Jun 8, 2016

Cyberinfrastructure studies overview

In their introduction to the special issue on sociotechnical studies of cyberinfrastructure (CI) and e-research Ribes and Lee identify current themes and methodologies of CI studies (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 2010, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 231-244, doi: 10.1007/s10606-010-9120-0)

Cyberinfrastructure (CI) is one of the current terms for the technologies that support scientific activities such as collaboration, data sharing and dissemination of findings. CI features that distinguish it from other CSCW work include: community wide and cross-disciplinary scope, computational orientation, and end-to-end (data-to-knowledge-to-user) integration.

Themes in CI studies:

  1. Relationality. What is supporting the work of another and who is sustaining those relationships?
  2. Integration of heterogeneity. CI involves computer specialists, data and information managers, domain scientists, and so on, but also non-human actors such as sensors and databases.
  3. Sustainability. What makes CI a long-term resource?
  4. Standardization. Ways to achieve integration on the technical and human levels.
  5. Scale. How to plan for change and growth in the number of collaborators, the quantity of data, and the geographical reach.
  6. The distribution between human work and technological delegation. 

Methods include historical, ethnographic, documentary, and interview-based approaches that focus on the following:

  • Investigations of ongoing planning, development and deployment efforts 
  • Activities of maintenance, upgrade and breakdown
  • Adoption of certain expressions of scientific activity and changes in their use
  • Adoption of new technological artifacts

Units of analysis can be a project or CI as a whole (focus on national policies and funding incentives). The introduction concludes by calling for more studies:

The stories of cyberinfrastructure are revealed by looking across multiple levels of granularity, various facets of social life, and diverse technological actors. Much remains to be studied in the areas of supporting domain specific practice, data sharing and curating, and infrastructural organizings. This is an exciting time for CI studies. Research is occurring in new and unexpected places, drawing on and bringing together the traditions of CSCW, information science, organizational studies, and science and technology studies. This cross-pollination, as exemplified by the papers in this issue, seems to be not only fruitful, but also very necessary.