Academic journal article Afterimage

Accounting for Pervasive Computing. (Features)

Academic journal article Afterimage

Accounting for Pervasive Computing. (Features)

Article excerpt


This essay analyzes the practical and discursive constructions of "accounting" interfaces for mobile and pervasive computation. Attentive to Pierre Bourdleu's theory of the Habitus, it critiques those interface systems as differential "structures of durable dispositions of action." (1) Emergent pervasive software systems, whether hand-held or environmentally embedded, both displace and relocate the interface between embodied social actors and the "linguistic" technologies with which those actors construct systems of meaningful interaction. "Software" needs to be understood simultaneously as language and as architecture, as both habit (cognitive, corporeal) and habitat (environmental, embedded). "Interface" needs to be understood as both the textual condensations that operate computational choice (the screen interface), and the conversion or transposition of embodied action into a technology of software. The differences between interfaces can be mapped according to different qualities of the private and the pu blic, and according to different modes of transposition (or "transcoding") between embodied and virtual layers of action.

The discourse of accounting organizes the subject position of the user as a specific agent of naming, categorizing, exchanging and compiling. As a control text that helps guide activity in the production of practical space, accounting interfaces create circuits between embodied economic activity, the management of that activity according to software, and the production of self as a manifestation of that personal computational management. Accounting software concretizes those habitual categorizations and process-related valuations of experience into interactive confession-narratives that allow for a more general understanding of the social construction of self through software interfaces.


Habitus is understood as "the systems of durable, transposable dispositions that structure." (2) Aaron Cicourel defines it as, "a self-regulating system of generative principles whose durable existence produces practices that are the outcome of both an objective structure of social relations and the particularity of the individual phenomenological experience in and of that structure." (3) That phenomenology names the experience of being embodied in a navigable, meaningful world. The forms taken by Habitus are the categories of possibility afforded by a particular form of embodiment. Human technologies form the horizon of worldly experience: we experience the world through them, and we reflect upon that experience. Habitus is itself that mode of embodiment.

Etymologically, Habitus is related to both "habit" and "habitat." Habitat is the artifactual residue of specific, habitual actions over time, grooves worn into the surface of the environment over multiple durations, and, simultaneously, bodily habits that are the subjective reflection of environment onto self. These processes, habituation and habitation, coordinate each other. They form a kind of circuit whereby habit informs habitat as the artifactual residue of its performative repetition, and also whereby habitat stabilizes the stage and condition for those very habitual repetitions. (4)

The concept of Habitus is employed by Bourdieu to convert the limits of both phenomenological and existentialist perspectives, as well as structuralist and historical-materialist interpretations, into a general instrument of sociological investigation. Central to this conversion is the common nexus of the "body," understood as both a repository of historical construction, manifested as disposition, and as an agent in the limit-conditions of those constructions. Categorization of the life-world is a manifest function of this active embodiment. But this categorization does not form itself in the more purely mental voice of cognitive psychology, but rather in the performative instrumentality of social life, and the competition over the production, definition, valuation and expenditure of various modes of capital (social, economic, cultural) as each themselves are functions of differential embodiment. …

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