Notes for Nigel Thrift “Movement-space: the changing domain of thinking resulting from the development of new kinds of spatial awareness”

Key concepts: address, body schema, ethnomathematics, figured ontologies, flow architectures, nomadologic, qualculation.

Related theorists: K.L. Geurts, Martin Heidegger, Luce Irigaray, K. Knorr Cetina, Lev Manovich, Bruce Sterling.

(583) Yet, it is remarkable how few papers on knowledge actually consider the mundane framework in which ideas come wrapped and from which they must spring.
(583) In particular, I have looked at how, as a result of the intervention of software and new forms of address, these background time-spaces are changing their character, producing novel kinds of behaviors that would not have been possible before and new types of object which presage more active environments. In this paper, I want to extend these thoughts in various directions, hoping to capture the outlines of a world just coming into existence, one which is based on continuous calculation at each and every point along each and every line of movement.

Qualculation names thinking and perception based on continuous ambient calculations in generative microworlds.

(583) a move towards a world in which new qualities are being constructed, which are based on assumptions about how time-space can turn up which would have been impossible before, spaces which are naturalistic in the sense that they are probably best represented as fluid forces which have no beginning or end and which are generating new cultural conventions, techniques, forms, genres, concepts, even (or so I will argue) senses. This is the rise of what I call 'qualculation'.
(584) an activity arising out of the construction of new generative microworlds which allow many millions of calculations continually to be made in the background of any encounter. I argue that it is no longer possible to think of calculation as necessarily being precise. Rather, because of massive increases in computing power, it has become a means of making qualitative judgments and working with ambiguity.

Use literature on ethnomathematics.

(584) I shall argue that this is best achieved by aligning my arguments with the literature on ethnomathematics.

Nomadologic view, as portrayed by Sterling in Distraction.

(584) these developments are producing a new sense of space as folded and animate, one that assumes a moving point of view, a 'nomadologic' rather than a monadologic (Vidler 2000), which may, for example, be showing up in new forms of anxiety and phobia, which are representative of new stresses and strains, or in new forms of intuition.

The world of paratexts

Paratexts are technological equivalent of Heideggerian background: cables, formulae, wireless signals.

(584-585) But over time, this background [of human activity] has been filled with more and more 'artificial' components until, at the present conjuncture, much of the background of life is 'second nature', the artificial equivalent of breathing. Roads, lighting, pipes, paper, screws and similar constituted the first wave of artificiality. Now a second wave of second nature is appearing, extending its fugitive presence through object frames as diverse as cables, formulae, wireless signals, screens, software, artificial fibers and so on. . . . the technological equivalent of the Heideggerian background (Irigaray 1999; Perniola 2004) . . . paratexts (Genette 1999; Jackson 1999) . . . new kinetic surfaces to the world, along and across which things run (Parks 2003; Thrift 2004c) . . . a new 'technological unconscious' (Clough 2000; Thrift 2004c) . . . a methodological challenge (Riles 2003).
(586) If all these characteristics can be imposed, then the logic of the system, as it becomes both necessary and general, will gradually become the logic of the world. As this ontogenetic process occurs, so the system will fade from human perception, becoming a part of the landscape which the body 'naturally' adjusts to and which it regards as a normal part of its movement.

From quantification to qualculation: the growth of calculation

Figured ontologies decomposing and recomposing world in their image: mathematics, population, gridding of time and space, lists and registers, logistics.

(587) I shall argue that we are in a situation that has a number of historical parallels which have manifested themselves again under the new conditions of computability and which form a kind of cognitive history told through practices of number. . . . These developments have, if you like, produced new figured ontologies by decomposing and recomposing the world in their own image: they have been the real winners of the ontological wars, defining not so much what is to be done in any situation but how the situation turns up in the first place.
(587-588) First, then, the discovery of mathematics. . . . In particular, the cognitive method called mathematics allowed the world to be seen as concise, transferable and thus manageable, shaping a new kind of necessity.

