weekly posts

Week 3/4: Code/space

code orchestrates a widening array of public, private and public-private spheres and mobility, logistics and service systems and spaces

Stephen Graham (2005) Software-sorted Geographies, p. 562


This week we are thinking about the ways that ‘the digital’ is not only concerned with the things that we say or do with and through digital/networked media and technologies but is also actively produced by code.

Our everyday lives are in a few extraordinary and many mundane ways mediated by the more-or-less autonomous actions of computer programmes. When we pay for parking via an app, request an Uber (via the app) or check-in for a flight (again, on an app) then the ways in which we negotiate space – the ways in which we traverse it – are mediated by code. These are forms of coded space, according to Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin. Occasionally, we encounter places and spaces that simply cannot function without software. There are some spaces we make use of that are entirely contingent upon digital infrastructures. According to Dodge & Kitchin, these are forms of code/space.

This week’s tasks are organised around three combined aims:

  1. Exploring the ways digital connectivity is being integrated into (almost) everything.
  2. Asking what this means for urban life.
  3. Critically interrogating how ‘Smart Cities’ and an ‘Internet of Things’ can be understood politically & culturally.

Introductory Video

Time on Task ~ 2 minutes.

Task 1

Time on task: 30 minutes

In the first task I want us to think about the importance of code and data. In particular I want to think about:

  • the ways in which code and data are used towards particular ends
  • the kinds of claims made for code and data
  • and, most importantly, how data are never ‘neutral’

Please watch the video below. Think about and makes notes around:

  • How are code and data understood in terms of everyday life?
  • What can code and data do?
  • What kinds of spaces or spatial experiences reflect or are produced by code?

Task 2

Time on Task: 30 minutes

In the second task I want us to think further about the kinds of claims that are made for computation and ‘code’. We have become used to talking about ‘algorithms’, in terms of search, social media and our consumption of media, but I want you to critically consider:

  • why are algorithms considered important?
  • why should geographers (not?) be interested in algorithms?

Watch the below video with these questions in mind.

Here are the powerpoint slides for the original lecture upon which these videos are based.

Task 3

Finally, in order to consolidate your grasp on how and why geographers study code and it’s relationship to spatial experience, please read the following articles. Please read them with the questions below in mind:

  • How are code and data understood in terms of everyday spatial experience?
  • What can code and data do? What are their (geographical) limits?
  • why should geographers (not?) be interested in algorithms, code and data?

Graham, Stephen, 2005, “Software-sorted geographies”. Progress in Human Geography 29 (5), pp. 562-580.

Kitchin, Rob, 2014, “The real-time city? Big data and smart urbanism”. GeoJournal 79, pp. 1–14. 

Time on Task: 50 minutes

Wider Reading

Some time ago I created a bibliography for work related to ‘Code/space’ that is available on my personal website. This may provide you with options for wider reading.

‘Live’ Session

In this week’s ‘live’ session we discussed code and algorithms – what they mean and why they might be interesting to geographers. You offered the following reflections in Padlets.

Made with Padlet

Made with Padlet

This week’s ‘live’ session was recorded. The session recording is available on Zoom.

Concluding reflections

  1. ‘Smart cities’ are being designed, and claims are being made about them – on which we need to critically reflect as geographers with an interest in ‘the digital’.
  2. The ‘Internet of Things’ is both a rationale and a rhetoric for digital interconnectivity that raises important ethical/political & cultural questions – especially about privacy, surveillance and value.
  3. Both  the ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘smart cities’ have been addressed by geographers as: software-sorted geographies, coded spaces and code/space.
  4. We are increasingly asked to consider the abstract forms of software as having agency, but need to be critically reflective of ‘algorithm’ talk.

A 2015 blogpost I wrote: Some thoughts about how ‘algorithms’ are talked about and what it might mean to study them

You might like…

This video offers an amusing and incisive critical reflection upon the themes I have asked you to consider this week. It was produced as part of a project investigating ‘the internet of things’ led by a friend of mine at Edinburgh.

2 replies on “Week 3/4: Code/space”

Please can you speak more slowly in the videos and pause between points. It is hard to tell where one idea stops and another starts and makes note taking quite hard. Thank you.

I am sorry that the videos were difficult to follow this week. They were edited down from a lecture recording. I will try to post a transcript ASAP.

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