Academic WorkshopMarch 6 2020

Contested Data

What Happens When the Givens Aren’t Taken

danah boyd
Dan Bouk

How and why do people refuse to accept data as valid for future action?

On March 6, 2020 danah boyd and Dan Bouk convened scholars and papers that came at the question of legitimation from the direction of: 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, this workshop sought participants prepared to think beyond data mining to the process by which data is undermined.

The word “data” derives from the Latin for the givens. 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 flipped the script to question how data and data infrastructures lose their legitimacy.