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Lecture | Research Seminar

Fixing the Outcomes of Transparency: Data Context and the Concentration of Explanatory Power.

Monday 19 February 2024
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

On Monday 19 February, CADS and CWTS welcomes Lindsay Poirier (Smith College, USA) for a research seminar: 'Fixing the Outcomes of Transparency: Data Context and the Concentration of Explanatory Power.' All are welcome, and we look forward to seeing you!


In this talk, Lindsay Poirier  will examine the language and data ideologies that motivate diverse commitments to putting data "in context." As a case study, she will highlight findings from an ethnographic study into a U.S.-based transparency program aiming to document the financial relationships between physicians and medical manufactures in a public database.  Drawing on interviews, archival research, and critical readings of the database, Poirier will describe stakeholder involvement in the development of regulations for the data’s collection, highlighting the moments and modes of social advocacy through which the public database materialized. She will argue that campaigns for context became a means of fixing the outcomes of transparency, and at times, a means of controlling data narratives and centralizing explanatory power. Juxtaposing the advocacy that shaped this public database to that of other data-based transparency initiatives, Poirier will draw attention to the ways in which certain semiotic materializations of data can become a means of reinforcing industrial dominance, minimizing regulatory oversight, and keeping public opinion at bay.


Dr. Lindsay Poirier is a cultural anthropologist of data advocacy, governance and infrastructure; an Assistant Professor of Statistical and Data Sciences at Smith College (Massachusetts, USA); and serves as Lead Platform Architect for the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography and Chairs the PECE Design Team. Interlacing methods in cultural analysis and exploratory data analysis, she critically examines how meaning gets made from data -- by whom, for whom, under what conditions and toward what ends. Dr. Poirier’s work is informed by prior work in critical data studies, information studies, the digital humanities and data science. In her current research, she studies the provenance, form, semiotics and uptake of public interest datasets documenting social and environmental injustices in the United States. This work underscores the sociopolitical contexts shaping how knowledge claims about contemporary issues are produced from data, and informs critical approaches to data science practice, policy and pedagogy. Prior to joining Smith College, Dr. Poirier served as an Assistant Professor of Data Studies in the Science and Technology Studies Program at UC Davis, and also worked as a data ethnographer and lab manager for BetaNYC, a civic technology organization housed in the New York City Manhattan Borough President’s Office that advocates for improvements to the city’s open data program.


Please contact Andrew Hoffman if you have any questions.

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