Lifestream, Diigo: Undermining ‘data’: A critical examination of a core term in scientific inquiry | Markham | First Monday

“The term ‘data’ functions as a powerful frame for discourse about how knowledge is derived and privileges certain ways of knowing over others. Through its ambiguity, the term can foster a self–perpetuating sensibility that ‘data’ is incontrovertible, something to question the meaning or the veracity of, but not the existence of. This article critically examines the concept of ‘data’ within larger questions of research method and frameworks for scientific inquiry. The current dominance of the term ‘data’ and ‘big data’ in discussions of scientific inquiry as well as everyday advertising focuses our attention on only certain aspects of the research process. The author suggests deliberately decentering the term, to explore nuanced frames for describing the materials, processes, and goals of inquiry.”
from Diigo

Another great read this week – Markham (2013) suggests ‘data’ acts as a frame, through which we interpret and make sense of our social world. However, she adds,  “the interesting thing about frames, as social psychologist Goffman (1974) noted, is that they draw our attention to certain things and obscure other things.” Through persistent framings, particular ways of interpreting the world are naturalised, and the frame itself becomes invisible.  So is the case with ‘data’, the frame of which Markham  views as having transformed our sense of what it means to be in the 21st century, when experience is digitalised and “collapsed into collectable data points”. These data points are, however, abstractions, which can be reductive, obscuring rather than revealing:

“From a qualitative perspective, ‘data’ poorly capture the sensation of a conversation or a moment in context.”

Certainly, this is reflected in my experience of the Tweet Archivist data analysis of our tweetorial last week.  As such, I particularly enjoyed Markham’s call to embrace complexity, and to reframe the practice of inquiry as one “sense–making rather than discovering or finding or attempting to classify in a reductionist sense.”

“the complexity of twenty–first century culture requires finding perspectives that challenge taken for granted methods for studying the social in a digital epoch. Contributing to an infrastructure of knowledge that does not reduce or simplify experience requires us to acknowledge and scrutinize, as part of our methods, the ways in which data is being generated (we are generating data) in ways we may not notice. Changing the frame from one that is overly–focused on ‘data’ can help us explore the ways our research exists as a continual, dialogic, messy, entangled, and inventive process when it occurs outside the walls of the academy, the covers of books, and the written word.” 

Markham also writes of another strategy for reframing research, which is as a generative process achieved through collaborative remix. Here, the focus is on interpretation and sense-making rather than on findings per se:

“Using remix as a lens for thinking about research is intended to destabilize both the process and products of inquiry, but not toward the end of chaos or “anything goes.” The idea of remix simply refocuses energy toward meaning versus method; engagement versus objectivity; interpretation versus findings; argument versus explanation. In all of this, data is certainly available, present, and important, but it takes a secondary role to sense–making.”

I thought it was apt to include comment on that part of Markham’s paper here, owing to remix’s position within our last block in relation to notions of community cultures, but also because in a sense it speaks to ‘new’, more experimental forms of authorship, which have been a focus in the course.