Digital Life/Digital Studies: From ‘Epistemic’ to ‘Vital’ Rupture? – A Real Smart Cities Doctoral Training School in Durham University

The Centre for Humanities Innovation at Durham University will be hosting a doctoral training school under the remit of Real Smart Cities, April 17-19. The event is entitled Digital Life/Digital Studies: From ‘Epistemic’ to ‘Vital’ Rupture and the abstract is as follows:

Current models of urban and ‘smart city’ development can be seen to pose a vital threat to citizens’ capacity for making life-building decisions, because the very algorithms that purport to make life easier risk stripping it of meaning. The ReaLsMs project aims to develop the ‘real smart city’ as a ‘de-proletarianising’ alternative to the resulting proliferation of urban dead zones, by exploring how communities might harness digital research tools to re-establish their vitality around citizens’ technologically enhanced collective intelligence. Both this diagnosis of the proletarianising effect of our urban ways of living and the exploration of potential cures are arrived at through the methodology of Digital Studies, an interdisciplinary approach to the study of what Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen termed ‘exosomatic’, or technologically constituted, organisms in their technological environments.

The aim of this three-day doctoral training event is to immerse project participants in the discourse of Digital Studies, analysing our interrelations with technology from a variety of disciplinary standpoints, including the extended evolutionary synthesis, anthropology and psychology, as well as science and technology studies and – above all – critical theory. We shall pursue the question of how to situate the advent of digital technology more broadly within the field of technological culture and media studies. In the light of debates over the information revolution and fake news, can we speak of the digital as inaugurating a distinct ‘episteme’, marked by categorically new techniques of knowledge construction and corroboration? Does the digital transformation of society, emblematised in the emergence of AI, mean that epistemological rupture also coincides with a vital rupture, a profound change in the operation of life? In addition to these theoretical explorations, more practically, the workshop will prepare the way for ReaLsMs to publish a Digital Studies Toolkit, through which the DS methodology might be learned and reapplied to other forms of cultural analysis.

(Image taken from Heritage Hunter-Gatherer prototype. Digital overlay of Durham Northgate prison)