Interview with me about my new book Data Selves

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I did an interview recently with Rafael Grohmann about my new book Data Selves: More-than-Human Perspectives (out from Polity in October). He has now translated it into Portuguese and published it on his blog DigiLabour: available here.

Below are the original English questions and my written responses.

RG: What does data selves mean in a more-than-human perspective?

DL: A more-than-human perspective acknowledges that humans are always already part of nonhuman relations. Humans and nonhumans come together in assemblages that are constantly changing as humans move through their worlds. From this perspective, digital devices and software assemble with humans, and personal data are generated in and with these enactments. These data assemblages are more-than-human things. People live with and co-evolve with their personal data – they learn from data and data learn from them in a continually changing relationship.

RG: How can feminist materialism theory and the anthropology of material culture help us understand datafication?

DL: In previous work, I have suggested the digital devices can be considered to lively, as can digital data. Building on this approach, I use feminist new materialism and the anthropology of material culture to investigate these dimensions of datafication and dataveillance further. The feminist new materialism scholars I draw on in the Data Selves book are Donna Haraway, Rosi Braidotti, Jane Bennett and Karen Barad. These scholars share an interest in the affective forces, vitality and distributed nature of agencies as they are generated with and through more-than-human assemblages. Scholars in the anthropology of material culture such as Tim Ingold and Elizabeth Hallam have also called attention to the lively agencies of humans and nonhumans when they gather together. They focus on how humans respond to, learn about and make sense of their worlds when engaging in embodied and sensory encounters with nonhumans. Ingold describes this as ‘being alive to the world’.

In developing my theoretical approach in Data Selves, I found these perspectives helpful in thinking through what Barad calls the ‘onto-ethico-epistemological’ dimensions of datafication and dataveillance. These perspectives have not yet been taken up to any great extent in thinking about datafication and dataveillance. This is the project I am pursuing. It allows for a non-normative ethical approach to datafication and dataveillance that acknowledges the constantly emergent and dynamic nature of lively data selves and the embodied, multisensory and affective dimensions of how humans live with and learn from their data.

RG: In your forthcoming book, do you talk about data selves and quantified self in world of work?

DL: I don’t discuss the workplace to any great extent in Data Selves. In in my previous book The Quantified Self there was quite a bit of discussion of self-tracking in the workplace. Data Selves differs from The Quantified Self in including a lot of discussion of my empirical research projects that I have conducted over the past few years – indeed, since writing The Quantified Self – which involves people discussing their self-tracking practices and their understandings and use of personal data. My research participants didn’t talk much about their data practices in the context of the workplace, apart from some references on the part of some people to using productivity tools. Those who were active self-trackers were predominantly tracking their body weight, fitness, food or calorie intake, sleep and finances.

RG: In the last year, many books on the same subject have been published, such as David Beer, Shoshana Zuboff, Taina Bucher, Tarleton Gillespie, José van Dijck and Thomas Poell. What is the difference of your book, in theoretical and conceptual terms?

DL: My book differs in several ways: 1) in using more-than-human theory to analyse datafication and dataveillance; 2) in discussing findings from my own empirical research into self-tracking and people’s understandings and practices related to their personal data; and 3) including a greater focus on the multisensory dimensions of data materialisations and sense-making, including how artists and critical designers have sought represent personal data or critique datafication and dataveillance in novel ways.

RG: After a few years since your book Digital Sociology, for you, what is the future research agenda of digital sociology?

DL: I have become increasingly interested in more-than-human theory since writing Digital Sociology and also in postqualitative research as well as innovative methods for social inquiry, including experimenting with design- and arts-based methods. Taking these perspectives and methods into new directions for me constitutes the future agenda of digital sociology.

Working with image cards in social research

As part of my experiments with innovative methods for social research and developing design sociology, I have been using a set of image cards developed by Dan Lockton and his team at the Imaginaries Lab for their New Metaphors workshops. Dan has kindly made these resources open access (see here). The cards consists of two types: 1) a range of diverse images of things, activities and experiences that exist in people’s everyday lives (natural phenomena like clouds, rain, trees or animals and things from built environments such as cracks in pavements, graffiti and the hum of a fridge); and 2) a range of topics, concepts or ideas (for example, safety, love, fame, half-remembered dreams and personal security). I printed out a set of the New Metaphors cards, and over the past two weeks have run two pop-up methods workshops at my Vitalities Lab to experiment with them.

The two groups who came along to the workshops (there were about 15 people at the first one and ten at the second workshop) participated in activities that I devised, and then provided feedback on how they found the activities and how they thought they could use the cards in their own research or teaching. The feedback from both workshop groups was very positive: members enjoyed working with these cards and thinking about how they could use them.

