SILS Associate Professor Melanie Feinberg Publishes New Book “Everyday Adventures with Unruly Data”

October 11, 2022

The UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Associate Professor Melanie Feinberg published her new book, Everyday Adventures with Unruly Data, on October 11 through MIT Press. 

The book comprises a set of essays that explicate and interrogate the nature of data through the contemplation of apparently humdrum, typical events from daily life, such as mentally arguing with the numbers that appear on a scale, laughing at a misspelling of one’s name, and being confused in a foreign supermarket. Together, these essays provide an account of data as human expression, replete with human ambiguities.  

“I contend that, if we hope to act responsibly with data—whether collecting it, aggregating it, manipulating it, interpreting it, or making decisions with it—we need to appreciate this human character,” Feinberg said. 

The book’s seven chapters each focus on a different primary theme, integral to the understanding of data: serendipity, objectivity, equivalence, interoperability, taxonomy, labels, and locality. Each chapter pairs an engaging, self-contained main essay—an adventure—with a scholarly companion essay—the reflection. The adventure begins with a familiar, everyday anecdote, such as a visit to a library, running out of butter, or cooking rice on a different stove.  

“As I ponder these common events, I demonstrate how, to understand the power and pitfalls of data science, we must attend to the data itself, not merely the algorithms that manipulate the data,” Feinberg said. 

The book’s contribution arises from its singular approach.  

“I bring a particular form of attention to the data landscape: that of a classificationist, a type of information scientist,” Feinberg said. “As I reflect on the implications of commonplace events, I demonstrate a practical, critical, and generative mode of thinking about data: its creation, management, aggregation, and use.” 

The book has already received a starred review in the September issue of Library Journal. Read the review here

Among academic colleagues, the book has been praised for its writing style and innovative approach to examining data. 

“At a time when data science overly values scale, abstraction and automation, Feinberg reminds us how the creation of data about the world involves care, creativity, culture, and context,” Catherine D’Ignazio, Associate Professor at MIT; Director, Data + Feminism Lab; co-author of Data Feminism, said. 

To order a copy of the book, visit: https://mitpress.mit.edu/9780262544405/everyday-adventures-with-unruly-data/