STS ITALIA CONFERENCES, A Matter of Design. Making Society through Science and Technology

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From Cloud to Cupboard: Speculative Computing and Cloud-Making in the Citizen Sense Project
Helen Pritchard, Tom Keene, Jennifer Gabrys

Building: B8
Room: CT52
Date: 2014-06-13 02:30 PM – 04:30 PM
Last modified: 2014-06-06


As the citizen sensing practices that constitute environmental monitoring have become mobile and more widely available they have also become increasingly dependent on geographically remote, privately owned and centralised data storage. In these computational arrangements, distributed data storage multiplies the potential circulations of data, while simultaneously reducing control over its use, storage and distribution. In response to the politics of cloud storage, self-hosting cloud technologies and communities have emerged that seek to re-situate data within networks of accountability.

In this paper we present our engagements with DIY cloud computing following the process of setting up a self-hosted cloud technology for the Citizen Sense project. Through practice-based research, participatory design and ethnography, the Citizen Sense project studies the intersection of digital sensing technologies with environmental monitoring practices. By describing the building up of a local cloud infrastructure, moving from the cloud to the cupboard, we consider in what ways the site(s) of data influence and inform citizen-sensing practices. We connect our cloud-making to related practices of decentralised data arrangements to ask in what ways other material-social relations might be articulated through recasting the sites of data. By decentralising our cloud technology, we attend to how this shift on one level materialises fine-grained control over access to data, while also operationalising new sets of human, computational and nonhuman arrangements for engaging with data. A decentralised cloud is about much more than openness or privacy, moreover, since a number of decisions arise through both the performativity and distribution of data. This is a context where hardware, software and environmental data “act upon each other” (Adrian Mackenzie, 2010).

We further ask in what ways our experiment in local cloud-making might be advanced through the concept of “speculative computing.” Here, we are interested to reinvigorate this term, which has been used by media theorists (e.g., Drucker). Instead, we turn to AN Whitehead (1929) to consider how the speculative aspects of computing signal toward the ways in which particular relations and subjects (human and more-than-human) come together or concresce, and further influence the potential for new relations to form. If we attend to the concrete entities involved in making particular clouds--and computational relations--then how might a differently formed cloud be a speculative entity from which other and potentially generative citizen-sensing relations might emerge? We then return to consider how data arrangements influence the data practices and potentialities of citizen sensing.

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