On February 12th, we hosted Hannah Knox for a book launch of her new edited collection (with Dawn Nafus) Ethnography for a Data Saturated World. The book, out with Manchester University Press, is a mix of methods accounts and ethnographies of the emergent data sciences. The Introduction is particularly accessible. Here’s an extract of my discussant commentary
The book is organised around clear themes – method, practice, expertise and sensemaking. My review comes out of an interest in the way data puts anthropologically inflected terms in the public spotlight. As with the new reproductive technologies in the 1990s, which reanimated anthropological vocabularies on kinship and relatedness, data work is busy re-shaping many of the traditional objects of ethnographic interest – bodies, bureaucracies, nature, money, borders, exchange, homes, and so on. Imagine the data prefix attached to each of these domains, and you imagine conversations happening in fieldsites the world over. This is what I take from the “saturation” of the volume’s title, not merely the expansion of data being produced – to follow the first V for volume, but also a conceptual saturation. From ‘Nature’ continuously updated through complex trans-national data infrastructures to social practices valued on data markets at the edge of conventional regulatory apparatus, the question arises of how one is to study any of these things?