Annual Lab Theme 2020: DEEP TIME

“What is not dead may eternal lie, with strange æons even death may die” 

Every year the ETHOS Lab sets a new theme to emphasize the analytical focus. Our thematic emphasis for year 2020 is Deep Time, a term predominantly used by astronomers and geologists to describe the vertiginous lengths of time that have preceded human presence on earth. Interested both in depth and in time, we take it as a theme to orient our work in multiple ways – read more in the letter from Heads of Lab Associate Professors Marisa Cohn and Rachel Douglas-Jones.   


The ongoing Research Themes are:

  • The Social Life of GDPR
  • Temporalities of Data
  • Controversial Healing (2 projects)
  • Materialities of Computation

Research Themes are described in order to give support to Junior Research project ideas and new grant applications. In addition to this list, we also have a longer list of projects that you can have by contacting us or stopping by in our opening hours. You are also welcome to contact the affiliated researchers if you have a PhD proposal or would like to initiate collaboration through a project that falls under one of these themes. Please note that some researchers have more than one affiliation, so do specify the area you are interested in!

The Social Life of GDPR

Since GDPR was enforced across Europe on the 25th of May, data controllers have been coming to grips with their new responsibilities, organisations have had to revise their processes, software companies have redesigned their relationships to data, and the first fines have been issued for noncompliance. This research area brings together students and researchers at ITU with an interest in the sociallife of GDPR, exploring responses to and changes in data politics and governance across the European territory. We are interested in awareness campaigns, new business logics, sharing in a digital economy, local adaptations in legislation, sites of confusion and contestation, changing practices and debates over what the nature of data, under GDPR is. As the tensions inherent in the GDPR become visible, how are debates about data protection and data value changing? The first event of this research area will be the launch of the GDPR Chapbook, a collection of deletion poems created at the 2018 Great Deletion Poetry Rave, held at ETHOS Lab and ETHOX, Big Data Institute, Oxford. 

Students studying GDPR for their projects, bachelor or masters thesis should get in touch with Rachel Douglas-Jones, and the study group will be coordinated through the Lab.

Temporalities of Data

Affiliated Researchers: Rachel Douglas-Jones, Marisa Cohn

This research area puts questions of data temporality centre stage. In a world where immediacy is highlighted, we ask about the long duree. In logics of linearity, we ask about alternative evolutions, branchings and lifecycles. In a culture of the sparkling new, we look at creaking deaths and forgettings, as systems, codes and interfaces are painstakingly repaired or made obsolete. This is a research area which thinks there is sufficient experience to know that decay comes, systems built are lived with, formats change over time, and the futures we make in the present rapidly become our pasts. We advocate for the wisdom to counter a techno-optimistic hubris, and seek solutions for living with and caring for data in all its temporalities.

Keywords: maintenance, obsolesence, formats, care, temporality, futures


Controversial Healing (2 projects)

Affiliated Researchers : Katrine Meldgaard Kjær

Background information: 01.01.18 marked the beginning of a four-year trial period for making medicinal cannabis available to selected patient groups. The trial period comes after what politicians have called a “push from the people” – and a corresponding critique from medical establishments about the validity of this push as well as of medicinal cannabis as medication. The research project uses digital methods to examine the relationship between the digital and this “public push” for medicinal cannabis. How is medicinal cannabis imagined, represented, mobilized around and engaged with on digital and social media? And how can digital archives shed light on controversial health debates, issues and initiatives such as medicinal cannabis? Read more here

Project #1: Representations of medicinal cannabis on twitter and Instagram

This research project will investigate how the topic of medicinal cannabis has been discussed, represented and imagined on either twitter, Instagram or both platforms. The project can draw on a TCAT that has run since 02/19, and may collect and create an additional dataset from Instagram. The platforms may be analyzed individually or comparatively. The researcher may draw on any methodological or analytical approaches they find relevant and interesting, and the project may include investigations of text, pictures, network, connections, audio, etc. etc. etc. As long as the project revolves around the representation of and interaction with the topic of medicinal cannabis, creative freedom is encouraged!

Project #2 Digital methods and unruly, broken data

This research project will investigate the ways in which “broken” and “unruly” data underpin digital methods research. That is, it will focus on how data here (and elsewhere) is never neutral, complete nor ‘objective’, but is on the contrary fundamentally impacted by institutional, economic and technological structures. The project will consider the ways in which these structures impact and shape the availability and quality of the kinds of data digital methods research can and may work with, and the implications of this impact. The project may take it’s point of departure in a specific, already collected (broken and unruly) dataset on medicinal cannabis from Twitter, or may be of a more theoretical nature.


Materialities of Computation

Affiliated Researchers : Marisa Cohn, Esther Fritsch, James Maguire

Computation may seem to be composed of abstractions and algorithms, but recent research has focused on its materialities: the forms that computation takes – from databases to IoT devices – as well as the infrastructures – undersea cables, data centers, and services – that sustain computing and make it possible.

Taking a lens of materiality on computing enables us to consider computation as an accomplishment that requires many kinds of artifacts from notes on a whiteboard, to software architecture diagrams, to wires, storage devices, micro-controllers and censors. This research area takes up the concern of how computational methods become materialized in different projects. In particular we are interested in considering how data might be generated through an approach that takes this material embodiment of computation seriously.

  • What are the material forms of computation and how do we study them?
  • What does it mean to take the material embodiment of computation seriously?
  • How does the lens of materiality change our analytic attention?
  • How might the design of a computational technique or method, consider computation embedded within material environments, or performed in material spaces?

Keywords: materialities, infrastructures, design, artefacts