Our fourth and fifth project publications

Photo by Ivan Babydov from Pexels

A fourth publication from the ‘Living with Personal Data’ project has been published in Visual Studies. This article authored by Ash Watson, Deborah Lupton and Mike Michael is titled ‘The presence and perceptibility of personal digital data: Findings from a participant map drawing method‘. In this, we discuss findings from the map-making component of our project, where we asked participants to hand draw maps of the digital devices located within their homes. These maps represented the devices people have, where these devices usually live and move to, how and by whom they are used, and the flows of digital data emitting from them. Due especially to the COVID lockdowns which impacted our project, the map-making afforded rich and interesting insights into the contexts and materialities of personal data generation which were otherwise hard to get a sense of when we could not visit participants’ homes in person.

The abstract reads:

Personal digital data are often imagined and experienced as invisible and immaterial phenomena, albeit with increasingly powerful impacts on people’s lives. In this article we discuss findings from an ethnographic project involving 30 participants in Sydney, Australia, directed at identifying their practices and understandings concerning their home-based digital device use and the personal data generated with and through engagements with these technologies. As well as engaging in a video-recorded home tour, we asked participants to hand draw maps of the digital devices located within their homes and the flows of digital data emitting from the devices. These maps mark the presence, interconnections and mobilities of digital technologies and the digitised details generated by their sociomaterial entanglements. The maps were also used to spark further discussion with the participants about their devices and data, seeking to understand their sense-making practices. Working with our concept of ‘digital scaffolding’, we explore what these participant-generated maps can reveal and make visible about digital technologies and data in relation to the domestic environment as well as the world outside the home. We consider what the maps themselves show in terms of digital presence, and what the mapping activity made perceptible within the research encounter.

The fifth publication from our project has also been published in International Journal of Qualitative Methods. Titled ‘Remote Fieldwork in Homes During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Video-Call Ethnography and Map Drawing Methods‘ and authored by Ash Watson and Deborah Lupton, this open access methodological article reflects on the challenges and opportunities that arose when we shifted the in-person ethnographic part of the study online. It details the adjusted video ‘home tour’ method we employed, and discusses how this approach was designed to (and amended to still) elicit the sensory, affective and relational elements of people’s digital device and personal data use at home.

The abstract for this article reads:

Restrictions on physical movements and in-person encounters during the COVID-19 crisis confronted many qualitative researchers with challenges in conducting and completing projects requiring face-to-face fieldwork. An exploration of engaging in what we term ‘agile research’ in such circumstances can offer novel methodological insights for researching the social world. In this article, we discuss the changes we made to our ethnographic fieldwork in response to the introduction of a national lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The ‘Living with Personal Data’ project, based in Sydney, Australia, and designed well before the advent of COVID-19, explores a diverse range of people’s feelings, practices and understandings concerning home-based digital devices and the personal digital data generated with their use. Using a video ethnography ‘home tour’ and an elicitation technique involving hand-drawn maps of people’s homes, digital devices and the personal data generated with and through these devices, this approach was designed to elicit the sensory, affective and relational elements of people’s digital device and personal data use at home. The fieldwork had just commenced when stay-at-home and physical distancing orders were suddenly introduced. Our article builds on and extends a growing body of literature on conducting fieldwork in the difficult conditions of the extended COVID-19 crisis by detailing our experiences of very quickly converting an ethnographic study that was planned to be in-person to a remote approach. We describe the adaptations we made to the project using video-call software and discuss the limits and opportunities presented by this significant modification.

As with all publications, please do email us if you cannot access a copy via the links above.

Our third project publication

The third publication from the ‘Living with Personal Data’ project, entitled ‘The COVID digital home assemblage: Transforming the home into a work space during the crisis‘ (authored by Ash Watson, Deborah Lupton and Mike Michael) has been published in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. In this article, we discuss some of the ways that people’s homes changed in the first months of COVID lockdown. As our project fieldwork began in early 2020 and continued throughout Australia’s first lockdown, we were able to document how people tried to work from home during the first year of the pandemic.

