RMeS Workshop Appnography: Researching the apps of life and the life of apps

Workshop organized by Dr Rik Smit (RUG), within the context of the RMeS PhD Workshop Grant

When? 1 April 2019
Where? University of Groningen, Academiegebouw – A2, Broerstraat 5, Groningen
Time? 10.00 – 17.30
Coordinator? Dr Rik Smit (RUG)
Open to? PhD’s and research master students, max 20 participants

This workshop explores how we can study mobile application software, popularly known as ‘apps’, discussing and applying methods from digital ethnography and user interface analysis. For most people who own a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet, apps are part and parcel of everyday life. Whether people cook, play, jog, or date, they increasingly use apps to aid them in these activities and practices. At the same time, apps – or at least their developers – use us to gather user data, often for commercial purposes, or to refine their proprietary algorithms.

During this workshop we will explore possible ways to study these “apps of life” and the “life of apps.” Like any medium or technology, apps live a life of their own: they are conceived of, presented to the world, implemented and used, and they may stop being used (they die). As a specific form of digital ethnography (Pink, et al. 2016), “appnography” will be proposed as a way to analyze the various stages of development (production) of an app, the discourses surrounding the app (how the app is marketed and presented to the world), and how it is used and made sense of by app users. Moreover, we will discuss various ways in which to analyze app interfaces, features, and affordances, which enable, shape, and restrict practices.

The workshop is organized by Dr Rik Smit and is connected to a new research project following his recently completed PhD project Platforms of Memory: Social Media and Digital Memory Work (defended March 2018, cum laude). In this new project, he investigates the plethora of personal memory apps available in app stores. Apps such as The Memory App, Lifecake, Relive, Facebook’s On This Day, and Moment Garden help organize mediated memories by categorizing, sorting, and filtering them. These apps, he argues, signal a broader shift toward systems and services that structure and automatically re-present our pasts for us, so-called “mnemotechnologies” (Stiegler, 2010). As such, they are part of an emerging “algorithmic culture” (Striphas, 2014), in which our daily practices have come to involve algorithmic procedures such as automatic recommendation and personalization. Thus, in a nutshell, this research scrutinizes how the logic of computational systems and databases intertwine with personal digital memory work.

Guest speakers

Anne Helmond (UvA)

Anne Helmond is assistant professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the Digital Methods Initiative and the App Studies Initiative where she focuses her research on social media platforms, apps, and web history. She holds a Veni grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for the project ‘App ecosystems: A critical history of apps’.

Fernando van der Vlist (UvA)

Fernando van der Vlist is a research associate with the Collaborative Research Centre ‘Media of Cooperation’ at the University of Siegen. He is a member of the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the App Studies Initiative. He has lectured in new media, digital culture, and digital methods (University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University, Utrecht Data School) and has a background in media arts and design.

Nathaniel Tkacz (U of Warwick)

Nathaniel Tkacz is Reader at the University of Warwick. His work investigates the political, economic and organizational dimensions of technology, with a specific focus on networked and digital forms. This has led him to analyze notions of political openness in web-based communities, the practice of ‘mass collaboration’, experimental economic platforms, software forking, trolling, and emerging forms of governance in network cultures, among other things. His current work is on 1) the rise of ‘dashboard interfaces’ and 2) the relationship between media and economy.

Preliminary programme
10.00-10.30Doors open. Coffee
10.30-10.45Welcome (Prof. Marcel Broersma)
10.45-11.15Introductory lecture: Swipe, tap, Open, Remember (STORe): Personal Digital Memory in the App Ecology (Rik Smit)
11.15-11.30 Coffee
11.30-12.30Workshop I: Researching App Ecologies: Methodological affordances and challenges of studying apps and app stores (Anne Helmond & Fernando van der Vlist)
Discussion and debate
13.00-14.00Lunch break
14.00-15.00Workshop II: User Interface Analysis and the Walkthrough Method (Nate Tkacz)
15.00-15.30 Coffee
15.30-16.30Workshop III: Studying App Discourses, Rhetoric and Logics (Rik Smit)
16.30-17.00 Design Fiction: Introduction to the assignment
17.00-17.15Closing remarks
Assignment for participants

