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New Paper: Weaving Seams with data and the Role of Cityapis

Infrastructures are conspicuous for their opacity. They merge into the fabric of the built environment and seem to disappear once they work reliably. They become visible only to experts who build and maintain them, or when they break down. For the rest of us, an infrastructure is embedded in our daily practices, enabling us to do other things. As Geoffrey Bowker and colleagues phrased it, infrastructures are “pervasive enabling resources in network form” (2010: 98). The obscurity of infrastructure is especially worthy of attention and analysis when we talk about networks that are not as easy to identify as roads, water pipes or electric cables. In the context of datafication and smart cities, we also need to look at infrastructures that shape our understanding and potentials to interact with the social, political and economic world around us.

In a paper recently published open access in Big Data & Society, I collaborated with Gabriel Pereira, Lasse Verstergaard and Martin Brynskov from Aarhus University to conceptualize one particular element of network infrastructures in smart cities – application programming interfaces or APIs. In what we term ‘CityAPIs’, different strands of research and criticism are merged to highlight that an object such as an API is far from stable and is subject to different kinds of contestations.

Most basically, an API simply regulates what kind of data or function is available from a host (e.g. a server). It defines data types and ways to query them. An API is mostly not visible to an end user but regulates traffic between computers or applications. Our interest in APIs is connected to the idea that datafication in smart cities creates new ways of ‘seamless integration’ between different data sources. But beyond the buzzword, this seamlessness is the result of massive integration efforts on the social, technological and political levels of cities. Defining how an API makes certain data available is thus a political question that drives the design and implementation of new infrastructures – from traffic and weather monitoring to social and mobile media applications.

In the article we particularly discuss three perspectives on City APIs, which cover the fields of criticism, design and implementation.

  1. Criticism of Proprietary APIs such as social media APIs has foregrounded how certain business models are hardwired into the design and governance of APIs. Using the Twitter Streaming API for research purposes, for example, is possible with some constraint, but not intended by the providers of the API. In this perspective, APIs appear as ‘protocological objects’, to quote Bucher (2013), that regulate data exchanges but also practices of programmers and users.
  2. The design challenges for APIs are addressed in the second part, highlighting that affordances of APIs are negotiated between API producers and API consumers. Creating an API needs to take into account what resources a computer system can offer to an API consumer, and how these are understood. Revealing the ‘intent’ of an API needs to anticipate use cases and disclose in a consistent fashion how particular kinds of data can be queried.
  3. How APIs intersect with urban innovation initiatives, local governance structures and use-based challenges is the subject of the third part. We present analyses of two projects, City SDK and OrganiCity, to highlight that the technological challenge of designing APIs is overshadowed by political and economic considerations about the future uses of social urban data, their governance and transparency, and the potential for citizens to interact with such new infrastructures.

Although this discussion of CityAPIs may seem to be a fairly technical matter, the article highlights that such elements reveal the social, political and economical contestations about digital urban transitions. APIs can be envisioned and designed for many different kinds of seams, their weaving of data into the urban fabric is not limited to improved public service delivery or proprietary business models for big data analytics. They rather challenge us to acknowledge and interrogate the pervasive influence of certain infrastructures on the way we understand and interact with the world around us.

Because an API operates at the level of defining and providing data access that serves as a prerequisite and condition for user-focused applications, its definition and implementation embeds crucial socio-political assumptions in a technological framework that has far-reaching consequences for citizens, city administrators, and developers of applications using social urban data. (p. 5)

Cite As

Raetzsch, Christoph; Pereira, Gabriel; Vestergaard, Lasse S; Brynskov, Martin (2019). “Weaving Seams with Data: Conceptualizing City APIs as Elements of Infrastructures.” Big Data & Society 6(1). https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2053951719827619.

