To briefly summarize: I observed and interviewed archaeologists while they worked, focusing on how they collaborate to produce information commons within relatively small, bounded communities. I relate these observations to issues experienced when sharing data globally on the web using open data platforms. This is part of an effort to reorient data sharing (and other aspects of open science) as a social, collaborative, communicative, and commensal experience.
Many thanks to my supervisor, Costis Dallas, for being such a great mentor, and to Matt Ratto and Ted Banning for their constant constructive feedback. And special thanks to the external examiners, Jeremy Huggett and Ed Swenson, for critically engaging with my work.
Archaeological data work as continuous and collaborative practice
This dissertation critically examines the sociotechnical structures that archaeologists rely on to coordinate their research and manage their data. I frame data as discursive media that communicate archaeological encounters, which enable archaeologists to form productive collaboration relationships. All archaeological activities involve data work, as archaeologists simultaneously account for the decisions and circumstances that framed the information they rely on to perform their own practices, while anticipating how their information outputs will be used by others in the future. All archaeological activities are therefore loci of practical epistemic convergence, where meanings are negotiated in relation to communally-held objectives.
Through observations of and interviews with archaeologists at work, and analysis of the documents they produce, I articulate how data sharing relates distributed work experiences as part of a continuum of practice. I highlight the assumptions and value regimes that underlie the social and technical structures that support productive archaeological work, and draw attention to the inseparable relationship between the management of labour and data. I also relate this discursive view of data sharing to the open data movement, and suggest that it is necessary to develop new collaborative commitments pertaining to data publication and reuse that are more in line with disciplinary norms, expectations, and value regimes.
Today, Joe Roe and I published a data paper in the Journal of Open Archaeology Data on open-archaeo, the comprehensive list of open source archaeological software and resources that we maintain. In this paper, we outline the data collection methods and conceptual model, and highlight open-archaeo’s value as a public resource and as a dataset for examining the emerging community of practice surrounding open source software development in research contexts. In fact, open-archaeo serves as the basis for an extended dataset in a study we are currently working on (investigating collaborative coding experiences) and we think there is a lot of potential for additional analysis in the future.
Open-archaeo (https://open-archaeo.info) is a comprehensive list of open software and resources created by and for archaeologists. It is a living collection—itself an open project—which as of writing includes 548 entries and associated metadata. Open-archaeo documents what kinds of software and resources archaeologists have produced, enabling further investigation of research software engineering and digital peer-production practices in the discipline, both under-explored aspects of archaeological research practice.
Although there were some elements of this, the conference was not just superficial open-boosting. Most, if not, all participants highlighted challenges and unanticipated implications of being open that they have recently experienced. Looking back, a few themes stood out:
Thinking about value proposition that openness entails, which necessarily involves accounting for specific use cases and imagined future stakeholders.
Thinking about the needs and values of all stakeholders involved in doing archaeology, including local and Indigenous communities, land-owners, archivists, government agencies, and related parties, and what openness means for them.
Thinking about how we might reconcile our values as archaeologists with the values demanded and afforded by the infrastructures and communities with whom we must work.
I got to meet so many interesting people. I already knew many of them from social media, virtually-hosted talks, or brief in-person interactions at the CAA back in 2018, and it was really great to put a face to each person’s name. Most serious work in digital archaeology, especially productive work developing open data infrastructures, is being done in Europe, and I was very grateful to have this opportunity to connect with that crowd (especially since I’m currently entering the post-PhD academic job market). I think my paper was well-received and valued, and it opened the door to many interesting discussions during the breaks between sessions and elsewhere.
I was also able to tack on a couple days at the start to work with Joe Roe on an article we’ve been writing for the better part of 3 years, about collaborative aspects of open source software development among archaeologists. We presented a paper at the 2021 CAA conference on the composition of open-archaeo, the list of open source software and resources made by and for archaeology that I maintain, and we’re trying to expand on it a little bit more with some network analysis type stuff. So this time together really gave us an opportunity to discuss what we really want out of the paper, to actually talk through the results, and generally helped motivate us to get this done. We still have some work cut out for us, but that probably warrants its own blog post.
Anyway, here are some cool pictures from the trip!
Today I submitted an abstract to present at the DAB23 colloquium hosted by the Bern Computational and Digital Archaeology lab. The conference is about “advancing open research into the next decade” and my paper is titled Documenting the collaborative commitments that support data sharing within archaeological project collectives. Here is the abstract:
Archaeological research is inherently collaborative, in that it involves many people coming together to examine a material assemblage of mutual interest by implementing a variety of tools and methods in tandem. Independent projects establish organizational structures and information systems to help coordinate labour and pool information derived thereof into a communal data stream, which can then be applied towards the production and publication of analytical findings. Albeit not necessarily egalitarian, and with different expectations set for people assigned different roles, archaeological projects thus constitute a form of commons, whereby participants contribute to and obtain value from a collective endeavour. Adopting open research practices, including sharing data beyond a project’s original scope, involves altering the collaborative commitments that bind work together. This paper, drawn from my doctoral dissertation, examines how archaeologists are presently navigating this juncture between established professional norms and expectations on the one hand, and the potential benefits and limitations afforded by open research on the other.
I applied an abductive qualitative data analysis approach based on recorded observations, interviews, and documents collected from three cases, including two independent archaeological projects and one regional data sharing consortium with limited scope and targeted research objectives. My analysis documents a few underappreciated aspects of archaeological projects’ sociotechnical arrangements that open data infrastructures should account for more thoroughly:
boundaries, whether they restrict membership within a collective, delimit a project’s scope, or limit the time frame under which a project operates, have practical positive value, and are not just arbitrary impediments;
systems designed to direct the flow of information do so via the coordination of labour, and the strategic arrangement of human and object agency, as well as resistances against such managerial control, are rarely accounted for in data documentation; and
information systems and the institutional structures that support them tend to reinforce and reify existing power structures and divisions of labour, including implicit rules that govern ownership and control over research materials and that designate who may benefit from their use.
By framing data sharing, whether it occurs between close colleagues or as mediated by open data platforms among strangers, as comprising a series of collaborative commitments, my work highlights the broader social contexts within which we develop open archaeological research infrastructures. As we move forward, we should be aware of and account for how the data governance models embedded within open research infrastructures either complement or challenge existing social dynamics.