2021-03-13Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.13480
The datafication of nature: data formations and new scales in natural history
In this essay, I consider the scales and connections lost and gained as natural history adopts digital data infrastructures. On the basis of ongoing work in the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, I track the relations between insect specimens and their material and digital informational ecologies. Using Latour's notion of the ‘circulating reference’, I follow the insect specimens as they make their way into taxonomies, databases, and digitization apparatuses. In focusing on human-data mediations in museum practices of ordering, describing, and distributing specimens, I show how the datafication of nature makes present conventionally dissociated contexts, including German colonialism. Proposing the concept of a data formation, I suggest that ethnographers have much to contribute in bringing forward the sociocultural and historical specificities and contingencies within data.