Friday, July 18, 2014

AAG 2015 CFP - Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Margins

Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Margins
AAG Annual Meeting, Chicago, April 21-25, 2015

Mark Graham and Chris Foster, University of Oxford

We are in the throes of a global transformation of digital connectivity. Over six billion people have access to phones and two and a half billion people use the internet. Meanwhile, governments, international organisations, and corporations are developing plans, projects, and policies to connect the remaining disconnected. Fibre-optic cables, laptops for every child, and drones, balloons, and satellites all beaming down internet access are just some of the strategies being actively planned to bring connectivity to the rest of the world in the coming years. 

As we approach a situation in which almost half of humanity is online, we need to explore the difference people expect connectivity to make at the world’s economic peripheries. Will connectivity amplify or deepen economic inequalities? Should we expect empowerment, inclusion, and opportunities; or further exploitation and extraversion?

This session brings together papers that seek to explore the differences that connectivity makes, and can make, in the contemporary international division of labour and on-going global shifts in economic flows. It will critically explore ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ networked capitalism, and the opportunities, struggles, and alternatives that it underpins. It will also facilitate a space for research that addresses the central question of ‘who benefits and who doesn’t from the increasing networking of the world’s population?’

Potential topics include:

  • Discourses around connectivity, inclusion, and exclusion in the Global South
  • ICT and development policies and who they ultimately benefit.
  • Changes to global value chains or production networks
  • Opportunities for upgrading or disintermediation
  • Empirical or theoretical engagements with the idea of ‘connectivity’ and the roles that it can play amongst the world’s poorest
  • Contemporary or historical treatments of the links between connectivity and inequality
  • Alternative ways of imagining or envisioning connectivity at the world’s economic peripheries
  • Case studies of global ‘body shopping’, digital work, or bottom of the pyramid capitalism
  • Policies and initiatives for digital connectivity which support inclusion and reduced inequality

Submission Procedure:

To be considered for the session, please send your abstract of 250 words or fewer, to: and

The deadline for receipt of abstracts is October 1 2014. Notification of acceptance will be before October 7. All accepted papers will then need to register for the AAG conference at Accepted papers will be considered for a special issue or edited volume edited by the organisers.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The new Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality research group

Some of my OII colleagues and I have just formally launched a new research group in order to cluster and congeal some of our overlapping research and interests on the topics of connectivity, inclusion, and inequality (CII).

The CII group specifically aims to understand the differences that ICTs and changing connectivities make at the world’s economic peripheries; to uncover who the winners and losers are; and to critically consider what ‘development’ is, and should be, in a hyper-connected age.

Please head over to our new CII website in order to learn more about what we're doing.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Two public talks in Barcelona in July

I've been invited to speak at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute in Barcelona next month. If you're around, please feel free to join one or both of the talks that I'll be involved with:

Internet Geographies: Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labour (public lecture at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona)
Mark Graham
10 July 2014

Information is the raw material for much of the work that goes on in the contemporary global economy, and there are few people and places that remain entirely disconnected from international and global economic processes. As such, it is important to understand who produces and reproduces, who has access, and who and where are represented by information in our contemporary knowledge economy. This talk discusses inequalities in traditional knowledge and information geographies, before moving to examine the Internet-era potentials for new and more inclusionary patterns. It concludes that rather than democratizing platforms of knowledge sharing, the Internet seems to be enabling a digital division of labour in which the visibility, voice and power of the North is reinforced rather than diminished.

Geographies of the Internet | Internet Geographies (public lecture at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona)
Mark Graham, Matthew Wilson, Matthew Zook
11 July 2014

In this seminar, we seek to understand and articulate some of the continuities and discontinuities between geographical representations of the Internet (as a record of Internet-based social-spatial relations), and geographical studies of the Internet (as a record of a specific socio-technical assemblages). We do this through an initial participatory discussion about the intersections of geography and Internet: asking how geography is implicated in how we understand the Internet, and how the Internet is implicated in how we create and enact geographies.

