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.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book shows the undeniable contribution and the limits of the biopower theory in the understanding of dead bodies en masse. It talks about the fact that criminology has for so long ignored mass crime, even though the link between the corpse and the criminal is one of the fundamentals of the discipline. The book addresses the issue of the practical and symbolic treatment of corpses by societies affected by mass violence. It shows how working ideologies along with historical legacy and geographical landscapes determined the disposal of the bodies. The book examines the simultaneously diplomatic and medicolegal nature of the activities of the French Search Commission for Corpses of Deportees in Germany. It also draws on German archives to describe the various modalities of treatment of corpses in Croatia.