At the first workshop, I used a worksheet I downloaded from the Imaginaries Lab and a research activity worksheet that I had crafted myself. After the first workshop, I developed a new worksheet, and renamed the activity ‘Vital Images Method’ to better describe what I was wanting to do with it. The two worksheets I developed are provided  below. They can be downloaded at the links here as well: VITAL IMAGES METHOD – worksheet 1 VITAL IMAGES METHOD – worksheet 2

VITAL IMAGES METHOD: WORKSHEET 1

Image [title]:   _______________________________

Choose an image card. Describe what you think of, see, feel when you look at this image.

Topic [title]: ___________________________________________

Choose a topic card. Describe what you think of, see, feel when you consider this topic.

Circle words that are shared. What are the similarities and differences? What new or surprising connections do you see?

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Worksheet 1

 

VITAL IMAGES METHOD: WORKSHEET 2

 People can work as individuals, in pairs or in small groups.

Identify a topic (e.g. big data, apps, data privacy, smartphones, fitness, exercise, good health, a specific health condition, a risk or threat) that you would like your research participants to focus on.

Ask your participants to sort through the image cards and pull out some (say three or four cards) that they associate with the topic (in present day or a specified period into the future [10 years, 20 years etc]). Ask them to reflect on these questions (they can write these reflects down or record them using a voice recording device):

  1. What do these images mean to you in relation to the topic?
  2. Why do you think you chose them?
  3. What feelings/emotions do they inspire in relation to this topic?
  4. Did these images provoke new connections or ideas for you?
  5. Did you make any connections or ideas that surprised you?

Alternative approach: rather than ask participants to choose image cards, provide them with cards randomly, and ask them to undertake the same reflections.

Extensions

  1. Make a drawing or map of the connections you see between the image and the topic.
  2. Write a short story or make a story board based on the ideas generated by the images.
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Worksheet 2

 

Analysis

The participants’ reflections can be used as research data – as a way of inquiring into the often unrecognised or unacknowledged memories, feelings and associations that people draw on to give meaning to their worlds.

Schedule for trip to Copenhagen and London, June 2019

I am giving some talks in Copenhagen and London next month. Here is the schedule for those who might want to come along.

Vitalities Lab Newsletter Number 2

VITALITIES LAB NEWSLETTER

Number 2, 29 April 2019

The Vitalities Lab is led by SHARP Professor Deborah Lupton, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney. Further details here.

New Publications

 

Presentations

 

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Deborah speaking at the CSRH seminar series

  • Deborah Lupton: ‘The internet both reassures and terrifies’: using the story completion method for health research. Presentation for the Centre for Social Research in Health Seminar Series, 2 April 2019
  • Deborah Lupton: ‘”Smart” health promotion: a perspective from digital sociology’. Invited presentation at a sub-plenary on smart health promotion, International Union for Health Promotion and Education World Conference, Rotorua, New Zealand, 10 April 2019
  • Deborah Lupton: ‘The more-than-human worlds of self-tracking for health and fitness’. Keynote at the World Congress of the Sociology of Sport, Dunedin, New Zealand, 24 April 2019
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The campus at the University of Dunedin, where Deborah gave a keynote

 

Upcoming events

  • 6 May: Deborah will be holding a  Vitalities Lab in-house pop-up methods workshop using the ‘New Metaphors’ inspiration cards
  • 7 May: Deborah is presenting a workshop on ‘Increasing your academic visibility’. Registration is free and open to all. Further details here.
  • 13 May: Deborah is the convenor and one of the panel speakers at the UNSW Grand Challenges Event ‘Shaping our digital future’. Registration is free and open to all. Further details here.

Opportunities

  • The Vitalities Lab has a doctoral research stipend worth $30,000 annually for four years for a domestic candidate who meets UNSW Sydney requirements for doctoral admission and wishes to pursue a project related to the Lab’s research directions. Contact Deborah Lupton (d.lupton@unsw.edu.au for further details).
  • Research practicums are also available for international doctoral students who are pursuing their studies at a university outside Australia to spend a period of time as a visiting researcher at the Vitalities Lab under Deborah Lupton’s supervision. Tuition fees apply. Further details are available here.

 

Ten tips for increasing your academic visibility

It is important that academic researchers draw attention to their research. We don’t engage in scholarship just for our own benefit. We want others to be aware of and use our research, including those outside the academy. Quite apart from the high value given to factors such as impact, stakeholder engagement and numbers of citations to your work, promoting goodwill and strong networks with your colleagues is important for your flourishing, including feeling part of a community and that you are making a difference.

