Thursday, 20 February 2020

Panel on "Smart City Surveillance" at SSN 2020

I am happy about the acceptance of our "Smart City Surveillance" panel at the Surveillance Studies Network Conference in Rotterdam. I will join Sage Cammers-Goodwin, Maša Galič, Mark Ryan, Karin Pfeffer, and Fenna Hoefsloot. The session has been organised and will be chaired by Tjerk T. Timan. Sage Cammers-Goodwin and I will present some of our findings from the BRIDE project.

Here's the abstract:

In many Western city centers, we are witnessing an increase of smart city and living lab infrastructure that is promising innovation in security and profitability. While securing cities and its citizens against external attacks or internal dangers is nothing new, current smart-city logics – often in the form of public-private partnerships – are delivering a complex landscape of purposes for novel and often highly invasive surveillance technologies. Combining privately-generated data (e.g. social media or personal walking patterns), ‘environmental’ data (e.g. crowdedness and weather conditions) and hard-factual statistics (e.g. crime rates, trash collection or beer consumption), profiles on atmosphere, persons’ moods and pre-conflict situational awareness are being generated. The next step in such often experimental initiatives is to package such projects as wholesale security solutions.

Main theme:
In this panel we want to explore, on the basis of a large body of theory in geography, philosophy of technology, surveillance studies and law, what the current practices out there are, and how to analyse such experiments. In other words, what can we say, learn and do about such urban surveillance infrastructural developments, and how can we expand the body of knowledge stemming from these cases?

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Public service announcement: Philosophy job openings in The Netherlands

A couple of positions have been recently opened at Dutch universities. While I already tweeted about them, here's an overview.

PhD candidates: We are hiring a PhD candidate for our project "Disastrous Information." The PhD candidate will be placed at Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Geo-Information Management (PGM) of ITC (Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation). I will be one of the supervisors. Applications are due by February 2nd, 2020.

There will also be a postdoc position within the same project which will open later this year.

Postdoc: TU Delft is looking for two postdocs in ethics of medical technologies (full-time, 2 years).

Note that the partners in the Gravitation project will start to hiring PhD candidates soon.

Assistant Professor: There are two openings at Assistant Professor level which are related to the Gravitation project. One at the University of Twente and one at the University of Delft.

In addition, the Philosophy department at the University of Maastricht is hiring two Assistant Professors.

Finally, if you are not familiar with the Dutch system: Note that "tenure track" can have a different meaning at different universities. Please have a good look at the details and do contact the departments if you are in doubt about the requirements for getting tenured.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Two new projects granted

I am happy to share the good news that two projects have been granted recently.

The first project has been selected as a so-called BMS signature PhD project - a project funded by my faculty to showcase the work being done at BMS. The project will allow Isaac Oulouch to continue and extend his great work on slum mapping in his master thesis. The project will be co-supervised by Monika Kuffer and myself with additional support by Karin Pfeffer and Yola Georgiadou. Peter-Paul Verbeek will be the promotor.

Here's a brief summary of the project, which will go by the name of FRAME-PRO (Framework for responsible and accountable deprivation area mapping in support of pro-poor policies):

Locational data (“geo-data”) has become increasingly available due to technological innovation. This innovation has improved the capability of capturing, storing and processing vast amounts of geo-data, producing results which have commercial and administrative value. For example, such data are essential in the SDG agenda.
While there is a growing awareness of the ethical challenges of geo-data (such as privacy, access to data and surveillance), we require a better understanding of the societal role emerging technologies can play in acquiring geo-data. Building on insights from Philosophy of Technology, we begin with the premise that technologies are not neutral tools but shape the ways in which we perceive and act in the world. In our project, we will answer the question: To what extent do geo-data technologies affect the responsibilities of various stakeholders to improve the lives of the urban poor? The project links to global policy goals of promoting public health (SDG-3), access to water (SDG-6), and building inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities (SDG-11).
The PhD project will build a framework to evaluate geo-data technologies (such as geo-information systems, mapping and sensor technologies) through two case studies. Such a framework helps to identify the relevant stakeholders in the geo-data acquisition, to address the distribution of accountability and responsibility in the global use of these technologies. The first case looks into the automated detection of “slums” through satellite and drone images, focusing on the long-term planning and development of mapping practices. The second case concerns the design of GIS for disaster response, to understand how geo-data technologies can help in improving resilience to human-made and climate-related risks in developing countries. These cases will be supplemented by embedded research in various institutions.
The second project will be funded by NWO within the MWI line on Responsible Innovation. Designing for public values in a digital world. It is called "Disastrous Information: Embedding ‘Do No Harm’ principles into innovative geo-intelligence workflows for effective humanitarian action."

