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Infrastructure As Afterthought


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Presentation at ECHIC 2018


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Infrastructure As Afterthought

  1. 1. Infrastructure As Afterthought @MaxKemman University of Luxembourg ECHIC, 4-6 April 2018, Leuven, Belgium
  2. 2. Digital history An ethnographic study of digital history collaborations in the Benelux Preliminary results for today: Interviews 2 case studies (10 participants) 3 more projects for comparison (6 participants)
  3. 3. Rough structure of a collaboration PI/Prof Computational researcher Coordinator Historians Technologists EngineersPhDs
  4. 4. Infrastructures “[D]igital humanities, where there is an urge to work with large data sets and to create accompanying infrastructures for them” (Rogers 2013, p259) “Infrastructure” here as the complex of: • Connected datasets • Data model • Algorithms for analysis • User interface
  5. 5. Gains of infrastructure work Working on infrastructures has two main incentives (Meyer & Schroeder 2015) 1. Attention for developed system (Case 1, historian coordinator) “During our launch event … people were honestly enthusiastic, they saw also the applicability of the software within their own organization, or to their own questions of connecting datasets. So I was very enthusiastic about that” “The idea of the project has always been a proof-of- concept … and … bring attention to our system that we can try with them to get continued funding”
  6. 6. Gains of infrastructure work Working on infrastructures has two main incentives (Meyer & Schroeder 2015) 2. Development of expertise (Case 2, historian PI) “[Other projects will] profit from our investment, the knowledge-building, the technical know-how, that we have developed”
  7. 7. Incentives of participants Do all project participants share the ambitions of the project as developing systems and technical expertise?
  8. 8. What is the historian working on? (case 1, historian PI) “What he must do is to write a thesis of 5 chapters that are of [theoretical] value… And there he must just write conventional stories, narratives. And at the same time he uses digital means in his research.” (case 1, computational linguist) “[Y]ou go through a lot of trouble, manual effort and thinking of how to organize this thing, and what kind of labels you’re going to put and how you’re going to structure it. This is not something that is completely useless, it is also a valuable thing. But you have to tell him that ... he doesn’t really realize that the digital part of his research, is also research.” (case 1, historian PhD) “All that happens ultimately has the goal that I can do my research better”
  9. 9. What is the technologist working on? (case 1, computational linguist) “[T]he project is basically building an interface where all this information is presented in a ... user-friendly way, in a good way. That would be the success of the project. What I’m doing might provide additional information to this interface from the original text sources that are not yet structured, that would be good, but it’s not ... paramount for the success of the project.”
  10. 10. Discrepancy Scholars are not necessarily concerned with the infrastructure as thing Infrastructure As Afterthought What do we make of this? • Do participants drift away from the project? • Are projects not actually about infrastructure? • Is the concept of “infrastructure” too narrow?
  11. 11. What is “infrastructure” Alicia Martin
  12. 12. Infrastructure as process Impossible to define the boundaries of infrastructures (Karasti 2017, Larkin 2013, Star & Ruhleder 1996) • Separating not-yet-infrastructure from infrastructure • Separating one infrastructure from another • Separating infrastructure from person In field of CSCW, attention towards “infrastructure” not as noun but as verb Infrastructuring
  13. 13. Infrastructuring “Infrastructuring” captures the complex and continuous process of development and use of technology (Björgvinsson et al 2010) • Design • Coordination • Development • Appropriation • Recontextualization
  14. 14. Infrastructuring in DH • Design • Infrastructure not yet in place • Data model • Coordination • Collaboration of scholars and computational researchers or developers • Development • Connecting (heterogeneous) datasets • Tool or VRE • Appropriation • Ideally used also by other scholars • Recontextualization
  15. 15. Recontextualization DH projects can be driven by (Owens 2014) • Research question • Data collection • Technology Projects go back-and-forth on what the main drive is, often end up at technology Instead: constant recontextualization RQ TechnologyData
  16. 16. Conclusions Scholars in DH collaborations are not necessarily concerned with infrastructure as thing Infrastructuring is a much broader sociotechnical practice of aligning digital technology with (scholarly) practices Digital humanities is concerned with the alignment of digital technology with scholarship (Kaltenbrunner 2015) Not as afterthought, but as the very essence Digital humanities as infrastructuring
  17. 17. Further questions • Would “infrastructuring” work as a definition of DH? • Does “infrastructuring” exclude practices traditionally considered DH work, or include practices traditionally not considered DH? • Does infrastructuring necessarily lead to infrastructures? My PhD: • How is infrastructuring in digital history collaborations performed and experienced? • What are the power roles during infrastructuring? • Does infrastructuring lead to acculturation?
  18. 18. References Antonijević, S. (2015). Amongst digital humanists: an ethnographic study of digital knowledge production. Björgvinsson, E., Ehn, P., & Hillgren, P.-A. (2010). Participatory design and “democratizing innovation.” In Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Participatory Design Conference on - PDC ’10 (p. 41-50). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. Kaltenbrunner, W. (2015). Reflexive inertia: reinventing scholarship through digital practices. Leiden University. Karasti, H., & Blomberg, J. (2017). Studying Infrastructuring Ethnographically. Computer Supported Cooperative Work: CSCW: An International Journal, 1–33. Larkin, B. (2013). The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure. Annual Review of Anthropology, 42(1), 327–343. Meyer, E. T., & Schroeder, R. (2015). Knowledge Machines: Digital Transformations of the Sciences and Humanities. (Ebook, Ed.). MIT Press. Owens, T. (2014). Where to Start? On Research Questions in The Digital Humanities. Rogers, R. (2013). Digital Methods. MIT Press. Star, S. L., & Ruhleder, K. (1996). Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces. Information Systems Research, 7(1), 111–134.
  19. 19. Thank you for listening @MaxKemman