Video Abstract

See our video abstract on the Big Data & Society blog. https://youtu.be/AojKojNdSN0

Additional Readings

API Criticism, Social Media and Infrastructures

  • Preparing the Ground for Infrastructure Studies: Star, Susan Leigh; Ruhleder, Karen (1996). “Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces.” Information Systems Research 7(1): 111-134. https://dx.doi.org/10.1287/isre.7.1.111.
  • Bowker, Geoffrey C.; Baker, Karen; Millerand, Florence; Ribes, David. (2010). “Toward Information Infrastructure Studies: Ways of Knowing in a Networked Environment.” International Handbook of Internet Research, edited by Jeremy Hunsinger; Lisbeth Klastrup; Matthew Allen, 97-117. Dordrecht: Springer. https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9789-8_5.
  • APIs as Protocological Objects: Bucher, Taina (2013). “Objects of Intense Feeling: The Case of the Twitter API.” Computational Culture. A Journal of Software Studies 3. http://computationalculture.net/objects-of-intense-feeling-the-case-of-the-twitter-api/.
  • Mapping the data economy: Bechmann, Anja (2013). “Internet Profiling: The Economy of Data Intraoperability on Facebook and Google.” MedieKultur 29(55): 72-91. https://dx.doi.org/10.7146/mediekultur.v29i55.8070.
  • Platforms as Infrastructures (and vice versa): Plantin, Jean-Christophe; Lagoze, Carl; Edwards, Paul N; Sandvig, Christian (2018). “Infrastructure Studies Meet Platform Studies in the Age of Google and Facebook.” New Media & Society 20(1): 293-310. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1461444816661553.
  • Platform Instances and the Mobile Ecosystem: Nieborg, David B; Helmond, Anne (2018). “The Political Economy of Facebook’s Platformization in the Mobile Ecosystem: Facebook Messenger as a Platform Instance.” Media, Culture & Society 41(2): 196-218. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0163443718818384.
  • Learning with APIs: Mackenzie, Adrian (2018). “From API to AI: Platforms and Their Opacities.” Information, Communication & Society (online first). https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2018.1476569.
  • API Deconstruct as Critical Practice: Snodgrass, Eric; Soon, Winnie (2019). “API Practices and Paradigms: Exploring the Protocological Parameters of APIs as Key Facilitators of Sociotechnical Forms of Exchange.” First Monday 24(2). https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/9553.

Urban Informatics

  • What’s Urban Informatics? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_informatics
  • From Street Computing to Intervention: Robinson, Ricky; Rittenbruch, Markus; Foth, Marcus; Filonik, Daniel; Viller, Stephen (2012). “Street Computing: Towards an Integrated Open Data Application Programming Interface (API) for Cities.” Journal of Urban Technology 19(2): 1-23. https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10630732.2012.698064.
  • The Citizen in the Digital City: Foth, Marcus; Brynskov, Martin; Ojala, Timo (eds.) (2015). Citizen’s Right to the Digital City: Urban Interfaces, Activism, and Placemaking. Wiesbaden: Springer.
  • Methods for Participating in the Digital City: Dezuanni, Michael; Foth, Marcus; Mallan, Kerry; Hughes, Hilary (eds.) (2018). Digital Participation Through Social Living Labs: Valuing Local Knowledge, Enhancing Engagement. Amsterdam: Chandos Publishing.

Visualizing and Controlling Data

Urban Data Spaces

  • Data and Space: Dalton, Craig M; Taylor, Linnet; Thatcher (alphabetical), Jim (2016). “Critical Data Studies: A Dialog on Data and Space.” Big Data & Society 3(1). https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2053951716648346.
  • Imaginaries of the Urban Data Space: Hoelzl, Ingrid; Marie, Rémi (2016). “Brave New City: The Image in the Urban Data-Space.” Visual Communication 15(3): 371-391. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1470357216642638.
  • Command of the Land is Command of Data: Graham, Stephen D.N. (2016). “Software-Sorted Geographies.” Progress in Human Geography 29(5): 562-580. https://dx.doi.org/10.1191/0309132505ph568oa.
  • Governing the Pulse of the City: Coletta, Claudio; Kitchin, Rob (2017). “Algorhythmic Governance: Regulating the ‘Heartbeat’ of a City Using the Internet of Things.” Big Data & Society 4(2). https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2053951717742418.
  • Study on Urban Data Spaces, Governance, Use Potentials [on Germany, in German]: Schieferdecker, Ina; Bruns, Lina; Cuno, Silke; Flügge, Matthias; Isakovic, Karsten Klessmann, Jens; Kraft, Volker; Lämmel, Philipp; Stadtkewitz, Dustin Tcholtchev, Nikolay; Lange, Christoph; Imbusch, Benedikt I.; Strauß, Leonie; Vastag, Alex; Flocke, Florian (2018). Urbane Datenräume – Möglichkeiten von Datenaustausch und Zusammenarbeit im Urbanen Raum. Fraunhofer FOKUS, IAIS, IML. https://www.fokus.fraunhofer.de/de/fokus/presse/urbaneDatenraeume-Studie-Datenmanagement_2018_06
  • Summary of the above study in English: Cuno, Silke; Bruns, Lina; Tcholtchev, Nikolay; Lämmel, Philipp; Schieferdecker, Ina (2019). “Data Governance and Sovereignty in Urban Data Spaces Based on Standardized ICT Reference Architectures.” Data 4(1): 16. https://dx.doi.org/10.3390/data4010016.

