New course on Big Data

In the academic year 2017-18, I’ll be giving a course to Masters students in Computer Science at the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Groningen. It will replace another elective course that focused on ethics, and I’m hoping that it will provide students with the opportunity to explore epistemological issues around Big Data using STS concepts and approaches. Developing the course is a lot of fun and a great opportunity to consolidate many of the insights we are developing in Energysense. Plus, one of the assignments will be doing an interview, so we’ll touch on some ethnographic skills as well.

Course description


Data seems to be everywhere in contemporary society.  Precisely because of this ubiquity, it is important to consider how data is created and used, and how it circulates, so that we can understand the implications for business, for private and public life, and for what we know about ourselves and the world.

A new course at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Groningen, will equip students to reflect and act on issues around big data. Big data is a phenomenon that affects all kinds of sectors, from energy to banking to sports to neuroscience. It has a history going back several decades and has been shaped by tools and institutions, with the result that ‘big data’ has its own biases and tendencies. It is therefore crucial to  analyse how big data approaches are a specific way of creating knowledge and how this knowledge is used. In particular, we will trace how new forms of measurement yield data, that are then combined with particular kinds of statistics and database logics.

We will also cover the reasons underlying the hypes and hope around data, the new forms of ‘value’ attached to data, and the emergence of particular movements (‘open data’;, responsible data science).

A number of skills will be integrated into the course, providing a basis for dealing with data issues as a researcher or professional working intensively with data. This course will enable students to reflect and act, when it comes to issues such as visualisations, design of privacy-enhancing technologies, or the value of correlation.

Museums and the Digital

A nebook_9789089646613_178w collection, edited by Chiel van den Akker and Susan Legêne, is entitled Museums in a Digital Culture: How Art and Heritage Become Meaningful. It has just appeared at the Amsterdam University Press. The table of contents and introduction are available on the AUP website.
Sarah de Rijcke and I have a chapter in the book: Networked Knowledge and Epistemic Authority in the Development of Virtual Museums. It is based on earlier research we pursued in Network Realism.
Material in this article also appears in Image as Interface, Library trends 59 (2011), analyzed from a library and information technology point of view. It has been reworked here with a focus on museums, curation and heritage preservation. We hope this publication will reach a new audience and stimulate cross-overs between media studies, STS and museum studies.

Teaching with Volvo

What is the role of technological promises, and how can we understand them through an anthropological lens?

Beloftes van duurzame innovatie: interactie tussen innovatie, technologie en cultuur

Together with about 20 participants, I addressed these questions in the course of a lecture given as part of the series Anthropologie voor Duurzaamheid, organised by the Impact Academy in spring 2016.

One of the ‘promises’ we analysed together was that contained in this short video by Volvo, in which the car is put forth as an instrument of care–familial, social, environmental. This commercial left no one indifferent!

New publication on Smart Grids coincides with 5th edition Groningen Energy Summer School

29 juni 2016

Every year, the University of Groningen and the Energy Academy Europe organise a summer programme, the Groningen Energy Summer School (GESS). This year, a new collection of writing on smart grids will appear, based on contributions to the GESS editions of 2014 and 2015. It is entitled Smart Grids from a Global Perspective: Bridging Old and New Energy Systems and is edited by Anne Beaulieu, Jaap de Wilde & Jacquelien Scherpen.

The book appears with Springer and contains a number of chapters based on lectures by speakers at the summer school and two based on chapters from dissertations written by participants. The publication appears in the high profile series Power Systems. The collection is thoroughly shaped by the summer school, not only in the composition of its authors and in the interdisciplinary scope of the material covered,  but also in the form of the book: each chapter ends with points for discussions that are based on interactions at the summer school. “GESS is a wonderful example of the way a high-level, interdisciplinary summer school can lead to great publications with prestigious publishers,” commented prof Herman de Jong, leader of the summer school project at the University of Groningen.

The Groningen Energy Summer School for PhDs will see its fifth edition in 2015—with yet another enthusiastic cohort of participants from all over the world and an impressive interdisciplinary programme. Interdisciplinarity is a core value of GESS: participants from all corners of academia take part, from Law to Physics, from Economics to International relations. The summer school offers a unique opportunity to delve into other areas of energy research and to broaden one’s understanding of energy issues. The theme for 2016 is ‘Energy Transition, Geopolitics & Urban Security: Linking Global Networks to Local Needs’

Ït’s very rewarding to see that the power of the summer school has led to such tangible outputs that reach far beyond Groningen,” says Anne Beaulieu, co-editor of the collection and co-coordinator of GESS.

