Research

Long informed by spatial turns in the humanities, my research tends to coalesce around issues of geography and urbanism in the context of digital media studies, software studies, and media infrastructure. My interest in this area began while completing a MA at Western’s Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism, where I wrote a thesis on the spatial dimension of political subjectivity in works by Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and Jacques Derrida. However, growing dissatisfied by textual analysis and hermetic thinking by the end of this degree, I was led to pursue a PhD in Humanities at York where I focused on articulations of European migration art and culture. Highlighting archival lieux des memoire including architecture, film, literature, and sculpture, my thesis situated new imaginaries of European “home” as a critical response to the upheavals of the 2008 financial crisis. By investigating the history of memorialization through the prism of critical race and ethnic studies, I found that second generation migrants were best equipped to hold the institutions of European collective memory to account for the “translocal” specificity of diverse communities (El-Tayeb, 2011).

After graduating with my PhD and publishing along the way, I found myself returning to an earlier interest in German media theory and infrastructuralism, which provided a gateway to exploring the media-geographical entanglements between cities and technology. My first published work in this area focused on the different affordances that digital media bring to mapping representations and political questions. In “The Geospatial Rhetoric of Asylum: Mapping Migration in Fortress Europe,” I explored the impact of geospatial imaging technologies on relations between users, interfaces, and publics. I analyzed a German neo-fascist group’s publication of an online map containing precision information of asylum houses throughout the country. I examined how their information gathering tactics reflected long contested relationships between maps, power, and the construction of identity. But I also questioned the viability of making social justice demands given the alignment of anti-migrant sentiments and the supposed objectivity of the map. I addressed methodological, historical, and theoretical issues, such as the epistemic assumptions behind rejecting politically motivated maps as propaganda, the logistical and strategic novelties associated with crowdsourcing, and the narrative power of maps.

Following this work, I narrowed on a productive constellation between the fine arts, critical infrastructure, urbanization, and the cartographic representation of cities in digital culture. In “Geospatial Detritus: Mapping Urban Abandonment,” I explored how digital mapping visualizations help to transform abandoned cities into motors of sensory experience, sociality, and public initiative. Heralding the onset of “austerity urbanism” (Tonkiss, 2013), I situated artworks like Michael Heizer’s City as a watershed for resisting demands to mobilize a digital tourism industry of abandoned places. Later, in “Geolocating Popular Memory: Recorded Images of Hashima Island after Skyfall,” I described how the presence of Japan’s Hashima Island in a James Bond film spurred efforts by Google to produce images of the island’s built environment with the help of an experimental “Trekker” device. I also explored how this image archive directly motivated Japan to make a bid for UNESCO heritage status that would protect the island as a site of technology and innovation from the industrialized Meiji period.

Altogether, these disparate research projects inspired me to develop a special journal issue on questions of Geospatial Memory, published by Media Theory in 2018. With a focus on aesthetic, cultural, historical, and archival objects, I compiled a volume of 17 contributors with the aim to explore how geospatial media helps to shape our current spatial orientation toward the everyday and to the past. The contributors and I found diverse, and often competing ways to infuse collective memory practices in the experiences, discourses, and technologies of geospatial media, whether through film and archival studies, psychogeography, urban studies, media archaeology, critical practices, or communication methods. The intellectual and editorial lessons of this project have supported me through my years of working as a professor in media and cultural studies at Trent. They have also informed my work as a graduate supervisor on theses that move across the spectrum of the arts, media theory, and research-creation, and in my subsequent writings where I develop perspectives along the periphery of these subjects.

My current research branches out in two distinct but complementary directions. First, I have committed to developing specific models for collaborative research and critical practice in the humanities. Supported thus far by internal grants and awards, my co-applicant Dr. Jill Didur at Concordia and I have proposed a multi-year project to develop preservation (archiving) and exhibition tools that are tailor-made for “locative arts.” Largely underexplored, this field of experimental practice draws from locative media such as GPS, sensors, and mobile devices to address a diversity of issues, including climate change and environmental genocides, migration and displacement in conflict zones, and indigenous land claims. With the aid of four collaborators, our aim is to support a team dedicated to building remediations of location-based artworks that have been either forgotten or rendered precarious, whether through a lack of sustained funding, versioning and planned obsolescence, or disuse. With this particular focus in mind, the project builds on continuing debates regarding the status and sustainability of research-creation in the field of Digital Humanities. But this work also coincides with my effort to develop approaches to critical practices in the classroom.

Alongside a multi-year collaborative project, my own writing over the last few months has narrowed on issues of software AI, media infrastructures, and cities research. Through case studies, I have sought to evaluate subtle changes in the state apparatus following the widespread adoption of policing and surveillance tools by social networking companies. In my analysis of Citizen App, the U.S.-based crime reporter tool, I determined how patterns of user interaction influence the behaviour of police in American cities and the public attitudes thereof. I show how user-facing digital tools accelerate the gentrification of communities and affect patterns of cultural exchange between stratified groups. While such apps reveal the dependency between responsibilization strategies and algorithmic codes, I argue that they also expose a deep structural connection between social networking apps, which are disseminated through retail markets and privately designed, and the infrastructural supports that are needed to sustain urban life. Extrapolating on the historical patterns of this connection, I commit to developing humanities scholarship that aims to critically examine city-technology relationships across the spectrum, and to emphasize how a sensitivity to rhetoric and language in particular helps to advance the public good in a technologized world.

Link to publications.

Link to Google Scholar.