The call for the Digital Methods Winter School 2018 at the University of Amsterdam is out now. This year’s theme is “The Social Lives of Digital Methods: Encounters, Experiments, Interventions”. I was kindly invited by Richard Rogers, Founder of the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam (where I’m also a Research Associate) to help shape the theme and give input to the call. So it is no coincidence that it is very well aligned with many of my current research interests, as well as many recent discussions we’ve been having with colleagues around the Public Data Lab, inspired by our activities around the Field Guide to Fake News; a recent session on digital methods and public policy at the International Conference on Public Policy in Singapore; recent projects in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Milan and Paris, as well as Noortje Marres’s recent book (see below). Further information can be found here. It promises to be a fun and interesting event and hope to see you there!
“The Social Lives of Digital Methods: Encounters, Experiments, Interventions” – Call for Participation in Digital Methods Winter School 2018, University of Amsterdam, 8-12th January 2018
Over the past decade digital methods of various kinds have been put to use by data journalists, national ministries, non-governmental organisations, city governments, media artists, police departments, international organisations, philanthropic funding agencies in the service of a wide variety of projects and objectives. Within the academy digital methods have spread from researchers of the internet, new media and computational culture, leading to encounters and experiments with a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, working with their own publics, partners, questions, concerns and modes of inquiry with and about the digital. That one may intervene with digital methods is clear, but the question concerns the positioning.
Extremism and counter-terrorism units may wish to map online networks of groups and individuals. Under which circumstances and with which ethics to act? City governments may be interested in how to use platform data to inform their responses to emerging “gig” and “sharing” economies said to be changing the character of housing, transport and work. When an analyst finds concrete instances of over-renting properties, does one share the findings and if so how? Non-governmental organisations would like to know whether their anti-fossil fuel campaigns are reaching audiences outside of their own bubbles. How to make such questions relevant for academic research? Funders would like an issue area and the stakeholders mapped, but what if one finds that the funders are overdetermining the agenda of the field? How might the style of digital methods work on secure messaging apps vary, depending on whether the audience is critical media scholars, privacy advocates or public institutions?
Researchers in fields such as science and technology studies and ethnomethodology have long pointed out that methods are not only used by researchers to study social life, they are also a part of social life (see, e.g. Garfinkel, 1984). This notion has been further elaborated and explored through a more recent agenda on the “social life of methods” (Ruppert, Law, & Savage, 2013). Digital methods and data projects can be used to create not only novel styles of analysis, but also different kinds of “interactivity” (Marres, 2017) – from involving those who are researched in the research process, to different forms of participatory design, public involvement and experimentation. Such encounters may produce changes in the analytical interests and approaches of both researchers and practitioners, and may be considered a substantive part of the research process, rather than a communicative afterthought.
At the 2018 Digital Methods Winter School we would like to put forward positioning practices that address working with practitioners together with the projects (and data sets) they bring along. The Winter School has as its goal to take stock and tell stories of interventions and the positionings one was able to take up. How to navigate the space between scholarly research, practitioner expectation and critical output? Additionally the Winter School will make interventions, working together with ‘publics with an ask’.
Garfinkel, H. (1984). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Marres, N. (2017). Digital Sociology: The Reinvention of Social Research. London: Polity Press.
Ruppert, E., Law, J., & Savage, M. (Eds.). (2013). “The Social Life of Methods”, Special Issue. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(4), https://journals.sagepub.com/toc/tcsa/30/4