CfP: Data Friction

AAA 2016 CFP

Data Friction

As the range of devices that translate bodies, states, and lives into digital data continues to expand, the way digital data expresses lived experience has garnered both popular and scholarly attention. 

In popular culture the traffic of data between devices and people has been chiefly aligned with a capacity for frictionless circulation where data is seen to resist containment all the while understood as moving about in a coherent and circumscribed world without conflict. In conjuring a near future of endlessly wired and ‘interoperable’ devices or seamlessly connected data infrastructures, technology makers and industry pundits characteristically speak of digital data as a disembodied object that can be taken and moved from place to place without conflict. The body is imagined to be in turn immersed in data and awash in data.  At times, even social critics too readily accept data as that which flows smoothly, deploying the idea to present data as a dangerously fluent mechanism of self-exposure.

Despite the token image of fluidity, data doesn’t simply glide across open channels, becoming increasingly more connected and aggregated as it goes. The production of data “always involves a series of transformations” and interventions, both human and technical, a “struggle” that Paul N. Edwards has termed “data friction” (Edwards 2010, 83). At the same time, the types of social and material supports that enable data to become both locked into place and to travel between devices and bodies are far from permanent or stable. Coherence can temporarily “clot” into place, but data just as likely can get off track, become stuck, or fail to signify all together (Nafus 2014).

In keeping with this year’s theme of evidence, accident, and discovery this panel will consider what alternative forms of knowing become possible by paying attention to the ways in which data fails to be mobile, or to the ways data and bodies resist being bound by models, devices, and infrastructures.

We invite submissions that variously engage with the concept of data friction and consider the way the production of digital data about lives and bodies is necessarily less standardized, less stable, and more culturally complex than often otherwise conceived.

Discussant: Dawn Nafus

Please send abstracts of 250-300 words to organizers Yuliya Grinberg ( and Tara Mahfoud ( by March 31st.

Works Cited:

Edwards, N. Paul. 2010. A Vast Machine. MIT Press.

Nafus, Dawn. 2014. “Stuck Data, Dead Data, and Disloyal Data: The Stops and Starts in Making Numbers into Social Practices. Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory.