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Message posted on 12/10/2021

TODAY: 12 Oct (5 pm BST) on Zoom: Antonia Walford's talk "Data, it’s not a thing: approaches to studying data and data practices ethnographically"

Apologies for cross-posting.

The Philomathia Research Fellows at the University of Cambridge are delighted to invite you to the first talk of the 2021-2022 Philomathia Social Sciences Seminar Series.

Today, 12th of October at 5 pm (BST), Dr Antonia Walford, lecturer in Digital Anthropology at UCL, will be our speaker. The event will take place via Zoom. You can still register at: https://cam-ac-uk.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEtduGgrDwpHNP_azChO-ZBGH5_O-PnqZ 2k

Data, it’s not a thing: approaches to studying data and data practices ethnographically

One of the puzzling things about taking ‘data’ as the focus of ethnographic enquiry is not just the effort it takes to make it visible, but also the extent to which it can somehow suddenly slip from view. The last decade has been characterised by both massive hype in industry and business contexts in the UK and US around the revolutionary power of big data, and no less dramatic critical responses to that hype in the press and academia. But dig a little deeper and clear definitions or parameters of data seem to dissolve or multiply, despite legislative efforts to the contrary; data seems to be valued for what it will become, not what it is. At the same time, concepts like data power, data colonialism and data violence, which foreground the very concrete, everyday and deleterious effects of data practices on people’s lives, are proving useful tools for critical data scholars. So what do we mean when we talk about data, and how can ethnographers study this emergent socio-technical and political space? Drawing on fieldwork conducted with scientists and technicians in the Brazilian Amazon, in this talk I will be discussing some tactics or strategies to make data not just visible, but graspable, as an ethnographic subject and why we should bother doing so. After all, data’s not really a thing, is it?

Bio: Antonia Walford is a Lecturer in Digital Anthropology at University College London. Their research explores the effects of the exponential growth of digital data on social and cultural imaginaries and practices, with a focus on the natural sciences and environmental politics. They have published articles and chapters on topics such as data power and the politics of informational practices in the sciences, data aesthetics, anthropological methods and transdisciplinarity. They recently co-edited, with Rachel Douglas-Jones and Nick Seaver, a special issue in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Towards an Anthropology of Data (2021).

We look forward to seeing you there,

Dr Ignacia Arteaga Research Fellow and Affiliated Lecturer,

Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

Research Fellow, Robinson College.


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