Metadata, Digital Infrastructure, and the Data Ideologies of Cultural Anthropology

  • Lindsay PoirierEmail author
  • Kim Fortun
  • Brandon Costelloe-Kuehn
  • Mike Fortun


In this chapter, based on fieldwork with the Research Data Alliance and our work designing the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography (PECE), we elaborate on the concept of data ideologies and examine how they have informed work and data-sharing practice in academic research, and in cultural anthropology more specifically. Data ideologies refer to people’s underlying assumptions about data, the way they operate, and the consequences they produce. We argue that, while many cultural anthropologists have been reticent to share their data, making anthropological data more open and accessible affords new possibilities for multi-perspectival analysis and re-interpretation of data—practices that can make ethnographic narratives more robust and pluralistic. Metadata is key to encouraging re-interpretation of archived data, as it situates data collection and analysis in a particular time, setting, and cultural context. We demonstrate how we implemented data-sharing infrastructure and metadata standards in PECE—not to advance reproducible research practices, but instead to encourage collaborative hermeneutics and iterative re-analysis of data. We conclude that attending to complex contemporary problems will demand linking undervalued and underfunded infrastructural work to the cultural work of shifting the discipline’s data ideologies.


Metadata Ethnography Digital infrastructure Collaboration Re-interpretation Data ideology Hermeneutics 



The development of the PECE platform and the writing of this chapter were made possible through the support of the National Science Foundation (Award #1535888), “Environmental Health Governance in Six Cities: How Scientific Cultures, Practices and Infrastructure Shape Governance Styles.”

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lindsay Poirier
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kim Fortun
    • 2
  • Brandon Costelloe-Kuehn
    • 3
  • Mike Fortun
    • 2
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  3. 3.Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA

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