SCMS 2018 Toronto “Everywhere Infrastructure: The Systems, Structures, and Ideologies of Big Tech”

(March 14, 3PM )

D23 Everywhere Infrastructure: The Systems, Structures, and Ideologies of Big Tech

Chair: Andrea Zeffiro, McMaster University

Respondent: Rena Bivens, Carleton University

  • Mél Hogan, University of Calgary, “Templating the Body, from Eugenics to Storing Digital Data onto DNA”
  • Sophie Toupin, McGill University, “Preliminary Thoughts on African Hacking Practices”
  • Sarah Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Commercial Content Moderation (CCM) and Social Media’s Logic of Opacity as Infrastructure”
  • Andrea Zeffiro, McMaster University, “A Methodology of Failure: Decoding the Data Infrastructural Regime”

Data Centers: Investigating Socio-Technological Assemblages of the Cloud (Stockholm Workshop: Nov 30-Dec 1 2017)

Data Centers: Investigating Socio-Technological Assemblages of the Cloud
16-17 November 2017, Stockholm University

Organizer: Dr. Asta Vonderau, Assistant Professor Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University 

“Engines of the cloud,” “brain of the beast,” “archives of digital capitalism,” “factories of the 21st century” – these and similar metaphors are frequently used to describe industrial scale data centers, and the “cloud” itself. Data centers are highly securitized buildings, located out of public sight, that hide a fast growing industry for storing and processing data. While most internet users still might not be aware of the actual significance of data centers, IT infrastructure providers and other experts have come to realize the complex entanglements of the data center industry with social life. After a recent data center failure in the UK, for instance, which grounded hundreds of British Airways flights, even industry representatives urged for transparency and for an independent investigation of the incident, stating that “it’s only a matter of time before a data center failure will be associated with human fatalities.” Within the social sciences and the humanities, scholars have discussed data centers in regard to their architectural form, for instance, which has been read as that of digital control society, or by problematizing their energy consumption, profit orientation and low contribution to the local labor market developments.

The workshop brings together scholars from a broad range of disciplines such as anthropology, architecture, media and communication studies, or interaction design who have engaged with data and cloud infrastructures in their academic or artistic work. Taking data centers – a characteristic technological and aesthetic form of the digital era – as its starting point, the workshop aims to discuss the cloud’s social and environmental impact and maps the diverse socio-technical assemblages which emerge in the course of cloud infrastructuring processes. How do the infrastructures of the cloud integrate into local political contexts and industrial landscapes? How do the cloud’s techno-logics relate to the emergence of specific forms of subjectivity, sociality, and urbanity? How can the barely visible and secret industrial spaces of the cloud be made visible and opened up for the broader public? And what does the study of data centers tell us about our current social moment? An interdisciplinary approach will help to grasp and better understand the cloud’s material/virtual, global/local, or human/technological dynamics. A publication of the workshop’s results is planned.

The workshop will be financed by The Swedish Foundation of Humanities and Social Sciences (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond) and is the concluding event of the research project Farming Data Forming the Cloud. The Environmental Impact and Cultural Production of IT Technology (2014-2017).

Tung-Hui Hu (English Language and Literature, Michigan)
Kazys Varnelis (Architecture, Columbia University)
Matt Parker (Sound artist, London)
Emma Charles (Film maker, London)
Alexander Taylor (Anthropology, Cambidge)
Julia Velkova (Media, Södertorn)
Mél Hogan (CMF, Calgary)

NCA, Dallas 2017: Visibilizing Surveillance and Control Infrastructures

Visibilizing Surveillance and Control Infrastructures

Thu, 11/16: 8:00 AM  – 9:15 AM 
Room: City View 2 – Fourth Floor 

Most forms of technological surveillance evade scrutiny because their operations are hidden from view. Through the integration of algorithmic functions into built form, attention is deflected from pervasive surveillance protocols and the unequal ramifications of control infrastructures. The papers in this session seek ways of rendering such processes and effects visible–of tracking the emergence of new regimes of visibility, challenging their politics, and creating spaces to imagine more just social and cultural configurations.

