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Save the Date: 2024 SEA/SAW Spring Meeting

The meeting will take place in the Boston area, on the campus of Tufts University, on April 18–20, 2024.

Published onJul 07, 2023
Save the Date: 2024 SEA/SAW Spring Meeting

Work and the Data Economy

A joint meeting of the Society for Economic Anthropology and the Society for the Anthropology of Work

April 18-20, 2024

Tufts University, Medford, MA

The production, distribution, and consumption of digital data has become an important domain of economic activity. Data is said to upend conventional economic thinking, as a resource that can be transported at negligible cost and used without being depleted. Yet the enactment of the data economy depends on more and less familiar forms of human labor, from the waged work of analysts, modelers, and technicians to the uncompensated and often nonconsensual generation of trace data in everyday life. Sensor networks gathering real-time data have permeated industries from agriculture to shipping, while the digitization of museum holdings and the massification of genetic sequencing have given rise to new value chains that cut across boundaries of public and private. The consequences of these developments are still coming into focus, promising greater efficiency and access but also compounding issues of equity and control. How, we might ask, does data capitalism stand to reinforce inequality along lines of race, gender, class, and disability (Milner and Traub 2021)?

While the advent of the platform-based gig economy has been the object of scholarship and activism in recent years, less attention has been paid to how datafication—broadly defined as the transformation of subjects, objects, and processes into digital data—has influenced more traditional forms of work and economic life (Sánchez-Monedero and Dencik 2019). Yet anthropologists of these domains are increasingly finding their own roles recast as chroniclers and practitioners of diverse types of data work (Douglas-Jones, Walford, and Seaver 2021). This meeting seeks to thematize and build on such scenes of recognition by exploring emergent data practices, ideologies, and valuation regimes, especially in settings not conventionally associated with high-tech or knowledge work. The meeting will foster interdisciplinary exchange by placing the insights of anthropologists in dialogue with local discussants from fields like information science and critical data studies. We welcome empirically grounded papers and posters from across the subfields of anthropology on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Contests over how data is structured and circulated within and beyond the workplace

  • Dynamics of job creation, transformation, and loss in the data economy

  • Embeddedness of the data economy in other social institutions

  • Failures and blockages in the datafication of work and economic activity

  • Implications of Indigenous, national, and regional efforts to assert data sovereignty

  • Disproportionate impacts of datafication on marginalized communities

  • Representations and erasures of vulnerable populations through datafication

  • Environmental impacts of data-intensive work practices

  • Linkages between datafication and financialization

  • Predigital data economies and the archaeological record

  • DNA and genetic data as sites for the accumulation of value

  • Changing approaches to data management in the work of anthropology

  • Uses of anthropological data in UX research and other applied contexts

Submissions will open in October 2023. Questions or suggestions? Please contact Marcel LaFlamme <[email protected]> and Alex Blanchette <[email protected]>, on behalf of the organizing team.

Works Cited

Douglas-Jones, Rachel, Antonia Walford, and Nick Seaver. 2021. Introduction: Towards an anthropology of data. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 38(6): 9–25.

Milner, Yeshimabeit, and Amy Traub. 2021. Data capitalism and algorithmic racism. Report, Data for Black Lives.

Sánchez-Monedero, Javier, and Lina Dencik. 2019. The datafication of the workplace. Working paper, Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University.

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