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, arX​iv​.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.