Internet Geographer

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Semantic Cities: Coded Geopolitics and the Rise of the Semantic Web.

In order to understand how the city’s contested political contexts are embedded into its digital layers, we traced how the city is represented on online platforms that house facts about much of the world. We did this by analyzing representations of Jerusalem across the Arabic, Hebrew and English versions of Wikipedia (working with a translator on the Arabic and Hebrew versions), as well as on the platforms of Wikidata, Freebase and Google. As our cities become increasingly digital, and as the digital becomes increasingly governed by the logics of the semantic web, there are important questions to ask about how these new alignments of code and content shape how cities are presented, experienced, and brought into being. What we found is a paradoxical situation whereby, through connecting datasets, semantic web initiatives detach localized information from the contexts of its creation. By divorcing content from its contexts, this process establishes new contexts in which necessarily political decisions are being made with far reaching consequences.

This is a topic of a new chapter (that I wrote with Heather Ford) that just arrived on my desk this morning. You can download the piece here:

Ford, H., and Graham, M. 2016. Semantic Cities: Coded Geopolitics and the Rise of the Semantic Web. In Code and the City. eds. Kitchin, R., and Perng, S-Y. London: Routledge. 200-214.

Otherwise, here’s a shorter version I wrote in Slate:

Graham, M. 2015. Why Does Google Say Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel Slate.com Nov 30, 2015

We also have an earlier blog and webcast on the topic (and here's Washington Post’s coverage of our work). 

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The Cultural Wealth of Nations
I just got word that I will be contributing a chapter to a forthcoming book called “The Cultural Wealth of Nations.” The volume (edited by Nina Bandelj and Frederick Wherry) will bring together the work of twelve contributors (most of whom presented papers at a conference organized by the editors in March) in order to address the following question:

How do the symbolic qualities of places shape economic activities? As the summaries from three cases outlined above suggest, symbolic resources affect social, cultural, and economic development. Indeed, the value of being made in America or made in Italy depends not only on the material advantages each place offers but also the symbolic resources embedded in the places of production. While some economists, economic sociologists, and political economists have expanded their inquiries of development to include social networks/social capital, they have done less to account for the symbolic resources that enhance or dampen development efforts.

The abstract for my chapter in the book proposal is as follows:

Mark Graham presents a detailed case study of commodity chains in the Thai silk industry and focuses specifically on attempts to reinvigorate the slowly dying practice of silk production in northeastern Thailand. Producers of Thai silk usually live in poverty, whilst intermediaries are able to capture the bulk of value. As such, development strategies often revolve around eliminating intermediaries on the commodity chains of silk and bringing weavers into a global virtual marketplace. By contrasting chains that have been altered by the internet (e-commerce) with those that have not, this chapter demonstrates that the internet is rarely being used to successfully disintermediate commodity chains. Value within the Thai silk industry is most often created by intermediaries with a detailed knowledge of foreign customer tastes, marketing strategies, and distribution outlets, rather than simple topological alterations to commodity chains. Therefore, for most weavers, it is the detailed knowledge of intermediaries, rather than strategies of distintermediation that will continue to connect them with consumers around the globe.