Locative Lab

researching locative media

Locative Media As Socialising And Spatializing Practice: Learning From Archaeology

Locative Media As Socialising And Spatializing Practice:
Learning From Archaeology

by Anne Galloway

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

7th Floor, Loeb Building

Carleton University

1125 Colonel By Drive

Ottawa, Ontario

Canada K1S 5B6

anne [@] plsj [dot] org

and Matt Ward

Design Department

Goldsmiths College

University of London

New Cross, London

SE14 6NW

United Kingdom

m [dot] ward [@] gold [dot] ac [dot] uk


everyday life, context, locative, technology,
design, hybridity, mapping, curation


Pervasive computing and locative media
are emerging as technologies and processes that
promise to reconfigure our understandings and
experiences of space and culture. With the critical
hand of material and cultural studies, we start
to shape questions about locative media representations
of urban mobilities, and begin to unearth some
of the struggles and tensions that exist within
these fields of operation. By looking at archaeology’s
constitutive processes of collection, ordering
and display we highlight some of the problems
found in mapping people and objects in space and
time, and ask what kinds of social/spatial relations
are made possible in particular locative media
projects. Ultimately, we take archaeology’s
critical focus on authorship and ownership, explain
its relevance to locative media, and suggest questions
to consider in the future research and design
of locative media.



In archaeology – as with locative media – nothing
is considered more important than context [1].
Archaeology is tasked with making sense of material
artefacts using words and images, and the processes
of archaeological mapping, classifying, collecting
and curating can be understood as primarily socializing
and spatializing practices. Enacting present interests
and values, as well as producing histories of
change, they shape and reshape worlds. For example,
Stevenson [2] summons archaeology as “the
design history of the everyday” where histories
are shaped by cultural (political, economic, environmental,
etc.) forces, but in which “many have assumed
that material goods are socially inert artefacts
that simply reflect human taste or fashion”.
Along these lines, Michael Shanks also draws out
an intimacy between people, places and objects:

“The archaeological experience of ruin,
decay and site formation processes reveals something
vital about social reality, but something which
is usually disavowed. Decay and ruin reveal the
symmetry of people and things. They dissolve the
absolute distinction between people and the object
world. This is why we can so cherish the ruined
and fragmented past” [3].

And as Hodder [4] explains,

“Certainly, there is a widespread interest
in many disciplines in materiality, in the ways
that the social is constructed in the material…
in the ways in which materiality is active and
constitutive… [and through archaeology]
the social present can be seen as the long term
product of slow moves in daily, nondiscursive

Pearson and Shanks [5] also shed some light on
the socializing and spatializing practices of
archaeology by reminding us that the material
past is not merely *reconstructed* in the present
– it is more profoundly *recontextualized*. Throughout
their use, artefacts continue to change depending
on their field of reception; even after they have
been discarded and covered by dirt, they are re-shaped
again when rediscovered by a grave robber, a scholar
or a weekend gardener.

Taking inspiration from archaeology’s approaches
to understanding and representing what may very
well be ineffable social/spatial experiences,
the remainder of our paper looks more closely
at socializing and spatializing practices in archaeology
and locative media. Finally, we take archaeology’s
critical focus on authorship and ownership and
explain its relevance to locative media.

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In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
wealthy Europeans and less affluent scholars assembled
material collections that became known as cabinets
of curiosities. Titillated by wondrous artefacts
acquired from the colonies and a contemporary
intellectual culture interested in the accidental
and the anomalous, these collections were organized
and displayed in specially designed pieces of
furniture, often filling entire rooms and overflowing
onto ceiling and floor. By effectively constructing
and presenting microcosms of the known or projected
universe, the cabinets themselves remind us of
the importance of design in framing subjects,
objects and desires. By focusing specifically
on the curious, the collections have also been
described as attempts to seize or capture the
most spectacular elements of nature and human
creation, a want in keeping with European expansionist
and colonial values of the time [6].