Discovery of population as thinkable entity.

(588) Second, the discovery of population (or, more accurately, 'multitude') as a thinkable entity, an entity which can be characterized and summed in different ways. . . . Whatever the case, it is clear that a notion of population of the kind that subsequently became common in the nineteenth century has been crucial to the quantification of the world, allowing many modern statistical ideas to come into existence and be applied in the background as a kind of background (Porter 1992).

Gridding of time and space, technology of address producing locatability in absolute space.

(588-589) Third, there is the gridding of time and space in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. . . . In turn, the technology of address produced genuine locatability in an absolute space and, with it, the possibility of making calculations that had been difficult or long-winded before.
(589) Fourth, there is the growth of means of making mass lists and registers.

Logistics: number performs number.

(589-590) Fifth, there is the rise of logistics, a set of knowledge synonymous with movement, effectively the science of moving objects in an optimal fashion. . . . In other words, number tends to cast the world reciprocally in its image as entities are increasingly made in forms that are countable. Number performs number. As importantly, in Euro-American cultures at least, it also performs a notion of a terrain and population existing in a 'similar and immovable' abstract space which has had to be slowly and laboriously built up, one which assumes that there are fixed reference points, cardinal dimensions and the like (Hatfield 1990).

Beyond protocol: network replaced by processual, nomadologic flow (Knorr Cetina).

(590) Whatever the cause, the world has become increasingly one in which a numerical flux becomes central to activities, rather than incidental, giving rise to more and more 'flow architectures', to use Knorr Cetina's felicitous phrase: “the content itself is processual . . . only 'frames'.” . . . the nomdadologic of movement becomes the natural order of thought. The world is reconfigured as a global trading zone in which network forms, which strive for coordination, are replaced by flow forms which strive for observation and projection.

Plane of endless calculating and recalculation; Manovich loop.

(591) Thus, forces of recursivity moved from being models on the page to something approaching forces of nature: in Manovich's (2001) terms, the loop. . . . There are no longer calculations with definite beginnings and ends. Rather there is a plane of endless calculation and recalculation, across which intensities continually build and fade.

Notions of both human and environment are shifting due to prevalence of qualculation.

(591) these developments are producing not only shifts in what is understood as 'human' but also shifts in what is understood as 'environment' since, increasingly, the 'artificial' environment is sentient and has the feel of a set of 'natural' forces blowing this way and that.

New apprehensions of space and time
(592) A carefully constructed absolute space begets this relative space.

Qualculation new methodological sense: speed, faith in number, degree of memory; experience clearings disclosing opportunities to intervene in flow rather than preexisting objects (Callon and Law).

(592) the sheer amount of calculation that is now becoming possible at all points of so many spaces is producing a new calculative sense, which I will call 'qualculation' (Callon and Law 2004). That sense has the following characteristics. . . . speed . . . faith in number . . . only limited numerical facility is available in the bodies of the population . . . some degree of memory.
(593) Increasingly, subjects do not encounter finished, pre-existing objects but rather 'clearings' that disclose opportunities to intervene in the flow (Knorr Cetina 2003).

Ethnomathematical basis.

(593) I want to argue that the best way of thinking about this characterization is to take a leaf from the book of ethnomathematics and to think thereby about transitions to new cognitive modes occasioned by adding new features to physical matter (and especially all manner of pervasive infrastructures) which, arguably, alter the sense of what matter is about. In particular, the new qualculative sense involves a different sense of number and counting and series.
(593-594) Different numerical systems are treated as akin to different languages. . . . it easily makes space for the complexity of mucking about with numbers that typifies much of everyday life. . . . the use of numbers is inevitably partial, performative, distributed and often integrated into other activities (for example, navigation, decoration, calendrics, religion) rather than understood as a discrete activity carried out for itself. . . . how number interpellates subjectivity by producing particular forms of link.
(594) More and more of the world is brought into this means of ordering through the operations of various forms of code and the ordering microworlds that they generate.
(594) Number both frames movement and is framed by it: the two reciprocally confirm each other and provide a window on to a perception of a world which sways and shimmies with the force of qualculation, which folds and flows in numerous ways as different architectures of flow meld and then melt away because of the increased elasticity of synchronicity (and 'synchoricity') that has been made possible.