Here are some ideas for increasing the visibility of your research to as great a range of publics as possible.

  1. Actively use social media: blog, tweet, sign up to Facebook groups of interest or make one of your own to bring like-minded researchers together. Use these networks to publicise your activities – including new publications, calls for papers, and event announcements. Be a good academic citizen and also publicise the outputs and activities of your colleagues – they will likely return the favour.
  2. Sign up to platforms such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu and maintain your profile, updating new publications on it. These platforms provide an easy way for people to request copies of your publications and for you to share them.
  3. Publish preprints and postprints in open access outlets such as your university e-repository, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Social Science Research Network etc. This will make your work readily accessible for those who can’t access academic journals.
  4. Ensure that you have a Google Scholar profile that lists all your publications and citations. I can’t emphasise enough how important this is to make your publications and citations visible in one place. Google Scholar automatically links to all your open access publications as well, helping people to readily find your work. Important! – ensure that you check your profile regularly to weed out any inaccuracies that the Google Scholar algorithms may have created, such as not including a publication of yours or wrongly attributing someone else’s publications (and citations) to you. An inaccurate Google Scholar profile is not a good look, particularly if it appears that you are taking credit for someone else’s work.
  5. Sign up to Google Scholar alerts for your name – this will mean that every time you are cited, GS will email you a notification. This a fantastic way not only of seeing who is citing you but also how they are using and building on your work.
  6. Create some kind of web presence for your research projects, so that you can share updates, calls for participants, invite feedback on preliminary findings, announce events and list outputs (hopefully with as many as possible available in open access form). Consider including a section that provides resources such as links to other relevant websites and research groups, methods toolkits, curriculum ideas and reading lists.
  7. Take every opportunity to do interviews for mass media outlets and write pieces about your research for forums such as The Conversation.
  8. Make podcasts and videos to talk about your own research or interview other academics working in your area about their research.
  9. Don’t be afraid to self-cite in your publications (particularly if you are female – research shows that women academics are far less likely to cite their own work than are men).
  10. Use a platform like Slideshare to publish your presentation slides.

Edited to add: Also be aware that at times, increased visibility can bring with it unwanted negative attention, particularly if you research contentious or controversial topics that bring out the trolls, and if you are identify with a marginalised or vulnerable social group. If this is you, be careful in your choices about how to communicate your research publicly. (Thanks to Emma Renold for drawing attention to these issues when commenting on this post.)

Re/imagining Personal Data Workshop: Call for participants

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AoIR Preconference Workshop: Re/imagining Personal Data

  • Tuesday 1 October 2019, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • 9.30 am-12.30 pm (followed by catered lunch)

Organisers: Deborah Lupton (UNSW Sydney), Larissa Hjorth (RMIT) and Annette Markham (Aarhus University)

Overview: This half-day workshop involves a selection of hands-on arts- and design-based activities to invite participants to re/imagine personal digital data. Participants will be able to experiment with innovative methods of eliciting creative and more-than-representational responses to personal data and generating speculative imaginaries about the futures of data. These methods can be used for teaching purposes or research projects.

We will be using these activities to explore and respond to these key questions:

  • What do personal data do?
  • How best can we use them?
  • What is our relationship with our personal data?
  • Which data do we want to keep and protect and which do we want to discard or forget?
  • What are our affective and sensory engagements with these data?
  • What are the futures of personal data?

Participants at all levels of research experience are invited to attend, including postgraduate students and people working outside the university sector.

Registration and lunch are free, but places are strictly limited.

Please contact Deborah Lupton, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW Sydney (d.lupton@unsw.edu.au ) as soon as possible with an email noting that you’d like to register to secure your place.

Please note that this workshop follows the Data Futures conference, 30 September 2019, also to be held at UNSW Sydney (details here), and precedes the Association of Internet Researchers Conference taking place in Brisbane (details here).

Photo credit: “I Love Data” She Wept. Bixtentro, Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Vitalities Lab is go!

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It’s been a busy few weeks as I’ve moved to my new position as SHARP Professor in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney. I am attached to both the Centre for Social Research in Health and the Social Policy Research Centre in the Faculty. But I’ve also established my own little research entity: the Vitalities Lab (click here for details).

I’ll be recruiting team members for the Lab very soon. I have a doctoral scholarship and postdoc positions to fill, and also have funds to support international visiting fellows.

The title of the Lab was chosen to encapsulate my hopes and plans for what we will do. ‘Vitalities’ points to engaging in lively social research methods, inspiring creativity, new directions, excitement and passion in research. It is also a nod to the new materialism theoretical perspectives with which the Lab will be engaging – particularly the vital materialism perspective espoused in the work of scholars such as Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti, Karen Barad and Donna Haraway. Vitalities further refers to the topics we’ll be exploring, which will be about human/nonhuman life itself: initially, people’s experiences with digital health technologies; living with data; and digital food cultures.

We will be running methods workshops, reading groups and other events.

Do get in contact if you’d like to learn more, make a visit to chat, start a postgraduate research degree with us, or otherwise collaborate in lively doings: d.lupton@unsw.edu.au

 

Image attribution: ‘Scattered light at Northern Spark’ by Tony Webster, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

My publications in 2018

Books

  • Lupton, D. (2018) Fat (revised 2nd edition). London: Routledge.

Book chapters

  • Lupton, D. (2018) Lively data, social fitness and biovalue: the intersections of health self-tracking and social media. In Burgess, J., Marwick, A. and Poell, T. (eds), The Sage Handbook of Social Media. London: Sage, pp. 562-578.
  • Lupton, D. (2018) Digital health and health care. In Scambler, G. (ed), Sociology as Applied to Health and Medicine, 2nd Houndmills: Palgrave, pp. 277-290.
  • Lupton, D. and Smith, GJD. (2018) ‘A much better person’: the agential capacities of self-tracking practices. In Ajana, B. (ed), Metric Culture: Ontologies of Self-Tracking Practices. London: Emerald Publishing, pp. 57-75.
  • Lupton, D. (2018) 3D printing technologies: a third wave perspective. In Michael Filimowicz, M. and Tzankova, V. (eds), New Directions in Third Wave HCI (Volume 1, Technologies). Springer: London, pp. 89-104.

Journal articles

Encyclopedia entry

Have large numbers of Australians left Facebook? It seems not

I am currently working on analysing interviews from my newest research project ‘Facebook and Trust’. This project was designed in response to the huge publicity given to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal in March this year. I was interested in investigating how Australian Facebook users were using the platform in the wake of the scandal and what their feelings were about how Facebook make use of the personal information that is uploaded.

Following the scandal, numerous news reports claimed that large numbers of Australians were deleting their Facebook accounts as part of the #DeleteFacebook trend. As one report contended,

Many Australians are for the first time discovering just how much Facebook knows about them and many are shocked, leading them to quit the platform.

A Pew survey of US adults conducted soon after Cambridge Analytica found that around a quarter of respondents had deleted the Facebook app from their phone in the past 12 months, and more than half had adjusted their privacy settings  The survey did not ask directly about why the respondents had taken these measures, and as the time-frame related to the past year there may have been other reasons that these respondents had taken these actions (for example, different controversies over ‘fake news’ or poor content moderation on Facebook that have also received high levels of news media publicity).

Indeed, it is interesting to compare these findings with a previous Pew survey undertaken at the end of 2012, in which over two-thirds of the respondents who were current Facebook users said that they had sometimes voluntarily taken a break from using the platform and one-fifth who said they were not current Facebook users had used the platform at one time but had stopped using it. Those who had taken an extended break or had stopped using Facebook referred to reasons such as not wanting to expend too much time on the platform or finding the content overly personal, trivial or boring. As this survey suggests, some Facebook users have long had ambivalent feelings about using the platform.

There are no reliable statistics that I can find on how many Australians have deleted their Facebook account post-Cambridge Analytica. According to the Social Media Statistics Australia website, which provides a monthly report on Australians’ use of social media, in September 2018 approximately 60% of Australians (across the total population, including children) were active Facebook users, and 50% of Australians were logging on once a day. A similar proportion of Australians were regular YouTube users: both platforms had 15 million active monthly users. Next in order of popularity were Instagram (9 million users per month), Snapchat (6.4 million), WhatsApp (6 million), Twitter (4.7 million), LinkedIn (4.5 million) and Tumblr (3.7 million).

In terms of age breakdown, the site reports that in September 2018, Australians aged 25 to 39 years were the largest group of Facebook users (6.1 million), followed by those aged 40 to 55 (4.1 million), 18 to 25 (3.5 million), 55 to 64 (1.6 million) and 65 years and over (1.2 million). Less than a million of Australians aged 13 to 17 years used Facebook,

I compared the report for February 2018 (the month before the Cambridge Analytica scandal was publicised) and May 2018 (soon after the scandal) with the figures for September 2018. The website reports that in both February and May 2018, there were 15 million monthly active Australian users, just as there were for September 2018. So if large numbers of Australians have deleted their accounts, this is not showing up in these data.

The interviews I am currently analysing should cast some light on how Australian Facebook users have responded (if at all) to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other privacy-related issues concerning the personal information they upload to Facebook. I’ll provide an update on the findings once I finish working through the interviews.