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Diffractive data entanglements

A note on diffractive data entanglements…


Data entanglements are used to describe the tension that is felt in applying ethnographic data methods through a posthuman framing. Davies (2021) describes how “the concept of entanglement disrupts the taken-for-granted ascendancy of the human species, and it abandons the humanist version of what we are – moving from identities to emergent, singular multiplicities” (p. 140). That is, theorising through concepts that trouble human exceptionalism and the human condition while accepting the fact that the research is always already human centred by virtue of it being the human “I” that is responsible for the undertaking. Taylor (2020) concurs, stating that “this reconceptualisation of ‘I’ as a relational emergence within entangled “practices of knowing in being” (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012, p. 116) brings ethical issues concerning values (positionality) and response-ability (accountability)” (p. 36). Data entanglements are guided by the principles of values and responsibility, that underpin the ethico-onto-epistemology of this study, where responsibility is a response-ability to “attending to, tracing, and taking account of entanglements, about being in touch with world’s practices of materialising/making-sense, including its material-discursive ‘concepting’” (Barad & Gandorfer, 2021, p. 31). Therefore, the relationality of entanglements is highlighted where “securing objectivity in research is not about disentangling and disengaging the subject from the object (as in much research), but ‘taking responsibility for one’s entanglements’ (Barad, 2007, p. 453, footnote 1)” (Murris, 2020a, p. 8).


Data entanglements are deeply ethical and as such, are accountable and response-able to the ethico-onto-epistemological position. Data entanglements are not created, but are made and documented in the research process. Ellingson and Sotirin (2020) promote the use of the term ‘data engagements’ as a “generative alternative” (p. 817) to refute the abolishment of the concept of data altogether as is oft proposed in post qualitative research (Denzin, 2013; St. Pierre, 2013). Data engagements involve the processes of making, assembling and becoming data (Ellingson & Sotirin, 2020). While Ellingson and Sotirin (2020) invite all colleagues “across the methodological continuum” to join in the use of data engagements (p. 824), I contend that the concept of data engagements does not align with the ethico-onto-epistemological theoretical framework of this study as it espouses a consideration of data as assemblage – a different contention and position than a data entanglement.


However, I do draw on the concept of ‘data making’ to refer to the data entanglement process. Moreover, I highlight that data making is distinctly different from research creation: the former is about bringing data into being (Ellingson & Sotirin, 2020) and the latter is concerned with bringing something into existence (Loveless, 2019). The distinction is that data making implies that “data may become data simply by labelling and curating them as such” (Ellingson & Sotirin, 2020, p. 820) and can involve a range of creative and innovative ways of doing so. Whereas, research creation generally involves artful-practices that literally bring data into existence; data that was not there prior to the research processes taking place (Loveless, 2019; Sweet et al., 2020). I make the data in the process that is akin to the interventions proposed by Verlie (2019) or through a quantum theory lens, can be likened to an agential cut (Barad, 2014) where I, as the researcher, purposefully choose the way the data will be read to generate ‘new’ data diffractions from the original data set.

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