The assignment for this workshop is rather unconventional. Instead of writing a paper, participants will have to come up with a “design fiction”—speculative, critical design that aims to explore and critique possible futures. This can take many forms: a story revolving around an imagined technology, an extended prototype description, a piece of journalistic reporting about this future technology, a conversation between two philosophers discussing the technology, an extended manual for the technology, a review of a future technology, or a visual representation of a possible future technology, accompanied by a rationale. Some well-known design fictions are the “Memex” by Vanavar Bush (1945) and technologies featured in films and books such as Black Mirror, 1984, and Minority Report.

The design fiction will need to engage with one of the workshop themes:

  • Apps and datafication
  • App ecologies
  • Dashboards and interfaces
  • Memory (both personal and collective)
  • Algorithmic culture

The themes are broad on purpose, in order to stimulate creative/critical thinking. All design fictions are to be accompanied by a 1,000 word rationale which reflects on the design fiction, using the workshop material (lectures, workshops, readings).

  • Striphas, T. (2015). Algorithmic culture. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4-5), 395-412.
  • Levine, D. (2016). Design Fiction. Medium.
  • Dieter, M., et al. (2018). Store, interface, package, connection: Methods and propositions for multi-situated app studies. Medien der Kooperation – working paper series, 4. 1-16.
  • Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. Atlantic.
  • Bell, F. et al. (2013). Science fiction prototypes: Visionary technology narratives between futures. Futures 50. 5-14.
  • Bartlet, J. & Tkacz, N. (2017). Governance by Dashboard: A policy paper. Demos.



RMeS Masterclass: Spatiotemporal Interface perturbations with James Ash (Newcastle University)

When? 18 January 2019
Where? University of Amsterdam BG 2 0.12, Turfdraagsterpad 15-17, Amsterdam
Time? 14.00-17.00
Coordinator? Dr Alex Gekker (UvA)
Open to? PhD’s and research master students, max 15 participants

The world, we are told, is continuously data-fied and algorithmized, through an ongoing application of computational organizational modes onto routines of work and leisure. Data is the new oil and algorithms will either save or destroy the very fabric of our society. There is, in other words, a profoundly software-centric turn in contemporary media studies, bringing to the fore the material realities of living with and in digital environments. Most users however, do not see data nor feel the algorithms. They experience computation at the level of the various digital interfaces that package and prescribe one’s understanding of the machine “below”. Cambridge Analytica might be an abstract concern for a day or a week, but we tap, click and scroll the Facebook feed every day, and it is through it that we perceive the platform. On the other hand, throughout the design process and its data-intensive collection methods, it is via our interaction with the interfaces that designers generate their own conception of users and attempt to influence them.

This masterclass engages with this dual nature of interface as an encounter between designers and users in daily lives. Specifically, it explores such interfaces from the combined perspectives of media theory and post-phenomenological geography, as interfaces emit subtle influence over how users experience the rhythms of the world, shaped by the interest of those who design them.

The workshop is organized and moderated by Alex Gekker, a lecturer in new media and digital culture at the University of Amsterdam, who published on the production of interfaces in digital cartography and beyond.

The masterclass is given by James Ash, a social scientist working at the intersection between human geography and media. He is located at Newcastle University, where he is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies. Specifically he  investigates the cultures, economies and politics of digital interfaces and the role digital technologies play in transforming everyday life. He is the primary investigator on the ESRC funded project ‘Digital Interfaces and Debt: understanding mediated decision making processes in high cost short term credit products’ that runs between 2016-18.  His books include Phase Media: Space, Time and the Politics of Smart Objects (2017, Bloomsbury) and The Interface Envelope: Gaming, Technology, Power (2015, Bloomsbury).

