The New in Social Research: Fuller & Harwood recording

As part of our ongoing series exploring claims to newness in social research, we are pleased to put online a recording of this week’s event (Feb 21st), ‘Database as funfair’.

Matthew Fuller and Graham Harwood, drawing on work done by YoHa as part of the Invisible Airs project, explored what can be learnt from, and done with, relational databases released to researchers as part of a government drive towards data transparency (themes to be explored further by next week by Evelyn Ruppert – more details about upcoming events are on the CSISP homepage).

Having been given access to the expenditure database of Bristol City Council, they soon worked out that the data – in itself – wasn’t particularly interesting (in fact, as they write, part of the power of this data operates specifically because of its inability to command interest, through the “multiple layers of boredom” which it generates in its readers), to a degree because of what was absent, excluded, or rendered unintelligible.

Two things were, however, far more interesting. The first is what could be read not from the content of the data, but from the data architecture. This includes the limitations imposed on who can see, read and write what, and the degree of granularity within particular data types. These controls and limitations could be seen as having effects on working practices, while also revealing different forms of power within an enterprise, and the existence of very distinct ‘views’ on this data.

Expenditure data book stabber

And second, YoHa decided that far more interesting things could be done with the data than analyse it. To this end, they have constructed a series of ‘contraptions’ aimed – it seemed to me anyway – at exploring the potential for different modalities of ‘public interest’ in relation to these streams of seemingly banal expenditure data. Here, for example, is their expenditure data ‘book stabber’.

The rest is probably best left to Fuller and Harwood. Further images of the contraptions and people using them (including the mayor of Bristol on their expenditure data ‘rider’), as well as the documentary you will hear on the audio, can be found on the YoHa Invisible Airs site.

Recordings (to be downloaded; these are not designed to stream)

1. Matt Fuller & Graham Harwood – Database as funfair