Producing and Projecting Data: Aesthetic Practices of Government Data Portals

Ratner, Helene and Ruppert, Evelyn. 2019. Producing and Projecting Data: Aesthetic Practices of Government Data Portals. Big Data & Society, 6(2), [Article]

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Abstract or Description

We develop the concept of ‘aesthetic practices’ to capture the work needed for population data to come into relation so that it can be disseminated via government data portals, in our case, the Census Hub of the European Statistical System (ESS) and the Danish Ministry of Education’s Data Warehouse. The portals form part of open government data (OGD) initiatives, which we understand as governing technologies. We argue that to function as such, aesthetic practices are required so that data produced at dispersed sites can be brought into relation and projected as populations at data portals in forms such as bar charts, heat maps and tables. Two examples of aesthetic practices are analysed based on ethnographic studies we have conducted on the production of data for the Hub and Warehouse: metadata and data cleaning. Metadata enables data to come into relation by containing and accounting for (some of) the differences between data. Data cleaning deals with the indeterminacies and absences of data and involves algorithms to determine what values data can obtain so they can be brought into relation. We attend to how both aesthetic practices involve normative decisions that make absent what exceeds them: embodied knowledge that cannot or has not been documented; and data that cannot meet the forms required of data portals. While these aesthetic practices are necessary to sustain data portals as ‘sites of projection,’ we also bring critical attention to their performative effects for knowing, enacting and governing populations.

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The research leading to this publication received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ ERC Grant Agreement no. 615588, Peopling Europe: How data make a people (ARITHMUS). Principal investigator, Evelyn Ruppert, Goldsmiths, University of London.


aesthetic practice, data cleaning, data portals, embodied knowledge, metadata, open government data

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2 May 2019Accepted
8 July 2019Published Online
1 July 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

24 Jul 2019 14:33

Last Modified:

10 Jun 2021 05:30

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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