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Raw Data

Making Relations Matter

Antonia Walford

This article takes scientific ‘raw data’ as its ethnographic object in order to investigate the co-implication of nature and culture in scientific knowledge practices. The article traces out some of the activities that are involved in producing numerical climate data from the Brazilian Amazon. Although science and technology studies (STS) makes a strong case for associating relationality with certainty, the article argues that a particular form of data, ‘raw data’, complicates this association. It further argues that scientific data is not simply composed out of relations, but is a relation itself. The article ends with a brief reflection on the possible repercussions of shifting from thinking of science as producing multiple natures and cultures to thinking of it as producing the potential for relations.

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Data Moves

Taking Amazonian Climate Science Seriously

Antonia Walford

Drawing on fieldwork with researchers and technicians involved in a scientific project in the Brazilian rainforest, this article explores specific aspects of climate science in the Amazon. It suggests that taking science seriously anthropologically requires an investigation into the relation between endo-anthropology and exo-anthropology. This is done recursively by exploring a particular way in which what is 'inside' and what is 'outside' are achieved and negotiated in the scientific practice under study. Researchers and technicians 'do' some crucial distinctions with data, and the article points to the importance of the flux of data and the boundaries and sides that emerge from the control of that flux.

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‘Is Anthropology Legal?’

Anthropology and the EU General Data Protection Regulation

Cassandra Yuill

In May 2018, the European Union (EU) introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with the aim of increasing transparency in data processing and enhancing the rights of data subjects. Within anthropology, concerns have been raised about how the new legislation will affect ethnographic fieldwork and whether the laws contradict the discipline’s core tenets. To address these questions, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London hosted an event on 25 May 2018 entitled ‘Is Anthropology Legal?’, bringing together researchers and data managers to begin a dialogue about the future of anthropological work in the context of the GDPR. In this article, I report and reflect on the event and on the possible implications for anthropological research within this climate of increasing governance.

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Sick Weather Ahead

On Data-Mining, Crowd-Sourcing and White Noise

Carlo Caduff

The main concern of this article is with the ways in which technologies of data-mining and crowd-sourcing have made it possible for citizens to contribute to the expansion of infectious disease surveillance as both a concrete practice and a compelling fantasy. But I am less interested in participation as such, and more concerned with the epistemological effects that this technological mediation might have for the possibility of epidemic events to become shared objects of knowledge. What happens with epidemic events when they become targets of data-mining and crowd-sourcing technologies?

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The Anthropocene Trading Zone

The New Conservation, Big Data Ecology, and the Valuation of Nature

Lizzy Hare

The Anthropocene has been a generative concept in recent years and its influence can be felt across a wide range of fields. New Conservation and big data ecology are interrelated trends in ecology and conservation science that have been influenced by the technological developments and social concerns of the yet-to-be ratified Anthropocene epoch. Advocates of these ideas claim that they will revolutionize conservation science and practice, however they share many of the same underlying economic metaphors as the frameworks they seek to replace. The use of economic concepts, such as value, allows ecological science to be made legible outside of scientific communities, but that legibility places limitations on the possibilities for thinking about conservation outside of a market-based framework. If there is to be a threshold moment for new ecological thought, it will need to overcome the ideological limitations of valuation.

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Ana B. Amaya, Stephen Kingah and Philippe De Lombaerde

Health governance has become multi-layered as the combined result of decentralization, regional integration and the emergence of new actors nationally and internationally. Whereas this has enhanced the installed capacity for health response worldwide, this complexity also poses serious challenges for health governance, health diplomacy and health policy-making. This article focuses on one of these challenges, namely the organization of statistical information flows at and between governance levels, and the emerging role that regional organizations play therein. Regional to national-level data flows are analyzed with the use of two case studies focusing on UNASUR (Bolivia and Paraguay) and SADC (Swaziland and Zambia). The results of the analysis lead to several policy recommendations at the regional and national levels.

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Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel

The world is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate, and its cities are transformed by technology and distributed computing. With every photograph, Twitter post, public transit ride, and credit card swipe, we leave digital traces in physical space. The enormous quantity of information, or Urban Big Data, that humanity generates each day is beginning to off er new possibilities for research, design, and systems optimization on the city scale, but the first step toward our urban future is finding new ways of understanding and visualizing Big Data—revealing invisible dimensions of the city.

