Like raising kids, there is no handbook that tells you how to make the thousands of decisions and judgment calls that shape what a conference grows into. Seven year into organizing the Theorizing the Web conference, we’re still learning and adapting. In years past, we’ve responded to feedback from our community, making significant changes to our review process (e.g., diversifying our committee and creating a better system to keep the process blind) as well as adopting and enforcing an anti-harassment policy.

This year, we’ve been thinking a lot about what we can do to ensure that presentations respect the privacy of the populations they are analyzing and respect the context integrity of text, images, video, and other media that presenters include in their presentations. I want to offer my take—and, hopefully, spark a conversation—on this important notion of “context integrity” in presenting research.

In “Privacy as Contextual Integrity,” Helen Nissenbaum observes that each of the various roles and situations that comprise our lives has “a distinct set of norms, which governs its various aspects such as roles, expectations, actions, and practices” and that “appropriating information from one situation and inserting it in another can constitute a violation.” It’s often social scientists’ job to take some things out of context and bring understanding to a broader audience. But, how we do that matters. more...

Image credit
Image credit

What does it mean to have access to the internet? It’s an apparently simple question that gets complicated when we consider the wide variety of ways people access the web and products from the web. Indeed, the question is wrapped up in recent debates about zero rating, net neutrality, “the next billion” and numerous initiatives designed to bring people from the developing world online.

At Theorizing the Web this year, I presented research that combined my fieldwork and personal observations in developing world internet contexts like rural northern Uganda, urban China and rural Philippines with emergent research and journalism on the use of sneakernets–the physical transfer of data using devices like USB sticks or Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones–in places like Mali, North Korea and Cuba. These latter formed the basis for my talk and a recent paper in The New Inquiry, in which I draw from Jan Chipchase’s writing on binary thinking about connectivity and how this ultimately overlooks the vast diversity of ways that people do access the web and its products. more...

Photo By Aaron Thompson

I was happy to see Theorizing the Web go so well for so many people. The committee has been getting a lot of positive and constructive feedback and we’re reading all of it. If you feel so moved to write your own reflections on #TtW15 please send them our way. Last year, my post-conference thoughts were all about labor and the dangers of doing what you love. That’s still a problem ––TtW relies almost completely on volunteer labor–– but this year I’m thinking more about the institutions that prop up the typical Hilton-hosted conference model and make it difficult, if not financially impossible, to have more events like Theorizing the Web.




April 17–18 in New York City

Venue: the future home of the International Center of Photography, in lower Manhattan

Abstract submission deadline: 11:59 pm (EST), January 18, 2015

To theorize the web is to theorize the self, society, and the world. Although digital social technologies are relatively new, the web is hardly a “virtual reality” or a “new frontier”; rather, it is a deeply embedded part of our existing social world, which has been described in multiple traditions of social thought. Yet mainstream conversations about digital social technologies tend to emphasize the technological at the expense of the social and result in partial understandings of the web, disconnected from questions of power and social justice—and from public discourse. Useful, nuanced thinking about the web is too often hidden behind paywalls and academic jargon, while technology journalism too often fixates on stories of progress and personal triumph without examining underlying ideologies or structural conditions. more...


As most of Cyborgology readers know, the blog puts on a conference called Theorizing the Web (now in it’s fourth year). We have some exciting new ideas for 2014. By popular demand, #TtW14 will now–for the first time–feature two full days of programming. We’ve also moved out of an academic-institutional space and into a gorgeous warehouse in Brooklyn, NYC. All of this means that, in addition to the competitively-selected papers and invited speakers, we can experiment with more ways to push the norms of academic conferences. The goal of Theorizing the Web has always been to create the event we’d want to attend.

If you are interested in presenting at Theorizing the Web, here’s the call for papers.

Anyone can attend, you just have to sign up. Traditional conferences get expensive and often leave people who don’t have some sort of institutional backing out in the cold. We want to include as many as possible, so TtW works on a pay-what-you-can model (minimum $1). This means that those with limited funds can still attend, relying on the generosity of those who can afford a little more. Register and pay what you can here.

All the information you’ll need should be on the conference website, and, if not, feel free to comment below or write to

If you think others would be interested in this event, please share. The Twitter hashtag is: #TtW14

Thanks for all the support these first three years, and we’re excited for the fourth Theorizing the Web!

