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Editors: Hannah Knox and Dawn Nafus

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.

Kaiton Williams

4 Engineering ethnography Kaiton Williams 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

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
Dawn Nafus

10 Working ethnographically with sensor data Dawn Nafus 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

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
Adrian Mackenzie

7 Operative ethnographies and large numbers Adrian Mackenzie 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

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
Utopias of development
Author: Stewart Allen

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.

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Modelling, ethnography and the challenge of the anthropocene
Hannah Knox

6 Baseless data? Modelling, ethnography and the challenge of the anthropocene Hannah Knox 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

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
An ethnography in/of computational social science
Mette My Madsen, Anders Blok and Morten Axel Pedersen

8 Transversal collaboration: 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 large

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
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Ethnography for a data-saturated world
Hannah Knox and Dawn Nafus

1 Introduction: ethnography for a data-saturated world Hannah Knox and Dawn Nafus It is increasingly difficult to attend to social and political relations in the contemporary world without recognising that they are in some way constituted by digitally generated data. From censuses that describe national populations to polls that predict and chart election outcomes, from audience surveys and click-counters that are used to price advertising to credit ratings and market analyses that determine financial relations, social worlds are entangled with data that is

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
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A new faction of the transnational field of statistics
Francisca Grommé, Evelyn Ruppert and Baki Cakici

. In this regard, big data is introducing to the 34 Ethnographies of data science repertoire of official statistics not only new forms of data but also new valuations of professional skills and expertise, or, as we conceptualise in this chapter, of cultural and symbolic capital (Bourdieu 1984). In the making of official statistics, what exactly comes to count as data science and the profession of data scientist is not self-evident. While there is much talk about a new science and profession,1 a science of data dates back to Peter Naur’s Concise Survey of Computer

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world
Thinking with data science, creating data studies – an interview with Joseph Dumit
Joseph Dumit

ethnography do is something you have to take into account as you optimise the answer, otherwise you might optimise the answer in an illegal or unfair way. That means you have to ask: why do we have this dataset versus another, and are there biases in that dataset so we can tweak it a little, or seek more data? DN: YOU PROPOSED TO ME THAT WE SHOULD TALK ABOUT ‘ THE OTHER NINETY PER CENT’’. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT? JD: In order to design classes for Data Studies, I’d been reviewing textbooks for data science, looking at online courses etc., and at the beginning of each

in Ethnography for a data-saturated world