Testing technology in the street: what new competences for an intelligent future?

Friday 24th of August

Participatory Design Conference 2018, Keynote

14:00 – 15:00
Hasselt University, in the Old Prison

Over the last decade or so, intelligent technology testing has moved from relatively enclosed environments like the laboratory, the factory-floor and the home into public spaces, such as the street. This places new demands on the capacities of the actors involved – engineers, citizens, social researchers, policy makers and designers, … – to envision a shared, societal future. One way to sum up this challenge is by modifying a well-known and enigmatic precept: In the 1990s, engineering was defined as “sociology by other means” (Law, 1991), but to make this true today we need to add new elements, namely participation and design.

In her lecture, Noortje will unpack and advance this claim by investigating a series of recent street trials of intelligent vehicles in the UK and elsewhere. Drawing on empirical materials, from fieldwork notes to debate maps and a design exercise, Noortje will first show how some key elements go missing in contemporary street trials of driverless cars, and how, for this reason, they risk to fail in their attempt to put a proposed technological future to a societal test. Some trials bracket contestation among road users (drivers, cyclists, pedestrians), while others render the social environment passive, reducing it to a décor for machine performance. The result of this is not only to render the societal future unreal, but also, stupid.

So how, then, can design and social research be combined to re-introduce the missing elements, and stage a public encounter between actors, forces and visions – the car system, the ecological future – that so often remain mute to one another, and which, accordingly, fails to take place?

Photo by Luis Oliviera (2016)

From the Lab to the Street?

Mapping the Issues of Driverless Cars with Digital Methods

12 February, 2018, 15:30 – 18:30
University of Edinburgh

Joint Workshop
Depts of Sociology and Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

This workshop considered the use of digital methods of issue mapping to elucidate a substantive question: how have driverless cars been received ‘in society’? In the UK, street trials of driverless cars have been on-going since at least 2016 on motorways and in city centres. Social media provide a prominent site for analysing public engagement with this form of innovation “in society” and, as I will argue, they may even allow us to investigate how relations between debate forums and field sites are being configured as part of this innovation drive. The workshop will start with a presentation of the case, and of preliminary results of analysing driverless car tests in social media, in particular Twitter and Youtube. In the second half of the workshop, participants will be invited to produce an issue map of their own using social media data. We will conclude with a discussion about the capacity of issue mapping to render analys-able changing relations between field and platform, street and laboratory, in a digital society.

About fake news, social sharing and its blind spots

Studium Generale Lecture
Maastricht University

Monday 30 October 2017

This lecture has now been published as “Why we can’t have our facts back” in Engaging Science, Technology and Society (July 2018)

On 30 October, Noortje will give a lecture about the blind spots in social sharing at the University of Maastricht.

In reaction to scandals about ‘fake news’, digital services such as “Full Fact” have been developed to flag up dubious content online. Such services propose new ways to solve an old problem: how can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate information sources? However, today’s digital solutions to this longstanding “problem of demarcation” risk to reproduce an old blindspot: they suggest that the main problem is with social media content itself. But the ways in which content circulates online equally plays a role.

In this lecture, I will argue that the wider design principles that inform social media are partly responsible for the lack of respect for knowledge in the online public sphere. Platforms like Twitter rely on “social algorithms” to select sources for disclosure: they distinguish between valuable and invalid sources on the basis of how widely they are shared. Such principles are not very well attuned to the requirements of democratic communication. While many digital media algorithms are social, they are not sociological: they treat online activity as behaviour, and do not sufficiently appreciate the political effects that arise from interactions between media, technology and people.

Situated Analytics at ETHOS LAB (ITU Copenhagen)

A seminar with Noortje Marres on digital platforms, networked imagery and ethnographic description

Thursday, September 21, 2017 at 12-16:00 in room 5A14/16 at IT University of Copenhagen, Rued Langgaards Vej 7, 2300 Copenhagen S.

Organized and sponsored by the ETHOS Lab and the Data as Relation research project/Velux Foundation.

The seminar asks: How to understand interconnected, digital platforms and online, networked imagery as materials that prompt new forms of ethnographic descriptions? How might the multiplying of environments transform our interpretative practices and theoretical inquiries? What might speculative, experimental or creative takes on ethnographic description (situated analytics) offer in this regard?

Digital platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and others are by now an integral part of social life for many and form environments for organizational world-making. Michel Callon has proposed that social scientists follow the world-building activities of actors, whose concerns they share. In this workshop, we take up the baton, firstly, by focusing on world-making activities in which the presence of digital platforms and the interactions between them are pivotal. And, secondly, by attending to our own interpretation and theory-building of world-making activities on and across digital platforms.

We are interested in the conditions of being ‘a following science’ in a ‘platform society’ where the social is always-already digitally and algorithmically shaped. For the techno-sociologist, -anthropologist, or STS researcher the situation is becoming slightly complicated by this pre-formatting. Not only is there no social context available for analysis (we got rid of that long time ago with ANT), but there is no technical context either, as environments are multiplying. Rather than environments for the happening of the social, the environments have themselves become events in the face of ongoing, constantly transforming social and organizational realities.

Digital Sociology Booklaunch

Amsterdam launch of Digital Sociology by Noortje Marres,
Perdu, Kloveniersburgwal, June 28, 2017

With: Willem Schinkel (Erasmus University), Justus Uitermark (University of Amsterdam) and Richard Rogers (University of Amsterdam)

London Book launch and panel discussion: Social Imaginaries: The re-invention of social research
Central Saint Martins, Granary Square, 9 May, 2017

With: Les Back (Goldsmiths), Lucy Kimbell (UAL), Hannah Knox (UCL), Noortje Marres (Warwick), Mike Savage (LSE), and Amanda Windle (UAL)

BLOG POST By E. Ruppert, Big Data & Society, 24 May 2017


Hosted by:
– Innovation Insights Hub, University of the Arts London
– Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick
– Warwick in London

The digital makes possible new ways of monitoring, analysing and intervening in social life. Critics have pointed at the new forms of surveillance and control that this makes possible, and to new types of data economies. But the creation of new forms of knowledge about social life is central to efforts to implement digital infrastructures: they enable the introduction of new kinds of actionable insight into society. At the same time, however, the liking-and-sharing economy has recently been exposed to serve power more than truth. In this context, how can we communicate the constructive potential of the insight that knowing is a social process? What can be the role of social research in digital societies? This is the issue that Digital Sociology (Marres, 2017) examines, and one that this event will explore by way of a panel discussion about the following proposition: in a digital age, “knowing society” becomes an inherently interdisciplinary undertaking, one that requires mutual engagement, and thrives on creative exchange, between computing, social sciences, and the arts.