Workshop CFP: Contested Data: What Happens When the Givens Aren’t Taken

March 6, 2020, New York City, NY, USA

The word “data” derives from the Latin for the givens. And though we often think about data as something to be gathered, hoarded, culled, or stripped, the reason we want it is so that it can be our givens. Data provide the basis for our analyses, valuations, decisions, or arguments. Today, data seem ever more important. Many private and public actors push for data-driven medicine or data-driven policymaking, with a trajectory toward data-driven everything. Data must train the machine learning systems and AIs that hire and fire, parole and police, price and predict.

What if people won’t accept the givens? How and why do people refuse to accept data, and the infrastructures that provide data, as valid for future action? What are the larger social, political, or economic consequences of such a refusal?

Much important work has already been done to investigate the knowledge practices that legitimate data, a field that has grown out of earlier studies by historians, sociologists, anthropologists, statisticians, and philosophers into practices of quantification. We are learning more and more about why people trust in numbers and in data, to extend Ted Porter’s phrase.

This workshop seeks papers that come at the question of legitimation from the other direction: why don’t people trust in data, especially data that once was deemed trustworthy? Inspired by work on “agnotology” and on knowledge practices that produce doubt, we seek participants prepared to think beyond data mining to the process by which data is undermined.

The purpose of this workshop is to bring together researchers who are examining these issues from different disciplinary and analytic perspectives. Relevant topics for this workshop might include:

  • When in the past have state-produced data sets (census, official surveys, etc.) or index numbers (cost-of-living, GDP, unemployment, etc.) fallen out of use or been challenged to the point that they could no longer serve their purpose? How do alternatives to official sources of data arise?
  • What practices have state, corporate, or civil society actors employed to generate doubt in a data’s accuracy or utility?
  • What roles have scientists or other technically sophisticated actors played in debates and controversies surrounding the legitimacy of data?
  • How has the larger public engaged in debates about data and data infrastructures?

Read the full CFP here.

Call for papers

Deadline: November 25, 2019

Posted: October 28, 2019