Led by Helen Thornham, we just published the paper Not just a number? NEETs, data and datalogical systems in Information, Communication & Society. Here is the link to the paper, and here is the abstract:
This paper draws on empirical research with NEET populations (16–24-year-olds not in education, employment or training) in the U.K. in order to engage with issues around identification, data and metrics produced through datalogical systems. Our aim is to bridge contemporary discourses around data, digital bureaucracy and datalogical systems with empirical material drawn from a long-term ethnographic project with NEET groups in Leeds, U.K. in order to highlight the way datalogical systems ideologically and politically shape people’s lives. We argue that NEET is a long-standing data category that does work and has resonance within wider datalogical systems. Secondly, that these systems are decision-making and far from benign. They have real impact on people’s lives – not just in a straightforwardly, but in obscure, complex and uneven ways which makes the potential for disruption or intervention increasingly problematic. Finally, these datalogical systems also implicate and are generated by us, even as we seek to critique them.
A paper that I presented at a conference on Photography and Anthropology in 2014 was (finally) published today. It is somehow disappointing that the publishing process takes so long because I would probably approach the paper differently now. In any case, I think it could be useful to expand the discussion about mobile/visual/digital ethnographies. Here is the link to the text and here is the abstract:
This article presents an outline of the concept ‘Trajectory’. I propose to understand trajectory not only as a trace of movement in a path but also as a working concept to reflect on the possibilities of visual/digital data collection for ethnographic research on the move. Images, I argue, along with some digital affordances such as metadata and GPS, can be a powerful device for ethnographic enquiry and a useful tool for reflexivity if used by making sense of the randomness of everyday mobility. The concept of ‘Trajectory’ seeks to reflect on the relationship between four elements: mobility, visual data, digital methods and reflexivity, focusing on the use of the mobile phone as a tool to engage with these elements while reflecting on them. The concept of trajectories is intended to establish a dialogue with that of the flâneur in de Certeau’s and Benjamin’s work and with some current approaches to visual/digital ethnography, especially those related to movement and senses, art and ethnography and mobilities and locative media.
P.S. It was fun that the editors chose my images for the journal’s cover
Led by Helen Thornham we just published a paper (Big Data & Society journal). Here is the link to the open full text and here is the abstract:
This paper draws together empirical findings from our study of hackathons in the UK with literature on big data through three interconnected frameworks: data as discourse, data as datalogical and data as materiality. We suggest not only that hackathons resonate the wider socio-technical and political constructions of (big) data that are currently enacted in policy, education and the corporate sector (to name a few), but also that an investigation of hackathons reveals the extent to which ‘data’ operates as a powerful discursive tool; how the discourses (and politics) of data mask and reveal a series of tropes pertaining to data; that the politics of data are routinely and simultaneously obscured and claimed with serious implications for expertise and knowledge; and that ultimately, and for the vast majority of hackathons we have attended, the discursive and material constructions of data serve to underpin rather than challenge existing power relations and politics.
This is a paper that Helen Thornham and I wrote for a workshop in Sweden earlier this year. It is open access which is always a good idea. Just follow this link.
Drawing on a wide corpus of ethnographic research projects, including on photography practices, young filmmakers and writers, and current research with young unemployed people, we argue that contemporary understandings of selfies either in relation to a “documenting of the self” or as a neoliberal (narcissistic) identity affirmation are inherently problematic. Instead, we argue that selfies should be understood as a wider social, cultural, and media phenomenon that understands the selfie as far more than a representational image. This, in turn, necessarily redirects us away from the object “itself,” and in so doing seeks to understand selfies as a socio-technical phenomenon that momentarily and tentatively holds together a number of different elements of mediated digital communication.