The abstract reads:

Major changes to home life and work practices globally have been brought about by the COVID-19 crisis. Periods of strict restrictions placed on people’s movements outside their homes, aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus, have meant that the home was requisitioned as a primary site for work for many people. In this article, we draw on case studies from an ethnographic project that explored how people living in Sydney use digital technologies in the home setting. Our fieldwork commenced in early 2020, just prior to the national COVID lockdown period in Australia, and continued throughout the lockdown and the months following. As a result, we were able to document people’s experiences of transitioning to working from home during the first year of the pandemic. In this article, we adopt a sociomaterial approach together with domestication theory to analyse the complexities of the changed COVID home in the context of digitised working arrangements. We surface and theorise the tensions and leaky boundaries between workplaces and family/domestic life that are brought about by, through and beyond the digital. By addressing the sociomaterial choreographies and modalities of presence involved, we attempt to capture the processes through which the COVID digital home assemblage is continuously configured and the more or less simultaneous presence and absence of people in both domestic and work domains.

As with all publications, please do email us if you cannot access a copy via the link above.

Second project publication out now

The second publication from the ‘Living with Personal Data’ project, entitled ‘Enacting intimacy and sociality at a distance in the COVID-19 crisis: the sociomaterialities of home-based communication technologies‘ (authored by Ash Watson, Deborah Lupton and Mike Michael) has now been published in Media International Australia in an extraordinary issue on “Coronavirus, crisis and communication”. In this article, we discuss some of the ways people used digital technologies to stay in touch – and care for – their loved ones during the early months of COVID lockdown.

The abstract reads:

Significant restrictions on movement outside the home due to the global COVID-19 pandemic have intensified the importance of everyday digital technologies for communicating remotely with intimate others. In this article, we draw on findings from a home-based video ethnography project in Sydney to identify the ways that digital devices and software served to support and enhance intimacy and sociality in this period of crisis and isolation. Digital communication technologies had an increased presence in people’s domestic lives during lockdown. For many people, video calling software had become especially important, allowing them to achieve greater closeness and connection with their friends and family in enacting both everyday routines and special events. These findings surface the digital and non-digital materialities of sociality and intimacy, and the capacities opened by people’s improvisation with the affordances of home-based communication technologies at a time of extended physical isolation.

As with all publications, please email us if you cannot access a copy via the link above.

First project publication now published

The first publication from the ‘Living with Personal Data’ project, entitled ‘Towards more-than-human digital data studies: developing research-creation method‘ (authored by Deborah Lupton and Ash Watson) has now been published in Qualitative Research. In this article, we discuss various creative methods we experimented with in developing the approaches we wanted to use in the project.

Here is the abstract:

As the number of digital technologies expands, entering more domains of everyday life, people’s activities, bodies and preferences are rendered into constantly changing flows of digitised information. The interdisciplinary field of critical data studies has emerged in response. In this article, we outline the design and development of methods employed in our new project ‘Living with Personal Data’ as a move towards expanding the knowledge base and methodological approaches of critical data studies. Our approach takes up more-than-human theoretical perspectives and research-creation methods to elicit the affective and multisensory contexts of people’s feelings, practices and imaginaries concerning their digital data. We describe a set of workshops established to experiment with some new methods we have devised for our project’s fieldwork. The article ends with some reflections on what these theories and methods can offer for a reimagined digital data studies that can acknowledge and surface more-than-human dimensions.

Innovative and creative methods for researching people’s use and understandings of their data – a resource list

In our Living with Personal Data project, we are experimenting with innovative and creative methods for researching how people use and make sense of their personal digital data. We have put together a resource list of methods used by other researchers as well as those we have experimented with thus far.

Human-computer interaction and design researchers

3D printing of personal data into edible treats (Khot et al., 2014; Khot et al., 2015a) or ‘mocktails’ using personal data (Khot et al., 2015b)

3D printing of personal data into decorative items (Stusak et al., 2014)

Data-things (Nissen and Bowers, 2015)

Data craft (Thudt et al., 2017)

Data comics (Bach et al., 2017; Bach et al., 2018; Lewis and Coles-Kemp, 2014)

Personal visualisations (Thudt et al., 2015; Thudt et al., 2017; Thudt et al., 2018)

Lego modelling (Heath et al., 2019)

Data selfies (Kim et al., 2019)

Various creative methods (collage building, questionable concepts, digital portraits) (Dunphy et al., 2014)

Data souvenirs (Petrelli et al., 2017)

Data narratives (Vertesi et al., 2016)

Patina-inspired personalisation (Lee et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2016)

Speculative design (Gross et al., 2017)

ListeningCups (Desjardins and Tihanyi, 2019)

Taking the code for a walk (van Ditmar and Lockton)

Drama performances (Windeyer, 2019)

Social researchers (sociology, anthropology, media studies)

Data journeys (Bates et al., 2016)

Story completion (Lee, 2019)

