Message posted on 21/09/2022

Call for Abstracts, Panel "Metadata work in cultural heritage" at 2023, Aachen (Germany), 15-17 March 2023

                Dear list members,

You will find below the Call for Abstracts for the panel Metadata work
organized by me and colleagues at the University of Hamburg on the topic of
data care and metadata labour, at the conference in Aachen,
Germany, 15-17 March 2023 (

Please send your abstracts (300 words) until Oct 31st to
Many thanks.

Best wishes,

Call for Abstracts

Panel "Metadata work with a thousand faces: Data care and behind the scenes
labour in cultural heritage"
Convenor: Quoc-Tan Tran (University of Hamburg), Discussant: Gertraud Koch
(University of Hamburg)

In the past two decades, community-oriented and participatory approaches have
contributed to the revitalisation of the social functions of memory
institutions (libraries, archives, and museums) regarding the creation and
preservation of cultural artefacts and public memory. Ordinary people are
engaging not only in the cataloging of objects, data collection but also in
volunteered thinking, problem definition, and interpretation. In that context,
there is an increasingly complicated set of routine tasks that staff must
perform to avoid jeopardising the daily operations of the institution or
causing any detriment to its objects. The sites of behind-the-scenes labour
are where human (and arguably non-human) errors frequently occur, conventions
might be broken, and improvisation happens. A number of STS scholars (Borgman,
2015; Bowker & Star, 1999; Karasti et al., 2006; Suchman, 1996) have addressed
the issue of data labour taking place in the background of knowledge work,
with the increasing significance of the vital tasks of data input, organizing,
cleansing, and, more recently, data care. This issue is nevertheless
underexplored in the realm of cultural heritage, where the role of metadata
workers has been highly underestimated. In the era of digitalised media
ecologies, there are still unanswered questions, such as: Which infrastructure
regimes influence the pervasiveness and informality of data labour? Which
agents impose their rules on data circulation? Which are discursively
non-present but still construct the space (or sphere) of circulation?

The proposed panel explores how various conceptions of metadata work and data
labour have entered and been shaped by discursive formations in STS, heritage
studies, economic anthropology, and anthropology of technology. It takes the
infrastructural-ecological dimensions of data management, stewardship, and
curation that have emerged over the last two decades in the humanities'
engagement with a infrastructural moment (Fortun & Fortun, 2015) as a
starting point to rethink the relationship between metadata work and the
marginalisation of entities and actors who are frequently regarded as passive
and not even counted as part of the industry (Suchman, 1996). The panel
brings together library and museum professionals, heritage administrators, and
researchers to discuss critically how the concept of metadata work has been
studied, covered, and contested in different fields. It discusses how notions
of data labour and circulation are conditioned by and manifest in practices of
knowledge production by a diverse array of social actors  data contributors,
data consumers, and data curators  in cross-disciplinary contexts.

The abstracts (300 words) shall be sent by the 31st of October 2022 to

Borgman, C. L. (2015). Big data, little data, no data: Scholarship in the
networked world. MIT Press.
Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. (1999). Sorting Things Out: Classification and
Its Consequences. MIT Press.
Fortun, K., & Fortun, M. (2015). An infrastructural moment in the human
sciences. Cultural Anthropology, 30(3), 359367. [X] 
Karasti, H., Baker, K. S., & Halkola, E. (2006). Enriching the notion of data
curation in e-science: data managing and information infrastructuring in the
long term ecological research (LTER) network. Computer Supported Cooperative
Work (CSCW), 15(4), 321358. [X]

Suchman, L. (1996). Supporting Articulation Work. In R. Kling (Ed.),
Computerization and controversy: Value conflicts and social choices (2nd ed.,
pp. 407423). Academic Press.


Quoc-Tan Tran
POEM Research Fellow
University of Hamburg
Institute of Anthropological Studies in Culture and History
Grindelallee 46, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
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