Rethinking the ‘Great Divide’: Approaching Interdisciplinary Collaborations Around Digital Data with Humour and Irony

Published in:
Science & Technology Studies

It is often claimed that the rise of so called ‘big data’and computationally advanced methods may exacerbate tensions between disciplines like data science and anthropology. This paper is an attempt to reflect on these possible tensions and their resolution, empirically. It contributes to a growing body of literature which observes interdisciplinary collabrations around new methods and digital infrastructures in practice but argues that many existing arrangements for interdisciplinary collaboration enforce a separation between disciplines in which identities are not really put at risk. In order to disrupt these standard roles and routines we put on a series of workshops in which mainly self-identified qualitative or non-technical researchers were encouraged to use digital tools (scrapers, automated text analysis and data visualisations). The paper focuses on three empirical examples from the workshops in which tensions, both between disciplines and methods, flared up and how they were ultimately managed or settled. In order to characterise both these tensions and negotiating strategies I draw on Woolgar and Stengers’ use of the humour and irony to describe how disciplines relate to each others truth claims. I conclude that while there is great potential in more open-ended collaborative settings, qualitative social scientists may need to confront some of their own disciplinary baggage in order for better dialogue and more radical mixings between disciplines to occur.

David Moats