Data walks/walkshops (Jarke, 2019; Powell, 2018)

Critical pedagogies and arts-based experiments (Markham and Pereira, 2019; Markham, 2019; Markham, 2020)

MobileMiner app (Pybus et al., 2015)

Our methods

Timelines, card game and inventing data machines (Lupton and Michael, 2015; 2017; Michael and Lupton, 2016)

Video ethnography (Lupton et al., 2018; Pink et al., 2017a; 2017b; Sumartojo et al., 2016)

Autoethnography (Salmela et al., 2018)

New metaphors cards – see blog post

Zine making – see blog post

Creative writing responses – see blog post

Reference list

Bach B, Riche NH, Carpendale S, et al. (2017) The emerging genre of data comics. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 37: 6-13.

Bach B, Wang Z, Farinella M, et al. (2018) Design patterns for data comics. Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Montreal: ACM.

Bates J, Lin Y-W and Goodale P. (2016) Data journeys: Capturing the socio-material constitution of data objects and flows. Big Data & Society, 3. Available at https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951716654502.

Desjardins A and Tihanyi T. (2019) ListeningCups: a case of data tactility and data stories. Proceedings of the 2019 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference. Vancouver: ACM.

Dunphy P, Vines J, Coles-Kemp L, et al. (2014) Understanding the experience-centeredness of privacy and security technologies. Proceedings of the 2014 New Security Paradigms Workshop: ACM.

Gross S, Bardzell J, Bardzell S, et al. (2017) Persuasive Anxiety: designing and deploying material and formal explorations of personal tracking devices. Human–Computer Interaction 32: 297-334.

Heath CP, Crivellaro C, Coles-Kemp L, et al. (2019) Relations are more than bytes: re-thinking the benefits of smart services with people and things. Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Glasgow: ACM.

Jarke J. (2019) Open government for all? Co-creating digital public services for older adults through data walks. Online Information Review 43: 1003-1020.

Khot R, Hjorth L and Mueller FF. (2014) Understanding physical activity through 3D printed material artifacts. Proceedings of the 2014 SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Toronto: ACM.

Khot R, Pennings R and Mueller FF. (2015a) EdiPulse: supporting physical activity with chocolate printed messages. Proceedings of the 2015 SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15). Seoul: ACM.

Khot RA, Lee J, Hjorth L, et al. (2015b) TastyBeats: Celebrating heart rate data with a drinkable spectacle. Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction. ACM.

Kim NW, Im H, Henry Riche N, et al. (2019) DataSelfie: empowering people to design personalized visuals to represent their data. Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Glasgow: ACM.

Lee CS. (2019) Datafication, dataveillance, and the social credit system as China’s new normal. Online Information Review. Available at https://doi.org/10.1108/OIR-08-2018-0231.

Lee M-H, Cha S and Nam T-J. (2015) Patina engraver: visualizing activity logs as patina in fashionable trackers. Proceedings of the 2015 SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing System. Seoul: ACM.

Lee M-H, Son O and Nam T-J. (2016) Patina-inspired personalization: personalizing products with traces of daily use. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems. Brisbane: ACM.

Lewis MM and Coles-Kemp L. (2014) Who says personas can’t dance?: the use of comic strips to design information security personas. CHI ’14 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Toronto: ACM.

Lupton D and Michael M. (2015) Big data seductions and ambivalences. Discover Society. Available at http://discoversociety.org/2015/07/30/big-data-seductions-and-ambivalences/.

Lupton D and Michael M. (2017) ‘Depends on who’s got the data’: public understandings of personal digital dataveillance. Surveillance & Society 15: 254-268.

Lupton D, Pink S, LaBond CH, et al. (2018) Personal data contexts, data sense and self-tracking cycling. International Journal of Communication, 12. Available at http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/5925/2268.

Markham A and Pereira G. (2019) Experimenting with algorithmic memory-making: Lived experience and future-oriented ethics in critical data science. Frontiers in Big Data 2 (Proceedings of the 13th International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media). Available at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fdata.2019.00035/full

Markham AN. (2019) Critical pedagogy as a response to datafication. Qualitative Inquiry, 25(8), 754-760.

Markham AN. (2020) Taking data literacy to the streets: critical pedagogy in the public sphere. Qualitative Inquiry 26: 227-237.

Michael M and Lupton D. (2016) Toward a manifesto for the ‘public understanding of big data’. Public Understanding of Science 25: 104-116.