By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries cabinets
of curiosities began to give way to scientific
collections based on natural law. One-of-a-kinds
were replaced by the serial, and the mysterious
by the ravenously rational:

“I demand, I insist, that everything around
me shall henceforth be measured, tested, certified,
mathematical, and rational. One of my tasks must
be to make a full survey of the island, its distances
and its contours, and incorporate all these details
in an accurate surveyor’s map. I should
like every plant to be labeled, every bird to
be ringed, every animal to be branded. I shall
not be content until this opaque and impenetrable
place, filled with secret ferments and malignant
stirrings, has been transformed into a calculated
design, visible and intelligible to its very depths!”

During this era, world fairs and museums played
a variety of pivotal roles in shaping public histories
and values, personal identities, political and
economic interests around the world [8]. Despite
differences over time, curiosity and control remain
constant undercurrents. Our desire to experience
and make sense of the world around us by removing
people, objects, practices and ideas from their
‘original’ contexts and reconfiguring them in
‘new’ places and according to different principles
is integral to cultural (re)production [9].

In recent decades, the critical and reflexive
eyes of anthropology and archaeology has been
turned to the collection and representation of
cultural ‘property’ in all forms. Museums are
understood to produce and engage a variety of
“histories, discourses and spectacles”
and collections are seen to convey as much about
collector values as the cultures they ostensibly
represent [10]. Moreover, the ethics of collecting
and curating cultural artefacts have emerged front
and centre in recent years [11] and practitioners
continue to question their roles in the writing
and production of culture through research, collection
and curation choices.

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Lacking the disciplinary boundaries of
archaeology – a diverse project in its own right
– locative media resist easy definition and may
be best represented by one of Deleuze and Guattari’s

“The map is open, connectable in all its
dimensions, and capable of being dismantled; it
is reversible, and susceptible to constant modification.
It can be torn, reversed, adapted to montages
of every kind, taken in hand by an individual,
a group or a social formation… Contrary to a
tracing, which always returns to the ‘same’, a
map has multiple entrances” [12].

The term ‘locative media’ was coined by Karlis
Kalnins as a “test-category” for processes
and products coming from the Locative Media Lab
[13], an international network of people working
with some of the technologies above. Although
place-based arts have long and rich histories,
Pope suggests that “the novelty of [locative]
projects seem to be in the way they extend the
human community to include an array of agents,
arranged in space which includes antennae, rooftops,
trees, buildings, masts and the like” [14].
Albert further explains locative media as “artwork
that utilizes media that can express an index
of spatial relationships” and claims that
locative media practitioners “are keeping
the technologies close to the ground, available
for hacking, re-wiring and re-deploying in non-authoritarian
ways” [15].

Locative media practices are inextricably connected
to the research, development and availability
of particular material devices, applications and
services, as well as to the private and public
policies and laws regulating their use. All locative
media projects rely on some sort of (not necessarily
equitable) financial, intellectual, political,
material, etc. collaboration between government,
university, industry and ‘independent’ artists,
designers or researchers. And so, just as in archaeology,
the spaces and cultures of locative media represent
and perpetuate particular interests and values;
the choice of what tools to use, what to map or
how to classify, as well as how to collect and
curate cultural objects, are also of central concern
to both fields of practice.

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For any technological device to be ‘aware’
of its context – physical or otherwise – it has
to be able to locate, classify, collect, store
and use ‘relevant’ information, as well as to
identify and discard or ignore ‘irrelevant’ information.
If we imagine these devices and data as cultural
artefacts, and servers and databases as cabinets
and museums, then locative media begin to share
many of the same interests and concerns as archaeology
and anthropology.

Alexander Galloway [16] argues that Internet
protocols are architectures of control – ones
that have, from the very beginning, been implicated
in various power struggles between military, government,
university, industry and citizen interests. Closer
to the topics at hand, we can acknowledge how
the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) is
inextricably connected to military complexes and
its increasing commercial ubiquity — including
availability to locative media practitioners –
can be understood as part of the broader ‘civilianization’
of technology. At the same time, access to maps
and cartographic data is not universal and GPS
use is constrained by technological, political
and even commercial ‘protocols’.

