Transversal collaboration

An ethnography in/of computational social science

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
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This chapter chronicles and reflects on the experiences of working ethnographically within, alongside and in collaboration with a large-scale interdisciplinary experiment in computational social science. It does so by recounting, from the ethnographer’s point of view, a number of ‘collaborative moments’ at the awkward intersection of computational data science and ethnographic fieldwork, as partners in the same research project. Here, the anthropologist finds herself in a position at right angles to both the population under study and the other scientists studying them; a chronic condition of oscillating between practising ethnography in a (partly) computational social science framework and doing an ethnography of the very scientific data practices and infrastructures involved. We consider this in/of oscillation not as a point of disciplinary comparison but rather as involving ‘transversal’ collaborations that instantiate forms of non-coherent, intermittent and yet productively mutual co-shaping among partially connected knowledge practices and practitioners. Such a rethinking is crucial, we argue, for understanding new social data ‘complementarities’ and their epistemological, ethical and political ramifications.

Editors: Hannah Knox and Dawn Nafus

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