Nissen B and Bowers J. (2015) Data-Things: digital fabrication situated within participatory data translation activities. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Seoul: ACM.

Petrelli D, Marshall MT, O’brien S, et al. (2017) Tangible data souvenirs as a bridge between a physical museum visit and online digital experience. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 21: 281-295.

Pink S, Sumartojo S, Lupton D, et al. (2017a) Empathetic technologies: digital materiality and video ethnography. Visual Studies 32: 371-381.

Pink S, Sumartojo S, Lupton D, et al. (2017b) Mundane data: the routines, contingencies and accomplishments of digital living. Big Data & Society, 4. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2053951717700924.

Powell A. (2018) The data walkshop and radical bottom-up data knowledge. In: Knox H and Nafus D (eds) Ethnography for a Data-Saturated World. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 212-232.

Pybus J, Coté M and Blanke T. (2015) Hacking the social life of Big Data. Big Data & Society, 2. Available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2053951715616649.

Salmela T, Valtonen A and Lupton D. (2018) The affective circle of harassment and enchantment: reflections on the ŌURA Ring as an intimate research device. Qualitative Inquiry 25: 260-270.

Stusak S, Tabard A, Sauka F, et al. (2014) Activity sculptures: exploring the impact of physical visualizations on running activity. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 20: 2201-2210.

Sumartojo S, Pink S, Lupton D, et al. (2016) The affective intensities of datafied space. Emotion, Space and Society 21: 33-40.

Thudt A, Baur D, Huron S, et al. (2015) Visual mementos: reflecting memories with personal data. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 22: 369-378.

Thudt A, Hinrichs U and Carpendale S. (2017) Data craft: integrating data into daily practices and shared reflections. CHI’17  Workshop on Quantified Data and Social Relationships. Denver: ACM.

Thudt A, Hinrichs U, Huron S, et al. (2018) Self-reflection and personal physicalization construction. Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM.

van Ditmar D and Lockton D. Taking the code for a walk. interactions 23: 68-71.

Vertesi J, Kaye J, Jarosewski SN, et al. (2016) Data Narratives: uncovering tensions in personal data management. Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing. San Francisco: ACM Press.

Windeyer RC. (2019) Faces between numbers: re-imagining theatre and performance as instruments of critical data studies within a liberal arts education. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 24: 316-332.

What we are reading #2: video and digital ethnography methods

Last week, we started our fieldwork, involving visiting the homes of people living in Sydney and talking to them about their digital technology use and the personal data generated by their use. We video-tape the visits for use in later analysis and write a detailed case study for each home visit.

To prepare us for our fieldwork, we have been reading the work of other researchers who have used similar methods – video and digital ethnographies in the context of people’s homes. Below is a list of some of the publications we are finding most valuable, and which our study’s findings will be building on.

Desjardins A, Biggs HR, Key C, et al. (2020) IoT data in the home: observing entanglements and drawing new encounters. CHI 2020. Honolulu: ACM, 1-13.

Hjorth L, Pink S and Horst H. (2018) Being at home with privacy: Privacy and mundane intimacy through same-sex locative media practices. International Journal of Communication 12: 1209-1227.

Kennedy J, Nansen B, Arnold M, et al. (2015) Digital housekeepers and domestic expertise in the networked home. Convergence 21: 408-422.

Krajina Z, Moores S and Morley D. (2014) Non-media-centric media studies: a cross-generational conversation. European Journal of Cultural Studies 17: 682-700.

Leszczynski A. (2019) Digital methods III: The digital mundane. Progress in Human Geography online first.

Lupton D, Pink S, LaBond CH, et al. (2018) Personal data contexts, data sense and self-tracking cycling. International Journal of Communication, 12. Available at http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/5925/2268.

Moores, S. (2012) Media, Place and Mobility, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Moores S. (2014) Digital orientations:“Ways of the hand” and practical knowing in media uses and other manual activities. Mobile Media & Communication 2: 196-208.

Pink S and Fors V. (2017) Self-tracking and mobile media: new digital materialities. Mobile Media & Communication 5: 219-238.

Pink S, Hjorth L, Horst H, et al. (2018) Digital work and play: Mobile technologies and new ways of feeling at home. European Journal of Cultural Studies 21: 26-38.

Pink S and Leder Mackley K. (2016) Moving, making and atmosphere: routines of home as sites for mundane improvisation. Mobilities, 11. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17450101.2014.957066.

Pink S, Sumartojo S, Lupton D, et al. (2017b) Mundane data: the routines, contingencies and accomplishments of digital living. Big Data & Society, 4. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2053951717700924.

