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What is the problem with “data”?

Johanna Drucker suggests, in her 2019 essay, that data are probably not as “given” as we think: 1

… we see the phenomena I noted appear on the horizon: data mining with all its attendant visualization techniques …. The graphical tools that are used for statistical display depend, in the first instance, on quantitative data, information that can be parameterized so that it lends itself to display. Virtually no humanistic data lends itself to such parameterization (e.g., what year should a publication be dated to in the long history of its production and reception?), and it is in fact precisely in the impossibility of creating metrics appropriate to humanistic artifacts that the qualitative character of capta, that which is taken as interpretation rather than data, comes sharply into relief.

Johanna Drucker, 2019

Rather, we should refer to data as capta:

  1. data are not given like space and time, they must be produced;
  2. data are always constructed in a particular manner, according to one’s own vision of the world;
  3. to be known, data must be captured; some type of information has been retained and some has not;
  4. data are therefore much less objective that they may first appear.

More problems on Literature as data.


  1. In [French](https://journal.loupbrun.ca/en/n/119/, an increased confusion may be introduced by the same word being used concurrently both as the past participate “given” and the substantive noun “data” (“données”). ↩︎