Dr Thomas Dekeyser

Personal profile

Thomas Dekeyser is a cultural geographer and urban ethnographer with an interest in urban politics, advertising technologies, digital infrastructure, theories of pessimism/nihilism and social theory. He has published on topics including the digitisation of advertising, resistance to advertising through ‘subvertising’, the politics of negativity/pessimism, artistic interventions into architecture, challenges of deep ethnographies and ethnographic research ethics. These publications have appeared in Cultural Geographies, Society and Space, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Area, Environment and Planning A and Radical Philosophy.

 

He is currently a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow (2019-2022) in the Centre for the GeoHumanities where he is conducting a study titled ‘Beyond ‘smart’ urbanisms? Techno-nihilism in a world of digitally-mediated cities’. This international ethnographic study investigates and complicates the dominant ‘smart city’ narrative as the collection of data from (non)humans for the purpose of a safer, more participatory, manageable, sustainable and cost-efficient urban environment. Whilst still dominant, to many, the ‘digitally-mediated city’ narrative fails to deliver on its promises of growth and emancipation, conceiving of it instead as a furthering of power, principally state/corporate power. The research examines the contested geographies of the smart city in three ways. First, tracing experiential responses, the research examines the lived experience of experiments with anti-technologist communes. Second, investigating activist responses, the research will study political resistance against smart cities. Third, it examines artistic responses, studying how art practices/practitioners defy smart city technologies including urban surveillance and biometrics. Framed conceptually in terms of ‘techno-nihilism’ – a concept contextualised both historically, geographically and philosophically – these three strategies of resistance are mobilised to critique the limitations of smart cities and to enact urban imaginations that exceed them. Theoretically, the notion of ‘techno-nihilism’ troubles techno-optimist visions within geographical, cyber-feminist and accelerationist thought.

 

His PhD at the University of Southampton, titled ‘Subvertising: on the life and death of advertising’, was an ethnographic study into the globally emergent practice of 'subvertising': illegal interventions into urban advertising space (including graffiti scribbles, poster replacement, sabotage, and digital hacking). The research sought not only to explore the spaces, materialities and imaginations of contemporary subvertising practices, but also, importantly, to investigate how subvertising and resistance to capital(ism) more broadly is, in turn, rendered marketable and profitable through the vehicle of contemporary advertising. The thesis explored, finally, which modes of resistance might, however temporarily, outlive the recuperative reach of late capitalism.

 

Before undertaking his PhD, Thomas took an MA in Cultural Geography (Royal Holloway) and an MA in Brand Development (Goldsmiths), and spent two years working as an advertising strategist for the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.

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