STS in Papers, Conferences & Teaching

This page is part of my STSS Portfolio.


I have written two papers from my dissertation research that also engage with STS themes. In “Participatory infrastructures: The politics of mobility platforms,” published in Urban Planning (2020), I argue that that digital platforms for urban mobility (Uber, Lime, Google Maps, etc.) have the material and structural qualities of infrastructure as well as the participatory characteristics of urban democracy. This argument was heavily influenced by Plantin et al.’s (2018) call for a “theoretical bifocal” examining new digital technologies as both platforms and infrastructures. My paper uses examples from the development of open data standards, app interfaces, and municipal policy enforcement to show both the power and limits of these digital tools in shaping urban mobility.

My second paper, “Autonomous people: Identity, agency, and automated driving” [PDF] is currently under review at the Journal of Urban Technology after being invited to revise and resubmit. This paper takes the development of self-driving cars as an occasion to ask what it means for a human driver to exercise autonomy. After introducing the philosophical roots of the idea of personal autonomy, I discuss the complexity of human agency within technological and social structures. STS-informed studies of automobility have in fact already examined the co-existing senses of freedom and constraint that people feel when augmented by cars and roads. The contribution of my paper was to redirect attention in AV discourse from the autonomy of cars to the autonomy of people and to argue for the normative value of personal autonomy in mobility technologies.

Conference and Seminar Presentations

Over the course of my PhD, I have used presentations as a way to explore ideas in development from my dissertation research or coursework. These have typically been given to audiences in urban or geographical fields, and so they have usually aimed to introduce some idea from STS or media studies and argue for its relevance to cities.

“Seeing and being seen: boundaries of attention in the software-mediated city.”

Paper presented at the Critical Geographies Mini-Conference, Seattle. (2016)

Smartphones are a new tool for managing attention in public space.

In a presentation at a critical geography conference (2016), I used a small study of people’s smartphone usage at bus stops to argue that the phone is not just a tool for providing information or entertainment, it is a tool for managing attention and navigating social encounters in public space. While such technologies for social avoidance have a long history, the particular affordances of the smartphone reconfigure some of the dynamics of public space.

“Digital politics, digital polis: In need of a critical research agenda for urban software.”

Presentation to the research seminar of the PhD program in urban design & planning. (2017)

Data, algorithms, and interfaces, like those of this app for sharing observations of “sketchy” behaviors, are shaping the ways we encounter the city.

After completing my general exam and in search of a dissertation topic, I gave a presentation to my PhD program’s research seminar (2017). I introduced the argument familiar to STS that digital tools are political, then showed how the city is increasingly being mediated through digital technologies to argue that if we care about the power, values, and visions that make our cities, then we ought to care about data and algorithms. I suggested many possible avenues for empirically examining the digitality of the city, some of which found their way into my dissertation.

“Enacting digital information: User knowledge and behavior in app-mediated urban mobility.”

Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers, Washington, D.C. (2019)

Between a person’s desire to go somewhere and their travel action is an engagement with information from an app.

My first round of traveler data collection for my dissertation provided the basis for a presentation at the annual conference for the American Association of Geographers (2019). Using my subjects’ descriptions of their travel experiences using ride-hailing and navigation apps, I examined the interactions between a person’s particular desires and the information provided by their phones. In this early articulation of themes of agency from my dissertation, I showed behaviors of both surrender and resistance, often in the same episode, as people get around town together with their devices.

“Digitized publics: Decoding the political norms of app-based urban mobility.”

Paper presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference, Greenville, S.C. (2020)

When urban mobility is managed through platforms, transportation policies are digitally encoded, as in this new API from the Mobility Data Specification.

In one final example, my most recent presentation to the main conference of urban planning researchers (2020) drew attention to the politics of platforms and the increasing platformization of urban mobility infrastructure. Using examples from the development of APIs for mobility data, I argued that planners have viewed platforms like Lyft and Lime as passive marketplaces while overlooking their active role in translating between digital information and urban mobility. I further suggested that the indeterminacy of platforms is in many ways incompatible with planning’s outcome-oriented interventions.


When teaching and TAing classes in the department of urban design and planning, I inevitably find myself discussing STS-influenced topics related to cities and technology. For several years I TA’ed a class on the legal frameworks for planning and gave a guest lecture on cities’ efforts to regulate new technologies, especially platforms like Uber and Airbnb. I pointed out how within the dry technical frameworks of computer code and legal codes were highly political and controversial assumptions about the public interest and individual rights and behaviors.

How do the land-use agendas of cities and of short-term rental platforms relate? (Image: Andrew Renneisen/The New York Times)

My class on public space dedicated a session to the role of social media, online shopping, and other internet spaces in displacing, augmenting, or coexisting with the traditional public spaces of the city, paying particular attention to the designed affordances of both virtual and physical spaces.

The experience of public space is increasingly being mediated by mobile devices.

In classes on GIS and other software tools, I give a lecture on how despite their neutral, objective appearance, maps and map-making are powerful products of particular agendas.

Maps and their associated technologies are reflections of particular agendas.