The New in Social Research: Ruppert recording

We are pleased to put online the next in our ‘The New in Social Research’ series, a recording of Evelyn Ruppert’s lecture titled ‘Doing the Transparent State: Methods and their Subjectifying Effects/Affects’ (Feb 28th).

'Who's lobbying?' data interface

Building on themes explored in the previous talk by Fuller and Harwood, Ruppert looked at the effects (and affects) of the UK government’s data ‘Transparency Agenda’, insisting on the generative capacities of this device. This includes the release of detailed data, via publically accessible, comparatively easy-to-use online platforms (e.g. government produced data apps), ranging from details of MPs expenses to itemised lists of departmental spending. This data, in turn, can be – and increasingly is – downloaded, manipulated and mediated by organisations and institutions, whether by journalists looking to produce eye catching visualisations , or companies hoping to unearth market value hidden in the relations between and amongst different data sets.

Where does my money go

'Where does my money go?' data visualisation

A key argument was that Transparency and Open Data arrangements anticipate the moral failure of government: they enrol people as vigilant subjects monitoring such potential failures. This mode of government/public engagement, Ruppert argues, calls forth certain kinds of witnessing public, the production of what she termed (uncertain, hypervigilant) ‘data subjects’. This mode of witnessing implies a reorientation of both the responsibilities of political subjects and the medium for political action. Increasingly, responsibility for detecting moral, political failure is relocated away from the business of politics itself and onto a public charged with monitoring, sifting, detecting, calling attention to potential government failings lurking in the depths of the data, but also rendering subjects complicit in this ultimately passive mode of governance by transparency.

To hear more, including Ruppert’s reflections on whether or not this mode of witnessing can be considered ‘new’ (a key question given the aims of this series), download the recording below.

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

1. Evelyn Ruppert – Doing the transparent state

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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