CSPS Seminar | WE’VE GOT A FILE ON YOU! Datafication and quantification in academia and beyond. | April 14 15.00-17.00 | Wageningen University |

Contributions by Maartje RoelofsenBram Buscher and Guus Dix | Moderated by Martijn Duineveld.

Wageningen University is soon going to transition to a new research website: research@WUR. According to the university library, this will enable all of us to create more extensive research profiles of ourselves, render visible research collaborations and, most importantly, search more efficiently for knowledge and expertise. In this CSPS ‘Rethinking the University’ Seminar we ask ourselves the question is this a disaster for academics, for meaningful academic work and for all the university should stand for? How do fingerprints, allegoristic identities and platform capitalism shape who we are and what we might become and aren’t we all too eagerly involved in all of this? 

The (Unpaid) Labour of Selftracking By Maartje Roelofsen

Digital platform companies such as Uber (‘ride-sharing’) and Airbnb (short-term renting) can ascribe a large part of their global success to their sophisticated technologies that monitor, record, organize, measure, analyse and store immense amounts of data on their customers. Through a variety of applications that constitute their websites, these companies harvest personal- and ID information, behavioural data, reviews and ratings, Geolocation Information and many other types of data. These amassed data has been strategically mobilized by such companies to garner more institutional power in order to influence (urban) policy and governance. Moreover, these data are used to exercise ‘soft power’ over the customers’ everyday behaviour and interactions. As a form of social regulation, the growing importance of each customer’s ‘digital reputation’ is a powerful incentive for the platforms’ members to act in the ‘desired’ manner, possibly without the companies’ direct intervention. In this presentation I reflect in particular on the ways in which ‘selftracking’ has become a new form of self-discipline and an expected component of labour related to digital platforms.

Not-so-SMART: Why new platform and surveillance technologies are bad news for science and understanding | By Bram Buscher

This presentation critically engages with new technologies for data processing related to research outputs, connections and management. Such technologies are generally heralded as making research and publishing more efficient, enabling better connections between researchers and bringing disparate forms of research data together for better research and output management. Based on the examples of Elsevier’s Pure and Fingerprint technologies, I argue that in reality the effects of these new technologies and the surveillance platforms they are based on, will be precisely the opposite: they degrade scientific understanding and relations by reducing them to superficial numbers, clicks and hits; they will lead to increased anxiety and stress among academic staff; and they open up the possibilities for new types of panopticon academic governance. The presentation concludes by exploring an alternative based on decentralized diversity in research(er) representation.

The symbolic power of research metrics | By Guus Dix

In an attempt to come to terms with the power of religious language and rituals, Pierre Bourdieu argued that the ‘symbolic efficacy of words is exercised only in so far as the person subjected to it recognizes the person who exercises it as authorized to do so’. In contexts like these, power is not simply exercised over people but crucially taps into their willingness to recognize and submit to a certain authority. In my presentation, I will argue that what goes for the symbolic efficacy of words goes for the symbolic efficacy of numbers. Over the past two decades, numbers have become more and more important in higher education – from publication output, citation scores and journal impact factors to university rankings. Drawing on recent research on the place of numbers (metrics) in scientific practice, I will argue that the focus on research management – or on ‘neoliberalism’ – has merit but is also limited. It fails to capture how we ourselves are ‘implicated in the indicator game’, as Fochler and De Rijcke have it, and thereby contribute to the authority these numbers have over us.

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On space, planning, people, culture