In the first part (1 hr)  he will give a lecture on his conceptualization of the interfaces. After a break, we will convene for a 1.5 hrs practical session where we will use the analytical tools presented to work in groups on analyzing various familiar user interfaces of apps and websites. In the end, we will present the results of our analysis.

Assignment for participants

The students are expected to present the results of their short investigation as 5-minute concise presentations. Those will be graded according to their ability to incorporate the preparatory literature (5 points); the clarity and conciseness of the argument made (3 points); creativity (2 points) and presention (2 points). The group grade will be awarded as the workshop grade for those requiring the 1 EC for the completion of the seminar.


  • Ash, James, Ben Anderson, Rachel Gordon, and Paul Langley. 2018. “Digital Interface Design and Power: Friction, Threshold, Transition.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, April, 0263775818767426.
  • Ash, James. 2015. Chapter 1 & 2. The Interface Envelope: Gaming, Technology, Power. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Masterclass: Researching media use (prof. dr. Kim Schrøder and prof. dr. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen)

When? 25 January 2019
Time? Friday afternoon, 13 – 17 hrs
Where? KNAW – Het Trippenhuis, Kloveniersburgwal 29 Amsterdam
Coordination? Prof. Marcel Broersma (RUG), Prof. Irene Costera Meijer (VU), KNAW
Speakers? Prof. dr. Kim Schrøder (Roskilde University) and prof. dr. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University)
Open to? PhD’s and research master students
Register before: 31 December 2018
 Maximum participants in the event: 20

In this masterclass, two esteemed media and journalism scholars will reflect on different methodologies for studying media audiences. Based on their own work, they will discuss how one’s choice of method shapes and colors the results of research into media use. Prof. Kim Schröder is an expert in the cross-media consumption of news and applies both qualitative and quantitative methods, often in mixed-methods designs such as Q-sort methodology, to study media as resources in everyday life. Prof. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that conducts the annual and world-wide survey of digital news use. They will discuss the pros and cons of qualitative and quantitative methods to study media use, and the value of combining both strands of research in mixed-methods approaches

Participants are asked to read two key texts and prepare an elevator pitch in which they relate one of the discussed methods to their own research.


Prof. Kim Schrøder is Professor of Communication at the Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University, Denmark. His books in English include Audience Transformations: Shifting Audience Positions in Late Modernity (co-edited, 2014), Museum Communication and Social Media: The Connected Museum (co-edited, 2013), and Researching Audiences (coauthored, 2003). His research interests comprise the analysis of audience uses and experiences of media. His recent work explores mixed methods for mapping news consumption.

Prof. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Professor of Political Communication at the University of Oxford. His work focuses on changes in the news media, political communication, and the role of digital technologies in both. He has done extensive research on journalism, American politics, and various forms of activism, and a significant amount of comparative work in Western Europe and beyond.


RMeS Winter School & Graduate Symposium 2018-19

When? 31 January
Time? 10.00 – 18.00 hrs (31/1, followed by drinks at a restaurant)
Where? Leiden University
ECTS? 2 (two full days plus preparation 3 days)
Organized by? Professor Sybille Lammes (UL), and RMeS
Open to? PhD candidates who are a member of RMeS
Fee (non-members): € 150
Registration (max number of participants: 15)
Register before 10 January 2019

This Winter School will feature different types of sessions: 1) parallel sessions for presenting your work to peers 2) lectures by RMeS staff members and 3) a workshop on Academic Integrity.

  1. PhD’s are kindly asked to submit an abstract of their paper presentation. This may regard a chapter of your dissertation, a draft for an article, or a write-up of research results, which you would like to discuss with your peers. We will group your abstracts into panels, selecting panels on the basis of your theme/subject, approach and your level of advancement in the PhD track. If you want to be in a session with one or two of your peers (people whose judgment you value, or people you haven’t worked with yet) please feel free to indicate this on your abstract. We will then try to organize panels on the basis of your proposals. You will be assigned to peer-review one paper and to chair or respond to one paper in another session. A month before the Winter School starts, you will be asked to send in your full chapter or article, which will be peer-reviewed and responded to during the Winter School.
  2. Lectures: TBA
  3. Finally, this Winter School & Graduate Seminar will also offer a workshop on Academic Integrity.

