Atari–like desert failure, with its arid combination of over-thought business plans and an absolute lack of content, these super-slums compress far too much content into a radically unplanned space.

It is interesting to think about these cities in light of our current reading of Cities in the Telecommunications Age. We have talked about this in class a little, but it is always helpful to be reminded that there are still cities that are made up of pollution, excrement, and decay, as Mike Davis puts it. It is also interesting to think about how current modes of urbanism differ and move away from the model that Tarr puts forth. How do we account for Dubai, with its massively globalized financial market, and how do we account for developing world urbanism with a lagging physical infrastructure but access to cell phone communications and the internet? There is a huge role for networks and IT connectivity in all of these urban models, and it is interesting to think about the ways in which networks operate differently in different contexts.

Additionally, this post is somewhat interesting:

It basically deals with the idea of authentic vs. inauthentic geographies, mainly in light of presidential politics. The author details the ways in which historic landscapes of small town community are presented as more real than a big city cosmopolitan landscape. Tonight's repeated mentioning of Joe The Plumber should make the idea pretty clear. What is interesting though is that the author references the fact that in the US right now, there are more World of Warcraft players than farmers. I'm curious about authenticity in light of telecommunications, and the ways in which face-to-face communication differs from email or chatrooms in its relation to questions of authenticity.

Madison's Lost City

Speaking of city planning...

Concrete housing foundations, walls, open paths that were once sidewalks and roads, and a long cement street now buried underground are all that remain of Madison's own Lost City.

In 1917, the Lake Forest Land Company began dredging the marsh in order to build the best neighborhood south of Lake Wingra. But the concrete paving sank in the ooze of the marshy area – and the company went bankrupt in 1922. Now the area is called the "Lost City."

Arboretum naturalist Susan Simonson says the natural environment was not stable enough for a housing development.

University of Wisconsin Madison News --

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The City and Technology - Joel A. Tarr

Joel A. Tarr explores the role of technology in creating the “sinews” of the city, such as roads, water and sewer lines, power and communication systems and transit networks. Tarr examines the development of the modern city through advancements in technology, infrastructure and public works.

Between 1790-1870, there was little geographical separation between work and residence for most inhabitants within the city, increasing the need for several public works. The provisioning of water supplies was a major problem for growing cities as the population density increased. The uneven distribution of water systems throughout the city resulted in human wastes being stored in cesspools or cellars and the introduction of the water closet increased the dangers associated with the overflow of wastewater. The fragmented, decentralized system was eventually overhauled by civil engineers who made use of the current techniques but also had to invent a few along the way.

Advancements in transportation enabled a broader distribution of inhabitants inside and outside the city from 1870-1920. Tarr argues that new transportation systems, such as the electric street car, triggered both “deconcentration and concentration” trends, permitting affluent residents to separate their urban jobs from their suburban homes while limiting working class people to jobs closer to their houses. Better transportation introduced new consumer venues such as the department store and also opened up real estate markets that may have been perceived as somewhat inaccessible.

One of the most technologically influential factors in the development and spread of the city, according to Tarr, was the wide adoption of the automobile from 1920-2000. Vehicle ownership went from one car per 201 people to one car per 5.3 people from 1910 to 1930. Aside from the obvious value in person transportation, state and federal revenues were generated from gasoline sales which lead to new road networks on the local and national level.

Tarr’s division of city progression into three stages (the walking city, the network city and the automobile city) shows defined yet overlapping eras of technological innovation. His chapter illustrates the connection between innovation and expansion but more time could have been spent addressing the negative aspects associated with rapid urban development.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cities Part V - Case Studies

Restructuring Writ Invisibly – Cellular Telephone Systems as a Means for Tracking Urban Circulation

Christopher Bertaut’s main hypothesis is that existing roadways and roadway traffic determines the spatial layout of cellular facilities. Using a case study approach he compares roadway networks, traffic counts, and cell tower construction around Gwinnet Co. (Atlanta), Georgia and shows a strong correspondence between the road systems and the location and spacing of cell towers. He concludes that cell phone services are at most an enabling factor in the restructuring of the county. Bertaut generalizes by relating his findings to Graham’s argument that space of places is strongly tied to exiting infrastructures. Bertaut predicts that cell phone use will increase as companies become more horizontal and break into smaller operating units. He also predicts the increase in cell phone use in cars, but fails to mention the “hang-up and drive” backlash.

