Accepted Paper:

The “invisible work” of data management systems in Big Science: following the development of the European Spallation Source  


Katherine Harrison (Lund University)

Paper short abstract:

How is data management organised at a Big Science facility and what difference does this make to the knowledge produced there? This paper explores data management at the European Spallation Source as an entanglement of people, organisation and technologies.

Paper long abstract:

Susan Leigh Star made a powerful argument for paying close attention to infrastructure in “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” when she compared the wires and settings of an information system to the sewers of a city; these often-overlooked aspects of a city are nevertheless vital for a well-functioning infrastructure. This is certainly true when studying so-called Big Science facilities, where, both historically and today, the “invisible work” of data management systems and personnel are essential to the production of cutting-edge scientific knowledge.

In this paper I present material from an ongoing study into the development of data management processes at the currently-under-construction European Spallation Source (ESS). The ESS represents a rare opportunity to observe the design and development of a Big Science facility, including the organisational infrastructure and technical support related to data management.

I suggest two ways to approach looking at data management in terms of organisational infrastructure at the ESS. The first concerns the demands that a big data system makes on organisational infrastructure. Capture, processing, storage and movement of large and complex data sets has practical implications in terms of hardware, software, staff, and premises.

The second concerns what can be learnt about an organisation by looking at its information infrastructure. Studying the decision-making process around data management provides clues as to how power dynamics and knowledge production are organised at “ground level”, how the organisation of office space, the development of standardisation or categorisation protocols, or access to technical support reflect and shape inter-organisational power dynamics.

Panel C20
Software & organisation