Dr Sam Kinsley
Senior Lecturer in Human Geographies
Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK
Office hours: I have regular office hours, in-person & online: Please book using MS Bookings - you must log-in to your Exeter account.
I have regular office hours, in-person & online: Please book using MS Bookings - you must log-in to your Exeter account.
I am a Senior Lecturer in Human Geographies with a particular interest in technology and the future. My 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. My current research concerns geographical imaginaries of automation. I am a Co-Editor-in-Chief of the open access journal Digital Geography & Society. Between January 2022 and July 2024 I am Principle Investigator on the ESRC-funded project Algorithmic Politics after Brexit. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in December 2018. In 2015 I received the Progress in Human Geography Best Paper Prize for the article "The matter of 'virtual' geographies". Through participation in continuing professional development I was appointed a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2016. Between September 2013 and February 2015 I was a co-investigator on the ESRC-funded Contagion project concerning understandings of contagious phenomena, leading a work package focused on digital media.
My 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. I explore 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 me 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 I lead and contribute to the teaching of geography at Exeter, in particular modules concerning cultural and political geographies and dissertations on a range of topics.
I would be very pleased to talk with prospective postgraduates about research that falls into the above areas and beyond.
I currently work with: Kate Byron (SWDTC, Bristol): gender, subjectivity and A.I./machine learning; and: Megan Furr (AHRC CDA, Exeter): gender and regional politics in the C19th British telegraphy sector.
I have advised to successful completion: Dr. Paula Crutchlow (SWDTC, Exeter): 'The Museum of Contemporary Commodities' - data, trade, place and value; and Dr. Patrycja Pinkowska (ESRC, Exeter): Deportable migrants' experiences of and responses to punitive migration policies in the UK.
Digital geographies, geographies of technology design and use, geographies of automation, 'the future' and geography, geographies of invention and innovation, media geographies, 'doing theory' and philosophies of technics/technology.
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, I worked as a Research Fellow in Digital Cultures at UWE, Bristol, between 2010 and 2013. Between November 2009 and June 2010 I worked as an RA with the brilliant Prof. Martin Weller in the Institute of Educational Technology, at the Open University, investigating practices and rationales for digital scholarship. I have a PhD in Geography from the University of Bristol, for which I received a 1+3 studentship from the ESRC. I have served as a committee member of the RGS-IBG Digital Geographies research group. I have previously and 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. I convened the Exeter Geography human geography seminar series between 2013-2015 and served as the communications officer for the department between 2015-2019. I am currently supporting academic online video production in 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
- 2021 Economic and Social Research Council
The EUSS is the policy framework and an administrative procedure introduced in line with the Withdrawal Agreement ratified by the UK and EU in January 2020. It is designed to transfer EU, European Economic Area and Swiss residents and family members currently living in the UK into the UK's immigration system. The EUSS can also be used to facilitate entry into the UK for eligible family members. It is a constitutive system: with the exception of Irish citizens, all eligible residents living in the UK have to apply to it, or else they will lose their legal status in the country. The Home Office estimates that population eligible for the EUSS includes from 3.5 to 4.1 million people, but the exact figure remains unknown due to lack of data and movement of people. The EUSS is operated by the Home Office and opened to the public in spring 2019. The deadline for residents to apply, or lose their status, is 30 June 2021. The EUSS runs at least until 2026 to allow repeat applications for those granted only pre-settled status, which is temporary and affords lesser socioeconomic rights than the permanent settled status. This project approaches the EUSS as one example of a more widespread process of administrative reform in the post-Brexit context, and as intersecting with the digitalisation of administrative systems across government and the public sector in the UK and globally. As the prime example of digitalisation of immigration control in the UK, the EUSS has generated controversy concerning the consistency of its automated procedures with principles of administrative justice. These concerns are publicly articulated through the interaction between government agencies, statutory monitoring authorities, EU representatives, and civil society organisations. The public controversies around the EUSS revolve around issues of access to information and reliability of official reporting, which make it difficult to establish whether there are systematic inequalities in outcomes, and difficult to establish grounds for redress and review of the operation of the system. The EUSS is characterised by a systematic asymmetry between the administratively efficient processing of information and decisions, and the lack of accessibility for those engaging the system. The opacity of the EUSS is therefore central to the conceptual focus of this project, and it directly informs the methodological strategy of 'process tracing'. This has a dual aspect: an investigation of how information is processed in and around the EUSS system; and inquiry into how the forms of grievance that emerge from its operation give rise to organised forms of mobilisation, campaigning, and legal challenge. The research will contribute to understandings of three aspects of changing practices of governance after Brexit: i). given that the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU remains an uncertain and contested field, the research will throw light on the evolution of the UK's relationship with the EU; ii). the EUSS provides a case study in the emergent politics of digital decision-making in the public administration of immigration in the UK, in light of the stated intention to design any new points-based immigration system as digital-only; iii). the EUSS provides a case study of the role of civil society organisations in shaping processes of redress and review of the structured inequalities generated by new systems of public administration and governance.
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.
Supervision / Group
- Kuba Jablonowski (he/him)
- Megan Furr
- Paula Crutchlow
- Patrycja Pinkowska