Engineering ethnography
in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
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This chapter examines how a combination of approaches from anthropology and data science disciplines has supported my exploration of lives lived at similar intersections. It describes work I have done at two research sites. One, through self-tracking and the quantified self, is focused internally. The other, with a community of startup developers in Jamaica, is focused on struggles to realise the potential of the global knowledge economy from its margins.

While differing in their geographies and scales, both spaces allow for an interrogation of the potential of combining data science and ethnography: its new methods, modes of inquiry and modes of expression. For both myself and those I work with, data acts a conduit across borders of nation, history and flesh, promising new existential and epistemological models, and a means of affecting personal and national transformation. Its analytical lines offer the ability to connect and communicate, to modulate ideas of difference, and to help construct new identities. I discuss the uneven realisation of this potential, and how the attempts at its operationalisation reveal productive complications and reformulations at the convergence of engineering and ethnography.

Editors: Hannah Knox and Dawn Nafus


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