I will collaborate with Jaap Zevenbergen, Caroline Gevaert, and Yola Georgiadou. Here's a brief summary:

Most humanitarian scholars ask what geospatial intelligence, from satellite and drone imagery combined with artificial intelligence, can do for humanitarian action. We ask what these technologies do to the core principles—humanity, impartiality, and independence—of the “Do No Harm” humanitarian imperative (Sandvik et al 2017). Upholding humanity and impartiality suggests that not only affected humans and groups/demographics must be protected, but also the privacy and dignity of their “data doubles.” Upholding independence suggests that humanitarian organizations need the capacity to audit donors’, industry’s and digital humanitarians’ geospatial data, tools and algorithms for privacy violations. Empirically, we focus on Malawi. There UNICEF Malawi has an infrastructure comprising rich geospatial data sets, the first dedicated humanitarian drone corridor worldwide, a strong network with Malawi government, donors, and drone industry, as well as a plan to install and replicate in other African countries the first African Data & Drone Academy (ADDA) for Masters students from Malawi and neighboring countries. Conceptually, we draw upon scholarship on Fair, Accountable and Transparent (FAT) socio-technical systems, cultural and organizational theory and privacy by design. We use a mix of experimental (hackathons, mapathons, choice experiments) and qualitative methods (in-depth interviews and focus groups) as well as Q-methodology. We will determine the optimal distribution of technological and regulatory designs for Malawi and an appropriate design for co-creating audit capacity within ADDA’s Master program. The research team combines legal, geo-intelligence, policy & ethics expertise, and decades of collective experience in institutional development and capacity building in the global South.
The best part is that both grants will offer great opportunities for combining the research efforts and to make a substantial contribution on the meaning of high tech in the lives of the urban poor. I am excited, but also a bit scared about the task ahead of us.

We will start hiring a PhD candidate and a PostDoc for the project shortly. The project aims to start in March 2020.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Graduation Ching Hung (Nov 13, 2019)

On Nov 13, 2019, Ching Hung will defend his PhD thesis entitled "Design for Green: Ethics and Politics for Behavior Steering Technologies." You can find the official announcement here, which also includes a summary of his work.

I am proud to have served as daily supervisor on his project. Of course, his thesis includes an interesting chapter about cities and smaller human settlements. This comes with little surprise since urban planning is in good parts concerned with steering human behaviour, although it's not always understood in these terms. In his thesis, Ching does not only examine two communities which are designed on the principles laid down by B. F. Skinner in his utopian novel "Walden Two." He also evaluates the design of Village Homes, a community built in 1982 and located near Davis, California.

B. F. Skinner's work plays a significant role in the thesis. While his approach of radical behaviourism has been contested, Skinner also made the interesting point that meeting global challenges like climate change will require foremost to change human behaviour. Hung's starting point is that we do actually know quite well, that we do need to change - but knowing about the need is not sufficient. Therefore, he turns to the multiple ways in which artefacts and the built environment at large play a role in guiding our everyday activities.

Inspired by the work of C. Mouffe, Hung suggests an approach of agonistic design, where artefacts challenge hegemony. For example, speed bumps challenge the hegemony embodied and facilitates by smooth roads, which invite to drive fast. Green communities, thus, need to be understood as a challenge to the current mainstream, which doesn't support a sustainable lifestyle. To avoid the risk of forcing people to adapt to a particular lifestyle, Hung also argues in favour of small and experimental communities, which also allow for mutual learning.

If you are nearby on November 13, 2019, please feel free to join us in celebrating Ching Hung's stimulating contribution to the much-needed debate, what we are willing to do to meet the challenge of climate change and to avoid the destruction of our planet due to stupid human behaviour.

