***Please feel free to distribute***

Time & Location

Wednesday Mar. 13, 4:00-5:00 pm, WRF Data Science Studio, 6th Floor of
the Physics/Astronomy
Tower <http://uw.edu/maps/?pat>

Speaker

Cal Biruk - Oberlin College


Title

Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World


Abstract

This talk is based on my recently published book, Cooking Data: Culture and
Politics in an African Research World (2018, Duke University Press).
Drawing on long term ethnography with demographic survey research projects
in rural Malawi, the book tells the life story of quantitative health data,
tracking and analyzing their transformation from pencil marks recorded on a
survey page into statistics consumed by policy makers, researchers and the
public. In this talk, I trace how demographers’ scientific investments in
pure, clean data—symbolically represented in surveys that act as a recipe
for data collection—are made and unmade by Malawian fieldworkers’ practices
and processes on the ground. First, through close analysis of everyday data
collection practices, I illustrate how frictions between epistemological
metrics for data and the particularities of everyday fieldwork produce—and
come to validate—the numerical evidence we use to understand the AIDS
epidemic in Malawi. I focus, in particular, on the cultural translation of
survey concepts such as probability, the techniques used by fieldworkers to
uncover the truth of rural Malawian social realities, and researchers’
efforts to harmonize encounters between fieldworkers and research
participants. Standards of data collection, I show, make stability and
fixity in numerical representation possible, not despite but because of,
their customization by fieldworkers in the field (here, I counter
racialized suspicions that fieldworkers are liabilities and center their
indispensability to making good numbers). I conclude by gesturing toward
connections between my past and present research and reflecting on what
anthropology might contribute to critical data studies in the age of Big
(and small) Data.


Bio

Cal Biruk <cbi...@oberlin.edu> is Associate Professor of Anthropology at
Oberlin College. Cal is the author of Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in
an African Research World (Duke U Press, 2018) and numerous articles in
venues such as Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Journal of Modern African
Studies, Critical Public Health and Critical African Studies. Her research
and teaching interests are at the intersection of medical anthropology,
critical data studies and global health studies. Her second book project,
Fake Gays: Metrics, Ethics and Authenticity in African Aid Economies, draws
on long term ethnographic work with an LGBT-rights NGO in Malawi to capture
the relations and transactions that constitute diverse political, identity,
and economic projects that play out within aid geographies in the global
South. Fake Gays melds insights from queer theory and critical data studies
to show how numbers and quantification become unlikely resources in queer
projects on the ground.


-- 
Anissa Tanweer
Research Scientist, eScience Institute
Ethnography & Human-Centered Data Science
University of Washington


-- 
Anissa Tanweer
Research Scientist, eScience Institute
Ethnography & Human-Centered Data Science
University of Washington
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