The Matter of ‘Virtual’ Geographies

Sam Kinsley’s ahead-of-print article entitled “The matter of ‘virtual’ geographies” (subs. required) is online at Progress in Human Geography now. Like all Progress articles are meant to be, Sam’s is a ‘state of play’-type piece built around the problematic notion of ‘the virtual’. Although he is right to note that most geographers have ceased to write explicitly about ‘cyberspace’, ‘cyber-geographies’ and the like, the spectre of the virtual still haunts much digital work in the discipline.

He proceeds in three sections, detailing the three main ‘camps’ that geographers have operated in to understand the digital, notably through:

  • The automatic production of space (Thift, Graham, Marvin etc.)
  • Spaces of calculation (Adey, Amoore, Barnes, Cowen etc.)
  • Transductions (Kitchin, Dodge, Wilson, Ash etc.)

His constructive criticism of work under the first banner is that there are (relatively) few empirical studies of how automatic productions of space do work in the world. Under the second, there have been far fewer studies of non-state actors involved in the calculative dynamics of spatial control, with an overwhelming emphasis on state actors. For the third, Kinsley simply suggests – pace Kitchin and Dodge – that continued work in geography needs to focus on the ‘increasing transductive agency of the digital in everyday life’ in order to negotiate the ‘ongoing reformulation of what it is to be human’ (p.7).

In the final chapter Kinsley suggests a future research focus that can help develop deeper thinking on the materiality of the digital. He does this through an appeal to the notion of ‘technicity’ (a term popularized by Stiegler), as well as building upon the previously introduced term ‘transduction’ (brought into geography by Kitchin and Dodge via Adrian Mackenzie). Towards the end of this section, in order to provide readers with a helping empirical hand, Kinsley then considers the ‘transduction that takes place in the sending of a text message’ (p. 12) to ground the more theoretical discussion thus far:

[R]ather than being an ‘immaterial’ process, there is a significant network of matter and energy upon which this ‘virtual’ activity is predicated. A device, usually a phone, is used to input the message. The physical functions of that device are contingent upon a wealth of highly processed materials, often with complicated origins, enmeshed into complex chemical arrangements and interdependent components. For example, a capacitative touch screen, made from glass and electrically conductive materials, uses the body’s electrical capacitance to sense the point of touch (Greenstein, 1997: 1318). This is often processed via one of many Application-Specific Integrated Circuit chip in the device, feeding data to other components that process software, which in turn changes the electrical charge within different areas of the screen (pixels) to display images. To ‘send’, the software engages the modem of the device to communicate with the network, translating data into modulated pulses in particular frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. (p. 12)

Further, that the phone network infrastructure; of transceiver towers, copper cables, exchange points, device protocols and server centres all take a central part in the sending of a simple text message. Although we might not be able to comprehend that this vast, disparate infrastructure is required for the transmission of such an everyday thing, as geographers we must be attentive to the ongoing rematerializations that take hold of our apparently ‘virtual’ worlds.

Whilst Kinsley is essentially making a very modest suggestion – “we need to pay attention to the inseparability of technology and humanity” – it is a suggestion that many have yet to take seriously at a predominantly empirical level within the field of human geography.

Call for PhD Summer School of Cultural Transformations‏

2nd Ph.D. Summer School of Cultural Transformations:

Please circulate to PhD students

Cultural Im/materialities: Contagion, Affective Rhythms and Mobilization

International PhD course, 23-27 June 2014, Aarhus University, Denmark

The summer school is funded by the Ph.D. programmes Art, Literature and Cultural Studies and ICT, Media, Communication and Journalism and by Centre for Sociological Studies Aarhus University (all Aarhus University). The event is part of a cultural studies summer school network with Warwick University, University of Southern Denmark, Södertörn University and Aarhus University as partners. The first event in 2013 was hosted by Warwick University.              


Associate Professor, PhD, Britta Timm Knudsen; Associate Professor, PhD, Mads Krogh; Assistant Professor, PhD, Carsten Stage; Associate Professor, PhD, Anne Marit Waade

Partners: Warwick University, UK, University of Southern Denmark, DK, Södertörn University, SE, CESAU, DK, Copenhagen Business School, DK

Confirmed keynotes

Professor Georgina Born (Music and Anthropology, Oxford University), UK
Reader Tony D. Sampson (Digital Culture and Communications, University of East London), UK
Professor John Protevi (Philosophy and French Studies, Loyola University Chicago), US
Senior Lecturer Luciana Parisi (Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths), UK