Just as Galloway cites hackers, viruses and Internet
art as forms of resistance to, and subversion
of, network protocols, locative media projects
also tackle social and political contexts of production
by focusing on social networking [17], access
[18] and participatory media content including
story-telling and spatial annotation [19].

Inherent in creating and maintaining these protocols,
databases and networks – just as in the maps,
taxonomies and artefact collections of archaeology
– are socializing and spatializing practices.
By focusing the remainder of our essay on the
ways in which individual locative media projects
collect and classify – how they make maps and
curate culture – we shine some light on the types
of social and cultural, political and ethical,
issues that arise in the process.

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As we dig a bit deeper into how particular
locative media projects negotiate local and global
spaces, we see the increasing ‘technologization’
and commodification of urban and public spaces.
Graham points to how “places [are] becoming
increasingly constructed through consumer decisions
which, in turn, are influenced through the…
surveillance, and sorting, of cities” [20].
And these “software-sorted cities” point
to a related and politically-charged question
posed succinctly by Borden: “How can differential
space be sought in the land and epoch of the commodified,
the abstract, the homogenized, the reductive and
the powerful?” [21] In other words, what
relations of difference – of production and consumption,
of public and private – are possible in the worlds
shaped through pervasive computing and locative

For example, representational technologies (the
map, the photograph, the GPS trace) capture and
expose moments within the city’s history,
but not necessarily the city’s processes
of becoming. In the moment of capture the viewer’s
gaze is projected onto the city as a *happened
place* or totalizing system of meanings and relations,
and freezing of relations -however temporary –
can be limiting when we consider the desire of
locative media to effect cultural change. A map
without multiple entrances – a map that denies
multiple interpretations – is a map that discourages
change, that presents the world as a *fait accompli*
or worse, a world without *hope* [22].

By shifting the focus of our attention away from
functions, structures and subjective experiences
of technology, space and culture – away from totalizing
explanations of the everyday – we move towards
decentralized performativities [23] and the kind
of open mapping described by Deleuze and Guattari
that we cited above. Instead of approaching the
physical, the social and the digital as spaces
than can be bridged, we are interested in how
each emerges through the actual practices of locative
media. In other words, what kinds of social/spatial
relations are possible in particular locative
media projects?

In *Uncle Roy All Around You* [24], players are
presented with the urban as game-play, where they
are confronted by the strangeness of other people,
objects, spaces and times. Both the city and the
Internet are positioned as ‘open’ boards or stages
on which we play; despite providing an ultimate
objective, players are free to negotiate the city
in creative and resistive fashions. For example,
project researchers reported that players use
‘glitches’ like GPS shadows to their advantage
during game play [25]. Projects like *Amsterdam
Real Time* [26] and *The Daily Practice of Map
Making* [27] record the movements of individuals
and groups of people through urban areas, and
render them as static maps. By abstracting and
stabilizing our movements in spacetime, GPS tracings
can become de-contextualizing practices, and ultimately
shift focus *away* from our (constantly changing)
‘on the ground’ potential. Furthermore, by reducing
our spatial experiences to latitude and longitude
coordinates, social/spatial interaction can take
on a totality, precision and predictability that
it lacks. While the city may indeed emerge as
the collective movement of her people, these maps
and curatorial projects are not particularly amenable
to such (re)interpretation, and risk only ever
being intelligible to, and actionable by, the
people who created them.

