Technology and Culture Reading Group

TCRG – School of Culture and Communication – University of Melbourne

Month: March, 2013

“No SQL”

by lukevanryn

During his recent visit to Melbourne Paul Dourish gave a lecture to the school of Information Systems titled “No SQL: the Shifting Materialities of Databases”. He also spoke at RMIT’s Digital Interventions on his research into deep-space robotics.

In the talk he emphasised the plural nature of materialities, as opposed to what he calls “brute materiality”. Brute materiality characterises approaches that start with the physical requirements of computing: geographic proximity to existing data centers, sufficient power for servers, a cool climate to reduce air conditioning costs and so on.

The materialities of databases, on the other hand, refers to a broader category of things that get in between a conceptual problem and a programmeable solution. Paul gave the example of IBM’s integration of the System R protocol, the hardware to run it, and the standards by which databases would be judged. Google by contrast originated on cobbled-together systems and so its “map reduce” routine distributes smaller operations among older, slower processors.

Later in the talk, Paul argued that the databasing schema comes with political effects bundled inside. The extension of object-oriented programming to philosophy (by Latour, Harman, Bogost et alii) would seem to be relevant to the lack of heirarchy in attribute-value systems. XML would seem, in contrast, to be an attempt to reinscribe hierarchy onto what is already (or should be) a schema-less world.

March 19 2013: Networks of Outrage and Hope

by lukevanryn

On Tuesday we’re reading the short opening chapter of Castells Networks of Outrage and Hope (2012). Castells sees social networking technologies as a key factor enabling the protest movements that characterised 2011: the Arab Spring, Indignidas, #OWS etc:

The characteristics of communication processes between individuals engaged in the social movement determine the organizational characteristics of the social movement itself: the more interactive and self-configurable communication is, the less hierarchical is the organization and the more participatory the movement.

Christian Fuchs systematically critiqued Castells’ book in a recent article, providing pretty strong evidence to suggest that older communication technologies (like talking face-to-face) were much more important than Castells suggests. It is linked below for further reading.

As usual, we meet in the Pierre Gorman Room, 1888 Building, from 4:30pm.

[PDF] Manuel Castells (2012) “Opening” Networks of Outrage and Hope. Polity.
[PDF] Christian Fuchs (2012) “Some Reflections on Manuel Castells’ Book…” Triple C 10(2)

March 12 2013: The New Spirit of Capitalism

by lukevanryn

How has a new and virulent form of capitalism—they label it a ‘connexionist’ or ‘network’ variant—with an even more disastrous impact on the fabric of a common life than its predecessors, managed to install itself so smoothly and inconspicuously in France, without attracting either due critical attention or any organized resistance from forces of opposition, vigorous a generation ago, now reduced to irrelevancy or cheerleading?

This is how Sebastian Budgen describes the question asked by The New Spirit of Capitalism in his review for the New Left Review [PDF].

Next week we will be discussing the book’s second chapter, “The Formation of the Projective City,” which analyses the ways that the network becomes not only a descriptive tool (e.g. Castells’ Rise of the Network Society) but a model of justice for contemporary capitalism.

One caveat: the chapter is rather long (60 pages). The argument is pretty well laid out, however, so you could skip over chunks of each section without missing too much. For those interested, I’ve also linked to an article-length treatment of the argument that Boltanski and Chiapello published around the release of the book in English.

[PDF] Boltanski, L., & Chiapello, E. (2005). “The Formation of the Projective City” The New Spirit of Capitalism (G. Elliott, Trans.). London: Verso.
[PDF] Boltanski, L., & Chiapello, E. (2005). The New Spirit of Capitalism. International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 18(3-4), 161-188.