Chair Torin Monahan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Activism and Social Justice Division
Critical and Cultural Studies Division


Confronting complicity: Surveillance art and the interpellation of viewing subjects

Critical artworks about surveillance introduce compelling possibilities for rethinking the relationship of people to larger systems of control. This paper analyzes a number of art projects that strive to render surveillance visible and cultivate a sense of responsibility on the part of viewers or participants. Some of the projects invite participation as a way of producing discomfort and reflexivity on the part of viewers (Dries Depoorter’s “Sheriff Software”), others use tactics of defamiliarization to draw critical attention to everyday surveillance that has become mundane (Jakub Geltner’s “Nests”), and still others show the human costs of surveillance-facilitated violence and urge viewers to take action (“#NotABugSplat”). By fostering ambiguity and decentering the viewing subject, surveillance art can capitalize on the anxiety of viewers to motivate questions that might lead to greater awareness and open a space for ideological critique. 

Author Torin Monahan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 

Light industry

In the development of the Stanford Industrial Park, one land use report referred to the corporate campus’ design as one that would attract “light industry of a non-nuisance type.” Silicon Valley would go on to attract a whole range of light industry, with the manufacturing that term originally referred to giving way to software, networks, and an industry defined by and contingent on the secure transport of light through strands of glass. 

In the past decade, the distinction between technology of personal computing and traditional “heavy industry” has become harder to distinguish. But Silicon Valley’s industrial history is anything but “light”–the twenty-three federal Superfund sites in Santa Clara County make that abundantly clear. This paper will discuss the use of historical narratives and artworks to challenge the perception that software is itself not a heavy industry, and the political and environmental consequences of that light/heavy distinction. 

Author Ingrid Burrington, Data and Society Research Institute 

Surveillance and the spectrum: The globalization of cell phone interception technologies

This paper explores the emergence and use of a technology known as the IMSI catcher. Also known as a “cell site simulator” “StingRay,” or “dirtbox,” the IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) catcher functions by mimicking a cellphone base station. It locks on to cellphones in a given vicinity and intercepts data from and/or remotely reconfigures or operates the phones. Because of its powerful surveillance capability, the technology has been incorporated into the work of military units, state agencies, law enforcement agencies, and criminal organizations. The IMSI catcher is now part of a lawful interception industry that is expected to be worth $1.3 billion by 2019. After describing multiple use scenarios, the talk will address a series of critical issues elicited by the globalization of cell phone interception technology, including the relationship between surveillance and cynicism, surveillance as a technique of democratic governance, and state and corporate suppression of technical information. 

Author Lisa Parks, MIT 

The aesthetics of state surveillance: From secrecy to publicity

The 2013 Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) warrantless spying activities seem relatively benign when contrasted against the more overt displays of state surveillance power in recent months. To consider this shift from secrecy to publicity in the NSA’s manifestation of state power, we suggest reading the changing role of the NSA over time from its aesthetics. Specifically, we look at the NSA’s communications through a critical discourse analysis, attuned to the role of aesthetic representation in legitimizing authority. What this analysis reveals is how the agency¹s aesthetic strategies follow useful binaries ­ between public and private, us and them, good and evil ­ that can be mapped onto broader political exigencies. In particular, we focus on how the aesthetics of the NSA are co-articulated with certain ideologies about networked technology in order to rethink the surveillance-privacy nexus as it traverses a path from secrecy to publicity. 

Author Tamara Shepherd, University of Calgary 
Co-Author Mél Hogan, University of Calgary


Genomics, Bioinformatics and the Climate Crisis

Genomics, Bioinformatics and the Climate Crisis

Since the 1970s, governments and industry have promoted the coding and manipulation of DNA as an avenue to fuel, feed and heal the world. The mapping of the human genome in 2003 stimulated the development of other large-scale DNA-sequencing projects for bacteria, plants, and mammals. With the assistance of computer technology and bioinformatics, large scale genomic consortium produce DNA data at impressive rates, making promissory claims about the benefits of this data to inform and improve environment, health and industry. Critics of these applications raise concerns about the unfulfilled promises, unacknowledged uncertainties and unacceptable risks of such ‘techno-fixes’. Public resistance to genetic and genomic applications for environmental issues- voiced through terms such as Frankenforests – can lead to undone and possibly even forbidden science. In many regards, scientific experimentation, industry application and civil society commentary have run ahead of analysis in the environmental humanities. This leaves gaps in our understanding of the social, ethical and legal implications of biotechnology applications for environmental issues.