Radical variation in sensory orders across cultures, so also what counts as perception and experience; Geurts work on indigenous Anlo sensorium.

(594) The sensory orders of cultures can vary radically and so, therefore, can the expectations of what counts as perception and experience.
(595) The point of [K.L.]
Geurts's work [on the indigenous Anlo sensorium] is that it shows that there is no need to think that what we name as the senses has a predetermined or stable character. In all likelihood, the constellation of senses and what we may consequently regard as sensation goes through periods of regular redefinition and re-embedding (Howes 2003).

A new sensorium?

Technological unconscious manifest as symptoms.

(595) One of the ways that qualculative developments are most likely to surface is as so-called mental conditions in which what is generally a part of the technological unconscious is able to make itself known again as various anxieties and phobias.
(596) Another way in which qualculative developments might make themselves known is through the rise of new forms of
intuition (Myers 2002).
(596) new qualities might become possible which assumed this enhanced calculativity as a space-time background through an array of new coordinate systems, different kinds of metric and new cardinal points, backed up by much enhanced memory and a certain limited predictive capacity. This background would enable new kinds of movement to occur, against which all kinds of experiments in perception might become possible, which might in turn engender new senses, new intelligences of the world and new forms of 'human'.
(597) We sense it as a different kind of awareness of the world, one in which space itself seems to perform.

Gallagher body schema example of hand; new ways of reaching and touching in qualculative world.

(597) Certain parts of the body are particularly important in acting as bridges to the world and here I concentrate on one of the most important of these—the hand.
(597-598) The hand is particularly important in providing not just active manipulation of the world but also a sense of
touch (Field 2001). . . . I want to argue that in a qualculative world the hand will take on some different styles of haptic inquiry: it will reach out and touch in different ways. In particular, the sense of touch will be redefined in three was as haptic engineering moves beyond today's primitive keyboard, keypad, mouse and data glove. . . . In other words, the hand will extend, be cable to touch more entities and will encounter entities which are more 'touchable'.

World comes loaded with addresses.

(598) The environment can be laid out in a large number of ways. But what seems certain is that, increasingly, the world will come loaded up with addresses. . . . This move is already having consequences which call up an analogy with the kinematics of the reach of the hand.
(599) Then, finally, I want to consider the matter of language. Here I want to consider some findings from the anthropology of cognition.

Anthropology of cognition suggests language changing as qualculated world provides greater cognitive assistance; spatial distribution of flow architectures will produce extended spatial vocabulary.

(599-600) This discussion makes it possible to speculate about how vocabularies for describing spatial configuration will change in a qualculated world in which much greater cognitive assistance is routinely available. . . . The critical importance of spatial distribution in flow architectures will produce an extended spatial vocabulary which will provide new opportunities for thinking the world, opportunities which will themselves be constitutive of that world.


Assumes migration of many spatial skills into technical background, exerting influence through agency of software; compare to Kitchin and Dodge code/space.

(600) Such a world assumes a certain kind of relative space (though, as I have underlined, riding on the back of the most absolute of absolute spaces) and the migration of a good many spatial skills and competencies into the technical background where they are neither seen nor heard but still exert an influence through the agency of software and other recursive entities, calculating each move down to the last instant, so to speak.
(601) This is surely how the history of the present will have to be written.

Thrift, Nigel. “Movement-Space: The Changing Domain of Thinking Resulting from the Development of New Kinds of Spatial Awareness.” Economy and Society 33.4 (November 2004): 582-604. Web. 14 Aug. 20013.