Written by Michael Hockenhull, Lab Manager.
At ETHOS Lab we want to be engaged with the society surrounding us, not to mention other parts of the university. That’s why we host publicETHOS events, why we welcome student volunteers from all backgrounds and why we aim to experiment with services for external organisations. When we were asked if we wanted to be a part of this year’s Culture Night programme at the ITU, it therefore made a lot of sense for us to say “Yes!”
But what to show? We have a broad set of interests at the lab, but we figured it would be best to show some with broad appeal, societal relevance and with connection to our research group. We contacted Assistant Professor Luca Rossi from our research group, and asked if he had any ideas for something interesting. After a short brainstorming session we came up with the idea that it would be fun to map out the activity of the culture night as it was mediated by social media. The Culture Night organisation will be running an Instagram competition around the hashtag “#kulturfoto15” and the Danes are quite avid Instagram users, so there should be a good amount of data. We decided to visualize and map the Culture Night through this data.
We will be in show with three different visualizations: one will be a co-hashtag network graph, showing the “semantic space” of the event, another will be a display of the images people are posting to Instagram and finally a third will show, on a map of Copenhagen, where the Instagram posts are being made.
Right: An example of a co-hashtag graph concerning the Boston Marathon Bombing, produced by the University of Washington.
Why do we think this sort of mapping is interesting to show to the public? Well, for one it highlights the fact that the data and photos produced by using a service like Instagram aren’t as private as we like to think they are. We think it’s important to keep the discussion about data ownership and privacy alive and kicking, as it is easy to forget that the services we have come to rely on come at a cost.
There is also a theoretical discussion for which this sort of showing is interesting. The ETHOS Lab staff are part of teaching a course called Navigating Complexity: Visualizing, Mapping and Decision-Making, on the DIM programme. Here students are taught to use theory, visualization techniques and mapping as methods to perform in complex situations. One such methods is that of controversy mapping, a social science approach made famous by french sociologist Bruno Latour. In a text by Latour’s Head of Research, Tommaso Venturni, it is argued that while it’s near impossible to gain an objective understanding of controversies in science and technology, we may gain what he calls secondary objectivity if we multiply the number of angles we are viewing from. Secondary objectivity, it is hoped, will allow the viewer to quickly understand and explore the elements of the controversy, and take a stand.
In contrast to the view of secondary objectivity, we also have the students read a text by feminist philosopher Donna Haraway. For Haraway, it is impossible to gain either primary or secondary objectivity (although it should be said that she doesn’t specifically engage with the latter, as Haraway’s text is much older than Venturini’s). Instead, we are always situated in our specific embodied and partial perspective of the world. She identifies an ongoing myth where it is believed, that if we just have the right technology, we can gain a God’s eye view of the world, of reality and thus achieve objectivity.
It should be apparent that Venturini’s and Haraway’s views are somewhat at odds with one another. Rather than throw ETHOS Lab’s lot in with either of them, I’d like to make a parallel from these claims to what we will be doing on the Culture Night, and suggest that it be viewed as an experiment. We will be trying to multiply perspectives with our different maps of the culture night, but at the same time, we will be in a very particular and partial position in relation to the whole thing. How do these two types of knowledge or ways of viewing the setup interact? What sort of things will we be able to say about the Culture Night based on our technology and our situatedness?
These are open questions, and we would love to discuss them with you. Drop by on the first floor of ITU on Culture Night, and explore together with us.