Ethnography for a data-saturated world

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.

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‘Ethnography for a Data Saturated World is a must-read for researchers, students and professionals outside academia wishing to understand what digital data means for our contemporary world. It brings our attention to a burgeoning field of research and practice which unites ethnography and data science on a number of levels. This book takes us into the world of digital data in a mode and depth that only the particular sensibilities of ethnographic research can offer. Its editors and authors collectively provide a new and global vision through ethnographic studies of how the worlds of data scientists are constituted, the ways of knowing and forms of expertise that digital data analysis involves, and the methodological challenges and achievements of work that has created new modes of collaboration between ethnography and digital data analysis. Ethnography for a Data Saturated World is at once a substantive, theoretical and methodological book. It is brimming with significant ethnographic insights and findings about the worlds it examines, it offers an array of different and disciplinary specific modes of thinking theoretically about digital data from anthropology and sociology, and it interrogates the modes of knowing that are implicated in both digital data collection and analysis and in ethnographic practice, as well as the possible connections between them.'
Sarah Pink, Professor of Design and Media Ethnography, RMIT University

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