At this year’s meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Boston we were lucky enough to attain the services of Matthew Wilson as discussant for one of our Geography, War, and the Human Sciences sessions (organised with Matt Farish and Trevor Barnes). Matt Wilson had to take stock of an array of fantastically empirical papers that had a beguiling thematic and theoretical consistency, all were genealogies of the flourishing human scientific disciplines and techniques of internment and interrogation (or indeed techniques for withstanding interrogation) in the US and in its overseas conflicts during the high Cold War. Matt’s sharp observation was that while our research clearly centralised the topological ‘human’ in the behavioural scientific excurses, archival documents, and military manuals we drew from, we didn’t pay such attention to the bodies in the prisons, interrogation rooms, and laboratories we described.
Hence, Juliane Collard (also at UBC Geography) and I are circulating the following Call for Papers for next year’s AAG in New Orleans, for a session or sessions titled ‘Databodies’. As the CFP suggests, we hope to provoke interest from beyond the Cold War and human scientific frames that animated the sessions last April. I will revisit the process by which interrogation transcripts are scrubbed of subjectivity through scientific interrogation and statistical analysis but this time I will focus on the anatamo-politics and biopolitics of RAND Corporation’s work for the Department of Defense in Vietnam during the 1960s.
Rebecca Lemov (2016) recently declared that ‘big data is people’. Although particularly intense in our petabyte era, data driven sciences have been ‘mining the intimate’ for over a century, reaching ever-deeper into our bodies, psyches, and subjectivities. Science studies scholars have paid critical attention to this phenomenon, tracing the spaces and times of ‘thick data’ (Murphy 2017) and its effects. This work has been rich and varied: from Lemov’s (2015) writing on the operationalization of subjectivity through the Cold War, to Michelle Murphy’s (2017) on the valuation of life in service of economic futures, and Catherine Waldby’s (2000) on bodies as medical databases. In geography, Amoore and Piotuk (2015) ask us to attend to the force ‘little analytics’ have on directing subjective attention within data infrastructure. These and other writers trace the situated and material origins of data, showing how it is less ‘extracted’ than made. In the process, they show how power operates and circulates with data along well worn lines of, inter alia, race, sex, gender, class, and ability.
In this session, we seek to develop the dialogue between geographers and those critical scholars who are exploring what ‘thick data’ is ‘made of and out of’ (Lemov 2016). Geographers have much to contribute to this stream of research, for example by examining how and why particular bodies and places become sites and sources of data, how and where data travels, and the multiple scales of datafication. In this vein, we are interested in papers that explore, among other themes, the techno- and social-scientific techniques through which bodies and lives are rendered as calculable, objective data; how and where this data circulates, and with what effects; and how attempts at datafication are resisted or upended.
We want to cast a wide net in this speculative session. We welcome papers that are broadly attentive to the subjective, psychological, biological, and lively materials from which data is made by examining (among other topics):
- valuation, quantification, economization, and financialization of life
- new forms of (clinical) labour
- quantifications, measurements, and distributions of vulnerability
- data, experimentality, and biopolitics
- colonialism, post-colonialism, and the production of big data
- databanks and modern empire
- bodies as database
Amoore, Louise. and Piotukh, Volha. 2015. ‘Life beyond big data: governing with little analytics’, Economy and Society, 44(3), 341-366.
Lemov, Rebecca. 2015. Database of dreams. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lemov, Rebecca. 2016. ‘Big data is people’. Aeon. June 16. Available: https://aeon.co/essays/why-big- data-is-actually-small-personal-and-very-human.
Murphy, Michelle. 2017. Economization of life. Durham: Duke University Press
Waldby, Catherine. 2000. The visible human project: Informatic bodies and posthuman medicine. London: Routledge.