On the other hand, projects like *34 north 118
west* [28] fix narrative fragments in physical
space while also allowing for multiple readings.
Effectively creating an open curation, actually
activated by movement through space, the project
conjures a world of flow and fixity. Projects
like *Milk* [29] use GPS to track the people involved
in the production of cheese, and map a world in
which cheese is considered the first project participant
or subject. The project transforms the political
boundaries of transnational commerce into micro-level
personal interactions, both humanizing individual
workers and redrawing national identities. Some
projects, like *Shadows From Another Place* [30],
use GPS to create “hypothetical mappings”.
These maps exist specifically to offer glimpses
of other possibilities and potentials, and despite
having fixed parameters, they are easily undone
and re-imagined. In spatial-annotation projects
like *Yellow Arrow* [31] and *Neighbornode* [32],
cities are positioned as surfaces on which we
can inscribe meaning, and which ultimately perform
as collective memory. These story-telling projects
allow for social and cultural (re)readings of
space, allowing private narratives to become public
and subject to reinterpretation.

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In addition to learning from its world-building
potential, archaeology offers two major contributions
to the understanding and practice of locative
media arts. First, the question of authorship
compels us to look not just at who is currently
able to create and use locative media, but at
who will be able to re-create and re-use locative
media in the future. Second, the question of ownership
requires us to be aware that most locative media
projects require large databases and these data
are subject to the same curatorial issues as any
cultural collection.

When it comes to creating and using locative
media, we can evaluate the relations of production
and consumption: Where does the technology originate?
How is the project funded? Who gets to use these
technologies to create cultural ‘content’ or artefacts?
Who gets to set the rules of engagement? What
are the power relations at play? What shape can
resistance take?

We can also evaluate the archiving of locative
media data: Who owns the data? To whom do they
belong? Are they for sale? Who has the access
to view them? Who has the ability to change them?
What are the short- and long-term exhibition,
storage and preservation needs?

The matters of authorship and ownership are also
critical to the definition of locative media:
Is it defined by itself or its other(s)? What
are its antecedents and living relatives? Authorship
and ownership are central to the classification
of new media artefacts or data: What makes a bottom-up
classification scheme more authentic or valid
than one constructed top-down? What makes a locative
media project less politically and ethically charged
than a cabinet of curiosity?

At stake in all these questions are relations
between artists and corporate researchers, designers

and users, subjects and objects, pasts and futures,
material and immaterial, commodities and values.
If locative media are ultimately understood as
collections of cultural artefacts, what roles
do they take in shaping personal identities, collective
histories and values, political and economic interests
around the world? And finally, what roles *should*
they take?

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1. Contextual information is valued so highly
in archaeological interpretation that excavation
of a site is never total because it is understood
that excavation is a destructive process and care
must be taken to preserve some parts “intact”
for future study (and other methods).

2. G. Stevenson, “Archaeology as the design
history of the everyday”, V. Buchli and G.
Lucas (eds.) *Archaeology of the Contemporary
Past* (London: Routledge, 2001) p. 53.

M. Shanks, *The Life of an Artifact*, May 1998. Available online at:

4. I. Hodder, *Archaeology Beyond Dialogue* (Salt
Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003) p.

5. M. Person and M. Shanks, *Theatre/Archaeology*
(London: Routledge, 2001).

6. See for example, O. Impey and A. MacGregor
(eds.), *The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of
Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century
Europe* (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1985) and P.
Mauriès, *Cabinets of curiosities* (New
York: Thames & Hudson, 2002).

7. Tournier as cited in D. Gregory, *Geographical
Imaginations* (London: Blackwell, 1994) p. 15.

8. See for example, T. Bennet, *Birth of Museum:
History, Theory, Politics* (London: Routledge,
1995) and G.W. Stocking (ed.), *Objects and others:
essays on museums and material culture* (Madison:
University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).

9. See S. M. Pearce (ed.), *Interpreting objects
and collections* (London: Routledge, 1994) and
S. M. Pearce, *On collecting: an investigation
into collecting in the European tradition* (London:
Routledge, 1995).

10. D. J. Sherman and I. Rogoff (eds.), *Museum
culture: histories, discourses, spectacles* (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

11. See for example, P. M. Messenger (ed.), *The
ethics of collecting cultural property: Whose
culture? Whose property?* (Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press, 1999) and L. J. Zimmerman,
K. D. Vitelli, J. Hollowell-Zimmer (eds.), *Ethical
issues in archaeology* (Walnut Creek: Altamira
Press, 2003).