The three speakers then focus on key debates within Internet Geography in five minute interventions that are followed by five minute periods for discussion. We all cover relationships between the digital and the material, information inequalities and splintering urbanisms, GIS, society, and critical GIS, neogeography and volunteered geographic information, big data, and economic geographies of the Internet. For each of these topics, we outline some of the more significant contours of research in the area, as well as some of the most significant areas of concern.

We end with a discussion and demonstration of some of the tools that can be employed to address some of the questions outlined in this session. As research on geography and the Internet collide with one another, we hope that this seminar can serve as a starting point for anyone interested in disentangling social, spatial, and digital relationships.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Colombian Minister of ICT to speak at the Oxford Internet Institute
The Colombian Minister of ICT, Mr Diego Molano, will be visiting the Oxford Internet Institute on June 24 to give a talk titled: "Clues to ICT4D policies in developing countries: The Colombian Example"

The talk will be part of our ongoing ICT and Development seminar series and is open to anyone interested in the topic. If you'd like to attend, please sign up here.

More about his talk below:

In the last four years Colombia has experienced a digital revolution derived from an ambitious public policy plan called “Vive Digital”, which aims at reducing poverty, inequality and unemployment. Colombia has gone from 20% to 96% of its municipalities connected to the Internet and has multiplied by four the number of Internet connections, mainly in low income households.
This South American country received in 2012 the GSMA Government Leadership Award for having the best ICT public policy worldwide. It was also portrayed as a case study in the last World Economic Forum meeting in Davos and became the subject of a Washington Post article, which called the plan "Genius". So what is all the noise about?
In this session, Mr. Diego Molano, Minister of ICT of Colombia, will highlight the key elements of this revolutionary plan, based on the strategic development of a carefully designed ICT Ecosystem, and explain his particular ICT4D approach.
This is the Opportunity to discuss with an ICT Policy Leader the main challenges that Colombia, as well as other middle income countries face, as they embark on the journey of ICT deployment as a tool to overcome poverty and support development.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Society & The Internet book is now out!

The "Society & The Internet" book is now finally out!

How is society being shaped by the diffusion and increasing centrality of the Internet in everyday life and work? By bringing together leading research that addresses some of the most significant cultural, economic, and political roles of the Internet, this volume introduces students to a core set of readings that address this question in specific social and institutional contexts. 

Internet Studies is a burgeoning new field, which has been central to the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), an innovative multi-disciplinary department at the University of Oxford. Society and the Internet builds on the OII's evolving series of lectures on society and the Internet. The series has been edited to create a reader to supplement upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses that seek to introduce students to scholarship focused on the implications of the Internet for networked societies around the world.

The chapters of the reader are rooted in a variety of disciplines, but all directly tackle the powerful ways in which the Internet is linked to political, social, cultural, and economic transformations in society. This book will be a starting point for anyone with a serious interest in the factors shaping the Internet and its impact on society.  The book begins with an introduction by the editors, which provides a brief history of the Internet and Web and its study from multi-disciplinary perspectives. The chapters are grouped into five focused sections: (I) Internet Studies of Everyday Life, (II) Information and Culture on the Line, (III) Networked Politics and Government, (IV) Networked Businesses, Industries, and Economies, and (V) Technological and Regulatory Histories and Futures.