Richardson I and Hjorth L. (2017) Mobile media, domestic play and haptic ethnography. New Media & Society 19: 1653-1657.

Richardson I, Hjorth L, Strengers Y, et al. (2017) Careful surveillance at play: Human-animal relations and mobile media in the home. In: Cruz EG, Sumartojo S and Pink S (eds) Refiguring Techniques in Digital Visual Research. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillian, 105-116.

Strengers Y, Kennedy J, Arcari P, et al. (2019) Protection, productivity and pleasure in the smart home: emerging expectations and gendered insights from Australian early adopters. Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Glasgow: ACM, 1-13.

Strengers Y and Nicholls LJMIA. (2018) Aesthetic pleasures and gendered tech-work in the 21st-century smart home. Media International Australia 166: 70-80.

Data Letters and Data Kondo

This week, we experimented with two writing activities that worked towards inspiring people to think creatively about their personal data, with a particular focus on their feelings and relationships with their data. These activities were chosen as a way to engage with a more-than-human approach to personal data understandings and practices that Deborah has been developing in publications such as her Data Selves book, seeking to surface aspects such as the affective forces, relational connections and agential capacities that we have with our data assemblages.

In our fieldwork, we plan to use activities like these as two main ways: first, to inspire people to think otherwise about their data; and second, as a way to kick-start conversations about their data that departs from the standard Q and A format of interviewing that is typically used in sociological research.

We held a workshop in which colleagues from the Vitalities Lab, other parts of UNSW Sydney and some visitors from other universities in Sydney, Europe and the USA came to test out the methods and discuss how generative they found them.

The first task was called ‘Data Letters’. We were inspired by an activity we found in the Universal Methods of Design book, involving writing a love letter or break up letter to a designated thing or service. We applied this method to our personal data. Workshop participants were asked to spend ten minutes writing in response to this stimulus:

Write a love letter or break up letter to your personal data. Use the standard letter format. Explain in your letter why you love or want to break up with your data. Sign off with your pseudonym.

The second activity was devised by Deborah. Entitled ‘Data Kondo’, as the title suggests, it was inspired by the approach to de-cluttering made famous by Marie Kondo, a Japanese ‘organising consultant’ who has become well-known in the Global North due to her thriving business based on her best-selling books and a Netflix series. Following a brief explanation of Kondo’s approach, this activity involved responding to these stimuli:

Imagine that you are clearing out and de-cluttering your digital device, as you would your house or apartment, based on Marie Kondo’s principles. You are getting rid of data clutter (your images, videos, music, documents, health or fitness information and any other information about you). Please write your thoughts below in response to the prompts.

  • What personal data would ‘spark joy’ for you and would you want to keep? And why?
  • What personal data would not ‘spark joy’, so that you are happy to get rid of them. Why?
  • Who would you give your discarded data to (if anyone) – or would you just permanently delete them straight off your device? Explain your decision?

After each activity, we had a group discussion about how we found this activity, what we learned from it, and how we might apply it in our research or teaching. Near the end of the workshop, participants were asked to spend a few minutes jotting down some reflections on the activities and we had a final discussion about the process.

A perusal of the writing and reflections generated from the tasks, along with our experiences of engaging with them and listening to the participants discuss their experiences, suggest that these activities worked well to inspire the more-than-human way of thinking about data we were hoping to achieve. Participants’ reflections included the following:

“I particularly liked the first activity as for me, it opened up a broader range of topics to be addressed (What is data? How do I related with it? How complex are the ways by which I relate with it?)”

“I really appreciated how the break up letter format made me respond emotionally rather than rationally to the prompt. For example, I found myself making a distinction between ‘real’ data (embarrassing, potentially useless things on the Internet’) and a second category which would cover my ‘offline’ curated information that is private, useful, and inaccessible to others.”

“I enjoyed the second exercise as well – particularly the idea of what personal data was meaningful or sparked joy for me. I don’t think people reflect often on all the ways data is personal in ways that are intimate, meaningful etc. without necessarily being negative/invasive. The complexity of data came out in these exercises.”

The participants’ reflections and discussion also raised some useful points to consider. Of course, these activities would not work with all types of groups: those who have disabilities making it difficult to write by hand, young children who are still developing literacy, people with low levels of education or people who are not fluent in English. For groups such as these, using visual methods or asking them to respond verbally to the prompts rather than in writing can be a better approach. (See our post on zine making for an approach that combines visual with writing methods.)

