Sunday, December 20, 2015

All Aboard the Quantum Train: connecting self, space and time in Seoul’s subway

Abstract for a new paper . . .

The city consists of a collision of relativistic spaces and temporalities that overlap in tension with each other, nowhere more evident than in Seoul’s subway system, where, above ground, urban development space is warped around new stations and new lines, while below, space becomes the 2-3 minutes duration between stops.  For many theorists, this sprawling subway (the largest in the world) is an “empty” time in what Auge calls a “non-place”--a period of empty waiting.  In addition, capital has been quick to exploit these temporal and spatial interstices, with Seoul’s subway stations host to a cacophony of advertising and media.  On the other hand, the subway also contributes to new forms of connection and place-making, possibilities that have been enabled by technological developments of mobile connectivity that extrapolate on digital presence and absence in order to forge new quantum potentialities for human life and sociality.  In order to elaborate on possibilities for connectivity and temporality in Seoul’s subway, two sets of data are utilized.  The first consists of structured observations of smart-phone use in Seoul’s subways over the 2014-2015, with qualitative and quantitative analyses revealing the rhythms of sociality and connection at different times of day for texting, reading and entertainment.  The second looks to Twitter traffic around subway lines from 2014-2015, concentrating on the ways subways connect people to each other and to diverse geographies that may transect the subway, but are in no way confined to it.  What these suggest is, on the one hand, an accommodation to neoliberal imperatives to exploit “non-productive” time for imperatives of production and consumption.  On the other, it considers the subway as the creation of a quantum city where time, space and sociality exist in a state of superposition and indeterminacy.  Within these interstices of space/time lie new possibilities for challenging hegemony.  Above all else, the subway is a technology that helps to articulate what Rainie and Wellmann call the “networked self,” a shifting configuration of social relations and identities that is splayed across metropolitan space and time and enabled by a variety of technologies and mobilities.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Defining anthropological community through #anthroboycott

Back on my pc--and here's my whole visualization for #AAA2015.

It's the largest set of tweets I've ever mapped from AAA: 21, 879 edges, 3543 nodes.  I ran it when I got to my office on Monday, November 23 and it covers the whole 8 day window that includes some pre- and post-tweets.  I used the Clauset-Newman-Moore cluster algorithm to group the tweets--said to be particularly effective in revealing community structures in large networks.  Finally, each identified "group" is arranged in its own box, courtesy of the Harel-Koren Fast Multiscale layout algorithm.  Nice!  That said, it's hard to beat Marc Smith, who mapped out the network on Saturday, November 21.  He's got a neater graph than mine--it's his software, after all!  But I still wanted to work through my own data.

In many ways, the graph is typical of associations.  Marc Smith et al (2014) might call this an example of a "tight crowd": "highly interconnected people with few isolated participants."  And yet, there are some definite clusters here, suggestive of what they call a "community cluster": "Some popular topics may develop multiple smaller groups, which often form around a few hubs each with its own audience, influencers, and sources of information."  Let's look at the individual clusters themselves.  Each has been identified with its own color.

Here are some of the larger "groups":

1. Dark Blue: Boycott resolution.
2. Light blue: Panels discussion.
3. Forest green: Tweets from the AAA, their re-tweets and their discussion.
4. Light green: Discussion around medical anthropology, associated panels and events.
5. Orange: The anthropology of education, associated panels and events.

On the basis of this, I would argue that the AAA conference is stuck somewhere between the "tight crowd" (typical of organizations) and the "community cluster"; in other words, the AAA conference combines homogeneous groups of people mostly concerned with their particular topics and communities with larger interests that span different clusters.

Next, I ranked the Twitter accounts by betweenness centrality, which measures the importance of a node (or vertex) based on the number of times it falls "between" two nodes on the shortest path between them.  "Importance," here, then, is different than just simply popularity; instead, betweenness centrality measures some of the importance of a node to the flow of information.

1. americananthro
2. anthroboycott
3. palestinetoday
4. benabyad
5. omanreagan
6. pacbi
7. cultanth
8. cmcgranahan
9. jasonantrosio
10. socmedanthro

Nodes with high betweenness centrality may act as "brokers" or "gateways" for flows of information and influence between different clusters.  It's worth noting that associations and group Twitter accounts (americananthro, cultanth, socmedanthro) are represented as well as the Twitter accounts of particular active individuals (omanreagan, cmcgranahan, jasonantrosio, etc.).  

