Data Cultures, Culture as Data

Introduction to Special Issue of Cultural Analytics by Amelia Acker and Tanya Clement: “Data have become pervasive in research in the humanities and the social sciences. New areas, objects, and situations for study have developed; and new methods for working with data are shepherded by new epistemologies and (potential) paradigm shifts. But data didn’t just happen to us. We have happened to data. In every field, scholars are drawing boundaries between data and humans as if making meaning with data is innocent work. But these boundaries are never innocent. Questions are emerging about the relationships of culture to data—urgent questions that focus on the codification (or code-ification) of social and cultural bias and the erosion of human agency, subjectivity, and identity.

For this special issue of Cultural Analytics we invited submissions to respond to these concerns as they relate to the proximity and distance between the creation of data and its collection; the nature of data as object or content; modes and contexts of data circulation, dissemination and preservation; histories and imaginary data futures; data expertise; data and technological progressivism; the cultivation and standardization of data; and the cultures, communities, and consciousness of data production. The contributions we received ranged in type from research or theory articles to data reviews and opinion pieces responding to the theme of “data cultures”. Each contribution asks questions we should all be asking: What is the role we play in the data cultures/culture as data we form around sociomaterial practices? How can we better understand how these practices effect, and affect, the materialization of subjects, objects, and the relations between them? How can we engage our data culture(s) in practical, critical, and generative ways? As Karen Barad writes, “We are responsible for the world in which we live not because it is an arbitrary construction of our choosing, but because it is sedimented out of particular practices that we have a role in shaping.”1Ultimately, our contributors are focused on this central concern: where is our agency in the responsibility of shaping data cultures? What role can scholarship play in better understanding our culture as data?…(More)”.