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The Digital Face: Transformed Interactions

A seminar on negotiation and transformations of face in digital environments

Friday, 13 January 2017, 10am–5pm Venue: Academy of Finland, Hakaniemenranta 6, 00531 Helsinki

Registration page:

Computing technology used in social interaction relies increasingly on translations and transformations of human faces for capture, archival in databases, and being rendered visible in computer-mediated social interaction. These faces, when visualised on screens, grab and direct our attention, often making it difficult not to pay attention to a digital face.

The research project on the digital face, supported by Academy of Finland funding, asks

1) how are our physical faces increasingly transformed for situating in digital environments – for example, by being photographed, uploaded to computing systems, and rendered visible on a variety of platforms and, at the same time,

2) how do people negotiate their face in social interaction, whether choosing which communication media to use with whom or deciding when, and in which ways, to do so for ‘maintaining face’ (rather than, for example, risking ‘loss of face’)?

We cordially invite you to a public seminar to discuss the formation of the digital face in flows of networked interactions. The enactment of digital faces is also a political matter, one that leads to questions about the kinds of interactions with which we become attached and involved. Flows of interaction beg us to consider their quality, direction, and control. By focusing on the face, we aim to evoke reflection on a fundamental medium of human interaction and to spark debate on people’s social role and agency in digital environments.

We have invited distinguished colleagues to discuss questions pertaining to digital face, addressing these from perspectives afforded by media studies, cultural anthropology, work on human–computer interaction, and science and technology studies. The purpose of the seminar is to identify questions, suggestions, and paths that can enrich understanding of how the face plays a role in digital environments.

The seminar is aimed at all scholars interested in visual and digital cultures, mediated interactions, and the multitude of roles that faces take. 


Friday, 13 January 2017, 10am–5pm
Venue: Academy of Finland, Hakaniemenranta 6, 00531 Helsinki



Welcome and introduction
Risto Vilkko, Academy of Finland
Janne Seppänen, University of Tampere

‘Transformed Faces in Digital Environments’
Asko Lehmuskallio, University of Tampere

The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World’
Geoffrey C. Bowker, University of California at Irvine

‘Trends in Virtual and Augmented Reality’
Kirsi Louhelainen, Futurice


‘What Do We See in a Digital Face?’
Tapio Takala, Aalto University

‘What Comes Along for the Ride: The Artificial in Digital Faces’
Caroline Bassett, University of Sussex

Coffee break

‘The Politics of Self-tracking Reconsidered’
Minna Ruckenstein, University of Helsinki

‘Negotiating Values in Design’
Risto Sarvas, Aalto University and Futurice

Concluding remarks



10.00 Welcome and introduction

Risto Vilkko: Introduction to the Academy of Finland programme Digital Humanities

Dr Risto Vilkko works as a programme manager for the Academy of Finland, the Finnish national funding agency for basic research. An agency acting under the administrative auspices of the Finnish Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, the Academy of Finland provides the ministry with expertise in science-policy issues. Dr Vilkko is responsible for direction of two theme-based Academy of Finland programmes, titled ‘Digital Humanities’ (DIGIHUM) and ‘The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills’ (TULOS). His academic background is in the field of philosophy.

Janne Seppänen: Introduction to DIFA, a multidisciplinary research consortium

Janne Seppänen holds the title Professor of Visual Journalism with the University of Tampere’s Faculty of Communication Sciences. He has carried out extensive studies of visual culture, digital photography, and media images and their significance and reception. He leads and has led several multidisciplinary research projects and published seven monographs and more than 50 academic papers. For example, he is the author of The Power of the Gaze: An Introduction to Visual Literacy (2006).

10.15 Asko Lehmuskallio: ‘Transformed Faces in Digital Environments’

Our faces are basic interaction media that, under several communication theories, are considered to provide for our most meaningful communications. Advances in graphical user interfaces have allowed the human face to become still more important in the arena of computer-mediated communication too. The talk focuses on examples of the physical human face being inscribed within digital communication technologies, alongside the impacts this has for negotiation of ‘face’ in social interaction. Mediation of physical faces tends to be accompanied by transformations in the ways in which we negotiate ‘face’.

