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Photo of Dr Alexander R. E. Taylor

Dr Alexander R. E. Taylor

Lecturer in Communications

4992

01392 724992

 
Twitter: @alexretaylor
 
Office: Queens 255
 
Office Hours: Please email for an appointment
 
I’m an anthropologist of data and communications infrastructure. I work at the intersection of critical data studies, media and communication studies and infrastructure studies. I’m currently the Marconi Fellow in the History and Science of Wireless Communication at the University of Oxford and the Principal Investigator of the British Academy-funded project Sustainable ICTs in the Digitised University. I'm also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
 
My research concentrates on the material, temporal and environmental dimensions of communications infrastructure, with a focus on data storage and security. I have conducted fieldwork in the data centre industry, primarily working inside nuclear bunkers that have been repurposed as ‘disaster-proof’ data storage sites for cloud computing companies.
 
My methods are ethnographic, media-archaeological and historical-archival. I study human-technology relations by observing and working with engineers, data security technicians and infrastructure maintenance workers. The analysis of media representations and archival materials plays a central role in my research, as does the materiality of digital infrastructure.
 
I’m an Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Extreme Anthropology and I am a founding member of the Social Studies of Outer Space (SSOS) Network, a research network joining social scientists working on topics related to Outer Space. I’m also the founder of the Cambridge Infrastructure Resilience Group, a cross-disciplinary research network that brings scholars together with industry leaders, security practitioners and policymakers to explore critical infrastructure protection in relation to emerging global catastrophic risks.
 
My work has been funded by the Royal Anthropological Institute, The Royal Geographical Society and the Economic and Social Research Council. My essays have been published in journals such as The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Ephemera, Culture Machine and Roadsides. I have also written for Failed Architecture, The Conversation and The Resilience Shift, among others.
 
My research interests include: data, technology, futures, outer space, techno-apocalyptic narratives, digital preservation, slow computing, digital sustainability, and pre-digital nostalgia.
 

Research supervision

I invite inquiries from potential PhD students who are thinking of working on any relevant subject that falls within my areas of interest:
  • Digital media and communications infrastructure
  • Data centres (geopolitics, security, environmental impact)
  • Cloud computing
  • Film streaming / digital distribution infrastructure
  • Techno-apocalyptic narratives
  • Critical data studies
  • Digital materialities (labour, e-waste, infrastructure)
  • Data-driven and algorithmic media (e.g. Netflix recommendation systems)
  • Pre-digital nostalgia
  • Digital detoxing/disengagement
  • Media addiction (binge-watching)
  • Digital sustainability (carbon relations of media consumption)
  • Social studies of outer space 
If you have only vague ideas for a project in any of these or related areas, I might be able to suggest something that would build on your interests and skills. Please feel free to get in touch.
 
For more information about pursuing a PhD in Communications at the University of Exeter, and for guidelines on writing a research proposal, please visit this page: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/pg-research/apply/
 
Your research proposal should be c. 2000 words. A clearly set out proposal should cover the following elements:
  1. Clarity of presentation - what research questions will the project explore, and what methods will be used to do this - this should be intellectually rigorous but jargon free.
  2. Importance/Originality - what is distinctive about the proposed project, how does it both build upon, and extend, existing conceptual thinking or creative practice?
  3. Fit to Scheme, Fit to student - what evidence can the proposal offer that there is a strong fit to supervisory expertise at Exeter, why are you the person to take this project on?  Beyond gaining a PhD, what will you gain from undertaking the project?
  4. Feasibility - is the project well planned, and scaled appropriately to be completed within 3 years?
Depending on the funding/programme for which you are applying, you may also need:
  • A cover letter that is no more than two pages
  • A letter from two different referees
  • A transcript (in English or a certified translation) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained
  • English language proficiency results
If you would to be supervised by me, please try to contact me at least four weeks before you apply (and before the deadline).

Media

January 2021: BBC World News

‘Turn off your camera during virtual meetings… it could help save the environment’

In January 2021 I was interviewed by the BBC World Service (Africa and Indonesia) for a news report on the carbon footprint of the data centre industry: https://www.bbc.com/afrique/monde-55815454

 

November 2020: Channel 4 (UK)

'Is Your Online Habit Killing the Planet?'

The November 2020 episode of Channel 4's investigative documentary series, Dispatches, was prompted by an article I wrote about the environmental impact of the internet during the pandemic. The article was published on 8 May 2020 by the Corona Times and is available here: https://www.coronatimes.net/going-digital-not-as-green-covid-19/

The Channel 4 documentary is available to view here: https://www.channel4.com/programmes/online-habits-killing-the-planet-dispatches/on-demand/71182-001

 

August 2020: The Being Human Show (a podcast from The Royal Anthropological Institute)

'Are the Robots Going to Kill Us?'

I was a guest speaker in this episode of the Royal Anthropological Society’s podcast The Being Human Show. We discussed the relationship between the human and the digital through a focus on what being human might look like in a 'post-human' world. Together with host Jennifer Cearns and fellow guest speakers Dr Beth Singler (University of Cambridge) and Dr Laura Musgrave (Ronin Institute), we discussed how smart technologies and artificial intelligence are being incorporated into our lives, and the impacts of this upon us as individuals, and upon society at large.

You can listen to the episode via Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0hvjr5OeROd4Vkh2wPt5hi

 

March 2019: ABC News

‘Infinite scroll: Will data centres end up eating our cities as we chew through more data?’

In March 2019 I was interviewed by ABC News for this article exploring the growing boom in data centre construction: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-16/will-data-centres-end-up-eating-up-the-planets-real-estate/10870946

 

May 2018: Failed Architecture

‘Data Space: The Architecture and Impact of Data Centres’

In May 2018, I was interviewed by Failed Architecture for the first episode of their podcast, which explored the built spaces of big data. The podcast was inspired by my article on the data centre industry for Failed Architecture titled, ‘Failover Architectures: The Infrastructural Excess of the Data Centre Industry’: https://failedarchitecture.com/failover-architectures-the-infrastructural-excess-of-the-data-centre-industry/

You can listen to the podcast episode here: https://failedarchitecture.com/podcast/01-data-space-the-architecture-and-impact-of-data-centres-2/

 

May 2018: The Conversation

‘Google and Facebook won’t rule the world – if we don’t buy their fantasies about big data’

In light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in March 2018, I wrote an article on the politics and promises of big data for The Conversation. The article is available here: https://theconversation.com/google-and-facebook-wont-rule-the-world-if-we-dont-buy-their-fantasies-about-big-data-95734

 

Teaching

I'm a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and I teach across a range of modules on the Communications programme, including:

Modules taught