AOIR 6.2.2:  Saskia Sassen

What follows are my notes on Saskia Sassen’s keynote address, “Digital Formations: The Intersection of Technical and Social Logics in Electronic Space.” A reminder that any mischaracterization or misunderstanding is my fault, not hers.

social science research council project: how can social scientists take technology seriously but not be blinded by it?

concepts like “internet” operate like master categories — create a kind of penumbra around themselves; what is it that those words that are becoming categories are actually obscuring

project: how would we as social scientists constitute the object of study, in a way that both takes the technology seriously and avoids being blinded by it

team of mostly social scientists, but a few IT types (incl. John Seely Brown)

instruction to committee: we cannot water down one another’s discourses in order to communicate; we have to build analytic bridges that allow us to talk to each other without oversimplifying

a beautiful idea! but how do you do that? trial and error

second rule: if we as social scientists are going to discpline ourselves in the field, how can we take the tech seriously instead of treating it as a independent variable (the “impact of” approach)

technologies constitute a whole new domain of experience — must get past the dependent/independent variable mode

third rule: interested in interactive domains, at the limit, in their constitutive capacities; technologies in their “sociality” (from French socialit?©; signals a very think kind of socialness, associatedness — doesn’t imply the multiplicities of transactions that “the social” imply) — studying domains that in their interactiveness construct new kind of sociality

fourth rule: let’s look at interactive domains that are structured in electronic space (not pipes)

one way to study would be to take interactive spaces and try to understand the question: how does the presence of social logics that at least partly structure interaction in this doman alters the technological logic that one can derive from the capacities of the technology?

alter = enhance, etc.

interactivity of social logics and technical logics

can actually explain why so many of the predictions of the power of new ITCs have not been accurate; they have inferred from technical capacities certain outcomes, but it doesn’t work that way — fails to take into account the social logics

can we specify a few analytic structures that need to be taken into account in order to pursue this question?

three such analytics: first, the relationship between fixity and mobility — no doubt that technologies are designed to neutralize space, to enhance mobility; need to understand constitutive features of mobility, but study whether fixity remains important

capital mobility no doubt enhanced by digital markets and instruments — software removes need to know the math in order to use; made a foundational difference in the functioning of financial markets, and thus the technology becomes constitutive in the change, an actor altering the foundational dynamics of the market

on the other hand: still interested in fixity in mobility, which is part of the new mobilities (see David Harvey, /Late Capitalism/

what of when a building becomes part of a financial market (?) — building is fixed, immobile, and yet our use of the building changes (?) — technical logic of domain inhabits the building (???)

second: destabilizing of traditional hierarchies of scale; technologies disrupt traditional institutionalizations through scope, etc. — we can now reach so many more people! but it’s not just that we can reach them — also, they should be able to reach one another — simultaneity is too often not a part of scale models

technologies can be disruptive to geographical and institutional jurisdictions, but at the same time…

a story that has not received enough attention: the potential for discovering what might work (???)

third analytics: culture of use — we talk a lot of competence, access, in binary terms, but there’s more to be explored; discovering an analytic border zone, an ambiguous terrain between one pole and another

example: anthropological study of how different types of Muslims in the Middle East use the internet; expectations were at one end, hip, tech-savvy Muslim youth, and at the other, older, traditional scholars of the Koran — but it turns out, that because of the culture of use the scholars of the Koran brought to the technology, they had a much more complex use of the technology than did the youths, and were able to find utilities of the technology that the youth were not able to find

how do social logics alter the outcome of technical logics?

book that came out of project, /Digital Formations/, presents new analytical model


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