Grant TypeHunt Postdoctoral Fellowship
Institutional AffiliationFlorida, U. of
Grant numberGr. 10056
Approve DateOctober 2, 2020
Project TitleJohnson, Alix (Florida, U. of) "Data Fixation: Placing Digital Infrastructure and Industry in Iceland"
This book is an ethnographic inquiry into the relationship between data and place. While digital data is often imagined as ephemeral and immaterial – everywhere and nowhere at once – what we call “the cloud” takes physical shape through infrastructures and industries, unevenly distributed around the world. Drawing on twenty months of ethnographic research in Iceland, which is fast emerging as a hotspot for the data storage industry, the book shows how local landscapes (material and cultural) play a vital role in shaping our digital networks. In Iceland, they are intimately entangled with national identities, natural environments, and postcolonial politics. First, the book takes up “fixations” with data – particular ideas about what data is and does – that have made it such a charismatic category in Iceland. Next, following the efforts of Icelandic state representatives and foreign data center developers, it examines how data gets “fixed” in Iceland, or discursively and materially emplaced. Finally, turning to ethnography at data centers themselves, it shows how data takes shape amidst natural and social environments, producing new extractions and reprising longstanding inequalities. Paying attention to data fixation, rather than the more familiar “data flow,” thus unsettles techno-utopian ideals of connectivity, revealing what it looks like to live with our data, in a place where more and more of our data now lives.