The group will meet monthly from September 2017 to March 2018 to discuss published research, present work in progress and host guest speakers. Key themes for organizing discussions and readings include: critical studies of climate change; the social history of DNA; reimagining diversity and kinship in a genomics age; and critical analysis of bioinformatics (DNA as data). This working group will identify and explore gaps in existing literature to provide a platform for developing a SSHRC Insight Development Grant on environmental humanities approaches to genomic applications for climate change.


Dr. Gwendolyn Blue, Associate Professor, Department of Geography
Dr. Mél Hogan, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Media & Film
Dr. Morgan Vanek, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Dr. Martin Wagner, Assistant Professor, School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures & Cultures

IMAGINATIONS: Introducing Location and Dislocation: Global Geographies of Digital Data (with Alix Johnson)




Alix Johnson | UCSC

Mél Hogan | University of Calgary


The contributions to this issue of Imaginations address the relationship between digital data and physical place. How is the economy of data storage organized in and across communities, regions, nations, and states? How does the industry reprise old relationships and forge new ones? How are boundaries and borders inscribed and encountered by users and creators along the way? How is information technology (IT) infrastructure built into environments, shifting social and natural terrain? By foregrounding spatial relations and infrastructures, these essays draw connections between globalized geographies of media distribution and localized impacts of IT on the ground.

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Keynote “Living Together in the Data Center Industrial Complex” – Bergen (Norway) Aug, 2017

My talk is called “Living Together in the Data Center Industrial Complex” and brings together technology and biology…

TBLR and ESSCS Announcement:

“Living Together”

PhD-researcher training course in literary, aesthetic and cultural-study disciplines, Bergen (Norway), 14th–18th August 2017

The TBLR and the ESSCS

are happy to announce our unique joint-venture PhD researcher-training summer course 2017 in Bergen.

The TBLR and the ESSCS

are happy to announce our unique joint-venture PhD researcher-training summer course 2017 in Bergen.

Barthes, with Agamben and Derrida: ”Living Together” is the tandem venture of the European Summer School in Cultural Studies (ESSCS) and the Norwegian nationwide researcher-training school TBLR (Tekst Bilde Lyd Rom = Text Image Sound Space), in Bergen, August 2017. While not an organiser, yet pivotal as an advisory and cooperative space for thought, the Living Together Research Group at the University of Oslo (UiO) is also an event contributor, whose inventiveness, scholarly generosity, input, and productive feedback the TBLR/ESSCS could not have done without. (See also ”Background” and “LT-Group-UiO” in red topbar.)

Under the heading ”Living Together”, the summer course is anchored in Roland Barthes’ 1976-1977 lecture series “Comment vivre ensemble? – Sur l’idiorrythmie”, held at Collège de France. The Comment vivre ensemble manuscripts (Paris: Seuil, 2002) were published in English in 2013 as How To Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces. Here, ‘Barthes focuses on the concept of “idiorrhythmy”, a productive form of living together in which one recognizes and respects the individual rhythms of the other. He explores this phenomenon through five texts that represent different living spaces and their associated ways of life: Émile Zola’s Pot-Bouille, set in a Parisian apartment building [l’immeuble bourgeois]; Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, which takes place in a sanatorium [le grand hôtel]; André Gide’s “La Séquestrée de Poitiers” [“The Confined Woman of Poitiers”], based on the true story of a woman confined to her bedroom [la chambre solitaire]; Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, about a castaway on a remote island [le repaire; lair; den; hideout], and Pallidius’s Lausiac History, detailing the ascetic lives of the desert fathers [le désert]’ (Columbia UP; brackets added).

For its purposes, and shared for the event with TBLR/ESSCS, the UiO’s Living Together Research Group has developed and transformed Barthes’ five spaces into topoi and/or perspectives that call for closer investigation in many specific directions, as the proposed list of related issues and extrapolated concepts in the Call for Papers shows. These five topoi are the desert, the island, the sanatorium, the city, and the home. They will function as part of the scholarly framework for organising the activities of the TBLR and the ESSCS in Bergen. Hopefully, they will prove to be suggestive and inspirational both for PhD students and keynotes in their studies of literature, film, the arts, and culture, as well as in critical thought.

