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Doctoral Research

Title: Making Sense of a Data-Driven Society: examining sensor-users’ experience

I have completed my literature review and I am currently planning additional fieldwork. My fieldwork to date has consisted of mobile ethnography of sites where self-tracker art was exhibited and of gatherings of the Quantified Self movement. I am planning to employ mixed methods from qualitative research instruments for my remaining field work.

The main question animating my thesis is as straightforwardly stated as:

How does software use by self-trackers help us understand the world we live in now AND how the world we live in now makes us the kind of people we are?

It explores the following intersection: the use of software by self-trackers and the creation (and maintenance) of self-tracking software systems for self-tracking services or wearables: Software studies is employed to investigate the experience of data and the use of data among self-trackers.

I hope to consider all of the following in the final document.

Agency

Agency and the manner in which it is shared or distributed, performative or social, among sensor-users and the technologies supporting their data intensive quotidian is apt to considering the entanglement of humans and technologies that is acute in this domain, as noted by Dijck et al.

Comprehension
My research explores the communal sensemaking that forms part of self-trackers data practices. I figure the self-tracking community as a notable learning community and I wish to understand how they avail of contemporary technological affordances to perpetuate their practice.

My open question is how does one ‘build with’ the cognitive surplus and tacit knowledge permeating the web (and emergent tech cultures, of which self-trackers are one among many). Can you scale while preserving the first-hand(heuristic) illumination derived from understanding how technology is an assembled and negotiated thing?

Sense-Making

I’m interested in following an active theoretical trend surmised as either social aesthetics or socioaesthetics. Both traditions affirm aesthetics, like taste, artistic reflection (or other such judgements in response to materials and processes), as more than just a theory of ‘fine art’, and instead as something intrinsic to social life. I will mobilise this conception of aesthetics into analysis of the practices of self-trackers which have previously been understood, through varying disciplinary rubrics, as equivalent to sensemaking (a broad term designating qualitative approaches as found in organisational studies, social psychology and informatics considerations of user experience design [UXD]).

Maintenance & Calibration

I am interested in how learning communities are sustained in the face of ever changing technology and increasingly ‘softwarized’ workflows. I conceive such workflows as co-constituted by human and non-human actors and thus presume that collaboration is indispensable to any interaction with  technology. The collaboration can be overt, as in a working group, or implicit – such as when a self-tracker avails of a visualisation framework, a community protocol, or a statistical analysis workflow (such as iPython). The question then is how to go from interacting to ‘acting with’.
My single biggest interest in collaborative research approaches is the question of how persistence and experimentation can coexist when using praxis to articulate technological negotiations. I would cite the efforts of Unmonastery and their production of a BIOS as exemplary in this regard.