12. G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, *On the Line*
(New York: Semiotext(e),1983) pp. 25-26.

13. http://www.locative.net

S. Pope, *The Shape of Locative Media*, Mute Magazine Issue 29, 9
February 2005. Available online at:

15. S. Albert, *locative literacy – four locative
micro-rants – preview from upcomin [sic] mute
magazine #29*, Locative email list, 27 April 2004.
Available online at: http://db.x-i.net/locative/2004/000368.html

16. Alexander Galloway, *Protocol: How Control
Exists After Decentralization* (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 2004).

17. See for example, http://flickr.com/, http://www.dodgeball.com/,

18. See for example, http://www.magicbike.net/,

19. See for example, http://www.yellowarrow.org/,
http://murmurtoronto.ca/, http://www.grafedia.net/,
http://rabble.com/, http://www.kakirine.com/passing

20. S. Graham, “The Software-Sorted City:
Rethinking the ‘Digital Divide'”, in S. Graham
(ed.), *The Cybercities Reader* (London: Routledge,
2004), pp. 324-331.

21. I. Borden, *Skateboarding, Space and the
City: Architecture and the Body* (London: Berg,
2001) p. 267.

22. M. Zournazi, *Hope: New Philosophies for
Change* (London: Routledge, 2002).

23. A. Galloway, “Intimations of Everyday
Life: Ubiquitous Computing and the City”,
*Cultural Studies* 18(2/3), 2004, pp. 383-407.

24. http://www.blasttheory.co.uk/bt/work_uncleroy.html

25. Steve Benford and others, “Uncle Roy
All Around You: Implicating the City in a Location-Based
Performance”, Proceedings of ACM Advanced
Computer Entertainment (ACE 2004), Singapore,
July 2004, ACM Press.

26. http://www.waag.org/realtime/

27. http://www.planbperformance.net/dan/mapping.htm

28. http://34n118w.net/34N/

29. http://www.milkproject.net/

30. http://paulalevine.banff.org/

31. http://www.yellowarrow.org/

32. http://www.neighbornode.net/

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ANNE GALLOWAY is a Ph.D candidate
and Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and
Anthropology at Carleton University in Ottawa,
Canada. Her doctoral research in social and cultural
studies of technology focuses on pervasive computing
and its relations to our social and cultural experiences
of mobility and everyday life in urban contexts.
Anne has presented her findings at international
conferences and workshops in technology, design,
and sociology and her publications include articles
for both academic journals and magazines. In addition
to teaching undergraduate courses in the sociology
of science and technology and urban cultural studies,
she regularly writes at Purse Lip Square Jaw (http://plsj.org)
and Space and Culture (http://spaceandculture.org).

MATT WARD is a lecturer in design at
Goldsmiths College, University of London, where
he runs the M.A. in Design – Critical Theory
and Practice. His research focuses on the technological
construction and negotiation of social space through
design. Before his post at Goldsmiths, he worked
for NCR’s Knowledge Lab, researching and
designing wireless systems for domestic environments.
He holds one international patent and has a further
six pending on his work. Matt has acted as research
affiliate to The Auto-ID Centre, MIT Media Lab
and Interaction Design department at The Royal
College of Art. Matt also writes at Thinking about
Things (http://triptychresearch.typepad.com).



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Cityscape LocativeLab.org is Ronald Lenz's research website on locative & mobile media. This is mostly an archive of blogposts I find inspiring and interesting and an overview of my work. I'm a strategist, technologist and researcher in the field of Location-Based Mobile Services and work at Waag Society, a medialab in Amsterdam, The Netherlands where I head the Locative Media research program and at 7scenes, a platform for GPS games and tours as creative director. Picture 4 Find me at Twitter, LinkedIn or via ronald [at] waag [dot] org.

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