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Broken Data and Unexpected Research Questions

  • The Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre, K6.29 Strand Campus, King's College London London, WC2R 2LS (map)

by Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London

What can be learned when data work does not go as planned? Join us for a public talk with Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki).

Broken Data and Unexpected Research Questions - Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki)

The concept-metaphor of ‘broken data’ suggests that digital data can be broken, fail to perform, or be in need of repair. Concept-metaphors work as partial and perspectival framing devices; they become defined in practice. In this presentation, broken data metaphor frames findings of the Citizen Mindscapes, an interdisciplinary project that explores a Finnish-language discussion forum dataset (‘Suomi24’, or Finland24 in English), consisting of tens of millions posts over a time span of 15 years. The data work alerted us to breakages of data, raising more general questions about the origins of data and data generating mechanisms. Acknowledging the incomplete nature of digital data in itself is of course nothing new, but with growing uses of secondary data, ways in which data is broken and incomplete might not be known beforehand, underlining the need to explore brokenness and the consequent work of repair. The gaps, errors and anomalies speak of human and technological forces: infrastructure failures, trolling, and automated spam bots. They call for the exploration of how the discussion forum, and the data that it generates, is kept clean by filtering and sorting it manually and automatically. The goal of the presentation is to demonstrate that a focus on data breakages is an opportunity to stumble into unexpected research questions and to account for how data breakages and related uncertainties challenge linear and too confident stories about data work.

Bio: Minna Ruckenstein works as an associate professor at the Consumer Society Research Centre and the Helsinki Center for Digital Humanities, University of Helsinki. The disciplinary underpinnings of her work range from anthropology, science and technology studies to digital humanities and consumer economics. She has published widely in top-quality international journals. Prior to academic work, Ruckenstein worked as a journalist and an independent consultant, and the professional experience has shaped the way she works, in a participatory mode, in interdisciplinary groups and with stakeholders involved.

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