Minor Urbanism and Mobilities
MSc Reading Notes
Shepard, M. (2013). Minor urbanism: everyday entanglements of technology and urban life. Continuum, (ahead-of-print), 1-12.
Shepard points out that we think of the entanglement of life with ‘a range of mobile, embedded, networked and distributed media, communications and information technologies’ in terms of an overlay of data onto material fabric. This sees a duality, between information and physical fabric - or online and offline.
This leads us to view the technology in terms of the interface between the two, rather than the entanglement as a whole. The result is an ontology that retains the maintenance of the dichotomy. It presents a good argument against digital dualism.
I think that this has relevance for the mobilities paradigm of mobile and e-learning outlined by Enriquez. In her view there is a breakdown of defined spaces, the lines become blurred, they are created and interact with the people who use and inhabit them. There is a breakdown of the duality of spatial and social activity.
The Cloud and UbiComp as ‘messy’
‘The Cloud’ has become the dominant metaphor for describing the infrastructure that allows ubiquitous computing. The impression given is of a seamless interaction. The truth is that it is much more messy, with a ‘heterogeneous assembly of technologies’. This idea of seamlessness ignores the many social and cultural, political and economic forces at play. The ‘real world’ is composed of human and nonhuman actors, and has situations that are recursively performed and enacted. Again, there is a link here with the mobilities paradigm, as well as the obvious reference to ANT.
Minor Urbanism and its relevance to e-learning
Shepard uses the example of parkour - a form of movement through an urban space using athleticism and gymnastics. They move through the city using paths that are outside of those designated by urban planners. In doing so they disrupt the patterns of movement within an urban space. Shepard points out that these types of movements - seen metaphorically as well as physically via parkour - reside ‘beneath and between the smooth and seamless landscapes of the neoliberal city’. If we substitute ‘city’ for ‘space’ we can see how such an approach to learning can undermine the neoliberal discourse prevalent in education. Acts that slip beneath the surface, and between the gaps and can shape a different collective experience of learning. They could reconfigure, recircuit and redirect normative systems and infrastructures ‘and open them up to alternate social and political dynamics’.
What type of learning are we looking at though? What types of activity? I think that an educational/technological version of ‘minor urbanism’ would be a useful way of envisioning an alternative to the pervasive discourses around education at the moment.
This type of minor urbanism can move us towards an alternate ontology than that ‘posited by the cloud for describing the relations between people, technology and space’. It puts actors - human and nonhuman into the foreground of the production of space and data. Again, another link with the mobilities paradigm and the creation of spaces.
Final point - futurology
Shepard, talking about ‘design fiction’, says that ‘designing implications involves imagining not just new products but also the social and cultural contexts within which they are situated.’ While this enables us to look at things (or technology) in terms of how it interacts social and cultural conditions, it also makes the point that futurology needs to be able to look at future social and economic conditions when making predictions about technology, if it is to be a useful practice. Otherwise it is simply the description of ‘cool stuff’ that might exist in the future.
photo credit: mugley via photopin cc