At the same time, Barthes’ idiorrhythmic mappings reverberate productively with thinking and analyses in some of Giorgio Agamben’s works, as well as with a series of texts stemming from the late period of the work of Jacques Derrida. Including also these as another part of the scholarly framework for the summer course, will hopefully prepare the stage for a variegated plethora of options and possibilities for PhD students and faculty to reflect upon their own work and on that of others, and to think, work out and productively share – in keynote lectures and PhD-student papers – their own takes on aspects of living together.

Under the heading ”Living Together”, then, the summer course’s Call for Papers is oriented towards some of the work of Roland Barthes, Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Derrida. – We encourage you to reflect upon the CfP and to relate it to your own work, and we invite you to apply for a participant’s spot in Bergen in August. (Application deadline has been extended to May 26th; see all details below and in the Call for Papers.)

–> Call for Papers

COURSE LAYOUT: We start the summer course with luncheon at 13:00 on Monday 14th Aug., then go on with a half-day (afternoon and early evening) programme that day; and then continue with full-day programmes both Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday 17th Aug. Festive dinner offered on Thursday evening (on the organisers). Good-byes and departures after breakfast and before noon on Friday 18th.

PROGRAMME: “Living Together” is a combined keynote topic/plenary-discussion event, and a PhD paper-discussion course. There will be five Scandinavian/international keynotes on the programme, whose names and topics will be disseminated on the webiste as confirmations are in. Now, though, we are happy to announce three of the keynotes, Knut Stene-Johansen (Comparative Literature, University of Oslo), with whom the scholarly idea about “Living Together” originated, and who – with his Oslo-based research group – has already published a first project anthology: Knut Stene-Johansen et al. (eds.): Å leve sammen. Roland Barthes, individet og fellesskapet. Oslo: Spartacus, 2016 (to be transl. into and publ. also in English). Further: Mél Hogan (Communication, Media and Film, University of Calgary, Canada). Moreover: Henrik Gustafsson, and here (Film, Visual Culture, Critical Aesthetics, “Nomadikon”, Fine Arts, Cultural Memory, Border Poetics). – For the PhD paper-discussion sessions, the participants will be organised into relevant thematic groups, composed of PhD students as well as of TBLR/ESSCS-faculty and keynotes. – The course’s working language will be English. The detailed programme will be posted and disseminated when fully confirmed.

TIME FRAMES/DURATION/LENGTH: Keynotes are set up with 45-minute lectures, and the same amount of time allotted to the ensuing discussion. – PhD student-paper discussions are set up with a total time frame of 1 to 1,5 hours for each single one, in the course of which time up to 20 introductory minutes are allotted to the PhD student’s oral presentation/contextualisation of her/his paper, and the remaining time to a rich discussion between the PhD-student author, student peers, TBLR/ESSCS faculty, and keynotes, with comments, questions, further suggestions, etc. This structure – while all student papers are mandatory, beforehand reading for all participants, thus leaving ample time for discussion of the papers.

PhD STUDENT-PAPER TOPICS: (1) a paper bearing a relation to some aspect or problem detailed or suggested in the ”Living Together” Call for Papers (Barthes; Agamben; and/or Derrida); (2) a paper stemming from the PhD student’s ongoing dissertation work, like a chapter, a section, an excerpt, a focus on a special problem, theoretical or other, lifted out of the dissertation-writing process for particular, critical attention, etc. – all of which with or without a relation to the CfP; (3) a paper presenting and critically discussing one or more of the works on the course’s reading list. – Bear in mind that inter-aesthetic and comparative as well as disciplinary papers are welcome. – Max length of paper: about 15 pp, 1,5 line spacing, Word: Times New Roman.

CREDITS – ECTS points for PhD students: 5 ECTS with a paper; 2 ECTS without.

VENUE: Venue for the course as well as for all participants’ hotel rooms 14th-18th Aug. will beHotel Scandic Neptun, downtown Bergen, one street removed from the historic wharf and the quayside. The hotel rooms (covered by the organisers throughout the duration of the summer-course), will be spacious double rooms, housing two PhD students in each (summer-school room-mate system, which also creates an extra and contact-facilitating atmosphere).

