Data Thing-Power: How Do Personal Digital Data Come to Matter?
16 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 7, 2017
Humans have become increasingly datafied with the use of digital technologies that generate information about them. The onto-epistemological dimensions of personal digital data assemblages and their relationship to bodies and selves have yet to be thoroughly theorised. In this essay, I adopt various sociomaterialist perspectives, particularly those espoused in feminist materialism, vital materialism and the anthropology of material culture, to examine the ways in which these assemblages operate as part of knowing, perceiving and sensing human bodies. My aim is to reflect on the enactments of the human-nonhuman assemblages that are personal digital data. In so doing, I position these assemblages as things which are made and used by humans, involving processes of creativity, articulation and improvisation, and draw attention to the vitality of data things (their thing-power). I argue that these theoretical perspectives work to highlight the material dimensions of human-data assemblages as they are made, grown, enacted, articulated and incorporated; and emphasise the intertwined nature of known, knower and knowing. This approach is both reflexive (identifying shared tacit norms, assumptions and discourses underpinning practices) and diffractive (showing the emergent entanglements of practices and agents, what is different or resistant, what are new or alternative possibilities). It is able to demonstrate how digital data assemblages assume importance and significance in people’s lives.
Keywords: sociomaterialism, digital data, personal data, onto-epistemology, social theory
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