Full table of contents below:

Society and the Internet How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives

Manuel Castells: Foreword
Mark Graham and William H. Dutton: Introduction

Part I. Internet Studies Of Everyday Life
1: Aleks Krotoski: Inventing the Internet: Scapegoat, Sin Eater, and Trickster
2: Grant Blank And William Dutton: Next Generation Internet Users: A New Digital Divide
3: Bernie Hogan And Barry Wellman: The Conceptual Foundations of Social Network Sites and the Emergence of the Relational Self-Portrait
4: Victoria Nash: The Politics of Children s Internet Use
5: Lisa Nakamura: Gender and Race Online

Part II. Information And Culture On The Line
6: Mark Graham: Internet Geographies: Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labour
7: Gillian Bolsover, William H. Dutton, Ginette Law, And Soumitra Dutta: China and the US in the New Internet World: A Comparative Perspective
8: Nic Newman, William H. Dutton, And Grant Blank: Social Media and the News: Implications for the Press and Society
9: Sung Wook Ji And David Waterman: The Impact of the Internet on Media Industries: An Economic Perspective
10: Ralph Schroeder: Big Data: Towards a More Scientific Social Science and Humanities?

Part III. Networked Politics And Governments
11: Miriam Lips: Transforming Government by Default?
12: Stephen Coleman And Jay Blumler: The Wisdom of Which Crowd? On the Pathology of a Digital Democracy Initiative for a Listening Government
13: Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon: Online Social Networks and Bottom-up Politics
14: Helen Margetts, Scott A. Hale, Taha Yasseri: Big Data and Collective Action
15: Elizabeth Dubois And William H. Dutton: Empowering Citizens of the Internet Age: The Role of a Fifth Estate

Part IV: Networked Businesses, Industries AND Economies
16: Greg Taylor: Scarcity of Attention for a Medium of Abundance: An Economic Perspective
17: Richard Susskind: The Internet in the Law: Transforming Problem-Solving and Education
18: Laura Mann: The Digital Divide and Employment: The Case of the Sudanese Labour Market
19: Mark Graham: A Critical Perspective on the Potential of the Internet at the Margins of the Global Economy

Part V. Technological And Regulatory Histories And Futures
20: Eli M. Noam: Next-Generation Content for Next-Generation Networks
21: Christopher Millard: Data Privacy in the Clouds
22: Laura Denardis: The Social Media Challenge to Internet Governance
23: Yorick Wilks: Beyond the Internet and Web

We're also able to give people codes that offer a 30% discount on the list price (see the codes below). Meaning that you can get the 390 page paperback for only £17.49 in the UK and $32 in the US. I hope this becomes a useful teaching and reference tool for anyone thinking about the collisions and co-constructions of the Internet and society.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My BBC Radio 4 talk on Internet and Information Geographies

My talk on Internet and information geographies is now freely available on the BBC's iPlayer (or downloadable here - if you're in an IP-address-block that the iPlayer doesn't like) The talk argues that the geographies of information increasingly matter because of the more prominent role of augmentations of everyday life. But that those geographies of information often amplify earlier patterns of voice, representation, and participation. I work through a series of examples in order to conclude that: 

The informational divides that we’re seeing reproduced can’t simply be explained away by a lack of connectivity. Connectivity is a necessary, but, by no means, a sufficient condition. But so is a broader ecosystem of information, an educated and tech literate population, having reliable infrastructure, not excluding half of the population (in other words, women), having the internet be trusted rather than subject to surveillance by the state, and having the critical mass for local-language tools, platforms, and communities.
 We’ve always had inequality, but the digital layers of places mean that the internet and the ability to produce digital and coded information might start to amplify those older imbalances of voice and power and participation. We’re not just deepening the divides between different parts of our world, we’re also creating layers of places that aren’t necessarily representative of the underlying people, processes, and contexts that exist there.   
So let’s think about that the next time we use Google to find a restaurant or look something up on Wikipedia. Let’s remember that our digital tools are usually just amplifying the already most visible, the most powerful, and the most prominent things, and let’s maybe look for alternatives; different stories; different narratives; different mediators. Our world is always going to be augmented by digital information, but let’s always try to remember what it leaves out.

If you're interested in some of my relevant/recent publications on the topic, then check out:

Graham, M., Hogan, B., Straumann, R. K., and Medhat, A. 2014. Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty. Annals of the Association of American Geographers (forthcoming).

