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Data realities in plural contexts: Appraisal of a definition [of social informatics]

Fletcher Cole

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


Abstract

The aim of this paper is to illustrate and explore the meaning of ‘context’ within the definition of social informatics (SI). The basic context of interest for social informatics is formed by the relationship between the broad categories of the ‘technological’ and the ‘social’ as they are manifest in information and communication technologies (ICTs). But within and between these broad categories there are numerous contexts worthy of detailed exploration. This complexity is illustrated through a close examination in a general textual description of geographic information systems (GIS), particularly of its data-related references. Distinct vocabularies of data terms are evident, each related to particular disciplinary and practice contexts. A general six-category taxonomy is used to highlight complex cross-referencing between inter-related vocabularies. Terms originating in different contexts are juxtaposed in such a way as to produce a cascade of meaningful reference, which invites the reader to accept the transitions from understanding ‘data’ in one context to understanding it in several others. The meaning of data is seen therefore to vary in complex ways; created, deployed and maintained in and through interaction with multiple domains (intellectual, technical, social). Several levels of meaning co-exist simultaneously, indicating several disciplinary and practical contexts to which the terms relate. There are number of co-existing data realities. Because data is a far from primitive notion, so too must be our analysis of the contexts in which it is utilised. It reveals itself as open to multiple and continuing interpretation and use in different contexts and at different levels of conceptualisation. In this, as a commonplace term in the information sciences and social informatics, it is unlikely to be alone. This implies the need for a sophisticated appreciation of the many contexts in which ICTs function.


  
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