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Medical Ethnography over Time

Penetrating “the fog of health” in a Nigerian community, 1970–2017

Murray Last

Too often, research into the health of a particular community is brief and superficial, focusing only on what is public and leaving the private health of women and children ‘foggy’. By contrast, long-term anthropology can offer access to processes taking place within a local culture of illness. Here, an account of a community’s experience of health over the past 50 years not only outlines the key changes as seen anthropologically but also shows how even close ethnography can initially miss important data. Furthermore, the impact of a researcher – both as a guest and as a source of interference – underlines how complex fieldwork can be in reality, especially if seen through the eyes of the researcher’s hosts.

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Arturo Hernández-Huerta, Octavio Pérez-Maqueo and Miguel Equihua Zamora

*Full article is in Spanish

English Abstract:

At the RISC 2017 International Congress, we reflected on the possibility of achieving a “sustainable, integral and coherent development.” We primarily report here on the panel of Mexican experts who shared their experiences on issues such as the impact of the international agenda on the local policy priorities, the relevance of the participation of local stakeholders and the occurrence of inconsistencies throughout the process of design and implementation of development policies. In addition, other experiences were presented on these issues, some of which are included in this special issue. The general conclusion was that not only is it possible to articulate a sustainable, integral and coherent development but also that approaches and tools are already emerging that favor it through an evidence-based policy management and the use of the growing “environmental big data” that already exists.

Spanish Abstract:

En el Congreso internacional RISC 2017 se reflexionó sobre la posibilidad de lograr un “desarrollo sostenible, integral y coherente”. En este artículo nos referimos principalmente al panel de expertos mexicanos que compartieron sus experiencias con nosotros sobre asuntos como el impacto de la agenda internacional sobre la local, la relevancia de la participación de los actores locales y la ocurrencia de incoherencias a lo largo del proceso de diseño y aplicación de las políticas para el desarrollo. Además, se expusieron otras experiencias sobre estos asuntos, que han sido recogidas en este número especial. La conclusión general es que se estima que no sólo es posible articular un desarrollo sostenible, integral y coherente, sino que están emergiendo enfoques y herramientas que favorecen propiciarlo a través de la gestión basada en evidencia y el aprovechamiento del creciente “big data ambiental” que ya está existe.

French Abstract:

Lors du congrès international Consortium pour la Recherche comparative sur l’intégration régionale et la cohésion sociale (RISC) 2017, organisé en coopération avec le programme d’innovation pour l’intégrité dans la gestion de l’environnement pour le développement et soutenu par des données massives (big data) et un apprentissage automatisé (i-Gamma), nous avons réfléchi à la possibilité de parvenir à un “développement durable, intégral et cohérent”. L’événement a ouvert de multiples opportunités de discussions sur le sujet, mais cette introduction est basée sur le panel d’experts mexicains qui ont partagé leurs expériences avec nous sur des questions telles que l’impact de l’agenda international à l’échelle locale, la pertinence de la participation des acteurs locaux et le surgissement d’incohérences tout au long du processus de conception et de mise en oeuvre des politiques de développement. Nous ferons également référence à d’autres expériences présentées autour de ces questions, en mettant l’accent sur les contributions de ce numéro spécial. En conclusion générale, nous pensons qu’il n’est pas seulement possible d’articuler un développement de manière durable, intégrale et cohérente, mais que des approches et des outils sont déjà en train d’émerger et favorisent une gestion fondée sur des données probantes et l’utilisation des « données environnementales à grande échelle » déjà existantes.

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Vincent Pons

Elections and political campaigns make for a fascinating research playground. They correspond to Marcel Mauss’s definition of fait social total, a social phenomenon that involves all individuals and reveals something about them all. They take place frequently and nearly everywhere in the world, providing an ideal vantage point for comparing societies across time and space. They are documented with an increasing amount of data, starting with disaggregated electoral results. These features alone would suffice to explain the central importance of elections in the social sciences, from history and political science to economics and psychology. But a recent evolution makes the study of elections and campaigns perhaps even more appealing today: in almost no other fields are the recommendations of social scientists followed so closely and so rapidly. The first milestone in this trend was a study conducted during the November 1998 general elections in New Haven by two Yale political scientists, Alan Gerber and Donald Green, which compared the effects of door-to-door canvassing, phone calls, and mailings.2 This article launched a large experimental literature investigating which campaign techniques could most effectively increase voter turnout or sway undecided voters. Candidates were quick to apply the most recent findings to their own campaigns, even hiring some of their authors as strategy advisers