TRAVEL COSTS; MEALS: Travel costs will have to be covered by the PhD students themselves or through the PhD-trajectory means that they themselves have at their disposal. Other than that, hotel rooms and full board (three meals a day) from Monday 14th at noon through Friday 18th Aug. at noon will be covered by the TBLR/ESSCS (the dinner on Wednesday is the exception: Wed’s dinner is open for each and every one to find another restaurant in the city, and on that particular evening pay their dinner themselves). Participants from Bergen are expected to remain accommodated privately, yet take part in all meals on a par with the other participants.

APPLICATION DEADLINE (extended till late May) will be 26th May 2017 (to, with max. 300 words paper abstract submitted at the same time. In your application, please state whether you require vegetarian or vegan meals. –– Paper-submission deadline: 1st August 2017 (as attachment, to

EXTENDED STAYS: There is the option for visitors to Bergen to stay longer than the duration of the summer course (Monday till Friday), yet then, expressly, at their own personal expense. This might e.g. be during the week-end prior to, or during the week-end immediately following the “Living Together”-event. In case you might wish to extend your stay at our venue hotel, (the Scandic Neptun), queries should be directed to, who has been asked to handle them vis-à-vis the Scandic Neptun. – Private or tourist sojourns before and/or after the summer course with other accommodation than the Scandic Neptun, should be both arranged and paid for by the individual course participant her/himself.



SCMS 2018: Everywhere Infrastructure: The Systems, Structures and Ideologies of Big Tech

Andrea Zeffiro
Rena Bivens
Sophie Toupin
Sarah Roberts
Mél Hogan

Everywhere Infrastructure: The Systems, Structures and Ideologies of Big Tech

Nearly twenty years after Susan Leigh Star (1999) called for an ‘ethnography of infrastructure’, infrastructure has garnered renewed attention in critical media studies. This panel contributes to scholarly engagements with infrastructure by reimagining the ways in which scholars might perform what Bowker and Star (1999) describe as “infrastructural inversion”: the “struggle against the tendency of infrastructure to disappear (except when breaking down). It means learning to look closely at technologies and arrangements that, by design and by habit, tend to fade into the woodwork (sometimes literally!)” (Bowker and Star, 34). Together, the papers presented for this panel trouble interpretive acts that bring to light the backstage elements of digital infrastructures–namely, the environmental, biological, and ideological resources that uphold and reinstate Big Tech master narratives. Paying particular attention to the ways in which capitalism, colonialism and racism enable and support Big Tech, and its underpinning logics and ongoing expansion, panelists uncouple infrastructure from a strictly technological domain into an embodied one. This is done by developing a through line that connects several subversive and often intangible practices: from content moderation to hacking to scanning to archiving. As one key example, each is performed by a human workforce, yet commonly thought to be in the realm of machines and algorithms. As a corrective, the panel draws out misconceptions, tensions, and contradictions between those who operate the system and those who end up invariably subsumed by it. This is done by way of inversions, in logics of space and ownership. Firstly: where are these practices taking place? Who owns those spaces? Secondly: how does the cultural imaginary that sees these human or human-machine hybrid operations as the work solely of machines impact or enhance the feeling of ‘everywhereness’ that maintains digital communication? Finally, how does the anonymity or denial of the body in these practices serve in provoking these questions? Taken together, this panel undertakes  “infrastructural inversion” by surfacing the systems, structures and people that operate as infrastructure in the context of Big Tech. In so doing, they link the surfaced elements of infrastructure to the ideologies they ultimately and fundamentally serve.

Keywords: infrastructure, infrastructural inversion, big data, social media, digital labour, data storage, hacking, decolonization

Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Star, Susan Leigh. (1999).  Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Parks, Lisa. (2015). ‘Stuff You Can Kick’: Toward a Theory of Media Infrastructures. In Patrick Svensson and David Theo Goldberg (Eds.), Between Humanities and the Digital. (pp. 355-373). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Star, Susan L. (1999). The Ethnography of Infrastructure. American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3): 377- 391. p. 380