Graham, M. 2014. The Knowledge Based Economy and Digital Divisions of Labour. In Companion to Development Studies, 3rd edition, eds V. Desai, and R. Potter. Hodder. 189-195.

Graham, M. 2013. The Virtual Dimension. In Global City Challenges: debating a concept, improving the practice. eds. M. Acuto and W. Steele. London: Palgrave. 117-139. 

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.

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. (pre-publication version here)

Graham, M. 2011. Time Machines and Virtual Portals: The Spatialities of the Digital Divide. Progress in Development Studies. 11 (3). 211-227. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mapping voice, representation, and participation on Wikipedia - our final report

I would like to share a final report that has come out of our project to map voice, representation, and participation on Wikipedia (carried out with Bernie Hogan, Ilhem Allagui, Clarence Singleton, Ralph Straumann, Claudio Calvino, Ahmed Medhat, Heather Ford, Taha Yasseri, Frederike Kaltheuner, David Palfrey, and Gavin Bailey).

The report contains a summary of most of the work that we did, as well as key findings:

Graham, M., and Hogan, B. 2014. Uneven Openness: Barriers to MENA Representation on Wikipedia. Oxford Internet Institute Report, Oxford UK. 

I'd like to thank not just all of the researchers who helped to make this mixed-methods project work, but also the many Wikipedians who went out of their way to help us, to explain things to us, to question us, and ultimately to help us to better understand some of the barriers to participation and representation in Wikipedia. I hope that by communicating our findings through a variety of mediums, we can play our part in helping to address the inequities that we encountered. 

In the near future, we'll be turning this into more bite-sized outputs. One of those papers is already published:

Graham, M., Hogan, B., Straumann, R. K., and Medhat, A. 2014. Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty. Annals of the Association of American Geographers (forthcoming).

...and another is nearing completion (I'll post a draft of it soon).

In the meantime, please get in touch if you have any questions about the report.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My response to the geoweb and ‘big data’ alt.conference at #AAG2014

At the recent #AAG2014 alt.conference on the geoweb and ‘big data’, I was asked to serve as a panellist at the end of the day: summarising some of the day’s themes, and reflecting on how they speak to future directions in the discipline. The responses that I prepared are below. Forgive the scattered nature of the notes, as they were hastily put together. 

We were asked to engage with the lightning talks and the ways that they factor into the potential future directions of research. Let me go through a few themes that emerged.

First, I’m not sure we’re all talking about the same thing when we speak about 'big data' and the geoweb. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but I’d hope that future conversations could focus more on what exactly the ‘geoweb’ is? what exactly do we mean when we speak about it? Where are the boundaries between the web and the geoweb? (I’m not sure I clearly see them). Where are the boundaries between the geoweb and what we might think of as the underlying/offline/material geo that seems to underpin, augment, or inform it? I’m also not sure I clearly see those boundaries in part because of the ways that place is always transduced: constantly remade, and reenacted. So, whilst I don’t think we have to agree on any definitions, I do think that we should avoid taking for granted some of the assumptions wrapped into these very powerful terms.

Second, we hear a lot about the need for more mixed methods research. Yes. Absolutely. But I also think that we need to avoid creating caricatures to argue against. Is there anyone out there who is actually saying that big data can answer all facets of all societal questions? How then should we best channel our energies into creating, carrying out, and enacting those hybrid approaches then?Jin-Kyu and others offered us some helpful beginnings here.

Third, it’s nice to see the beginnings of some more cross-pollination between geography, computer science, information studies, internet studies, and other social sciences. There is definitely a lot that we can contribute as geographers, but we also need to make sure that we aren’t reinventing the wheel. So, for instance, we often talk about crowdsourcing or vgi, but there’s a lot of work being done in information studies, psychology, and internet studies trying to understand motivations for crowdsourcing. we could do more to allow that work to cross-over to geography and geoweb research. And then hopefully feed back into it.