Lecturers / workshop organizers / discussants

Jenny Sundén, Södertörn University
Nathaniel Tkacz, Warwick University
Christian Borch, Copenhagen Business School
Representative from University of Southern Denmark
Anne Marit Waade, Aarhus University
Carsten Stage, Aarhus University
Mads Krogh, Aarhus University
Britta Timm Knudsen, Aarhus University
Christoffer Kølvraa, Aarhus University
Louise Fabian, Aarhus University
Camilla Møhring Reestorff, Aarhus University


Time: June 23-27 2014

Room and Place: Aarhus University
Cost/ Policy: No cost fee, each participant covers travel & accommodation.
Max. number of participants: 30


The summer school wants to explore the role of affect, suggestive rhythms and contagion for the somatic mobilization of agents across a range of socio-cultural situations (e.g. protest events, dance halls, online forums, catastrophes), practises and processes (e.g. political mobilization and engagement, school bullying, youth loneliness, xenophobic/nationalist panics). In recent years an increasing interest in materiality, space, technology and embodiment has developed in the humanities and social sciences combined with an ëaffective turní (Clough, Massumi, Thrift, Seigworth and Gregg, Ahmed) to immaterial dimensions of these phenomena.
This has re-actualised early sociological theories about affective suggestion, contagion and imitation (e.g. Gustave Le Bon and Gabriel Tarde), which offer valuable insights to the analysis of a contemporary cultural landscape characterised by for instance viral/memetic phenomena, mediated/networked/rhythmically coordinated crowds, affective online communication and political modulation of citizen affects (Blackman, Borch, Gibbs, Sampson, Butler). During the summer school we wish to collectively explore the immaterial dimensions of the material social world and vice versa, discuss the potentialities, implications and risks of such analysis in an open interdisciplinary environment.
The event will attract PhD students from a range of academic fields (anthropology, geography, media, cultural studies, aesthetics, sociology, political science etc.) interested in, and doing research on, the affective turn, processes of imitation/suggestion/contagion, the rhythmically attuning mobilisation of bodies, and the im/material dimensions of culture and the social world.
Possible areas/topics:
  • The affective dimensions of materiality, space, technology and things
  • Aesthetics and affectivity, sensual design
  • Mobilization within public and private spheres of action
  • Viral communication, virality in the media, memes, social media
  • The methodological challenges of analysing cultural materialities and immaterial processes
  • Theoretical legacies to the ëaffective turní and new materialist orientations within the humanities and social sciences; early sociologies of contagion, suggestion and imitation
  • Moral, media and financial panics
  • Music culture, sound, dance and rhythm
  • Industries of affect, affective consumption
  • Tourism, black spot/dark tourism
  • Artistic agency, idols and fandom
  • Crowds, protest culture, social movements, (creative/eventful) activism, political events
  • Depression, loneliness, bullying, affective exclusion
  • Charity, empathy and sympathy
  • Affect, emotion and power, war and affective modulation
  • Xenophobia, nationalism, the strategic production of fear and hate
  • Atmosphere, aura, prestige
  • Sexuality, porn, love and care
  • The affectivity of catastrophes
  • Blasphemy, fanaticism and provocative politics
The Ph.D.-summer school will be based on keynote presentations, workshops and studentsí own project presentations and organized feedback sessions.


The examination will consist of three parts: 1. Full paper hand-in (deadline May 15); 2. Attending workshops and doing group assignments; 3. Paper presentation and discussion of papers.

Deadline for submission

Deadline: March 1 2014
Send an email to: Marianne Hoffmeister
Attach a description of your research topic and project (max. 300 words).
March 15: You will get to know if you participate, and you will be asked to confirm your  participation.

Preparation for PhD students

April 1: The organizers will form groups out of the participants (5 in all) and each group has to organize a slot of one hour each with a social and/or academic content (e.g. academic speed-dating, guided tours in Aarhus for strangers by strangers, exercises between the slots).

May 15: Deadline for submitting a full paper (10 pages).

Preparation for teachers

March: Organizers must read the abstracts and form participants groups.

Medio May: The group of teachers will be responsible for 3-4 papers, that he/she has read  carefully in advance in order to 1) place the paper within the theme of the summer school 2) to be a discussant of the paper and to give an open and constructive feedback at the summer school.

About the summer school network (SSCT)

The series aims at creating an international environment of constructive academic discussions in the field of cultural studies in order to strengthen this discipline in our respective academic communities and to develop the discipline of cultural studies according to actual developments and new theoretical paradigms. The series aims at improving teaching in cultural studies through a meticulous work on theoretical, methodological and empirical challenges. It is also our intention to build stronger research relations and exchange opportunities between the involved institutions and participants. Network coordinator: Carsten Stage (