Honolulu, Hawai‘i October 9-12

ian lowrie
Instructor: Ian Lowrie, Lewis & Clark College

Tuesday, 9 October, 13:00–16:00, East-West Center
25 participants, fee: $100


Everyone knows that data science is transforming contemporary businesses, the everyday experiences of our research participants, and the cultural worlds ethnographers seek to understand. But no one seems to be entirely sure how this change is happening—or even agree on what “data science” means, exactly!

In this tutorial, we’ll crack open the black boxes of algorithmic systems and big data infrastructure to build an ethnographic understanding of data science and a practical methodological toolkit for investigating contemporary data work.

In the first half of the tutorial, we will focus on understanding the organizational and technological aspects of modern data pipelines, from collection, cleaning, and storage through retrieval, analysis, and communication. Along the way, we’ll learn to think ethnographically about data science as a knowledge practice, about the data scientist as a particular kind of expert, and about how data workers impact their organizations. In the second half, we’ll focus on workshopping methodological approaches (such as contextual inquiries, participant observation, and stakeholder interviews) to studying various kinds of data work in a range of real-world contexts.

Although this workshop is primarily directed towards practicing ethnographers without deep familiarity with data science and computing infrastructure, there will be plenty of opportunities for more experienced data ethnographers to engage in reflection and conversation.

Participants will learn how to:

  • Think ethnographically about data work as a knowledge practice
  • Develop powerful and workable methodological strategies for studying data work
  • Chart the organizational and technological components of data infrastructure
  • Interpret the mindset, jargon, and practical orientations of their data scientist and developer colleagues
  • Understand how algorithmic systems and data analytics impact organizational structures, work practices, and business models

There will be a short recommended reading assigned to all participants, and participants will also receive a broader bibliography tailored to folks working in differently scaled organizations across a range of verticals. Familiarity with ethnographic methods and terminology will be helpful, but no prior knowledge of data science is required.


Ian Lowrie is an anthropologist who studies how people build, maintain, and operate data infrastructure. From fieldwork with data analytics start-ups and web infrastructure firms in Moscow to research data managers and computational neuroscientists in the United States, his research explores the types of expertise emerging around big data pipelines and algorithmic information processing. He currently teaches in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Lewis and Clark College and works as the editor at Platypus, the blog of the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing.

How to Register

Tutorial registration is open to all EPIC2018 attendees. You can purchase tutorial tickets during conference registration, or login to your existing registration and add a tutorial. When tutorials fill you may join the waitlist, but we recommend registering for your second-choice tutorial, since we see very few cancellations.