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Lindsay Poirier: Enacting Expertise in Encoding Language: An Ethnography of Data Infrastructure Design Work

December 4, 2017 | 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Join SILS for a special presentation by Lindsay Poirier, a PhD Candidate in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute and Lead Platform Architect for the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography (PECE). Poirier will deliver her talk, ‘Enacting Expertise in Encoding Language: An Ethnography of Data Infrastructure Design Work,’  on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at 3:30 p.m. in Manning Hall 001.

Abstract: In order to enable meaning and context to travel with data as it is shared amongst diverse communities, data infrastructure designers have conceptualized and built out semiotic infrastructures – infrastructures that encode data syntax, semantics, and relationships to other data. In this talk, I argue that the designers of semiotic infrastructure have become experts in unpacking how language works in particular domains.  They think critically about how meaning can be packaged into code and how meaning travels between communities. In the talk, I examine the language ideologies that designers of semiotic infrastructure bring to their work, and I analyze how this impacts the architecture and configuration of the semiotic infrastructures they build.  This research is based on archival work and ethnographic fieldwork with three communities – the knowledge representation community within AI, the Semantic Web community, and a group of designers creating data standards for the human services. The research contributes a socio-technical perspective to data curation work, demonstrating how assumptions about language influence how data is organized, shared, and integrated. It also contributes to theories of expertise in Science & Technology Studies and anthropology – articulating an expertise in encoding language, and showing how experts learn to bring different language ideologies to their work.  Finally, the research has informed the design of the digital humanities platform The Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography (PECE), which now hosts three international research projects.  It has also informed discussions about designing research data sharing infrastructure for diverse data cultures within the Research Data Alliance (RDA).

Bio: Lindsay Poirier is a cultural anthropologist whose work advances understanding of the culture and expertise of data infrastructure design work.  In her current book project, Poirier ethnographically examines the design of “semiotic infrastructure” – or digital infrastructure that encodes data’s syntax and semantics in order to make it interpretable and discoverable as it moves through new contexts. Poirier is the Lead Platform Architect for the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography (PECE), an open source digital humanities platform which currently hosts three international research projects – The Asthma Files, the Disaster-STS-Network, and the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S)’s InfraSTructureS project.  Poirier is also actively involved with the Research Data Alliance (RDA) and is currently co-chairing a working group conceptualizing recommended metadata management practices for the empirical humanities. Poirier will complete her PhD in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in May 2018.


December 4, 2017
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm


Chapel Hill, 27516 United States + Google Map

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