The Bike-friendly City as a Communicative Object

In December 2017, Martin Brynskov and me published a collaborative and exploratory piece on communicative objects. The prompt was a special issue of the Brazilian open access journal Parágrafo, managed and edited by Rafael Grohmann, on “Boundaries of Journalism” (including – inter alia – contributions by Alice Mattoni, Nikki Usher and Rodney Benson). In our article, we address the complexity of a public issue like the bike-friendly city and the various sources of data and media we, as journalism and media scholars, can access to understand processes of public contention. Based on the case study of #Radentscheid in Berlin, we offer a basic contextual framing of communicative objects and develop a typology of such objects. A cornerstone of our article is a discussion of the methodological challenges when investigating public issues through communicative objects, which transgress established disciplinary boundaries and explanatory schemes because they are situated in overlapping social, medial and political contexts.

Abstract

This paper addresses the boundaries of journalism through a perspective of communicative objects. Introduced as a heuristic concept, communicative objects focus attention on the processes and practices of meaning-making inside and outside publics as much as addressing the materiality of these processes that take place in digital and networked media. As more and more platforms and services are developed to involve actors in different socio-cultural settings in forms of public communication, the concept of the communicative object accentuates the materiality and epistemologies of these settings. The article builds on the case study of a citizen’s initiative for a bike-friendly city in Berlin (Germany) to outline methodological inroads and theoretical implications of the communicative object. The aim is to problematize rather than resolve tensions between everyday usage of media technologies, journalistic professional expertise and the practices of meaning-making that exist and evolve outside of journalism. Through the concept we also address new epistemological challenges of analyzing digital media, which emerge as a result of new interaction potentials of communicative objects which we cannot capture in a document-oriented research methodology.

Here you go

Challenging the Boundaries of Journalism through Communicative Objects: Berlin as a Bike-friendly City and #Radentscheid

Cite as

The article was originally published in Portuguese. Please refer to the original source as Raetzsch, Christoph; Brynskov, Martin (2017). “Desafiando as Fronteiras Do Jornalismo Por Meio de Objetos Comunicativos: Berlim Como Uma Cidade Bike-Friendly E #radentscheid [Challenging the Boundaries of Journalism Through Communicative Objects: Berlin as a Bike-Friendly City and #radentscheid].” Parágrafo: Revista Científica de Comunicação Social da FIAM-FAAM 5(2): 110-127. http://revistaseletronicas.fiamfaam.br/index.php/recicofi/article/view/681. Published in English at https://futuremaking.space/blog/challenging-boundaries-journalism-communicative-objects-berlin-bike-friendly-city-radentscheid/

Media Practice and Performative Publics

Quotidian digital media have fundamentally transformed the ways in which public protest is articulated today. Think of movements like Occupy and the Arab Spring, the protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul and the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Protest is nowadays voiced on the street and online at the same time. Or it originates online and stretches further and further, assuming all kinds of material and collaborative forms. Think of #metoo.