The Political Salience of the Space of Flows – ICT and the Restructuring City

Alan Southern frames his analysis around Castell’s notions of informational mode of development and space of flows. In essence - if Castell’s is right then cities need to build these frameworks into their economic development / restructuring plans. Southern looks at the city of Sunderland’s (England) local economic development plan and notes how they integrated an ICT component.

Sunderland’s telematics strategy (which is an extension of their previous economic plans) includes four core themes:

1. Infrastructure
2. New Inward Development (i.e., developing a workforce that will attract and support ICT)
3. Life Long Learner (i.e., retraining a flexible knowledge-based workforce)
4. Quality of Life (e.g., more access to information, especially for re-training the work force and making local planning decisions)

In the end, the argument is that local governments can (and should) play a role in shaping the space of flows.

People Versus Place –Telecommunications and Flexibility Requirements of the CBD

Leigh uses a cross-case analysis to explore how CBDs (central business districts) in two major cities (Chicago and Atlanta) are (re-)developing in the telecommunications age. She asks: Will vacancies and underutilization lead to the decline of central city CBDs in these cities? Well, it depends on the context… For example, she argues that an inner-city CBD thrives in Chicago, while CBDs in Atlanta developed on the metro fringe.

Leigh uses her findings to challenge some of the arguments laid out by Graham & Marvin and Castells. She suggests that they overstate the continued primacy of central cities (and inner-city CBDs) by paying too little attention to the rise of corporate front offices (not just “back offices) in the suburbs or edge cities (e.g., in the case of Atlanta). In other words, the rise of CBDs in the burbs is not simply an extension of central city, but an entirely new CBD. She points to Sears as an example of a company that moved wholesale from the city (Chicago) to the suburbs. Interestingly, she cites research that links these types of corporate shifts to the residential location of CEOs and workers. That is, CEOs and workers want their offices close to where they live (i.e., the suburbs). She also claims that cheap land and lease rates, ample parking, and flexible design (especially being able to design buildings that meet new the technology needs) facilitate the growth of suburban / metro fringe CBDs.

As mentioned, Leigh complicates this formula by noting that Chicago was able to maintain a downtown CBD. Reasons for this include:

Older buildings were retrofit to support ICT
Chicago has a well-developed inner-city metro system
The city used zoning, land use planning, incentives, environmental remediation to (re)-create a “live and work” central city
Face-to-face is still needed (especially in select sectors – e.g., access to courts, city hall, etc.)

Her study moves the debate forward by supplying empirical evidence and findings that complicate things.

Travel, Gender, and Work – Emerging Commuting Choices in Inner-City Phoenix

Elizabeth Burns presents a case study of commuting behavior to and from inner-city Phoenix. First, she looks at broad regional survey data related to resident and non-resident commuting patterns. Then, she focuses on two cases. The first looks at telecommuting in Phoenix and the second looks at commuting behaviors associated with a specific workplace – Sky Harbor International Airport. She is interested in a few questions: 1) What do commuter patterns look like in Phoenix? 2) How do these patterns breakdown in relation to gender, residence, and occupation? 3) What do these patterns tell us about changes in the workplace or the amount of flexibility workers have when it comes to traveling to and from work?

Here are some of her findings:

1) telecommuting in Phoenix is not prevalent (2% telecommute once a week and only half of this group telecommutes more than one day a week)
2) telecommuting needs to be considered in relation to specific work locations and occupations
3) flexible scheduling is more common than telecommuting (20% of the workers in the study have compressed schedules) Burns suggests that this might be a reaction to decentralization – i.e., longer shifts over fewer days equals less commuting
4) decentralized development patterns are not aligned with the Phoenix public transportation system, so decentralization promotes car travel (for comparison, think of taking the bus to Middleton)
5) occupation (and potentially related factors such as class) is a factor in determining whether or not a worker will carpool
6) more women than men telecommute, but occupation is a key factor (e.g., women telecommute to jobs in education and public administration, while men telecommute to manufacturing locations).

