Data Vision: Learning to See Through Algorithmic Abstraction

02/09/2020 ∙ by Samir Passi, et al. ∙ 0

Learning to see through data is central to contemporary forms of algorithmic knowledge production. While often represented as a mechanical application of rules, making algorithms work with data requires a great deal of situated work. This paper examines how the often-divergent demands of mechanization and discretion manifest in data analytic learning environments. Drawing on research in CSCW and the social sciences, and ethnographic fieldwork in two data learning environments, we show how an algorithm's application is seen sometimes as a mechanical sequence of rules and at other times as an array of situated decisions. Casting data analytics as a rule-based (rather than rule-bound) practice, we show that effective data vision requires would-be analysts to straddle the competing demands of formal abstraction and empirical contingency. We conclude by discussing how the notion of data vision can help better leverage the role of human work in data analytic learning, research, and practice.

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