We are surrounded by “data matter”: things, practices and objects that exist through data and algorithms, but which often seem ephemeral, immaterial, residual, invisible, or technically beyond us. The Museum of Data is an online curation platform that allows us to collectively materialise, engage in, and archive this data matter as social and cultural phenomena.
The Museum of Data also works as a critical tool, allowing us to reflect on the problems that data raises for our everyday lives: questions around the ethics of informational surveillance and control; issues of power, inequality and new forms of political engagement; dilemmas of digital ownership and emerging economies; problems raised by the classification, objectification and quantification of social life.
How does it work?
The Museum of Data allows anyone to upload any data matter or data object to its online curation platform. These objects can be anything, as long as they have something to do with data. There are detailed instructions in the “Data Curator” tab.
In order to upload your object, you take on the role of a Data Curator, and you have to answer some questions.
In reflecting on these questions, we have to start to think more critically about what we mean when we talk about “data”. Where do we locate digital objects? Who owns this data object, and how do we know? What is this data worth? Where is this data kept, who gets to see it and who does not, and why? What do we need to do to learn how to live with it or use it?
Of course, the Museum of Data is also itself a ‘data object’. It therefore also must archive itself. Every iteration of the project is recorded, you can see this in The Collection.
Who are we?
The Museum of Data project emerged out of the Data Power Research Group based at UCL Centre for Digital Anthropology. We were interested in critically investigating how data and algorithmic practices are emerging as mechanisms of power in ways that are re-shaping social and cultural life. The Museum of Data is a way for us to communicate this scholarly work to a wider audience. We are interested in helping people develop their own critical data literacy.
The Museum of Data was launched in 2019 by Antonia Walford and Haidy Geismar of the UCL Anthropology department. Please contact them directly if you’d like an account that will allow you to add to the Museum of Data collection.