HCID Seminar talk

I had the plea­sure of pre­sent­ing as part of our very own HCID Sem­i­nar Series in Novem­ber. I took the oppor­tu­ni­ty of try­ing out some ear­ly ideas about tables, a lit­tle clum­si­ly test­ing out ideas of how tables have been used in the record­ing of bod­ies, from the slave trade to the algo­rith­mic modes of bod­i­ly account­ing so per­va­sive today. 

See the abstract for the talk below. 

A return of slaves in the Parish of Jamaica, St Ann”, 28 June 1820. The National Archive.
“A return of slaves in the Parish of Jamaica, St Ann”, 28 June 1820. The Nation­al Archive.
Convolutional Neural Networks for Sentence Classification. Yoo Kim
Con­vo­lu­tion­al Neur­al Net­works for Sen­tence Clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Yoo Kim, arXiv.org, 2014.

The act of read­ing across and down, through the coor­di­nate grid, to find infor­ma­tion is a gen­er­a­tive act. […] 

This is not triv­ial, but essen­tial, to the per­for­ma­tive capa­bil­i­ties of tables. 

Joan­na Drucker 

ABSTRACT: Through a num­ber of routes, I’ve found myself think­ing about tables, the kinds of tables with columns and rows. These tables lie behind so much of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of data and com­pu­ta­tion we are wit­ness­ing in con­tem­po­rary life. They are also core to much of the work we do as researchers and design­ers. Yet too often we neglect the live­ly nature of these order­ing tech­nolo­gies (Druck­er 2014). In offer­ing a prac­ti­cal solu­tion for sort­ing and organ­is­ing pret­ty much any­thing (e.g., num­bers, times, dates, names, events, jour­neys, bod­ies, etc,), we over­look how they afford and autho­rise very par­tic­u­lar ways of mak­ing mat­ter mat­ter (e.g. Rosen­thal 2018; Wern­i­mont 2018). Take Excel. The tool’s pow­er­ful capac­i­ties for order­ing items in a seem­ing­ly infi­nite num­ber of rows and columns—setting var­i­ous sys­tems of organ­i­sa­tion against one another—is in no way inert. The explic­it or implied hier­ar­chies, the cat­e­gories and com­par­isons, the round­ings up or down, the spa­tial and cal­cu­la­tive trans­for­ma­tions, etc.—altogether, they are, already, telling a sto­ry. They are, if you will, techno­sci­en­tif­ic “world­ings” (Har­away 2016). 

I want to use this talk as a forc­ing func­tion to explore this line of thought and the rel­e­vance it might have to the design of inter­ac­tive sys­tems. For now, my view is that much is to be under­stood from the close exam­i­na­tion of ‘tables-in-action’. I believe we might dis­cov­er many of the assump­tions and bias­es we have in inter­pret­ing data and con­duct­ing research by attend­ing to what we do with our tab­u­lat­ing practices—practices that, at first glance, appear so neu­tral. With this as a start­ing point, my hope will be to imag­ine worlds oth­er­wise. To imag­ine inter­ven­ing in the ways we work with tables so that we might extend and mul­ti­ply the worlds we make possible. 

  • Druck­er, Johan­na. Graph­e­sis: Visu­al forms of knowl­edge pro­duc­tion. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2014. 
  • Har­away, Don­na J. Stay­ing with the trou­ble: Mak­ing kin in the Chthu­lucene. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016. 
  • Rosen­thal, Caitlin. Account­ing for Slav­ery: Mas­ters and Man­age­ment. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2018. 
  • Wern­i­mont, Jacque­line. Num­bered Lives: Life and Death in Quan­tum Media. MIT Press, 2018. 

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