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Towards A Literacy for Data Infrastructures

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Paper given at the Conference of the Digital Methods Winter School, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, 14 January 2016, with Jonathan Gray and Carolin Gerlitz.

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Towards A Literacy for Data Infrastructures

  1. 1. Jonathan Gray, Carolin Gerlitz and Liliana Bounegru Digital Methods Winter School 2016 University of Amsterdam TOWARDS A LITERACY FOR DATA INFRASTRUCTURES
  2. 2. 1. Rethinking Data Literacy 2. De- and Re-Assembling Data Infrastructures 3. Data-Infrastructures and their Publics 4. Data-infrastructural Turn? FOUR PARTS
  3. 3. 1. Rethinking Data Literacy 2. De- and Re-Assembling Data Infrastructures 3. Data-Infrastructures and their Publics 4. Data-infrastructural Turn? 1.
  4. 4. EVERYBODY LOVES DATA LITERACY ● Data literacy as “the most important new skill of the 21st century”. ● It will “help solve world's biggest challenges”. ● The “road to the future” is paved with it. ● UN report calls for “global data literacy”. ● G8: data literacy will help to “unlock the value of open data”.
  5. 5. DATA LITERACIES FOCUSING ON DATASETS AS A RESOURCE ● Current conceptions of data literacy emphasize “competencies of an extractive and transformative industry” (Letouzé et al., 2015)? ● Focus on “information as a resource” (Braman, 2009: 12-15). ● Do they emphasise “auditorial” or “entrepreneurial” modes of action (Ruppert, 2012, Birchall, 2015)?
  6. 6. FROM DATASETS TO DATA INFRASTRUCTURES? ● Socio-technical systems implicated in the creation, processing and distribution of data. ● Relations of heterogeneous socio-technical components, rather than “things” (Star & Ruhleder, 1996) ● Between methodological inscription and multivalence?
  7. 7. 1. Rethinking Data Literacy 2. De- and Re-Assembling Data Infrastructures 3. Data-Infrastructures and their Publics 4. Data-infrastructural Turn? 2.
  8. 8. DE- ASSEMBLING DATA INFRASTRUCTUREs ● Much data results from grammars of action (Agre 1994). ● Such pre-structured actions are subject to “Interpretative flexibility” (van Dijck 2013) and cross-platform syndication. ● Grammars lead to dynamic & “lively metrics” (Gerlitz & Rieder 2015). ● Data come with methodological inscriptions. ● Assembly of data & tools leads to “cascades of inscriptions” (Ruppert et al. 2013).
  9. 9. ALIGNMENT & MAL-ALIGNMENT ● How to re-assemble data infrastructures in imaginative ways? ● Data & methods do not come with fixed in-build purposes but need to be aligned with the research objective. ● Lure objects to pose their own problems (Lury & Wakeford 2012). ● “Interface methods” embrace productive capacities of alignment and mal-alignment (Gerlitz & Marres 2015).
  10. 10. 1. Rethinking Data Literacy 2. De- and Re-Assembling Data Infrastructures 3. Data-Infrastructures and their Publics 4. Data-infrastructural Turn? 3.
  11. 11. DATA HAVE PUBLICS ● Data have publics with specific objectives, needs & skills (Ruppert 2015). ● Emerge in relation to data infrastructures. ● Operate within the tension between inscription and multi-valence of data infrastructures. ● Require specific methodological alignment. ● Mal-alignment as opportunity for intervention. ● Journalism, activism and social research
  12. 12. 1. Interface methods as (mal)alignment between methods and publics
  13. 13. 2. Statactivism as repurposing data infrastructures for social reform
  14. 14. 3. Data journalism as redefining the fields of possibility of calculative infrastructures
  15. 15. 1. Rethinking Data Literacy 2. De- and Re-Assembling Data Infrastructures 3. Data-Infrastructures and their Publics 4. Data-infrastructural Turn? 4.
  16. 16. CONCEPTUAL VOCABULARY ● An expansion of the concept of data literacy to go beyond competencies in reading and working with datasets. ● Accounting for wider data infrastructures which create the socio-technical conditions for the creation, extraction and analysis of data. ● Vocabulary and tactics to respond to inscriptions and biases of data infrastructures.
  17. 17. REMAKING DATA INFRASTRUCTURES ● Re-envisioning and re-configuring data infrastructures through methodological inventiveness and “infrastructural imagination” (Bowker 2014). ● Tactics for re-aligning them with the interests and concerns of different publics.
  18. 18. “DATA WORLDS” ● Data infrastructures articulate and project social worlds – or “data worlds” – which afford their own ways of knowing and possibilities for action. ● Data literacies should aim to cultivate the capacities for re-thinking, re-configuring, re-aligning, and re-imagining these data worlds, not just inhabiting them or harvesting their fruits.
  19. 19. CONSEQUENCES OF A DATA INFRASTRUCTURAL TURN? ● New sites of political contestation and societal controversy. Broadening publics who seek to shape data infrastructures? ● Alternatives to “platformisation”? Other ways of organising relations of people, methods, and machines?

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