Short Profile

Manuel Portela is a Postdoc researcher at the Web Science and Social Computing Group in University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. Currently working for the EU H2020 funded project ALOHA.

Portela holds a PhD under the GEO-C Joint doctorate on GeoInformatics programme, funded by the European H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (H2020). Portela has a background in graphic and interaction design and holds a Master in Urban Studies. His work is focused on the study of the urban environment and the daily life in cities, approached from multiple disciplines such as Human and Cultural Geographies, Science and Technology Studies, Human-Computer Interaction, and Urban Studies. At his current position, Portela is exploring Machine Learning algorithms in practice, through different interfaces. He is working towards more fair and explainable artificial intelligence implementations by making them interactive by design.

Additionally, within the EU funded COST Action 15212 and with the private research-oriented company, Ideas for Change, he also collaborates in Citizen Science projects. Such projects consider laypeople in the process of generating new insights, research questions and data-driven decision-making.

PhD Seminars – The social construction of algorithms: A dilemma in fairness, accountability and transparency.

Conferences and Workshops

Past events





Research visits and secondments


Summer Schools and Seminars

2017: Summer School on Smart Cities @ TU Wien, Vienna
2016: Summer School on Computational Interaction @ Aalto University, Helsinki
2015: Postgrade seminar on «Social Phenomenological Research» by Dr. Kenneth Liberman @ Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina
2014: Postgrade seminar on «Social Studies of Technology» by Dr. Hernán Thomas, Social Studies of Science and Technology @ Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Argentina


PhD Thesis: Joint Doctorate in GeoInformatics

Geographies of Empathy: Affective reconfigurations of Cities, Objects & Places.*

This work addresses the development of digital technologies from the perspective of corporeal and embodied encounters. It offers a critical view of the openness and smartness of cities, at the same time that propose a novel approach to create cities of equity, joy and delight.
It consist on a study of what becomes called Geographies of Empathy, as means of affective translations (Pedwell,2014). Empathy is presented as a process of ‘becoming together’, that takes place in forms of aesthetic experiences, collective conditions and structures of feelings (Anderson, 2014).
By presenting three interactive experiments and three explorations, it addresses the empathic relations that reify everyday practices. A focus on how mundane objects and urban places are experienced in encounters, provide an analysis on the mediation of affects, feelings and emotions.
The multidisciplinary approach in the process of research is performed by the application of concepts from Science and Technology Studies, Cultural Geography, Media Studies, Urban Studies and Human-Computer Interaction.
This work takes the form of a dialectical between the empirical/propositional and the theoretical/critique. By one side, it discusses the role of interaction design and the ethics and aesthetics of sociotechnical assemblages in cities. By the other, it addresses the political effects and consequences of empathic relations in the advent of urban development and the practices of designing urban interactions.

Available at: TDX

GEO-C is funded by the European Commission within the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, International Training Networks (ITN), European Joint Doctorates (EJD). The funding period is January 1, 2015 – December 31, 2018, Grant Agreement number 642332 — GEO-C — H2020-MSCA-ITN-2014.

MSc Thesis: Urban Studies

Interfaces tecno-urbanas. Un análisis crítico sobre los retos socio-técnicos de las representaciones del espacio urbano.

Esta tesis recorre dos caminos convergentes en la historia moderna y su impacto en el desarrollo de la sociedad en las ciudades. Por un lado la creación de la cartografía como herramienta representativa y simbólica; y por otro el desarrollo de la tecnología digital y el software. Se parte de un análisis de la cartografía como elemento constructor de la historia de la sociedad occidental, abordada desde los Estudios Sociales de la Tecnología. Posteriormente, se aborda la cartografía como objeto constituyente de la modernidad desde el análisis semiótico, esquematizando su capacidad comunicacional, ética y estética.

La segunda parte recopila los principales argumentos en torno a la relación entre tecnología y espacio urbano; por el otro, se abordan los debates de la cartografía contemporánea y digital en torno a los procesos urbanos, para ello estudiamos un caso local.

Como conclusión, la especialización de múltiples disciplinas convergen en el desarrollo de soluciones para un mundo altamente urbanizado. La utilidad de las representaciones urbanas está en considerarlas como constructores en las relaciones de poder, posible gracias a las oportunidades que la tecnología aporta. Y que a su vez, permite el estudio de fenómenos sociales que constituyen nuevas teorías sociales, manteniendo la complejidad y las controversias que se dan en los espacios urbanos.

Available at: 10.5281/zenodo.1122630

Academic Profiles

Scientific Membership

  • European Society for Socially Embedded Technology (EUSSET)