Sam Kinsley is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geographies with a particular interest in technology and the future. His research principally concerns how technologies and technical practices are designed and imagined and what this tells us about how we experience and imagine society and space. His current research concerns geographical imaginaries of automation. In 2019 Sam became an inaugeral Co-Editor-in-Chief of the open access journal Digital Geography & Society. In 2015 Sam received the Progress in Human Geography Best Paper Prize for his article "The matter of 'virtual' geographies". Sam joined the department as a Lecturer in Human Geography in April 2013 and promoted to Senior Lecturer in December 2018. Through participation in continuing professional development Sam was appointed a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2016. Between September 2013 and February 2015 Sam was a co-investigator on the ESRC-funded Contagion project concerning understandings of contagious phenomena, leading a work package focused on digital media.
Sam’s research reveals the increasing importance of how we tell stories about the technologies in our daily lives. There are two key themes: how we understand what a 'technology' is or can be and how we narrate a sense of cultural, political or social change in relation to technology. Sam explores geographies of technology by unpicking what 'technologies' are and how they are involved in our understandings and experiences of society and space. In turn this enables him to investigate two key elements of of technology: the geographies of the design and development of technology and how technology is often instrumental in how we narrate and perceive political and social changes or the sense of a future. This work informs how Sam contributes to the teaching of geography at Exeter, in particular modules concerning cultural and political geographies and dissertations on a range of topics.
Sam works Monday - Thursday.
Broad research specialisms:
Geographies of technology design and use, geographies of automation, 'digital'/ 'electronic'/ 'virtual' geographies, 'the future' and geography, geographies of invention and innovation, media geographies, 'doing' theory and philosophies of technics/technology.
Sam would be very pleased to talk with prospective postgraduates about research that falls into the above areas and beyond.
The postgraduate researchers Sam currently works with are: Kate Byron (SWDTC, Bristol): gender, subjectivity and A.I./machine learning; Paula Crutchlow (SWDTC, Exeter): 'The Museum of Contemporary Commodities' - data, trade, place and value; and Patrycja Pinkowska (ESRC, Exeter): deportable migrants' experiences of and responses to punitive migration policies in the UK.
BSc (Hons) Digital Art and Technology (University of Plymouth)
MSc Society of Space (University of Bristol)
PhD "Practising tomorrows?" (Geography, University of Bristol)
Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
Before lecturing at Exeter, Sam worked as a Research Fellow in Digital Cultures at UWE, Bristol, between 2010 and 2013. Between November 2009 and June 2010 he worked as an RA with Prof. Martin Weller in the Institute of Educational Technology, at the Open University, investigating practices and rationales for digital scholarship. Sam has a PhD in Geography from the University of Bristol, for which he received a 1+3 studentship from the ESRC. Sam variously contributed as committee member, web officer and tresurer for the RGS-IBG History and Philosophy of Geography research group between 2008-2017 and as an ordinary committee member for the RGS-IBG Social & Cultural Geography research group between 2013-2015. He convened the Exeter Geography human geography seminar series between 2013-2015 and currently serves as the communications officer for the department.
Research group links
Sam’s research pursues geographies of technology, contributing to how we understand the increasing importance of mediating technologies in our lives. Key here are two themes: how we understand spatial experience and how we understand 'mediation' and technology. Sam's research activity has led to the production of events and activities for creative public engagement with technology development, not least through links with the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol. In 2015 Sam was awarded (jointly) the Progress in Human Geography Best Paper Prize for his article "The matter of 'virtual' geographies". Sam’s research comprises three key strands:
(1) How geography/geographers think 'technology'. In particular, thinking about the simultaneously supportive and disabling capacities of mediating technologies in everyday life. There are three particular empirical and conceptual focuses for this work. First, commitments to particular ideas that take on a currency or power, such as: 'algorithms', ''robots', or 'the digital', are a focus of critical interrogation in Sam's current work. Second, Sam has researched conditions of movement of ideas and performances of spatiality through technically mediated systems (as part of the ‘Contagion’ project), Third, a longer strand of Sam's theoretical work has investigated the various ways in which different forms of automation are said to be commodifying the human capacity for attention.
