Understanding Spatial Media: Locative and Sousveillant Media

Understanding Spatial Media, from Sage Press, Editors: Rob Kitchin, Tracey P. Lauriault, Matthew W. Wilson, Forthcoming

15 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2015  

Jim Thatcher

University of Washington, Tacoma

Date Written: September 8, 2015


According to Dan Evans of Cisco, 2008 marked a turning point in humanity’s relationship to the internet, for the first time there were more devices connected than human beings currently alive (Evans 2011). These devices aren’t simply phones, tablets, and computers, but rather reflect a system of sensors that increasingly monitor everything from earthquakes (Cochran et al. 2009) to cattle (Grobart 2012) to steps taken by an individual. This brief chapter examines two interrelated, but distinct, types of digital data generated through sensors: sousveillant and locative. Sousveillant data is data created through self-monitoring via digital technologies (Mann et al. 2003). It refers to data which are “consciously employed and controlled by an individual for personal fulfillment” and has wide overlaps with the quantified self movement (Kitchin 2014). Locative data refer to any digital media which contains location information; which, in turn, refers to information about places conceived of as points, lines, and areas (Tobler 1979). In modern databases, location information is predominantly stored in terms of X, Y point coordinates of latitude and longitude. Any sousveillant device that records location in addition to whatever else it is monitoring – heartrate, steps taken, etc. – is generating locative data. While there is broad overlap between these types of data, they remain distinct; it is possible to have sousveillant data which is not locative and locative data which is not sousveillant.

To explore the significance of these two types of data, the chapter proceeds in three parts. First, it briefly demonstrates the significance of sousveillant and locative data and argues that a key means for understanding their societal significance is through their role as spatial media. Second, it examines current approaches to sousveillant and locative media through the lens of actions and knowledges enabled and constrained (Feenberg 1999). Finally, it briefly turns to the future, speculatively exploring the forms and roles this spatial media seems most likely to take. This speculation creates a launching point for a necessary and broad discussion on the role this spatial media will play both today and in the future.

Keywords: sousveillance, quantified self, spatial media

Suggested Citation

Thatcher, Jim, Understanding Spatial Media: Locative and Sousveillant Media (September 8, 2015). Understanding Spatial Media, from Sage Press, Editors: Rob Kitchin, Tracey P. Lauriault, Matthew W. Wilson, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2657663

Jim Thatcher (Contact Author)

University of Washington, Tacoma ( email )

1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma, WA 98402-3100
United States

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