Experimenting With Social Data

- A one-and-a-half day SODAS workshop at University of Copenhagen (UCPH), September 14-15 2017

14 September, 13:30 - 17.00
15 September, 09:00 - 17:30

14 September: CSS, Øster Farimagsgade 5, (35.01.06), 1353 Kbh K
15 September: CSS, Øster Farimagsgade 5, (16.2.55), 1353 Kbh K

Background: revisiting the experiment

The recent rise of massive digital trace datasets in the social sciences ('social big data') has served in part to re-actualize experimentation, as well as their associated and divergent legacies in the history and philosophy of science and beyond.

While various kinds of experimental social data practices are flourishing, cross-cutting conversations on attendant issues of methodology, epistemology, and research ethics are still few and far between. At present, for instance, little clarity – let alone agreement – prevails in terms of whether research on and with large-scale digital social data is best thought of in analogy to laboratory or field sciences and their associated differences in styles of experimentation. Meanwhile, conversations in science & technology studies (STS) and related fields has served to open up the experimental form to novel and more heterogeneous interpretations, spanning beyond questions of natural-science epistemology (the experimental event) to issues of ethics (e.g. experiments in living), politics (e.g. the experimental society) and aesthetics (e.g. experiments in genre-crossing).

As organizers of this workshop, we – the Critical Algorithms Lab (CALL) of anthropologists, sociologists and STS researchers, part of the Copenhagen Centre for Social Data Science (SODAS) – come at these questions equally as matters of practical day-to-day research and as profound epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic challenges.

As such, the workshop itself takes on a (meta-)experimental character, with the aim of testing the limits, the possibilities, and the important distinctions and variations contained in invocations of ‘experimentation’ as a privileged route along which to pursue the promise of adequate knowledge held out by large-scale digital social data.

Outline programme

On September 14 Dawn Nafus and Evelyn Ruppert are invited to give public keynote lectures on experimentation in relation til digital social science data. This event is open for everybody and coffee will be served for free.

September 15 is the workshop itself, consisting in shorter presentations followed by extended discussions with an invited audience of app. 30-40 researchers, doctoral students and practitioners working on issues of social data. If you are interested in further information about the workshop on September 15, please contact associate professor, Anders Blok on abl@soc.ku.dk. Please note that attendance for the workshop on September 15 is limited and by registration only. Admittance is on a first-come-first-serve basis.

September 14 (Location: UCPH, CSS, room 35.01.06):

13.30 – 15.00: Evelyn Ruppert, Sociology, Goldsmiths University of London.

15.30 – 17.00: Dawn Nafus, Senior Research Scientist, Intel.

”An Experiment in Citizen Data”

Evelyn Ruppert, Goldsmiths University of London

Many, if not most, big data are connected to the lives of citizens: their movements, opinions, and relations. Arguably data and citizens are inseparable: from smartphones, meters, fridges and cars to internet platforms, the data of digital technologies is the data of citizens. I explore the politics of this attachment between digital technologies, data and citizens through an account of an experiment in the design of a ‘citizen data app’ that speculates on alternatives for generating statistics for research and governing. Experimenting is understood as a method of opening technological expertise to other actors, exploring alternative problem formulations and futures, transcending ingrained ways of thinking, disrupting power relations and critically examining practices through which data comes into being. In these ways, the experiment in a citizen data app conceives of data and statistics as social technologies and matters of democratic debate and deliberation where citizens are active in making knowledge about societies of which they are a part.

”It’s Experiments All The Way Down: Full Stack Anthropology in the Midst of Design/Build/Test Cycles”

Dawn Nafus, Senior Research Scientist, Intel

This talk will reflect on two modalities of experimentation as they intersect in a piece of software. The first, what I will call ‘design/build/test’, is a well known cycle of iteration in hardware and software production. The second takes its cue from the Quantified Self community, where people tinker with new ways to collect and reflect upon personal data. Indeed, self-tracking as practiced in this community is less a single practice than it is an ethos that embraces many practices. These can range from pen and paper journaling to formal protocols of ‘control’ and ‘treatment’, and from philosophical reflection on the collapse of subject and object to advanced statistical methods. I will use a social life of methods theorization to sketch the evolution of my own approach to wrestling with sensor data in ethnographic research. I discuss my approach in relation to these two modalities of experimentation as well as ‘ordinary’ ethnographic practice (whatever that is). I argue that taking the social life of methods seriously opens up a position from which to ask what a ‘full stack’ anthropological practice might look like, and where and why it might be necessary.