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Tabular Worldings

Through a number of routes, I’ve found myself thinking about tables, the kinds of tables with columns and rows. These tables lie behind so much of the proliferation of data and computation that we're witnessing in contemporary life. Yet too often we neglect the lively nature of these 'ordering technologies' (Drucker 2014). In offering a practical solution for sorting and organising pretty much anything (e.g., numbers, times, dates, names, events, journeys, bodies, etc,), we overlook how they afford and authorise very particular ways of making matter matter. Take Excel. The tool’s powerful capacities for ordering items in a seemingly infinite number of rows and columns—setting various systems of organisation against one another—is in no way inert. The hierarchies, the categories and comparisons, the roundings up or down, the spatial and calculative transformations, etc.—altogether, they are, already, telling a story. They are technoscientific “worldings” (Haraway 2016).

I want to use this talk to explore this line of thought and the relevance it might have to the proliferation of computation. For now, my view is that much is to be understood from the close examination of tables and their use in practice. I believe we might discover many of the assumptions and biases we have in interpreting data and conducting research by attending to what we do with our tabulating practices—practices that appear so neutral. With this as a starting point, my hope will be to imagine worlds otherwise, to imagine intervening in the ways that might extend and multiply the worlds we make possible.

References:

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual forms of knowledge production. Harvard University Press, 2014.

Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.