But I want to concentrate on a few: anthroboycott, palestinetoday and benabyad.  These Twitter accounts have high betweenness centrality, and they serve to connect these different clusters that would, otherwise, lack even their comparatively modest connectivity.  

This is readily evident in this graph, where I filtered to include only tweets that contained the hashtag #anthroboycott.

Here are some of the top tweets (measured by the in-degree centrality of their associated node).  Much of the traffic concerned a few themes: 1) the historic vote, and the clear majority of the pro-boycotters.  2) solidarity with various pro-Palestinian groups.  3) discussions of the procedures during the boycott vote.

1. VICTORY at #aaa2015: @americananthro Clears the Way for Final Vote on #AnthroBoycott

2. RESOLUTION 2 PASSES! #Anthroboycott #BDS #AAA2015

3. Over 1500 people at #AAA2015 for the #Anthroboycott!

4. RT @OmanReagan: Everyone who stays to vote on Resolution #2 can have a free drink @WennerGrenOrg party after! #Anthroboycott #AAA2015

5. #AAA2015: Congratulations to the organisers of the #Anthroboycott!

6. I reported on2014 #Gaza war, when #Israel bombed universities. Tel Aviv U released statement gvg support for army #AnthroBoycott #AAA2015

7. E. Williams and J. Pierre discussing #anthroboycott @aba_aaa members to attend @AmericanAnthro #aaa2015 #abapanels

8. Now: motion to DIVEST from Israel. #BDS #Anthroboycott #AAA2015

We could conclude many things from these graphs, but I want to suggest that these say something about anthropology and anthropologists in the American Anthropological Association.  Divided into subfields and sections and, generally, communicating with others in their specializations, anthropologists at the annual meeting may have little in common with others who also identify as anthropologists.  Most of our tweets are variations on live-tweeting that summarize themes we've picked out of papers and panels--in other words, tweets that are tightly coupled to our own, narrow interests and specialities.  And yet, certain issues (and their lively discussion) serve to cross these different clusters.

Are these issues, then, defining moments for anthropologists in the AAA?   If we go back to earlier AAA conferences where anthropologists were asked to take a political or ethical stand on issues (e.g., last year's #BlackLivesMatter), we can see similar patterns, with the protest against police violence spanning multiple groups.  Here's a graph from Marc Smith (again!) from last year:

From the Nodexl Graph Gallery

Would it be too much to suggest that these ethical and political orientations are what brings anthropologists together?  That it's not just a "public anthropology" (in the abstract), but a concrete politics?  It's certainly something for the AAA to contemplate--these critical moments of public anthropology are performed amidst the American Anthropological Annual Meeting, but they are not orchestrated by the AAA.  Indeed, they seem to proliferate despite (or because?) of the efforts of the AAA to quell the emergence of this kind of public anthropology in the association.  Indeed, despite predictions that the politicization of the Association will "break apart" the AAA (something I heard several times from different people in Denver), the exact opposite seems to happen.

Friday, November 20, 2015

#anthroboycott in medias res

I'm on my Macbook at the AAA conference, so NodeXL isn't happening for me, so I'm using socioviz instead.  It's a java-enabled, web-based Twitter network visualization--but it's quick and dirty (especially in its free form).  Here's the #anthroboycott traffic over the last few minutes, with close-ups of the main components.

So--there's a great deal of Twitter traffic now (it's not SXSW, but not bad!).  Socioviz will only pick off the latest 100 tweets.  Even so, we can see effort to bring people into the assembly . . .

And here are the top tweets by degree centrality

1) Doors to the #AAA2015 business meeting open at 530PM! CCC Mile High Ballrooms 2 +3. Vote NO on 1, YES on 2 #Anthroboycott

2) 2.5 hours until #Anthroboycott vote. Mile high Ballroom 2&3. #AAA2015

3) RT @PalestineToday: Mick Taussig: The issue seems not so much why support; but how could you not? #AnthroBoycott #AAA2015 #BDS

4) RT @anthroboycott: To ensure that your voice is heard and vote counted, come early and tell your friends! #AnthroBoycott #AAA2015 https://?

5) RT @PalestineToday: 31 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers since the beginning of October #AnthroBoycott #AAA2015

6) RT @AMReese07: E. Williams and J. Pierre discussing #anthroboycott @aba_aaa members to attend @AmericanAnthro #aaa2015 #abapanels https://t?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Those Who Can't Tweet, Analyze: early Twitter traffic at #AAA2015

I won't be rolling into AAA until tomorrow, but I wanted to check the conference traffic before I left.