Burns use of case studies is helpful in pushing back at some of the broader arguments highlighted earlier in the book. She also gets us a little closer to understanding how some of the themes and arguments from the book play out, or perhaps more importantly, don’t play out in cities (especially when you look across class, gender, occupation, etc.). It seems that there is still some room to build on these cases. For example, exploring workers’ individual circumstances, stories and lived experiences as they relate to decisions over where to work (and how to get there) would further contextualize the survey data.

Competition and Proximity: Spillover in a hobby community

As I read the article about knowledge spillover dynamics, I started thinking about how knowledge spillover works in my dance group. We do international folk dance, and the liveliness of our group depends on whether people know the dances. We have a repertoire of hundreds of dances, but only a handful of people are prepared to lead dances, and that handful typically only leads the dances they like. The rest of us usually follow along in a long line. I've been part of two such communities in the last year, and it has been interesting is to watch what happens when there is a large international dance community as compared to a small one. When I moved to Boston last year I was excited because it is one of the meccas of international folk dance. I thought I could take advantage of high turnout and resulting knowledge spillover because there are over a thousand adherents spread out in the metropolitan area and beyond, as compared to Madison, which might have a hundred or so. However, when you compare the weekly and monthly evening dances in the Boston area to those in Madison, you'll find that the quality and diversity of the dance repertoire in Madison are regularly better than in Boston. It turns out that when you have a large dance community, there are more dance events, so the leaders (the knowledge sources) only go to a select few dance events. The other events struggle for energy, and often dances are requested that have no leader. Dance event coordinators from closer to the Boston area often envied those that lived further out because further out dances would regularly be well attended by a local contingent. That contingent would then develop a core repertoire familiar to most members, and (here I'm conjecturing) a larger percentage of members would take on leadership roles, including dance repertoire maintenance and expansion. This appears to be the opposite finding from Audretsch and Feldman's article, where more intense competition and spacial proximity created a richer response.

Perhaps the reason that Audretsch and Feldman's findings don't hold out here, besides the fact that I'm analyzing a radically different situation, is that I'm looking at it in the wrong scale. When you analyze at the size of a city full of dance groups, the competition is detractive to attendance. When you analyze at the level of a group; however, where competition occurs between dancers, and where proximity is measured in how often they dance together or have danced together, I think these factors do add up to a richer setting and more leadership. Friendship and shared dance skill sets can take the sting out of showing off and competitive behavior, and instead of dividing the group into leaders and followers, it will improve the overall atmosphere. This may be why the Madison group is so strong, and why a few groups that are defined by social unity more than geographical proximity in Boston seem to be more energetic. When we bring the inter-group competition for attendance back into consideration, we find that places with high dancer populations see more stratification in dance events based on skill sets than those with low dancer populations. Dancers will go to the dances their friends are at in Boston, and their friends are probably similarly skilled in dancing. This makes the atmosphere more attractive socially but can lead to problems when the the leader peer group does not attend. Madison does not see this trend because we all attend the same events, and therefore our peer group is based on geographical restrictions instead of skills sets. I would argue that that makes the Madison community stronger overall because knowledge is spilling over from those of high skill to those of low skill regularly. However, we do have a smaller total number of leaders in Madison than in Boston. It is hard to say if we have maintained our repertoire better than the Boston community however. It is possible.

Returning to innovation, I wonder if we could explain the successes of these industries with geographical focuses using peer groups. Could competition occurring within peer groups be more valuable? and geographical proximity allows for more specialized and more stratified peer groups to emerge? This would bring out a larger total number of more skilled people in one place, but could a weaker overall community result? I guess it seems unlikely, but I'm kind of curious what other factors are involved. The fact that people are employed in these industries instead of simply pursuing a hobby probably makes a big difference. Audretsch and Feldman's factor of access to innovation through institutions like universities also would make a difference, and I could probably write even more about that, since international folk dance groups are almost always in cities with big educational institutions, but I think this has become long enough. Thank you for reading.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I saw this book sitting on a table yesterday and decided to snap a couple of pictures because the content was related to our class discussion on wired cities.

