söndag 6 november 2016

Visiting UAB and UPC (in Barcelona)

I guess I'll just blurt it out: I have stated to plan another sabbatical and I will go to Barcelona with my family for six months sometime during the next academic year (2017/2018). This could theoretically happen already during the autumn of 2017 but the first half of 2018 (January - June) seems more likely.

Here's how I can take a sabbatical so soon after our previous sabbatical (in 2014): This academic year (2016/2017) I have taken on (or alternatively, 'been burdened with') tasks at work - such as giving courses and participating in research projects - that together adds up to 110% of a "normal" workload. That means I will be able to add another 10% of a man-year to the overtime I have already accumulated and I will by next summer have saved up overtime corresponding to about 45% of a man-year. That means I can basically take half a year off while my employer continues to pay my salary and I really can't think of a better way to 'reduce' or 'withdraw' my overtime than by going on another sabbatical.

We did go to UC Irvine for six months on a sabbatical during the first half of 2014, but I did not at that time have a significant amount of saved-up overtime so I for the most part spent those six months 'working-but-at-a-distance'. This time around I would have a lot more freedom to do what I'd like to do. I guess I could hang at bars or at the beach if I wanted to, but that's not going to happen. I have in fact already now, more than a year in advance, started to think about what kinds of academic projects I will engage in for the duration of my sabbatical. Setting aside plenty of time for reading, for getting to know new people, for attending seminars and other academic activities and for learning a lot of new things is of course a given. I will also prioritize spending time with my family, exploring a new city (Barcelona), a new region (Catalonia) a new country (Spain) as well as perhaps neighboring countries (Andorra, France, Italy?). Perhaps it's also time for me to write a book? I already have three quite different book projects in mind and any of them could be interesting to work on during a sabbatical. Another possible (smaller) project would be to give a ph.d. course at [optional] university that would use the ph.d. course we are currently teaching as a template.

A good start for planning a sabbatical is to think about relevant criteria and then figure out where to go. After Irvine in California, we are now aiming for Barcelona. Why Barcelona? There are plenty of reasons. The most important are that it's a really nice, dynamic city and we also want our children to improve their Spanish fluency. But there are many other nice cities in Spain with universities and something really important to me is the fact that there are interesting research groups and interesting research opportunities in Barcelona that might not exist in many other places. Since my wife has an agenda of her own, I will now write exclusively based on my personal perspective. We have just spent the major part of the past week (autumn break in our kids' schools) being tourists and getting a better feel for Barcelona and I also took the opportunity to visit the two research groups that I'm most interested in collaborating with. I also gave two different talks at these research groups (see further below), "Computing within Limits and the Sharing Economy/Collaborative Consumption" and "On the effects of the early 1970s global peak in oil production".

I have for a long time had broad research interests and with many threads stretching out in various directions "beyond" computing (which is evidently clear for anyone who follows the books I have read backwards in time). I have also recently (this autumn) started to branch out and I am right now writing my first papers ever that do not have anything at all to do with computing (the first paper is instead about energy and society). It has become increasingly clear to me that the academic fields that I want to explore on my sabbatical primarily have to do with more radical thoughts about ecology and the moden project, i.e. degrowth, ecological economics, political ecology, World-Systems theory, resource issues (peak oil), energy analysis/social metabolism, contrafactual history, the sharing economy/collaborative consumption, basic income, voluntary simplicity, self-sufficiency, the precariat, intentional communities, activist and grassroots movements, computing (access and use) among the non-wealthy, minimal computing, appropriate/intermediate technologies, conviviality as well as other thoughts of thinkers such as Andre Gorz and Ivan Illich. And so on. So that's why I have chosen to go to The Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and more specifically to The Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientales, ICTA). ICTA is a hothouse for the kinds of thinking I want to learn more about. While they do work in the intersection of sustainability and technology, there is no one else there working in the intersection of these topics and computing and I find that oddly exciting. That's an environment where I would have to exert myself to understand the interest and the research results of others. Here's how ICTA presents itself in three short sentences:

"The Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) is a multidisciplinary centre that promotes academic research and postgraduate education in the environmental sciences. It aims to improve our understanding of global environmental change, and the nature and causes of environmental problems. In addition, it studies policies, strategies and technologies to foster a transition to a sustainable economy."

Note to self: look through their website and read up on research that seems interesting before I go or immediately after I arrive!

If it turns out to be lonely being the only "computer person" at ICTA, I also plan to in some way also be affiliated with the technical university in Barcelona, BarcelonaTech (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, UPC). There are people there doing exciting work on the commons, the Sharing Economy/Collaborative Consumption and ICTD, although you wouldn't know it if you only looked at their webpages and their institutional affiliation. David Franquesa and Leandro Navarro both belong to the "Distributed Systems Group (DSG Lab)" which belong to the larger "Computer Networks and Distributed Systems (CNDS) Research Group" which in its turn is part of The Department of Computer Architecture (DAC) at that university...