This guest-post and #TtW13 review is cross-posted with permission from Technophilosophy, a French digital theory blog

On Saturday, March 2nd, 2013, I made a presentation in New York as part of the International Conference Theorizing the Web. Organized by Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) and PJ Rey (@pjrey) [Yes, I also wonder what his real name is], both doctoral students in sociology at the University of Maryland (Washington, DC), the event was held in the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. A prestigious and perfectly equipped venue (no Wi-Fi issues), which promoted the sharing of high quality insights. more...

It’s as if a TED conference smashed headfirst into a hackathon and then fell into an NGO strategy summit. CEOs sit next to non-profit employees and eat boxed lunches as a dominatrix (@MClarissa) presents a slide on teledilonics followed up by a garage hacker-turned-million dollar project director quoting Alexis de Tocqueville. It is a supremely uncanny experience that all happens within the confines of a movie theater (and, later, a sushi bar). This is what one can expect when they attend the Freedom to Connect conference (#f2c) held in Silver Spring, Maryland. The conference is meant to bring “under-represented people and issues into the Washington, DC based federal policy discussion…” I left the conference feeling generally good that there are people out there working to preserve and protect open infrastructures. I just wish that team were more diverse.


Leading up to Theorizing the Web 2013, we’ll be posting a series of previews of some of the papers we’ll be showcasing at the conference. This is one of those. Stay tuned for more!

In this year’s Theorizing the Web, I will present a research that originated from my preoccupation with volatile encounters between photography and moments of social strife, as these are seen and mediated by traditional and social media. Homeless people in Libya, demonstrators’ confrontations with armed forces in Syria and Egypt, Kurd refugees in Northern Iraq, check points in Gaza, or Sudanese refugees in Sinai are just a few examples of current photographic undertakings, which are continuously mediated in independent and corporate media outlets. In this work in progress, I venture into documented ruptures while aiming to destabilize their initial appearance: to go beyond the immediate danger and visual narratives of an emergency in order to negotiate the apparatuses and discourses in which the photograph circulates, in which this practice is shaped and received. more...

Fellow Cyborgologist Whitney Erin Boesel (@phenatypical) and I are working on understanding the Quantified Self movement from a theoretical perspective. My presentation at this year’s #TtW2013 is a first attempt at such theorizing.
 While self-tracking is becoming increasingly popular, and the term “quantified self” is coming into increasingly broad use, this paper will focus specifically on the “self-knowledge through numbers” group Quantified Self (capitalized). Started in 2007 by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly (both alumni of Wired magazine), the first Quantified Self meeting was a group of people who met at Kelly’s Silicon Valley home to discuss their mutual interest in self-tracking. Quantified Self gained national attention in 2010 following the publication of Wolf’s essay “The Data-Driven Life,” and is now a rapidly expanding network of “meetup” groups (which are regularly occurring “show and tell” sessions organized through the social networking website in 78 cities across 30 countries. Although what QSers track (and how they track it) varies widely, the general premise of Quantified Self is that self-tracking empowers individuals by allowing them to become “experts of themselves.” Self-trackers gather at Quantified Self conferences and meetups to share knowledge and experience, to present findings from their experiments, to market self-tracking related devices, and learn about new practices and products that can help their self-track efforts.

rousseau spiderman

Just about every one of our contributing authors has written a piece that challenges or refutes the claims made by tech journalists, industry pundits, or fellow academics. Part of the problem is technological determinism- the notion that technology has a unidirectional impact on society. (i.e. Google makes us stupid, cell phones make us lonely.) Popular discussions of digital technologies take on a very particular flavor of technological determinism, wherein the author makes the claim that social activity on/in/through Friendster/New MySpace/ Google+/ Snapchat/ Bing is inherently separate from the physical world. Nathan Jurgenson has given a name to this fallacy: digital dualism. Ever since Nathan posted Digital dualism versus augmented reality I have been preoccupied with a singular question: where did this thinking come from? Its too pervasive and readily accepted as truth to be a trendy idea or even a generational divide. Every one of Cyborgology’s regular contributors (and some of our guest authors) hear digital dualist rhetoric coming from their students. The so-called “digital natives” lament their peers’ neglect of “the real world.” Digital dualism’s roots run deep and can be found at the very core of modern thought.  Indeed, digital dualism seems to predate the very technologies that it inaccurately portrays. more...