Communication: Papers & Presentations
I have always kept a journal however, in graduate school I worked to improve my academic and business writing. I have posted a selection of these works below. I am also a co-author on two academic papers (in peer review) and will be sure to post when those are published. I have presented at multiple international conferences and have included a few of my favorites to provide examples of my work and interests.
Most of my research and creative work explores intersections of nature, politics, data, and technology. If you’d like to chat, tweet at me at @welkerpd
I defended my master’s thesis in December of 2021. I’ll update when the full thesis is publicly available through my university.
Remaking Nature Through Public Participation in Resilient Calgary
Author: Preston Welker, M.A. Geography
Cities around the world are embracing agendas to build urban resilience, in part by harnessing “nature” and engaging citizens. Critical geographers have argued that top-down resilience agendas deploy frameworks that homogenize understandings of “urban natures”, legitimate technocratic approaches to urbanism, and disempower citizens. These scholars call for in-depth case studies that situate “urban natures” to bring out crucial politics of how knowledges of these phenomena are used in contexts of contested urbanization.
This thesis is an intensive qualitative case study of public participation in urban resilience governance in The City of Calgary, following the 2013 Alberta floods. Through a scholar-activist approach, I employ participant observation and semi-structured interview methods to bring out politics in the redevelopment of a multi-functional infrastructure, the Sunnyside Flood Barrier. Drawing from theory on the “social production of nature” – where discourse and materiality are entangled and iteratively reproduced – I argue that processes of public participation in urban resilience governance operate as power-laden “technologies” in the social production of nature, and can depoliticize contested urban transformations. An analysis of two such technologies – community engagement and a triple bottom line analysis – illuminates how power operates through participatory knowledge production activities to remake actors’ conceptualizations of “nature” in ways that influence decision making and urbanization. The study also expands on participant “counter-conduct”, documenting how this subtle form of resistance can build citizen power in the process. I conclude that public participation offers powerful tools in the social production of nature however, additional research and practice are needed to explore how “nature” might be remade in radical alternative ways that shift our collective praxis towards more sustainable, and socially and environmentally just futures.
Presentation/Session Organizer at AAG 2021 (Seattle, USA):I co-organized a paper presentation session with Alexa Boesel and Dr. Maria Kaika for the 2021 American Association of Geographers Conference. The session was tiled Celebrating the “Unruly”: Exploring Emancipatory Potential in Breaking with Societal Norms (here is our call for papers). We had a ton of fun hearing how other scholars engaged with the “unruly” from ayahuasca , to coyotes, dowsers and geomancers! My presentation below:
Reframing Unruly Natures: Graffiti Pier as an Alternative Imaginary for Urban Parks
Author: Preston Welker
Urban parks have long embodied particularly modernist imaginaries of what “nature” is and behavior should be in cities. Scholars of urban political ecology have shown how city parks are produced through complex socio-material relations, where certain natures are labeled “wild” or “dangerous” to legitimize their governance into democratic, tamed urban spaces (Gandy, 2002; Kaika, 2004). This paper centers the former and asks, how might the “unruliness” of natures and spaces be reconceived to illuminate an emancipatory politics?
Answering calls for radical alternative socio-environmental imaginaries (Ernstson & Swyngedouw, 2018; Kaika, 2018), I extend the concept of “unruly women” (Rowe, 1990, 1995; see also Branfman, 2019) to the more-than-human to reframe a popular informal park commonly labeled illegal, blighted, overgrown, and dangerous: Graffiti Pier, in Philadelphia. Taking a grounding urban natures approach (Ernstson & Sörlin, 2019), I examine this post-industrial relic of crumbling concrete arches juxtaposed with a kaleidoscope of colorful paintings, regrown woodlands, and teeming with trespassers. Employing historical and visual discourse analysis, I argue Graffiti Pier exhibits a particular kind of unruly nature that subverts traditional imaginaries of urban parks, and their governance, to offer dwellers a uniquely liberated space. Yet similar to “unruly women”, these transgressions are met with controversy, and entangled activism, policing, and accumulation imperatives as efforts mount to transform Graffiti Pier into an official public park. Reframing the unruliness of nature can conjure radical alternative imaginaries of what a “park” can be and offer, while simultaneously rupturing the dueling binaries of nature and the city.
Presentation slides: reframing_unruly_natures_welker.pdf
Presentation/Paper at AoIR 2020 (Dublin, IE) & and EASST+4S (Prague, CZ)
I am a graduate researcher for the Engaging Open Data Reserach Project with my advisor Dr. Ryan Burns. For this paper we presented at two international conferences (virtually for 2020) featuring cutting edge researach in science and technology studies. Full paper is currently in peer review. Will post soon.
Moral Economies of Open Data Platforms
Authors: Dr. Ryan Burns & Preston Welker
Municipal open data platforms are currently caught in a range of tensions. They rely on an unspecified subject to analyze the data, and yet are surrounded by discourses of "empowerment" and "transparency". They are often most beneficient when approached with data science skills, yet often entail unremunerated digital labor. And they are often engaged by organizations tacking "for Social Good" onto their mandate - the Canada-wide organization Data for Good being a key example. To date, STS research has generated important insights into the political economies of data and platforms that highlight the ways they produce, mediate, circulate, and accumulate surplus and exchange value. Less attention has been devoted to understanding the ways moral values and sentiments are deployed to attract the digital volunteered labor subtending municipal open data platform usage. Those who mobilize these moral economies are deeply situated within capitalist platform economies, and benefit from the free labor of those wishing to improve their communities. In this presentation, we argue that hackathons, datathons, and open data platforms are constituted through moral economies that are entangled within technoscientific capitalist accumulation practices and logics. These moral economies are key ways in which digital labor is procured, and represent a core component of what Boltanski and Chiapello call the "new spirit of capitalism". To substantiate our argument, we draw on an ongoing long-term ethnography into Calgary, Alberta's open data ecosystem. We conclude by politicizing the fissures of these moral economies, to identify the new political strategies that they necessitate.
Burns, R., & Welker, P. (2020). MORAL ECONOMIES OF OPEN DATA PLATFORMS. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2020. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2020i0.11186
Term Paper (that I really loved)I normally wouldn’t post a term paper, but I really had fun with this one. To expand my geographer brain, I took a feminist media studies course called COM617 Representation & Identity. This course radically changed my world view for the better, making me realize the benefit of accurate representations in media and the harm of tropes and stereotypes. In short, representation matters.
Representing Digital Others: Strategic Ambiguity and Digital Violence in Dee Rees’ Kill All Others
Author: Preston Welker
For my paper I worked with Ralina Joseph’s concept of strategic ambiguity as a form of post-racial resistance (book here). I conducted a textual discourse analysis of Dee Rees’ Kill All Others, an episode in the Electric Dreams series, all shorts based on Phillip K. Dick stories. It was fun because I was able to bridge my new learnings in feminist media studies with my researach in smart cities and technology.
In the paper, I argue that Rees employs strategic ambiguity as a form of postracial resistance by coding a white-male protagonist with representations of historic and emerging digital forms of racism, sexism, and classism experienced by marginalized people. By setting KAO in a near-future postracial, postfeminist, and technocratic “utopia”, Rees subverts racist tropes which have historically been reproduced through film and media and cautions the viewer how existing forms of technological violence may evolve if left unchecked by a collective unconscious.
Full paper here: Representing_Digital_Others_Welker_paper.pdf
Presentation slides: Representation_Digital_other_Welker_presentation.pdf