Keynote speaker

  • Dr. Pepita Hesselberth

Sign up for Winter School

If you are interested in participating and earning credit (both in EC and social credit from your peers), please

  • Register for the Winter School before January 10, 2019 via our website. You will receive a confirmation email from our RMeS office.
  • Please submit abstracts for individual presentations before January 10, 2019. Abstracts for individual presentations are max 300 words, including a clear research question or thesis statement. Please indicate on your abstract whether you would like to be in a panel with specified other participants and/or whom you consider a suitable reviewer for your paper (although we cannot promise that all your wishes will come true…).
  • You can opt for two formats in terms of paper submission:
  1. Those of you who are in the very early stages of your PhD, may also consider to hand in your PhD proposal, which will then be commented upon by your peers. (recommended to PhDs who have just started)
  2. Most PhD candidates will opt to hand in a chapter/article format: a full paper of approx. 5,000 – 6,000 words.
  • Full papers of (or one of the above formats) are due by January 14, 2019. On the basis of your submissions, we will group the panels, assign reviewers and organize responses. We will distribute the papers to all panel-members and assign the tasks of writing a full peer review (1-2 pages long). Each of you will have to write one peer review.
  • Presentations: During the Winter School, each participant will give a presentation of 5-10 minutes. Each presentation will receive a prepared peer review (in writing, handed in the same day, and a short oral summary of the review). Another panel member will be assigned as discussant/respondent. All session members engage in discussion and feedback.


Research Master’s Seminar: “Imagining the Image” (VU University)

When? February – June 2019
Where? VU University, TBA
For? RMa Students
Credits? 9 ECTS
Coordinator? dr Sven Lutticken (VU University)
Registration? Please send a short motivation before 16 November 2018, to s.lutticken[at]vu.nl and c.c. to RMeS-fgw[at]uva.nl. Please be sure to specify your master programme, national research school and university.

This course examines different conceptualizations of the image in the context of historical transformations of the arts. This year’s edition will focus on critical theories of representation and visibility, including not only art and media theory but also in philosophy, feminist theory and postcolonial studies. Looking into representation both in the sense of depiction (Darstellung) and of political delegation (Vertretung), we will discuss the multiple valences, ambiguous past and uncertain future of this concept. Contemporary artistic and activist practices will be analysed in conjunction with the theoretical writings.

Participants in this course will:
1) analyse and compare relevant theories of the image in art history, media studies, design studies and the history of architecture.
2) actively apply theories to selected case studies.
3) examine the historicity of theories of the image and the potential contemporary relevance of older writings.
4) reflect on the wider social and cultural relevance of various conceptualizations of the image and visibility.

Lecture and seminar. The focus is on active participation and the ability to articulate and discuss one’s analysis.

Students write an essay that counts for 60% of the final grade; presentations during class (30%) and participation in the discussions (10%) make up the remaining 40%. Students are expected to be able to discuss and critique theoretical texts at a high level of sophistication.

Matching of course objectives and assessment
Objective 1: Discussion about readings (10%), presentation (30%)
Objective 2: Essay, 3000 words (60%)
Objective 3: Discussion, presentation, essay
Objective 4: Discussion


To be announced


Admission to Research Master’s programme Critical Studies in Art and Culture. Students from other tracks in the Humanities Research Master, and students from comparable research master’s programmes elsewhere, may be admitted individually, depending on their background knowledge.
To register: Please send a short motivation to s.lutticken[at]vu.nl and c.c. to RMeS-fgw[at]uva.nl. Please be sure to specify your master programme, national research school and university.