Friday, 27 September 2019

BRIDE Workshop, Oct 10, 2019 (Amsterdam)

We are happy to announce the first workshop of the BRIDE project. The workshop was originally designed as an internal event. On second thought, we realized that the subjects might actually be interesting for a larger crowd. So, feel free to join us! Here's the blurb: "The BRIDE Workshop seeks to explore the connections between humans and smart infrastructure, specifically related to the MX3D bridge. The workshop will cover Amsterdam's current smart city initiatives, concerns, and goals. Additionally, it will explore the range of how the bridge data will be used from mechanics to 'cityness' and how to make the data visible and useful for users of the structure." For more information about the workshop, please refer to the workshop agenda and register by using this online form. Finally, for more information on the BRIDE project, have a look at our project website.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Philosophy of the City Round-up (May 2019)

The deadline for the annual conference of the Philosophy of the City Research Group is approaching. Don't miss the opportunity to present and discuss your work in Detroit (Oct 3-6, 2019).

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium in Lahti and Helsinki (17.–18.6.2019). You can find the amazing program here.

I am also received my copy of Philosophy and the City: Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Perspectives. It's great to see, that the topic is gaining attention within Philosophy!

My paper on Urban Resilience and Distributive Justice just came. - Talking about "Resilience": I am co-organizing a session called "From the ethics of risk to the ethics of resilience - Integrating participatory approaches" with Samantha Copeland (TU Delft) at the DeSIRE conference (University of Twente, June 6-7, 2019).

 Finally, if there are any PotC related news, which you would like me to share my on this blog: Please, let me know.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Boring spaces I: Things to do at Times Square (NYC, Jan 2019)

My hotel was located close to Times Square. I had to go there. I had to see it. I am in Times Square. I am amazed by the quality of the big size video screens. The constantly changing patterns on the screen underline the artificial nature of the place. I visit the place at night. But there is no room for darkness. The square is brighter than most places, I have visited on that grey and cold day. I have to think of Vilém Flusser’s essay on our codified world. Flusser (1997) reminds us that at the beginning of the 20th century the world used to be far less colourful:
Our environments are filled with colours, which by day and by night, in public and in private space, are whispering and screaming to get our attention. ... We are exposed to a constant stream of colours; we are programmed by colours. (Flusser 1997, p. 21, my translation)
But what to do at Times Square? The images on the screen support Flusser's considerations and suggest that I am being programmed to go shopping. I don’t want to go shopping. But what else to do a Times Square? The urban furniture invites me to take a seat. I could sit there and watch the activities on the square. I have to think about James Conlon's reflections about sitting on a bench in Central Park, which is just a few blocks away. He reminds us that watching people in public is, after all, an important part, maybe even the origin of Philosophy:
Socrates began his philosophical work by abandoning astronomy and turning his attention instead to the human diversity collected in the agora. … Only in the city are eyes granted such continuous opportunity for staring, for the sustained and intense observation of human behaviour so basic to philosophy. (Conlon 1999, pp 205-207)
I tend to agree with Conlon, given the fact that most philosophers do actually live and work in - or at least - close to cities. I am actually guilty of doing philosophy in public spaces, where I can experience the being together with strangers. - Yet, these considerations do not seem to apply to Times Square. I can't imagine what to do here; hence, I fail to imagine what other people can do here. I leave Times Square behind. I actually enjoyed being there. I do enjoy the spectacle. Yet, there is nothing much to do, besides enjoying the spectacle. After a while, the spectacle becomes boring.


  • Conlon, James (1999): Cities and the place of Philosophy. In: S. M. Meagher (ed.) (2008). Philosophy and the City (pp. 199-209). New York: State University of New York Press.
  • Flusser, Vilém (1997): Die kodifizierte Welt. In: V. Flusser: Medienkultur. Edited by Stefan Bollmann. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch. – The text was originally published in 1978.


The text is part of the manuscript of my talk “The right kind of boring space” delivered at the Future City Foundation on April 5, 2019. I plan to publish a total of four blogs based on the talk.