Data is not just the stuff of social scientific method; it is the stuff of everyday life. The presence of digital data in an ever widening range of human relationships profoundly unsettles notions of expertise for both ethnographers and data scientists alike. This collection situates digital data in broader knowledge-production practices. It asks about the kinds of social worlds that data scientists are creating as the profession coalesces, and looks at the contemporary possibilities available to both ethnographers and their participants for knowing, formatting and intervening in the world. It shows what digital data is doing to the empirical methods that sustain claims to expertise, with a particular focus on implications for ethnography. The contributors offer empirically grounded accounts of the cultures, infrastructures and epistemologies of data production, analysis and use. They examine the professionalisation of data science in a variety of national and transnational contexts. They look closely at specific data practices like archiving of environmental data, or claims-making about how software is produced. They also offer a glimpse into the new methodological and pedagogical possibilities for teaching and doing ethnography in a data-saturated world.
Data here and there
In Oakland, California, a man brushes past me as I exit my neighbourhood market. ‘Data’, his T-shirt informs me, ‘is the new bacon’.
In Kingston, Jamaica, I sit in a nondescript meeting room for a pitch
on the potential at the crossroads of agriculture and information
technology. ‘Data’, I read on the screen, ‘is the new oil’.
I hadn’t travelled to Jamaica to focus on data in particular, whether
as oil or bacon, product or substrate. I came to work within its community of technology developers and to
with sensor data
This chapter is primarily about methods. I work in Intel Labs, the
research and development organisation at Intel. Since 2007, I have
been asking research participants to collect digital data about themselves, and giving it back to them in forms designed to stimulate
conversation. I invite participants to reflect on data as matters of
concern, not matters of fact (Latour 2004), and they largely respond
in this spirit. Much like the chapter from Powell (Chapter 9 above),
and in the spirit of the broader turn
Operative ethnographies and
I report here on a deliberately naive attempt to re-count a single
number: approximately 29 million code repositories on Github at
a particular point in time (late 2015). The number appeared in a
research project primarily focused largely on transformations in the
social life of coding, programming and software development amidst
apps, clouds, virtualisation and the troubled life of code commons.
In exploring ‘how people build software’ (Github 2015), the project
explicitly sought to experiment with
This book takes a body of ethnographic data collected in 2001-2, during a year's fieldwork at the Bank of Scotland (BoS) and HBOS, and revisits it from the perspective of the 2014-16 period. It explores the tension between the 'ethnographic present' of the author's original research and the unavoidable alteration of perspective on that data that the economic crisis has created. The original research had been planned to take place in the BoS but in 2001, before the research began, BoS had merged with the Halifax to form HBOS. The book provides a long-term historical perspective on BoS/HBOS, from inception to the 2008 financial crisis, and then a consideration of the nature of historical explanation, under the rubric of 'theory'. The main attempts to explain the proximate causes of the 2008 crisis, as well as more encompassing political economic arguments about the trajectory and dynamics of capitalism are examined. The concept of 'culture' as applied to both national groups, Scots and English, and organizations, BoS and Halifax, are also dealt with. The book examines other governing concepts such as organisational change in the business world and social change, identity and the way Scottish and English experience their own personhood, and comparative nature of ethnographic research. The conclusion reviews and draws together the themes of the book, returning to the overarching question of historical perspective and explanation.
Through an ethnographic study of the Barefoot College, an internationally renowned non-governmental development organisation (NGO) situated in Rajasthan, India, this book investigates the methods and practices by which a development organisation materialises and manages a construction of success. Paying particular attention to the material processes by which success is achieved and the different meanings that they act to perform, this book offers a timely and novel approach to how the world of development NGOs works. It further touches upon the general discrediting of certain kinds of expertise, moving the book beyond an anthropology of development to raise wider questions of general interest. The author argues that the College, as a heterotopia and a prolific producer of various forms of development media, achieves its success through materially mediated heterotopic spectacles: enacted and imperfect utopias that constitute the desires, imaginings and Otherness of its society. Founded by the charismatic figure of Bunker Roy, the Barefoot College has become a national and global icon of grassroots sustainable development. With a particular focus on the Barefoot College’s community-managed, solar photovoltaic development programme, this book considers the largely overlooked question of how it is that an NGO achieves a reputation for success.
Byron’s ethnographic eye:
the poet among the Italians
‘It is from experience, not from Books, we ought to judge of mankind.
There is nothing like inspection, and trusting to our own senses.’1 This
aphorism appears in a letter that Byron wrote to his mother as early
as 1808, but the empiricist principle that informs it persisted as one
of the central epistemological tenets of his whole career as a writer.
Indeed, five years later, in 1813, in a letter to Annabella Milbanke,
Byron expounded on the same concept, stating that the ‘great object
Ralegh, Harriot, and
Alden T. Vaughan
If Sir Walter Ralegh can legitimately be called ‘the father of the British
Empire’, he is with comparable accuracy ‘the father of Anglo-American
Ethnography’. (‘Ethnography’ here means extensive, informed descriptions of a people and their culture; ‘Anglo-American’ encompasses
English writings about America, whether composed on the scene or in
Europe.) A case can be made that Thomas Harriot was the first major
English ethnographer because his Briefe and True Report of the New
Found Land of
Modelling, ethnography and the challenge of the anthropocene
Baseless data? Modelling,
ethnography and the
challenge of the
While this book is about the implications of a phenomenon that has
broadly come under the heading big data, my recent research on data
practices among planners and environmental scientists has made me
increasingly sceptical that the central challenge that transactional or
‘found’ data poses derives from its ‘bigness’. In this chapter I turn
away from a concern with bigness in order to reflect on another facet
of data. I am interested in a concern that emerges within the
Mette My Madsen, Anders Blok and Morten Axel Pedersen
an ethnography in/of
computational social science
Mette My Madsen, Anders Blok and
Morten Axel Pedersen
This chapter chronicles and reflects on the experiences of working
ethnographically within, alongside and in collaboration with a largescale interdisciplinary experiment in so-called computational social
science, one of the important transnational frontiers for the mobilisation of big social data in recent years. Starting in 2013, the three
authors have taken part in the Social Fabric/Sensible DTU project, a