Toxic Data Infrastructures

Description

In this photo essay, I explore how different kind of civic data infrastructure support efforts to improve environmental public health and governance.  Civic data infrastructure, in my reading, is infrastructure that enables collaborative effort to advance the public good.  As an anthropologist, I’m interested in how people design, access, use and think about the value of such infrastructure, especially in effort to address problems that resist representation and public recognition. I’m also interested in understanding infrastructural gaps -- gaps between available and needed data infrastructure.  A key method for this work is ‘data ethnography,” a method in which one looks for data resources in a particular problem domain in order to understand the data infrastructure in that domains (and its gaps) -- pointing to design possibilities. In this work, I follow Sánchez Criado and  Estrella (2018) in casting anthropologists as designers, curators and collaborators.

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Environmental Justice Nurses

Caption

This screenshot points to data resources that gathered on a short field research trip to St. Louis, which are both heavily impacted by industrial pollution. Granite City, just north of St. Louis, artist Chris Carl carried out gardening projects in the vicinity of his studio, including a “DIY remediation” of a lead contaminated site. The city was created for steel manufacturing and featured a lead smelting plant. The area also endures severe lead stress through paint dust emanating from deteriorating housing stock. Chris Carl gathered data resources and documentation about the site, which are not publically accessible or extensively usable. An aim of my project is to understand what kind of civic data infrastructure could help turn these data resources into more of a community resource, contributing to an environmental data commons.

Design Statement

This image collage is used to convey how a particular community of practice (public health nursing) has changed over time, partly through changes in supporting technologies.   It also conveys how progressive discourses can remain tethered to entrenched assumptions even when enabled by new technologies and visualization capabilities.

 

DIY Lead Remediation

Caption

This screenshot points to data resources that gathered on a short field research trip to St. Louis, which are both heavily impacted by industrial pollution. Granite City, just north of St. Louis, artist Chris Carl carried out gardening projects in the vicinity of his studio, including a “DIY remediation” of a lead contaminated site. The city was created for steel manufacturing and featured a lead smelting plant. The area also endures severe lead stress through paint dust emanating from deteriorating housing stock. Chris Carl gathered data resources and documentation about the site, which are not publically accessible or extensively usable. An aim of my project is to understand what kind of civic data infrastructure could help turn these data resources into more of a community resource, contributing to an environmental data commons.

Design Statement

This image works on at least two levels: it literally collects and displays field data points (examples of data resources that I learned about through field research), but also points to the aim of my overall project: to understand the gap between unavailable and needed environmental data resources to address complex environmental problems and “the Anthropocene.” In turn, the process of looking for existing data and visualizations turned into a way of doing ‘data ethnography’. At the same time, conceptualizing and ‘sketching’ what a potentially useful database could look within the Disaster STS Platform is a way of re-imagining the anthropologist’s role as designer, curator and collaborator in the field (Sánchez Criado and Estallela 2018). Using the screenshot as a visualization also raises the question of how online platforms can be included meaningfully in traditional scholarly forms (such as print or PDF articles, but also exhibitions).

License

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