Asko Lehmuskallio, Senior University Researcher with the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the University of Tampere, has a background in cultural anthropology, media studies, and visualculture studies. His research is focused on intersections among bodies, technologies, and visual cultures. Recent books include Pictorial Practices in a ‘Cam Era’ (Tampere University Press, 2012) and Digital Photography and Everyday Life, co-edited with Edgar Gómez Cruz (Routledge, 2016).

10.45 Geoffrey C. Bowker: ‘The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World’ 

Bowker argues that the emergent world of big-data analytics is fundamentally changing what
it means to be human. The talk traces this change over the long term (since the Enlightenment) and in the short term (in relation to changes since the advent of ‘big
data’). A key conclusion is that engaging the technology of data analytics in fruitful ways constitutes a fundamental cultural, social, and political task for our time.

Prof. Geoffrey C. Bowker, with the University of California at Irvine’s School of Information and Computer Science, directs the EVOKE laboratory, which explores new forms of knowledge expression. Recent positions include that of Professor in and Senior Scholar of cyber-scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh iSchool and Executive Director of the Center for Science, Technology and Society, Santa Clara. He co-wrote Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences with Leigh Star, and his most recent books are Memory Practices in the Sciences and (with Stefan Timmermans, Adele Clarke, and Ellen Balka) the edited collection Boundary Objects and Beyond: Working with Leigh Star. He is currently examining big-data policy and scientific cyber-infrastructure and completing a book on social readings of data and databases. He is a founding member of the Council for Big Data, Ethics and Society.

11.45 Kirsi Louhelainen: ‘Trends in Virtual and Augmented Reality’ 

Virtual and augmented reality are seeing increasing use in technologies developed for the masses. The talk provides an overview of trends in virtual and augmented reality’s development. For synergy with the talk, those attending the seminar are welcome to explore a range of new devices and applications at a special FutuLabs booth during lunch and the coffee break.

Kirsi Louhelainen holds the title Senior Consultant at Futurice, where she heads the FutuLabs facility. She develops software, teaches, and is an active advocate of tinkering with gadgets. With FutuLabs, she strives to give colleagues, employees, and the public first-hand experience of the technologies developed, with the goal of sparking discussion of their future development.


13.30 Tapio Takala: ‘What Do We See in a Digital Face?’

Digital representations of the human face in games and animations are growing ever more realistic. Sometimes, however, we still recognise them as not quite real, and this may create an eerie feeling. This phenomenon, known as the uncanny valley, has captured heightened attention recently. The presentation gives an overview of the state of the art in digital face-modelling and of the various factors in our perceptions of the resulting faces. Besides the uncanny, the review delves into the latest research on how emotion-conveying expressions can be generated on synthetic faces and how viewers perceive those expressions.

Tapio Takala holds the title of Professor with the Department of Computer Science at the Aalto  University School of Science. His research focuses on computer animation, motion capture, and analysis, along with embodied and enactive interfaces.

14.00 Caroline Bassett: ‘What Comes Along for the Ride: The Artificial in Digital Faces’ 

Explorations of digital faces devote great attention to considering how a face can be used as a guarantor of the human self: the digital face says ‘I was there’ in a social-platform conversation or ‘these people were at this event’ in remarks circulating through networks. In other words, attention tends to be paid to those aspects of the digital face that link the human back in, ‘whose face it is’. Yet is the digitally produced face ever truly a human face? Can any digital face really be said to ‘be’ the face of a human? The talk considers the intrinsic artificiality of the digital face, through a set of related contexts and horizons. The intention is to map forms of artificial face, discern the artifice at work in the construction of digital faces, and ask what happens if digital faces are explored not from the human’s angle but from the standpoint of the machine – perhaps medium-theoretically. Taking this perspective may enable fresh ways of developing a politics of face in a computation-based era.