At this point in the game, there's not much going on--one large component (in blue) where people (and institutions) are publicizing their papers and booths.  So far, there's not much commentary on papers and presentations.

Let's look at the top tweets by in-degree centrality.

1. RT @AmericanAnthro: Headed to #AAA2015? Make sure you download the mobile app through iTunes ( or Google Play (http…

2. Conference Chic, or, How to Dress Like an Anthropologist What are YOU packing for #AAA2015?

3. Blizzard warnings in effect for Denver tomorrow. Take note #AAA2015 attendees, bring warm clothes!

4. If you're in Denver this week for #AAA2015, please stand with us in solidarity. Spread the word.,

5. Two...more...days...#AAA2015

6. NEW: The Anti-Boycott Resolution: Entrenching the Status Quo, Denying Justice #aaa2015

7. Savage Minds at #AAA2015

8. Looking for short thought pieces on #medanth panels at #AAA2015 for 2nd Opinion, the SMA newsletter! @somatosphere @culanth 

An interesting addition to the usual tweets from AAA, Wenner-Gren, etc., are tweets on the boycott resolution--it's encouraging that they've been re-tweeted multiple times!  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Networked Spirits and Smart Séances: Aura and the Anthropological Gaze in the Era of the Internet of Things

2015 has been declared the year of the “Internet of Things”, the promised (or threatened) era when our commodities communicate among themselves. But even the most optimistic prognostications cannot conceal deep ambivalences about objects and agency. How do we think about our things when they communicate and act independently of us? How do we frame our relationships with them? How do we articulate distributed intelligence? And how are others imbricated in those relationships? Yet, anthropologists have been asking these questions for some time, and, in this essay, I revisit some ghosts of anthropology's past in order to prompt spectral evocation of these anthropological futures. Through revisiting anthropological fascinations with the nineteenth-century séances, phantasmagoria, commodities and auras, this essay looks to nineteenth-century confusions not only to reflect on the confusions of the present, but also to gesture to possible futures where our lively things might help us challenge suspect dichotomies of human and non-human.

In History and Anthropology

And also (in draft form) on my personal page.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Urban Time and Religious Time in Seoul

The city is a tangle of temporalities; a privileged time-space where the physics of relativity and lived everyday reality meet.  It is not a mistake that Einstein chose a resolutely "modern" example like the "train thought experiment" to illustrate a relativist understanding of space-time.  Yet it's not that the city is qualitatively different than either earlier, "pre-modern" or non-urban spaces, it's that the city is sine qua non a space where different temporalities are produced.  Indeed, that may be the primary draw of the city, and the reason for its growing popularity--to the point where we are an urban species, so inured to the city's ecologies that we cannot help but think about the "rural" as a series of negative values (cf. Raymond Williams, "The Country and the City").  And in South Korea, a supremely urbanized nation (even in our urbanized world), it is no accident that travel to small towns and provincial cities during the holiday seasons is often likened to travelling back in time.  That said, though, it would be a mistake to miss the essential heterogeneity of urban time.

In other words, the urban gives us what me might regard as contemporary time, but also eddies of relativistic time.  This is at the core of LeFebvre's Rhythmanalysis, where "linear" time collides with "cyclical" time.  

The relations of the cyclical and the linear--interactions, interferences, the domination of one over the other, or the rebellion of one against the other--are not simple: there is between them an antagonistic unity.  They penetrate each other, but in an interminable struggle: sometimes compromise, sometimes disruption.  However, there is between them an indissoluble unity: the repetitive tick of the clock measures the cycle of hours and days.  In industrial practice, where the linear repetitive tends to predominate, the struggle is intense. (85) 

LeFebvre's focus on the chrono-struggle of the city is an important insight.  In the ruinous, "creative destruction" of the capitalist city, corporations wring value from the urban by manipulating temporalities.  One need only consider the recent investigative journalism from the New York Times on abuses at Amazon: the corporation exploits temporalities to a dizzying degree--to the lasting detriment of their employees.  But this "struggle" can take many forms; power (and exploitation) take on a different calculus in different examples.  This, of course, is another benefit to the city: it is both incubator and laboratory for temporal disjuncture, with, for example, different development strategies being examples of not only spatial experiments, but (and oftentimes disastrously), temporal experiments.  

Let's take these two photos taken along Seoul's principle North-South axial boulevard, Sejong-no.    

The first shows adherent of Falun Gong (法輪功) meditating on a corner of Sejong-no and the Cheonggye-cheon (청계천).  They're there, of course, to both publicize the plight of Falun Going in the PRC, as well as gain new adherents. Given the importance of meditation to Falun Gong, it's not particularly surprising that they would choose this method to spread their message.  However: the power of the practice lies (at least in part) in the juxtaposition of temporal rhythms: the rhythms of meditation against the linear rhythms of traffic and commuting.