Together with Margreth Lünenborg (FU Berlin) and Susanne Foellmer (Coventry), I have edited “Media Practices, Social Movements, and Performativity: Transdisciplinary Approaches” (Routledge). It is  a collaboration between media and communication studies with dance and theater studies. The case studies cover a wide cultural and geographical terrain – from Mexico to Japan, from German to Greece. A common interest is to develop the notion of media practice and performativity and employ it analytically to these divergent settings.

Media Practices, Social Movements, and Performativity: Transdisciplinary Approaches (Hardback) book cover

The volume presents international case studies on the new dynamics of protest, articulation and community along with two programmatic articles on the role and legacies of performativity.  On the basis of these approaches the contributors show the specific local embeddedness of new forms of publicness that emerge in protest movements. As a tribute to Randy Martin, we reprint his programmatic article “A precarious dance, a derivative sociality“, which originally appeared in The Drama Review (2012; 56(4)).

In our article “From Public Sphere to Performative Publics” Margreth Lünenborg and me argue that

the new public modalities in which performative publics emerge need to be understood in terms of a relinking of materialities, competences and meanings, that are nowadays often transposed from the domain of quotidian user practice to the articulation of communal or collective interests. (p. 28)

What interested us in our article (apart from a critique of public sphere concepts) was the perspective of practice, paying attention to how minute shifts in media, knowledge and meaning over time allow for new public articulations to emerge. THE PUBLIC is no longer there. It’s created. Every day. By everyone. And we need to become more aware of how this happens because the usual suspects (journalists) are no longer the first or only to make it happen. What is now far more common is that speaker and audience positions alternate.

We need to ask, what kinds of discursive positions can become articulated in performative publics and how do these publics emerge and are sustained over time. Nowadays, the structures in which publics emerge are by and large communicative structures, which can be mobilised, adopted and transposed to new contexts as new issues emerge and new actors stand up to speak on their behalf. (p. 29)

See the full list of Contributions

Introduction: Media Practices, Social Movements, and Performativity: Transdisciplinary Approaches (Susanne Foellmer, Margreth Lünenborg, Christoph Raetzsch)

Part I: Framing Media Practices: Theoretical Perspectives

1. From Public Sphere to Performative Publics: Developing Media Practice as an Analytic Model (Margreth Lünenborg/ Christoph Raetzsch)

2. Reframing Modes of Resistance: Performing and Choreographing Protest Through Media Practices (Susanne Foellmer/ Matthias Warstat)

Part II: Approaching Media Practices: Mobilities – Movements – Interventions

3. Mobilising the homeless? A proposal for the concept of banal mobilisation (Maren Hartmann)

4. Gezi Uprising: Performative Democracy and Politics of the Body in an Extended Space of Appearance (Gurur Ertem)

5.Mobilise, justify, accuse – the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood strategies in the context of changing media practices (Carola Richter)

6. The Mechanics of Signification – Making the Story of Embros (Gigu Argyropoulou/ Natascha Siouzouli)

7. “Narco Culture” and Media Practices: Negotiating Gender Identities in Contexts of Violence (Teresa Orozco Martínez/ Martha Zapata Galindo)

8. Performing fragmented realities: Interventionist media practice by LIGNA, Rimini Protokoll and plan b (Patrick Primavesi)

9. Succession or Cessation: The Challenge of New Media for the Japan-Korea Solidarity Movement (Misook Lee)

Afterword: A precarious dance, a derivative sociality (†Randy Martin)

 

  • See more about the book and its contributors
  • Order your review copy  or download the flyer
  • Full reference [Article]: Lünenborg, Margreth; Raetzsch, Christoph. (2018). “From Public Sphere to Performative Publics: Developing Media Practice as an Analytic Model.” Media Practices, Social Movements, and Performativity: Transdisciplinary Approaches, edited by Susanne Foellmer; Margreth Lünenborg; Christoph Raetzsch, 13-35. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Full Reference [Introduction]: Foellmer, Susanne; Lünenborg, Margreth; Raetzsch, Christoph. (2018). “Introduction: Media Practices, Social Movements and Performativity: Transdisciplinary Approaches.” Media Practices, Social Movements, and Performativity: Transdisciplinary Approaches, edited by Susanne Foellmer; Margreth Lünenborg; Christoph Raetzsch, 1-10. Abingdon: Routledge.