Data Voice - Annie Blanchette

Visiting lecturer at University of Plymouth (i-Dat), resident at Kaleider and data fellow for the South West Creative Technology Network.

Data and me

Whilst I appreciate the value of data to solve important issues, I am much more critical of  our cultural (positivist) propensity to datafy everyone and every part of their existence.  Previously,  I explored how fat individuals are datafied, governed and deligitimised according to their body data (weight on scale, BMI) and how problematic metrics are often interpreted as a moral failure that subsumes other strengths and parts of their identity. I can see a similar situation happening as we datafy children in education, especially neurodivergent ones.

For various reasons, datafication is increasingly shaping education, and yet, it can be particularly detrimental to individuals who have different abilities, learning and communication styles, or different priorities and interests from the dominant, neurotypical model used to assess them. Datafication overlooks ways of being/interpreting/sensing the world that do not fit its own confine... and this can negatively affect the sense of possibilities and life chances of those who do not conform or who engage with the world differently.

Thus, I am exploring a carnivalesque framework to scrutinise and subvert the idealism at play within the datafication and knowledge-making process, and hopefully serve to explore and  validate different ways of seeing and engaging with the world beyond the dominant logic of datafication.

Introducing the Museum for OBeast Conservation Studies

(Image: Museum for OBeast Conservation Studies)

My work owes a great deal to transgressive fat studies scholars who have been challenging the idea that health and moral dignity is determined by a number on a scale, a body mass index or a hip inflection ratio. Understanding the (often contestable) ways these numbers have come to gain significance in our lives has opened my eyes to our long-standing, and increasing propensity to filter the world according to data.

Whilst data can be used for good, I believe our objectifying impulse to datafy the world (in terms of weight, performance and beyond) deserves scrutiny.  The Museum of the Obeast is a satirical project that was launched 10 years ago. It uses scientific/colonialist tropes to emphasise the objectifying (and often voyeuristic) lens we have towards the Other, as well as the logic of control that is at play in society.

This is the project's (now defunct) Facebook page:

Burning question

What are we forgetting/missing out by focussing on understanding the world and ourselves via data?