It seems that one way to promote your message or vision is to produce graphs that don't level off in the way we discussed in class.

I will let you deconstruct the cover on your own.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The City of Bits Hypothesis, William J. Mitchell, 1999

Mitchell writes in his introduction that historians have engaged in the endless question as to the impact of technology on society. Is technology responsible for social and cultural construction? Or, is it that we create technology and then our technology changes us which in turn changes our society?

Mitchell considers what he calls the new economy of presence which he describes as the option of synchronous or asynchronous communication through telepresence [electronically mediated communication] or presence that is face-to-face. Presence choice occurs when an individual decides whether face-to-face presence is worth the time and money. Mitchell believes that people solve this problem of presence based on the context and circumstances. As technology progresses our choices are influenced by availability, reduced cost and quality, which Mitchell says creates a sort of competition for, “…our attention, our business and our loyalties.”(p. 6)

Although Mitchell’s initial discussion focused on technology and mediated or non-mediated presence, he quickly shows the reader how presence affects geographical and cultural contexts. People used to visit banks to deposit checks and cash through face-to-face non-mediated presence. The advent of ATM machines made it possible to forego any face-to-face presence. ATMs were conveniently located and open 24 hours a day. The loss of branch banks due to the rise in ATMS has had a profound effect on neighborhoods, especially low-income neighborhoods that are then cut off from access to banking services.

Similar shifts have occurred in news, as it moved initially from face-to-face, to print, to radio and television and then eventually to internet. Entertainment has been affected as well through a shift from live performances in theaters, clubs and sports to time shifted reception, recording, remote audio and video and now downloading entertainment from the internet. Retail has experienced shifts as well from traditional stores, vending machines, telemarketing and online malls.

Medical services delivery has experienced a shift in presence as well. High bandwidth networks now allow for imaging, monitoring and telerobotic devices that reduce the need for face-to-face presence between a doctor and his/her patient. I would add that telepresence also allows individuals from remote areas to receive health care when it may not have been possible in the past.

Safety and security have experienced similar shifts. Telecommunication has opened up the possibilities of remote surveillance which combined with remotely controlled security devices, fire alarms, car theft alarms and even defensive booby traps have changed the way safety and security services work.

According to Mitchell, the digital revolution is likely to have significant effects on the workplace, because technology has made it possible to telecommute, live further away from work, and conduct work in hotels, on airplanes and in airports, which impacts how these areas are designed. Businesses have reduced their need of permanent, private offices in lieu of electronically connected satellite offices that can be located in lower rent areas or in suburban areas where their workforce is located. As a result there is a much greater separation between management and production functions.

The separation of geographical space has been positively affected by the digital explosion by allowing people with specific expertise to work together via the internet and file sharing, no matter where they are located. But, regardless of the positives, Mitchell says there are multiple and sometimes conflicting consequences for the use of technology. Certain cities such as New York, London have become global cities due to their high concentrations of talent, computer and telecommunications technology. Global cities, according to Mitchell, play worldwide control and command roles

Mitchell questions how new technology and telecommuting could change the way we use our homes, whether we will require more space or a greater division or differentiation of space for the home office, media/entertainment, video gaming and etc.. Mitchell believes that if significant jobs shift from central office and commercial and industrial locations to residential neighborhoods, it will result in one of two scenarios. The positive scenario is that there may be opportunities to, “…create cohesive, small scale, pedestrian-oriented or bicycle-oriented neighborhoods that combine lively local social interaction and neighborhood service centers with electronic access to a much wider world of jobs and services.” (p.19) Mitchell’s negative scenario is that a shift could create walled, enclaves of privilege that lack social and cultural diversity as well as a mix of income levels.

