Inciting infrastructural inversion: modes of engagement in the ethnography of data-intensive science
(University of Washington)
Sarah Inman (University of Washington)
David Ribes (University of Washington)
Stephen Slota (University of California, Irvine)
Andrew Hoffman (University of Washington)
Paper short abstract:
We reflect on a recurrent feature of our ethnographic studies of the sciences that we call "inciting infrastructural inversion" (3I). 3I is the symmetrical reflection of the invisible and marginal aspects of actors' work back and forth between actor and analyst in ways that shape and entangle both.
Paper long abstract:
This paper characterizes a pattern of interventionist engagement with our ethnographic field sites that we call "inciting infrastructural inversion." As ethnographers of infrastructure, we study the historical, invisible, marginal, and processual dimensions of data-centric scientific. We have found that our "inversions" (following Bowker, Star and Edwards) of these infrastructural aspects of scientific work often incite our subjects to reflect upon and change their work practices. These incitements also result in collaborations between our work and theirs that blur the lines between and entangle our projects. In the spirit of recent interrogations of research methods in STS (Law, Mol), we analyze this recurrent feature of our ethnographic research and show the symmetrical way in which both our projects and theirs are shaped by these engagements. We analyze three instances of inciting infrastructural inversion from two ethnographic projects, the first a study of a data-integration initiative around Alaska's pacific salmon systems, and the second a study of the development of a data interoperability framework and toolset for the field of proteogenomics. Inciting infrastructural inversion, we contend, is both a finding and an approach - it is a product of elective affinities between our work and those of our subjects and a result of a commitment to actor-analyst symmetry and openness to collaboration.
Methodography of data practices in STS's ethnographic collaboration and participant observation