We emphasise again that activities such as these ideally should be seen as generative ways to start a conversation with research participants, so that these discussions along with the artefacts that are generated can be considered research materials for analysis or as teaching tools.

New book Data Selves now out

This Sociological Life

thumbnail_IMG_1455My new book Data Selves: More-than-Human Perspectives has now been released by Polity Press. In the book, I draw on feminist new materialism theory and the anthropology of material culture as well as analyses of popular culture and findings from my empirical studies talking to people about their personal data. I argue that personal data are more-than-human phenomena, invested with diverse forms of vitalities, and reveal the significant implications for data futures, politics and ethics. The book is a companion to my previous Polity book The Quantified Self: A Sociology of Self-Tracking.

  • You can get a taste of the book on Amazon via its ‘Look Inside’ feature here.
  • An excerpt from the Introduction chapter can be found here.
  • An excerpt from the chapter on data materialisations can be found here.
  • An interview with me about the book can be found here.

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Algorithmic Micropolitics – a zine-making workshop

Zine workshop slides_Page_01.jpg

On Monday September 9, a group of researchers joined us for a workshop on the topic of algorithmic micropolitics. The workshop was held by the Vitalities Lab, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW, Sydney. Bringing together zine-making and digital data, we collaboratively made a zine to critically consider how we experience algorithms in everyday life. This workshop drew on and was a primer for some of the arts-based and co-design work we are doing in the ARC-funded project ‘Living with personal Data: Australians’ Understandings and Practices’.


To guide us in thinking about algorithmic micropolitics, we drew on excerpts from Taina Bucher’s 2018 book If… Then: Algorithmic Power and Politics and Deborah Lupton’s forthcoming book Data Selves: More-Than-Human Perspectives.

Chapter 5 of Bucher’s book focuses on ‘the barely perceived transitions in power that occur when algorithms and people meet’ (2018 p. 93). To start our discussions, before we dove into the cutting and pasting, we considered the question she poses at the start of this chapter: ‘When do people encounter algorithms, and what responses and imaginations do these encounters generate?’ (Bucher 2018 p. 93).

We also considered Lupton’s focus on ‘what personal data assemblages allow bodies to do, and how they come to matter in people’s lives’ (2019). We adopted a similar approach that she does, drawing on feminist new materialism, with our zine making practice: we aimed to ‘think more seriously and deeply about what is at stake when human-data assemblages are de-personalised and de-humanised’ (Lupton 2019).

Zines are an interesting creative form useful for considering things like micropolitics. They affectively and materially draw the personal and the political together on the page. Zines have a long history as a DIY, anti-establishment medium that poses an alternative to mainstream voices, representations, topics and issues. They resist the kinds of logics that can seep into academic workshops, like metrics and quantifiable ‘impact’, so are useful for trying to think (and do) in different ways than usual. Some recent social researchers have taken up zine-making as a participatory social research method (see resources below).

We made two kinds of zines at the workshop. The first was a collaborative endeavour – we made pages based on our discussions and reflections on what Bucher calls ‘the felt presence of algorithms in everyday life’ (2018 p. 99). The pages of this A5-sized zine sit in dialogue together, make use of quotes by Bucher and Lupton, and repurpose text and images from magazines and children’s books. You can download a print-ready version of this zine here (print double sided, flipped along the short edge).

We also made individual ones – small, 8-page zines made from single A4 pages. Some of the resources below have guidelines for making these.

Zine-making is a lively method for thinking with and against digital technologies. This zine engages with the affective encounters we have with data, digital tech and algorithms in everyday life.

More creative workshops from the Vitalities Lab are coming soon!

Excerpt from Introduction of Data Selves

This Sociological Life

My new book Data Selves: More-than-Human Perspectives is due for publication next month. Below is an edited excerpt from the Introduction chapter, in which I explain my theoretical approach.

The phenomenon of personal digital data poses a challenge at an ontological level. Personal data blur and challenge many of the binary oppositions and cultural boundaries that dominate in contemporary western societies. Personal data are both private and public. They could be considered to be owned by, and part of, the people who have generated them, but these details are also accessed and used by a multitude of other actors and agencies. At a deeper level, personal data challenge the ontological boundaries between the binary oppositions of Self/Other, nature/culture, human/nonhuman, and living/dead. Discussions of how digital data about and for people are incorporated into everyday lives must therefore grapple with the problem of how we conceptualise the idea of ‘the…

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