In this changing digital world, Mitchell argues that we have to consider the virtual places as well as the physical ones, because the physical world and the virtual world are not as separate as one might believe. Our hybrid structures of real estate and virtual places are held together by a linkage of transportation and telecommunication. If we keep these observations in mind, we can develop a new urban typology that combines the completely traditional and place-based communities and all that they entail as well as fully virtual communities. Mitchell concludes on a positive but cautionary note when he says the digital revolution, like the agricultural and industrial revolution before it, opens up new possibilities for urban form and organization.

Stephen Graham—Bridging Urban Digital Divides? Urban Polarisation and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

This article extends Grahams investigations into the relations between ICTs and an intensifying, uneven global urbanization. Similar to his previous writings, Graham argues against naïve assumptions that the Internet means the disintegration of the real into cyberspace, the eminent democratization of information, or the dissolution of the city.

The first part of the paper explores the role ICTs play in an increasing polarization within cities between have’s with access to many infrastructure services (including ICTs) and have-not’s. These new “extremes of social and geographical unevenness” are considered within a broad context of social, political, economic, and cultural interconnections. Increased concentrations of wealth and power centered in key urban cities integrate well with a highly-privileged information economy.

The second part attempts to offer hope to this gloomy pronouncement. Though admittedly “weak, underfunded and fragmented,” grass-roots approaches to expand access, gain local control over content, and re-appropriate technology offer possible solutions. In the end, however, Graham holds deep ambivalence toward the potential for more equitable and democratic turns within the rapid advancement of ICTs.

Discussion questions:

While Graham appears to eschew technological determinism, in that the meaning of an ICT is always articulated within a particular context, ICTs at least are seen as facilitating the extension of power and the powerful, if not the source of extreme unevenness. What are the causal relations being asserted (either implicitly or explicitly) within this analysis? If ICTs do not play a causal role and are merely emerging alongside all other social/cultural/economic trends, then what’s the value of focusing on them?

If ICTs are implicated in the growth of a metropolitan, globally-connected elite economy, are they then not as equally implicated within the crises (and potential collapse) inherent within that economy? How do current events bolster or undermine Graham’s critique of ICTs and global urbanism?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Castells, First half of "Cities in the Telecommunications Age"

First Half, Cities in the Telecommunications Age

I began by outlining Castells’ chapter in the book, as it seemed the most interesting and useful for our class.

Castells, Manuel. Grassrooting the Space of Flows.

Castells begins the chapter by outlining his conception of The Space of Flows, the spatial organization of the Information Age. Broadly, this is a space “that allows for simultaneity of social practice without territorial contiguity” (19). It involves:

1. The existence of “territorial sprawl and locational concentration” (19), hinging on the infrastructural and physical existence of telecommunication systems alongside the universalism of the internet. This points to the concrete existence of places within the broader universal space, by virtue of the physicality of infrastructure and the needs of businesses and individuals to move towards agglomeration. He briefly mentions the importance of concentrated innovation in the new global economy.

2. “the space of flows is made up of nodes and hubs” (19): Wall Street, Ginza, MIT, etc. These are central parts of particular networks and are sites of interaction between physical places and universal networks.

3. It is characterized by the existence of the spaces that exist within these nodes – residential and commercial spaces that exist alongside telecom infrastructure and financial concentration.

4. It encompasses electronic spaces.

Castells argues that within this space, personal places still maintain. These are where meaning is created, generated, and concentrated, but Castells introduces two complications:

1. The Space of Flows is not placeless: it encompasses both physical and electronic spaces.
2. Electronic spaces are increasingly becoming sites of meaning-generation and contestation: Grassrooting the Space of Flows.

Castells articulates five ways in which this is occurring:

1. Personal communication and interaction by way of telecommunications and the internet.
2. Horizontal Communication and web-based alternative media.
3. Networks of cooperation organized on the internet: Seniornet is his example.
4. Social movements, political organizing on the web.
5. Virtual Cities and the interaction with actual, place-based citizenship and local democracy.

There are still issues of access and poverty though, and Castells suggests the idea of the world being made up of the interactive and the interacted, suggesting that broader access to education and critical thinking is important before the internet can be truly universal and liberating. With this qualification, internet users are still diverse and create a contestable space through the internet – “a plural and diversified space” (26).