I met David Franquesa at the beginning of the summer at Computing within Limits 2016 where he presented his paper "A Circular Commons for Digital Devices" (pdf). The paper was co-authored by Leandro Navarro and both of them had apparently attended the ICT4S conference in Copenhagen last year where their paper "Breaking Barriers on Reuse of Digital Devices Ensuring Final Recycling" (pdf) won the Best Paper award. I was in Copenhagen too but did not talk to them there but my wife apparently met them. David was also part of organizing the OuiShare fest in Barcelona last week and it's a pity we missed it by just a few days! Their group also have many contacts and links to sharing economy/collaborative consumption research groups and activists like gufi.net (a Telecommunications Networks as a Commons), Barcola (Collaborative Economy and Commons Based Peer Production in Barcelona), Electronic reuse (ereuse, Open Source Technology for reusing Digital Devices ensuring final recycling), The Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3 at the Open University of Catalonia) including the Digital Commons Research Group (DIMMONS), the people who organized or talked at the Barcelona OuiShare fest and the UPC Institute of Sustainability (IS.UPC). Have I missed something? Probably, but that's enough to get started...

During our trip to Barcelona, we for the most part dutifully played the role of tourists and enjoyed what Barcelona had to offer us to the fullest. I have never been to Barcelona before and as a tourist I'd especially like to emphasize La Sagrada Familia (built by "God's architect's" - Antoni Gaudí). It really was amazing and even both my children who are usually impressed by nothing except perhaps the latest computer game are now reverent Gaudí fans. Other highlights was the three-hour bike tour of the city as well as the amazing meals we had at some of the (close to a million) restaurants that dot the city. I think we could easily come to love living in that city if we can only find great schools for our kids first.

The one work-related task I did was to spend a day visiting and giving talks at the two universities I'm interested in visiting. I gave a morning talk at the technical university (UPC) about Computing within Limits as a research area and as an up-and-coming conference. I also gave a mid-day talk at the autonomous university (UAB) about the alternative history multi-paper project I lead and that charts the future of peak oil by placing it in the past. Both these talks are brand new (although I naturally reuse some slides from other talks) and I'm more than willing to give talks about these topics at departments and universities in or near Stockholm! I end this blog post by sharing the invitations to the two talks I held in Barcelona:

------- UPC morning talk ------

On Thursday the 3rd of November, Daniel Pargman, will be visiting UPC (Campus Nord) and give a talk from 9h-10h in Building C6 Room E101.

Title: Computing within Limits and the Sharing Economy/Collaborative Consumption

Talk: Computing within Limits is (to the best of my knowledge) the most hard-core sustainability community within computing as “LIMITS aims to foster discussion on the impact of present or future ecological, material, energetic, and/or societal limits on computing” (http://limits2016.org/). The Computing within Limits workshop/conference and the community around it (Pargman and Raghavan 2015) can be seen as a rebranded version of the earlier attempt at forming a community around the concept of “Collapse Informatics” (Tomlinson et. al. 2012, Tomlinson et. al. 2013).

In this talk I will:

- Present the underlying premises of Computing within Limits as well as the (future) trajectory of the workshop/community. 
- Discuss how the Sharing Economy/Collaborative Consumption aligns (or does not align) with Computing within Limits.
- Talk about and analyse some of the inherent contradictions of teaching sustainability/Limits for engineering students at a technical university.

------- UAB midday talk ------

On Thursday the 3rd of November, Daniel Pargman, Associate Professor of Media Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm will be visiting ICTA and give a talk from 12-1 at Aula Z-023 Espai Montseny.

Title: "On the effects of the early 1970s global peak in oil production”

Talk: This talk takes as its starting point the contrafactual (Ferguson 2000) statement “what if there ever only was half the oil in the ground when we started to use it 150 years ago?” E.g. what if there ever only was 1 instead of 2 trillion barrels of oil available in the ground back in the 19th century (Deffeyes 2006, Campbell 2013)?

Taking that statement as a starting point, an interdisciplinary group of researchers spanning literature studies, futures studies, design fiction, social sciences, systems analysis, history and natural resource research have embarked on a project to envision what a contrafactual post-peak oil world could look like. The goal is to construct an alternative present where peak oil happened in the early 1970’s and were we now (2017) have lived with the consequences for more than four decades. However difficult the task we have here set ourselves, it is much much easier for us to discern the global effects of peak oil in an alternative world where oil production peaked in the early 1970s (”Coalworld”) than what it is to predict the future of our world (”Oilworld”) for decades ahead.

------- Generic blurb for both talks ------

Guest lecturer: Daniel Pargman, Associate Professor of Media Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Bio: Daniel Pargman is an associate professor at the Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden. He is also affiliated with the VINN excellence research Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC). He is interested in energy research and social science, teaching sustainability and computing within limits. He blogs at danielpargman.blogspot.com.

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