Caroline Bassett is Professor of Digital Media and Communications at the University of Sussex’s School of Media, Film and Music and is director of the Sussex Humanities Lab. She investigates relationships between communication technologies, cultures, and societies, subjecting them to critical analysis. Her recent publications include works on digital transformation, mobile and pervasive media, gender and technology, media theory, the digital humanities, science fiction, imagination and innovation, and sound and silence. Her current work explores anti-computing.


15.30 Minna Ruckenstein: ‘The Politics of Self-tracking Reconsidered’ 

Self-tracking research exploring politics of personal data’s use has focused on how biopower resurfaces in a new context. The presentation reframes this field by taking as its starting point datafication – the conversion of life into quantified data – and building on the notion of an informatics-behavioural regime and related developments. It identifies important emerging orientations in self-tracking research, from the performative work of data to the multiplication of potential life-worlds. These call for more interdisciplinary research into the concentrations of power that are developing with the support of complex technical systems. Five modes of enquiry are outlined, to guide research endeavours centred on datafied life, including the digital face. They jointly demand imaginative constellations of research expertise, extending from engineering and design to media and communication, if we are to develop more precisely targeted criticism of new developments and aid in honing better alternatives.

Minna Ruckenstein is the principal investigator at the Data, Self and Society group at the University of Helsinki’s Consumer Society Research Centre. She holds a PhD in cultural anthropology and the title of docent in the field of consumer economics. Her ongoing research focuses on self-tracking and datafication.

16.30 Risto Sarvas: ‘Negotiating Values in Design’

As societies come to rely ever more on computation technologies, the development of these technologies hinges increasingly on social developments. Among these, personal, social, and societal values are particularly important considerations for design. The talk highlights the vital role of values in the recruitment of talented people and as input to the design of software products. At its best, this design becomes part of our computational, and hence societal, infrastructure.

Risto Sarvas is an adjunct professor with the Department of Computer Science within the Aalto University School of Science, and he is a company-culture engineer at Futurice. His research, teaching, and design work concentrates on taking values into consideration in design, social-media applications, and photography. With David Frohlich, he co-authored From Snapshots to Social Media (Springer, 2011).

Additional research in the Digital Face project:

Jenny Julkunen, University of Helsinki: ‘Negotiation of Gender Identity among Transgender Individuals in Online and Offline Settings’

From the perspective of symbolic interactionism, gender identities are negotiated in interaction. The online world offers gender minorities a unique context that is essential for these ongoing identity negotiations. While online settings provide necessary privacy and opportunities to express their authentic self, automated face-recognition and ‘friend’ recommendations complicate the possibilities, resulting in continuous balancing between strategies of protecting and breaching their privacy boundaries for purposes of constructing a desired identity.

Jenny Julkunen studies social psychology at the University of Helsinki. She is writing her master’s thesis as a contributor to the Digital Face project.

Annukka Jänkälä, Aalto University: ‘Dating Expectations in Social Media: From Profile Pictures to a Date and Beyond’

People seeking a romantic life partner via Tinder form impressions of others on the basis of profiles presented in the service, especially profile pictures. These expectations are verified or proved inaccurate on the first date. Between dates, social media help a couple stay in touch, especially by supporting picture-sharing. The significance of face-to-face meetings and that of pictures online are addressed in the talk.

Annukka Jänkälä studies information networks at Aalto University’s School of Science, with supporting studies of social psychology and cognitive psychology at Helsinki University. She is writing her master’s thesis in connection with the DIFA project.

Postiosoite: Journalismin, viestinnän ja median tutkimuskeskus,
33014 Tampereen yliopisto
Käyntiosoite: Kalevantie 4, E-siipi, 3. kerros
Muutettu: 29.12.2016 16.05 Muokkaa

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