(2) Exploring the spatial imaginaries and anticipatory practices of technology development. The current focus of this work is the claims being made for processes of automation (through claims about 'algorithms', 'AI', 'robots' and so on) and the kinds of spaces and spatial experience those processes both are imagined to create andhelp bring into being. Earlier work focused on industrial research and development of ‘ubiquitous computing’ in Silicon Valley California. Sam’s PhD research investigated the rationales and practices for anticipating particular kinds of technological future within research labs. This was extended with a historical case study of a large commercial research project and led to a project for the European Capital of Culture 2012 in Guimarães (Portugal), working with citizens to realise an alternative vision of a ‘smart city’.
(3) Understandings of the materialities that underpin our uses of technology in everyday life. This research focuses on what has been called the technicity of the diverse array of sociotechnical systems we increasingly use in our everyday lives. Emerging work addresses the ways in which sensory capacities are technically trained. Conceptually, this work significantly draws on Sam’s ongoing engagement with the work of the philosophy of technology.
Sam’s research convenes and addresses an audience across geography, in particular bringing together theoretically informed social and cultural geographers and those conducting research broadly associated with a 'digital turn'. His work also critically engages with broad interdisciplinary debates concerning the agency of technologies through the lens of everyday life, the growth of ‘pervasive media’ that adjust according to location and context through a variety of devices and systems, and the growth of discussion about 'automation', all of which extend significantly beyond academe.
Contagion - funded by the ESRC from Sept 2013 - March 2015
Contagion investigates the conditions for movement of infectious disease as well as potent ideas. Using Tardean approaches to bio-sociality, the work uses large databases on influenza and social media as well as investigations of financial analyses to compare contagion within different domains. The work is in conjunction with colleagues at the AHVLA and FSA.
Contagion - transforming social analysis and method
2011 British Academy
Computing Futures – institutional cultures of innovation in Silicon Valley
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
Co-Editor-in-Chief of Digital Geography & Society (open access), Elsevier.
Member of the AHRC Peer Review College 2015-2018.
Member of the review panel for demonstrations and posters, Association of Computing Machinery Conference on Designing Interactive Systems 2012, Newcastle.
Member of the advisory board for the EPSRC-funded ‘Creativity Greenhouse: Sense-making representation of a Technologically Enabled Society (SeRTES)’ project.
Invited lectures & workshops
2018 "Worrying realites: spatial theory for 'digital' geographies", Keynote lecture for IRS Spring Academy 2018 Investigating Space(s): Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches: Virtuality and Socio-Materiality, Einstein Center Digital Future, Berlin, 23rd May.
2016 "An algorithmic imaginary: anticipation and stupidity", Living with Algorithms, Royal Holloway University of London, 9th June.
2016 "An algorithmic imaginary: anticipation and stupidity", Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford, 3rd May.
2016 "Prosethetic stupidity, or world-ing by numbers", presented at Researching Alternative Worlds: New political orientations in Geography, University of Bristol, 27th April.
2015 "The pharmakon of paying attention" presented at The Politics and Economics of Attention, Behaviour Change & Psychological Governance Seminar Series (seminar 6), University of Bristol, 14th December.
2013 "Using social media in risk identification and communication", presented to General Scientific Advisory Committee and the FSA’s communications and policy team.
2013 ‘Designing with fiction’, Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Research Seminar, University of Edinburgh, 25th January.
2012 ‘Design Fiction’, within the ‘Smart Cities’ workshop, part of the ‘Open City’ programme for Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture, held at the Design Institute Guimarães (Portugal), 15th July.
2012 ‘Ten things I have learned about anticipating technology futures’, part of the ‘10 things I learnt’ event, Design Wales Forum, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 9th March.
2012 ‘Desiging with fiction’, Pervasive Media Studio Friday lunchtime talk series, Pervasive Media Studio, Watershed, Bristol, 10th February.
2011 ‘Access & attention: commodities of the digital economy’, Computer-Mediated Living Research Group, Microsoft Research, Cambridge, 9th August.
2010 ‘A brief history of the future of pervasive media’, Pervasive Media Studio Friday lunchtime talks series, Pervasive Media Studio, Watershed, Bristol, 14th May.
2009 ‘A short history of the future of computing’ presented in the School of Geographical Sciences Roberts Skills Workshop series, University of Bristol, 17th February.
Sam would be very pleased to talk with prospective postgraduates about research in cultural geographies that broadly concerns technology, popular culture and creative practices.
- GEO1105 - Geographies of Place, Identity and Culture
- GEO1313 - Learning through Place: Doing Human Geography
- GEO3139 - Geographies of Technology
Supervision / Group
- Paula Crutchlow
- Patrycja Pinkowska