cultural studies

The struggle for recognition in technological cultures: an anthology of “engineer’s laments”

Engineers have a lot of reasons to be miserable. I mean, they spend their precious time designing sophisticated and super-clever technological solutions to problems faced by people who hardly ever grant them the recognition they deserve. Take this piece of poetry, posted in a display case at Bletchley Park military research facility – the place where artificial intelligence pioneer Alan Turing and colleagues created Colossus, the very first electronic computer.

Most likely inspired by pre-existing seamen’s ballads written by ‘marine engineers’ operating ships and cargos, this lament was first published by Henry Jennings, a post office engineer, in the Bedford Telephone Area newsletter in 1950. Of course there’s a lot to be said about recognition. Philosopher Axel Honneth maintains mutual acknowledgement of the existence of social actors is what makes society work (cf. his seminal essay The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, Polity Press, 1996).

Quite understandably engineers want to be appreciated for what they do. Problem is, when a system works, engineers’ activity becomes invisible. And when it becomes visible again, it’s usually because something’s gone wrong… There’s a lot of interesting books about this ‘vanishing effect’ of engineering, from Bruno Latour’s Paris: Invisible City (La Découverte, 1998) to Stephen Graham’s Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructure Fails (Routledge, 2009) – although they mostly deal with civil engineering.


Phd thesis on mobile blogging and everyday life

There is a growing interest in Academia in the impact of photosharing and photoblogging via popular services such as Flickr or Tumblr. Not only the very notion of publicly sharing personal pictures challenges common sense in regard to privacy and intellectual property, it also provides rich tools for ethnographic exploration and “witnessing” of everyday life – as recently highlighted by visual historian André Gunthert.

Soren Mork Petersen’ PhD thesis comes as a timely contribution to this research thread: Common Banality: The Affective Character of Photo Sharing, Everyday Life and Produsage Cultures was defended on January 2009 at the ITU Copenhagen – and supervised by an old acquaintance and former colleague of mine, Adrian Mackenzie.