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Call for papers: Data Shadows and Urban Augmented Realities (at the Association of American Geographers)

Call for Papers: Data Shadows and Urban Augmented Realities


Most parts of our urban areas have become both digitally connected and represented by digitalized information. Digital layers of geographic information (commonly referred to as “augmented reality” by computer scientists) can take myriad forms. The most visible of which are probably the digital maps that many people use to navigate through cities. Google, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Apple, OpenStreetMap, Baidu, and many other companies and organisations all host publicly accessible platforms that partially reflect parts of our world. These services also become the platform for an almost unimaginable amount of additional content that both reflects the materiality of cities and augments it with additional content. This additional volunteered (and emitted) geographic information is comprised of photographs, blogs, tweets, social media checkins, webcams, videos, and encyclopedia articles. These layers of digital representations are then further reproduced and repurposed in the ways that they annotate the urban environment


The ambition of this session is to interrogate the increasing prevalence of both geographically referenced digital information and the code through which it is regulated. By asking what these augmented realities are, where they are and where they are not, and how they are brought into being, we can both unpack the language we use to speak about digital augmentations and explore the ways in which digital extensions of place are becoming increasingly important in everyday, lived geographies.

This session seeks two kinds of papers. First it aims to provide space for papers that explore the ways in which we should imagine, describe, critique, and even name, the digital and informational augmentations of our lives. Second, the session seeks papers that critically examine information geographies and augmented realities in specific contexts. How do informational augmentations impact on how we bring our worlds into being? What and where do they exclude? What narratives and discourses do they allow, and what do they conceal? How are they governed, regulated, and challenged?


Please submit abstracts of less than 250 words to Mark Graham (mark.graham@oii.ox.ac.uk) and Matthew Zook (zook@uky.edu) before October 31, 2013.  We will review abstracts in order to form cohesive sessions.

Data Shadows

I’ve had a few people ask what I mean when I use the term ‘data shadow.’ I’ll attempt a very brief explanation here.

Matt Zook and colleagues used the term back in 2004 in order to describe the ways that personal information can be incorporated into surveillance regimes. 

More recently, I’ve found the term useful to articulate the layers of digital information created about places. In other words, the ways in which various contours of places can be represented on our digital canvases. Data shadows can take a variety of forms, but most are manifestations or byproducts of human/machine interactions in what Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin call code/spaces and coded spaces.

This is all discussed in much more detail in the following publication:

Graham, M. 2013. The Virtual Dimension. In Global City Challenges: debating a concept, improving the practice. eds. M. Acuto and W. Steele. London: Palgrave. (in press).

Alternatively, the idea is discussed in a somewhat different form in my earlier paper on palimpsests:

Graham, M. 2010. Neogeography and the Palimpsests of PlaceTijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie. 101(4), 422-436.

The 'palimpsest’ notion, however, focuses largely on the layers of information over places rather than the ways that they reflect lived patterns and processes. More recently, Matt Zook, Andrew Boulton, and I have instead turned to the notion of 'augmented realities’ as a way of paying attention to the indeterminate, unstable, context dependent and multiple realities brought into being through the subjective coming-togethers in time and space of material and virtual experience. In other words, the ways that everyday life is increasingly experienced in conjunction with, and produced by, digital and coded information. This is all described more in these two papers:


Graham, M., M. Zook., and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in the Urban Environment: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.38(3), 464-479.

Graham, M and M. Zook. 2013. Augmented Realities and Uneven Geographies: Exploring the Geo-linguistic Contours of the Web. Environment and Planning A 45(1) 77-99.

I'm particularly interested in tracing the 'data shadows’ idea further back in time. So would welcome any links and references that help me do that. Comments and thoughts on whether 'data shadows’ even serves as a useful function would also be welcome. 

New paper - Augmented Reality in Urban Places: Contested Content and the Duplicity of Code

I am very happy to report that a paper that I have been working on with Matt Zook and Andrew Boulton has just been accepted for publication in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

The paper is titled Augmented Reality in Urban Places: Contested Content and the Duplicity of Code and the abstract is below:

With the increasing prevalence of both geographic information, and the code through which it is regulated, digital augmentations of place will become increasingly important in everyday, lived geographies. Through two detailed explorations of ‘augmented realities,’ this paper provides a broad overview of not only the ways that those augmentations matter, but also the complex and often duplicitous manner that code and content can congeal in our experiences of augmented places. Because the re-makings of our spatial experiences and interactions are increasingly influenced through the ways in which content and code are fixed, ordered, stabilised, and contested, this paper places a focus on how power, as mediated through technological artefacts, code and content, helps to produce place. Specifically, it demonstrates there are four key ways in which power is manifested in augmented realities: two performed largely by social actors, distributed power and communication power; and two enacted primarily via software, code power and timeless power. The paper concludes by calling for redoubled attention to both the layerings of content and the duplicity and ephemerality of code in shaping the uneven and power-laden practices of representations and the experiences of place augmentations in urban places.

Graham, M., M. Zook., and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in Urban Places: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 38(3), 464-479. (pre-publication version here)

(and in the spirit of celebration and Internet-related awesomeness, here are some cats playing ping-pong)

We found love in a coded space

“I am longing, shocking and unequal. Also imminent and square. I am lost.”


These are the words of @shipadrift - a virtual floating boat that navigates the intersections between the material and virtual palimpsests that make up our being-in-the-world. If you haven’t yet seen the project, I highly recommend you check out both the ship’s current material/virtual location and its travel narrative published through a Twitter account.

The way the project works is that the ship’s direction and speed are calculated based on a wind speeds in London: allowing the ship to always have movement and position in material space. This is supplemented by scraping all of the augmented layers of place that exist over the ship’s particular location: Wikipedia articles, personal ads, photographs, etc. The project is simply brilliant and I can’t think of a better way to visualise and explain the digital augmentations of our planet.

I actually learnt about this project recently thanks to a video sent to me by Martin Dodge. The talk, by James Bridle, discusses the ‘shipadrift’ project, but also delves more broadly into what it means to live in co-created spaces; spaces that we share with bots; hybrid spaces that are shared between our physical presences, our imaginations, and the broader network. There are a lot of parallels here to some of the work that Matt Zook and I have been doing on augmented realities, Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin have been doing into code/spaces, and Stuart Geiger has been doing into the lives of bots. Bridle nicely brings all of these themes together and I definitely suggest that you check out his talk below: