The Anxious Practitioner: inhabiting automation

How do national statisticians experience and inhabit the automation of data collection and analysis in their everyday work practices? While new forms of data generated through the Internet provide unprecedented volumes of data about populations and methods such as algorithms and machine learning promise new ways of modelling and visualising them, at the same time they shatter the possibility of statisticians exercising control. Drawing on Mackenzie’s (2013) study of software engineers, I examine how statisticians are not only agents of automation but subjects who internalise modes of reasoning such as abduction, anticipation and uncertainty. How then do they subjectively negotiate these modes of reasoning and recover their authority?

Evelyn Ruppert is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. She studies how digital technologies and the data they generate can powerfully shape and have consequences for how people are known and governed. Her research attends to how digital technologies and data are also changing how people understand themselves as political subjects, that is, citizens with rights to speech, access, and privacy. How citizens make claims to such digital rights through what they say and what they do through digital technologies are key questions that she addresses. Evelyn is PI of an ERC funded project, Peopling Europe: How data make a people (ARITHMUS; 2014-19). She is Founding and Editor of the SAGE open access journal, Big Data & Society. Recent books are Being Digital Citizens (authored with Engin Isin) published in April 2015 (RLI International) and Modes of Knowing (edited with John Law) published in August 2016 (Mattering Press).