The second photo shows Sejong-no from almost the same spot.  I'm standing just a few meters north of where the Falun Gong supporters were meditating.  It's Seoul's annual Lotus Lantern Festival (연등축제): thousands of people converging on the center of Seoul for a festival, huge parade, and various speeches from Korea's 조계 (Jogye) order of Buddhism.  This year, the festival occurred close to Buddha's Birthday (a cyclic event) during the year 2559 of the Buddhist calendar.

Of course, both of these involve religious ritual practice, and therefore carve out distinct temporalities from the urban flow around them.  But the similarities soon end.  Falun Gong adherents occupy a small corner of Sejong-no, sharing space with tourists, evangelical Christians, right-wing nationalists and others.  Moreover, they hold an extremely marginal position in South Korea society, with the government reportedly under pressure from China not to accept Falun Gong refugees.  The Lotus Lantern Festival, on the other hand, is a powerful spectacle of religion and nation: the entire street is closed down and festival attendees' attentions are focused on the main stage stage set directly in front of the Gwanghwamun (광화문), with the festivities broadcast on a couple of huge digital screens for those of us without front-row seats. During the short time of the festival (and culminating here on Sejong-no), the different temporalities of Buddhism and nation coincide along a spatial axis that connects Gwanghwamun with the rest of Korea and with the world.  Indeed, the speeches themselves tied Buddhism and the Jogye order directly to the health of the Korean state--a nod to the importance Buddhism has held in the formation of Korea (despite its political and geographic marginalization during the Joseon Dynasty).

So: while temporality, power and religion are closely linked in any ritual, I would also suggest that, in the city, power inheres in the (temporary) alignment of different temporalities.  Perhaps this is one reason for the marginalization of Falun Gong.  With adherents quietly meditating on the corner, the practice stays bottled up in what onlookers might regard as an insouciant temporality.  But were it able to line up with other times?  What then?    

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Avengers in Seoul

Children's day (어린이날) is upon us, so the family was off to the neighborhood CGV at 군자역 to see "Avengers: The Age of Ultron."  I'm not a fan, but I consoled myself with the thought that the movie would somehow work into my research on Seoul and science fiction.  And, indeed, it's certainly gratifying to see Avengers battling it out in front of "Kimbap Heaven."  However: without the still, I would have missed it.  For all of the money spent (and for all of the incentives the city of Seoul dished out), there's barely five minutes of Seoul in this film, and that--beside a couple of signs in Korean and an 옥상 텃밭--is of a generic "any city," bits and pieces of Seoul strung together into a non-place.

And I was not the only one disappointed.  As Gang Yu-jeong argued in 경향신문:

A masterpiece of atmospheric kitsch, the back alleys where the action takes place in the Avengers don't really look that different from the back alleys of Hong Kong or Beijing.  When the Avengers talk to Su-hyun (who plays Helen Cho in the film) about the situation, it's not different.  Nothing really sticks out.
The way Avengers 2 portrays Seoul isn't that far off from the way we see it.  Like when you run into your family on the street, the Avengers makes a familiar Korea seem strange.  [ . . .] But this is not the Seoul that we had hoped to see.  The Seoul represented in the film is not a place where I'd want to go.  In Avengers, that hoped-for place is nowhere to be found.   (강유정의 영화로 세상읽기]2015년 어벤져스 서울, translation mine)
Well, given the shallow treatment Seoul gets in the film, one would have to expect disappointment.  On the other hand, the Avengers (in its comic form), is not exactly a superhero version of Baudelaire's flaneur.  Sure--there's lots of urban background, but that's all it is: background.

That is to say, it's just a scene to stage the action.  On another level, if we look at the film as the expression of a conquering and colonizing film apparatus, then Seoul can be incorporated into the action as well as any other place.  Here's where the film even engages in some self-referential dialogue with parallels to both U.S. foreign policy and U.S.-supported "free trade" policies.  As Tony Stark intones, "In a world this vulnerable, we need something more powerful than any of us."  There's equal measures of arrogance and lack of imagination in this line of thinking, and we don't need to move too far afield to see the corporation itself as this unifying power.  And what is cultural difference to a global corporation?  Ultimately, the cities of the world are only a proscenium to stage corporate power, and for that, Seoul will do just fine.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Searching for the Anthropological Alien

An eminently sensible article in today's New York Times from Seth Shostak, the Director of SETI and a tireless advocate for our continuing quest to find intelligent life beyond the Earth.  But not just that: he's also been a leader in the continuing discourse of what each of the terms in the acronym "SETI" should mean: what kind of search?  Where?  And what should constitute "intelligence"?  This time, he's weighing in on a debate over actively courting extraterrestrial neighbors by broadcasting transmissions into space.  What should we say?  And shouldn't we be more careful?  Perhaps extraterrestrial intelligence will be less-than-impressed with the ravages that modernity and capitalism have wrought.  Or perhaps they'll see our various weaknesses, and swoop down to attack!  These arguments, Shostak suggests, have more to tell us about contemporary, Hollywood scripts than about the intentions of aliens, and he counters with another, suitably contemporary, proposal: send the aliens Big Data!

But this Big Data approach to SETI (Big Data SETI?) seems just as implicated in our vision of human futures as any Hollywood evocation of alien invasion.  "Big Data" seem poised to solve all of our problems, and it was just a matter of time before the idea came up in the context of extraterrestrial life.  And this is ok.  Unavoidably, SETI is about communicating with humans--today.  Each SETI proposal, each new Arecibo project, is potentially data about extraterrestrial intelligence, but also data about terrestrial intelligence.  As Kant writes (and as David Clark expertly annotates),
"The highest concept of species may be that of a terrestrial rational being [eines irdischen vernünftigen], but we will not be able to describe its characteristics because we do not know of a nonterrestrial rational being [nicht- irdischen Wesen] which would enable us to refer to its properties and consequently classify that terrestrial being as rational. It seems, therefore, that the problem of giving an account of the character of the human species is quite insoluble [sie schlechterdings unauflöslich], because the problem could only be solved by comparing two species of rational beings on the basis of experience, but experience has not offered us a comparison between two species of rational beings."  
To put it another way--we have already given Kant his aliens, and each SETI experiment is simultaneously an encounter with an extraterrestrial rationality with which to measure ourselves.  As we move from SETI@home to what will undoubtedly be fascinating experiments with Big Data, we uncover more and more of our own assumptions about intelligence and communication, and our own concern about the intentions of the humans and nonhumans around us.  In this case, "we" (keeping in mind this is hardly a universal "we") worry about the messages we're sending, the networks we're forming.  The albatross of Big Data around around our necks continues to compel us (like the Ancient Mariner) to tell the governments and institutions around us everything about ourselves, all of the time.  Do we really want aliens mining our Big Data?  Do we really want the terrestrial, non-human agents around us to mine our Big Data (search engines, social network analysis, etc.)?


Friday, February 13, 2015

Korean Science Fiction and the City, Part 2: Webtoons

In Korean SF, the Internet has been important from the 1990s, with a lot of writers serializing their work online before landing themselves book contracts.  But the importance of Internet platforms extends beyond print to a variety of multimedia, and I have also been considering webtoon representations of Seoul.  Here are a couple:

1). 일호선 (이은재).  (Line 1).  The usual zombie-love story, with a mysterious plague turning most of Seoul's residents into flesh-eating zombies.  You know the drill.

2). 레테 (Lethe).  강도하.   Imagining the afterlife as existing as a shadow in Seoul's 서촌 neighborhood.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Korean Science Fiction and the City

One of my projects in Seoul this year has been collecting representations of the city in Korean science fiction.  Even if we exclude (for the moment) cinema, that still leaves a lot of interesting work that represents the city (and, by default, Seoul).  This project has been immeasurably helped by an incredible resource in Seoul: the Science Fiction a (SF & 판타지 도서관).  Here's what I've been working on in chronological order:

1). 문윤성.  완전사회 (1967).  Yun-seong Mun.  The Perfect Society.

2). 강경옥.  노말 시티 (1993-).  Gyeong-ok Gang. Normal City.

3).  윤태호.  야후 (1999).  Tae-ho Yun.  Yahoo.

4). 배명훈.  타워 (2009).  Myeong-hun Bae.  Tower.

5). 김이환.  절망의 구 (2009).  I-hwan Kim.  The Orb of Despair.

6). 김이환.  동네전쟁 (2011).  I-hwan Kim.  Neighborhood War.

I think we can all agree that this is a quirky list, one that is shaped by the interesting history of SF in Korea as well as my own ignorance.  I'll be filling in this timeline as I go along . . .But time is something I don't have much more of--I'm back to my mid-sized, state university in August.  So any suggestions would be helpful!