A note on keywords

Every word which I have included has at some time, in the course of the argument, virtually forced itself on my attention because the problem of its meanings seemed to me inextricably bound up with the problems it was being used to discuss (Williams, 1976/1983; p.15).

Throughout the blog I will add words that are central to developing understandings of data and its materialisation. This project ‘hangs upon’ keywords like data, materiality, algorithm, text, visualisation and interpretation, yet each has an array of different meanings and everyday applications. Take, for example, the way historians might understand the word ‘data’ when compared with a computer scientist. These differences are disciplinary, but can also be reflective of cultural and relational experiences. As Williams reminds us, certain uses of these terms bind us to certain ways of seeing culture and society. Certain uses can also open issues and problems that we need to be aware of if we are to move forward. In the context of this project, the keywords form the foundation of a discourse on datafication and are therefore essential work for any educational endeavour.

The goal of the ‘Keywords’ part of the blog, is not to pin down a meaning or solve these differences and contradictions. Instead, it is my way of grappling with these different definitions to reveal the tensions that underly the project. My hope is that being conscious of these differences and the way they shape understandings can help create a shared body of words and meanings. In this way, it is not a dictionary or a glossary, but ‘a record of inquiry into a vocabulary: a shared body of words and meanings in our most general discussions…’ (p.15). Of particular interest to me, is how definitions have changed across time. So where possible, I will attempt to show the etymologies of these words.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that there are already a numerous lists of ‘Keywords’ out there on digital stuff. I am particularly fond of the John Hopkins Guide to Digital Media (Ryan, Emerson & Roberston, 2014) and also the Culture Digitally list of Digital Keywords. My approach to keywords in this blog is fairly humble by comparison. This list of keywords is specific to this projects and its goals – namely materialising data as a ‘text’ for critical analysis.


Ryan, M., et al. (2014). The John Hopkins Guide to Digital Media. Baltimore, MD, John Hopkins Univeristy Press.

Williams, R. (1976/1983). Keywords. London, Fontana Paperback.

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