Block: ‘Governing’ with data / Week 11

This week, I counted the number of times the word ‘data’ appears in my blog posts. Excluding references, I used this word 96 times in the posts prior to this one. In the video below, 96 drops of water are dropped into a glass to represent this word count (admittedly a very simple piece of data to work with this week). 

Prinsloo (2020) describes a ‘data imaginary’ in higher education that provides and legitimises a particular vision of what we can do with data. This imaginary also serves to expand and intensify the datafication of education, by projecting promises and fears through which neoliberal data practices can reach further into our lives (Beer 2019). How might we disentangle ourselves from this imaginary in order to imagine alternative visions of data?

Beer posits six features of a specific ‘data imaginary’: one that is speedy, accessible, revealing, panoramic, prophetic and smart (2019). By identifying features of current data imaginaries, we might clarify features of alternative imaginaries – that are un-speedy, or un-smart, for example – and the socio-political positions at play in these. I am thinking of Zeffiro’s identification of a present ‘reproductive data futurism’ in order to imagine a ‘queer futurity’ of data (2019), or how Data for Black Lives identifies methods of data weaponisation against Black people to then imagine what actions are required to create a world with #NoMoreDataWeapons (Watson-Daniels, 2021).

Throughout these weekly exercises, I’ve grown tired of the act of measuring (I don’t know how Lupi and Posavec kept this up for a year). I identified three data features I had grown tired of recording: 

  • Time (plotting data across linear time)
  • Activity (rendering actions, thoughts and the body as data points, situated in linear time)
  • Usefulness (What other time or activity can I compare this data to? Or, what can I do with this data?)

The water performance is an attempt to imagine deliberately un-useful ways of recording time and activity. The 96 data points – water droplets – exist only for the amount of time they take to fall from the dropper to the glass. The time in which the data droplets exist doesn’t relate to the time in which the original actions took place (the typing of the word ‘data’). The resulting water remains measurable but the only material relationship between this water-as-data and the act of writing is my hand, operating the unseen keyboard and then the dropper.

(After recording this, I noticed the camera couldn’t see the droplets, only the effect when they land. I also didn’t notice, while I was focused on counting, that the performance has been augmented by the sounds of a family member calling out to a cat and packing away dishes. I am left considering the unwitting effects and affects of the ways we represent data, and of the staging of data imaginaries.)

References

Prinsloo, P. 2020 ‘Data frontiers and frontiers of power in (higher) education: a view of/from the Global South’, Teaching in Higher Education, 25(4), pp. 366-383.

Beer, D. 2019 The data gaze, Sage.

Zeffiro, A., 2019. ‘Towards a queer futurity of data’, Journal of Cultural Analytics, 1(1), DOI: 10.22148/16.038

Watson-Daniels, J., 2021, Introducing #NoMoreDataWeapons, 26 February, https://blog.d4bl.org/introducing-nomoredataweapons/