Fourth, a lot of our conversations about big data often seem to forget the truly massive amount of paid human labour that goes into the filtering, sorting, cleaning, manipulating, and managing of it. We seem to talk about big data as something that pings around between sensors, datasets, machines, and algorithms. But one of the things that I’m working on is looking at those digital sweatshops, the micro workers, the click workers, the gold farmers - those labourers in the background that are keeping our networks chugging along. And I hope we’ll start to see more of this work - remembering that automation is often an illusion. What should we be asking about those millions of workers in the shadows; doing unorganised; low-paid; alienated work - and making many of our ‘big data’ ecosystems function.  

Fifth, building on Jeremy’s comments this morning, I wonder if we should be leading a charge to address - what I think is one of the most pressing issues of our time - concerns about privacy. I think that - as geographers - we’re maybe somewhat unwisely ceding this space to computer scientists - who do tend to be very informed on the topic - and politicians - who, well, don’t tend to be informed on the topic. What should we be doing and saying and researching as geographers, to draw on our expertise and the strengths of our discipline to make a difference - and I want to emphasise - make a difference - in this new world of always-on tracking and monitoring and the datafication of everything.

But how do we also make sure that privacy isn’t used as an excuse for the wholesale locking away of social data by large companies - meaning that we can’t use those data to address the social and human questions that really matter. So, where do we stand on the transparency/privacy spectrum? And, again, what should we be doing about it?

Sixth, a lot of people today spoke about focusing on what, who, and where is left out. I very much agree that this is a crucial first step. Castells puts it well, when he says that "the costs of exclusion from networks increases faster than the benefits of inclusion in the network.” And this is an area of work that we tend to do very well as geographers (this is a question that people in other disciplines often seem to miss), but it is precisely that - a first step. How can we move beyond it? What can or should we do about it? If we establish that the digital layers that augment place are inherently uneven, unrepresentative, and imbalanced, what can we do with that knowledge; what should we do with that knowledge?

We should also think about the flip side of this issue. Whilst there’s been a lot of focus on where there isn’t enough data; or where data might not be able to capture the complexities of any given situation. What about contexts where we have too much data? Some of the talks guided us through methods for dealing with ‘big data'; but we probably need more of this. Should we be having more conversations about what to actually do with it? It would be nice to have conversations about cluster computing, graph databases, agent-based models and other methods for grappling with unmanageable volumes of data. Yes, we always need to remember what those data leave out; but unless we want to abandon the whole big data project we should also be - critically - trying to figure out what those datasets do tell us about society - and how they help us to answer the big questions that we need to ask.

Finally, let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Let make sure that we’re asking the questions that matter, and not being too driven by just what data are available. Let's make sure our research continues to focus on questions about things like inequality, power, voice, control, and human welfare.  And I say continue because I was very impressed by the topics that the presentations today were tackling.
We can make sure that we’re shaping not just the questions being asked, but also the data being collected. Some of this means doing things like always being explicit that there is never any such thing as ‘raw data’. Data are always socially, and humanly constructed. And recognising that, in many ways, we’re the privileged ones in this room. We have the knowledge, the skills, and desire to be the ones doing the constructing and doing the shaping of data.

A few weeks ago, Tony Benn - who was a British Labour party politician - passed away. He famously had a set of five questions that he said that we should always ask any powerful person: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” Well I wonder if we shouldn’t adopt those questions to the data intermediaries, systems, platforms, and algorithms that we’re dealing with. "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?”  It’s been nice to see a lot of the work on big data and the geoweb tackling these questions, and I hope we see more of it in years to come.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Who cares about the Geography of Information? (hint: not the Pope)

We made a quick map of the countries and territories that haven't visited our Information Geographies site.

In sum, we're really delighted that our analysis, stories, and maps have had such a truly global reach. And this is something that we hope to expand on as we turn some of the work at into a printed atlas. All we have to do now is figure out how to tune the Pope into some of our research.