Accepted Papers:

Emerging data infrastructures and ethnographic world-making  


Maja Hojer Bruun (Aarhus University)
Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen (Aalborg University)

Paper Short Abstract:

What kinds of social worlds are imagined by different parties developing data technologies such as blockchain and secure multiparty computation? The paper presents a collaboration between mathematicians, computer scientists, control engineers and anthropologists engaging interventionist ethnography.

Paper long abstract:

Data-controlled automated systems that integrate cyber-, physical and social worlds offer great potentials for the improvement of communication and resource use, e.g. the transition to renewable energy. So-called 'smart' projects, such as smart cities, smart homes and the smart grid, establish communication and coordination between large numbers of entities. Such interaction between entities requires exchange of privacy-sensitive information and raises critical questions about users' trust and participation in data systems. New data sharing technologies, such as blockchain and secure multiparty computation, have the potential to disrupt existing systems of interaction and exchange. What kinds social worlds are imagined by the different parties involved in the development of these emerging technologies that may become the cornerstones of future connected societies? What ideas about confidentiality, trust and privacy are produced and circulate among developers and potential users of emerging data systems?

This paper presents an ongoing interdisciplinary research collaboration between mathematicians, computer scientists, automation and control engineers and anthropologists who engage ethnographic studies of developers and potential users of emerging cyber-physical systems. As part of the interventionist ethnographic research, public events are staged and methods developed to study and engage participants in the creation of technologies that are not yet part of our everyday lives. Crucially, the paper asks what roles are relegated to humans. Will we see models of co-creation, transparency and self-organization or centralised, hierarchical paradigms? And how can we as social scientists contribute to fostering public debate and participation in decision-making concerning future technologies and data infrastructures?

Panel C16
Data worlds? Public imagination and public experimentation with data infrastructures