For our purposes, there are a series of themes in Cities in the Telecommunications Age that seemed most relevant to us. After outlining Castells’ argument, it seemed like a waste of time to summarize eight articles. Instead, I focused on two themes that seemed most prominent and most interesting:

The intensification between agglomeration/centralization and dispersal/sprawl.

In many of these pieces, cities function as geographically emancipated by way of networks and telecommunications, yet dependent on infrastructural advantage and face-to-face interactions for growth and economic success. This is in direct contradiction to the literature, briefly summarized by Moss & Townsend, in which telecommunications hasten the decline of the city and physical place in general. Wheeler et al. demonstrate this more nuanced approach to telecommunications when they note, “Telecommunications thus facilitate the simultaneous concentration and deconcentration of economic activities” (8). Moss & Townsend investigate this interaction of flows and physicality in public spaces, the home, and travel. They articulate the ways in which telecommunication networks both strengthen and undermine physical places.

Barney Warf investigates the relationship between cyberspace and the body, the most intimately physical place available to us. Warf argues for a rejection of the Cartesian binary between the body and the mind, instead envisioning a relationship between the two in light of cyberspace and the web. Warf rejects the idea of purely cognitive communities on the net in favor of a conception of the internet that is both influenced by the body and influences the body. He mentions the inability of telecommunications to make up for the nuanced reality of human contact, obesity as a result of watching television, pornography, and virtual reality as ways in which the body and cyberspace interact. In a large sense, Warf is rejecting the annihilation of geography in some discourses by stressing the ways in which physicality and networks define and influence each other.

Graham and Marvin reject technological determinism in favor of an understanding that urban planning can influence and create desirable outcomes by interacting with telecommunications. In a sense, they are rejecting the ideas of centralization and dispersal, in favor of an understanding of our cities as works in progress. They look at the ways in which telecommunications can both increase and decrease the importance of the city, and argue that the changes may not be in the existence of cities, but instead in what our cities are. They discuss various ways in which telecommunications and city planning can interact in the service of sustainability and economic development.

Dodge and Shiode attempt to map the real estate of the internet, and find that most English owners of internet real estate are located in major cities in the country. It would be interesting to see how this has changed in the past ten years.

These tensions, dealt with by the above authors, relate very directly to our class topic, and the broad intersection between human geography and mass communication. A simple binary could be made by connecting dispersal with communications and concentration with geography. How do we reconcile this as students of communications and geography?

Unevenness of access.

This recurring theme is dealt with most directly by Sanyal in From Dirt Road to Information Superhighway. Sanyal mentions the possibilities of universal access, but ultimately is more concerned with the lack of social infrastructure in disadvantaged communities. He notes, “Without such social infrastructure [good schools, educated and technologically-receptive individuals] in place, no amount of electronic infrastructure and affordable hardware and software can ensure that the benefits of universal access will trickle down to the poor” (147). In other words, as difficult as it is to provide universal access, it is even more difficult to ensure that disadvantaged communities will be able to use telecommunications technology to their advantage.

Castells and Wheeler et al. discuss the unevenness of access as well, and Castells mirrors Sanyal’s claim that universal access is dependent on improvements in education in order to be productive. His idea of the interacted and the interactive speaks very directly to Sanyal’s argument. Graham and Marvin look into the creation of urban telecommunication projects in light of their capacity to create an “archipelago of enclaves” (93) in which elite, wired urbanites “live in cocooned (often sometimes walled) enclosures while still accessing personal and corporate transport and telematics networks” (93).

After these two themes, other broad themes that came to mind included:

The economics of innovation (Nokia) and the relationship to physical places.

The interactions between agency and technological determinism – How do we shape our own places and societies?

Not often there, but nonetheless relevant: the degree to which this book is outdated, pointing to the rapidity of change within our networked society.

Costs and benefits of teleworking and telecommunications. Broadly, the intersections between sustainability, economic development, and telecommunications.

The tensions between federal and state regulation of telecommunications. The issue of regulation of telecommunications is in itself a theme.