This year’s edition of GESS will take place between 18 and 26 August. The first chapter of the book is freely available.

The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography

A great collection of writing on ethnographic methods is being gathered by the capable hands and minds of Larissa Hjorth, Heather Horst, Anne Galloway & Genevieve Bell.

In a section entitled ‘Debating Digital Ethnography’, I’ll have the pleasure of putting forth a contribution on computational ethnography.

Title: Computational thinking and new modes of ethnography.

Abstract: Ethnographic methods in the context of digital tools and networked relations have been adapted in fascinating ways. In this contribution, I will analyse how computationalisation as a framework (Hayles, 2012) shapes some of the adaptations of ethnographic methods. Using ‘tropes’ as a way of analysing ethnographic accounts, the relation to the ethnographic object, to other ethnographers and to the readers of ethnographic inquiry will be analysed. Computational ethnography is contrasted to other ethnographic approaches that have been crafted in the past decades, such as virtual ethnography and mediated ethnography. Issues around common computational ethnography practices, such as capture, automation, sensing and scraping are analysed.

A new job

Since 1 January, I’ve been leading the programme Energysense. With over 200 households registered, we are well into the pilot phase of this exciting initiative. Energysense is eminently interdisciplinary, and located at the interface between research, infrastructure, innovation and engagement. A wonderful adventure with a great team awaits!

Authorship at WTMC annual meeting

 Authorship will be one of the issues addressed at the upcoming WTMC Annual Meeting, in Amsterdam, 20-21 November 2014

The session is scheduled at 9.30. on Friday 21 November.

Measuring Science with Meaningful Metrics

Organizers: Koen Frenken (UU), Paul Wouters (UL)

This session aims to further the discussion about the use of bibliometrics in evaluative practices. Following the Science-in-Transition and other debates, the use of bibliometrics to assess and evaluate research, researchers and the institutions they work for is highly contested. One the one hand there is an increasing number of critics per se. On the other hand, there are calls for broadening bibliometrics to measure not only scientific output and impact, but also societal output and impact. This session brings together researchers working in this area from Utrecht University, Leiden University and the Rathenau Institute. I

ngeborg Meijer (UL): on societal impact and the new SEP research assessment protocol in The Netherlands

Edwin Horlings (Rathenau): on inter en transdisciplinarity

Sarah de Rijcke (UL) and Paul Wouters (UL): on authorship in transition Koen Frenken

Gaston Heimeriks (UU): on the determinants of the CTWS university rankings

Off to Trondheim!

For the closing conference Medical Images in Art and Science, a event to mark the end of the project Picturing the Brain.

My talk will be on ethnography in the lab. While I’m aiming for a set of slides that will be low on text, here is a paper that considers some of the starting points of ethnography in networked setting that I will be further illustrating in the talk.

Beaulieu, A., and S. de Rijcke. “Mediated Ethnography and the Study of Networked Images – or How to Study ‘Networked Realism’ as Visual Knowing.Proceedings of the First International Visual Methods Conference, 15–17 Sept. 2009, Leeds, UK.

Big data as knowledge production

In this keynote presentation at the upcoming Swiss STS meeting in Lausanne , I will consider big data as a form of knowledge production that has developed in relation the changes we have observed in the past decades in terms growth, accountability, network effects and technology. From this analysis, the need to understand and coordinate kinds of formalisation and the focus on patterns detection as an epistemic strategy emerge as key features of big data as a form of knowledge production. This framing of big data, not only as a new ‘ object’ for science, but also as a set of practices, technologies and institutional arrangements enables us to design research programmes (such as Energysense) that go beyond the one-size fits all approach of many funding schemes and centres– while mobilizing the promissory potential of Big Data.


SLIDES: Beaulieu, Anne. 2014 Big Data as Knowledge Production, Keynote lecture at Collecting, Organizing, Trading Big Data, Swiss STS Meeting, 20-22 February 2014, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Coming soon…Networked neuroscience: brain scans and visual knowing at the intersection of atlases and databases

Our chapter in Representations in Scientific Practice Revisited discusses the development of authoritative collections of brain scans known as “brain atlases”, focusing in particular on how such scans are constituted as authoritative visual objects. Three dimensions are identified: first, brain scans are parts of suites of networked technologies rather than stand-alone outputs; second, they are specified by means of a “database logic” that makes particular neurological features visible within a register of possibilities; and third, they serve as interfaces that open up a range of possibilities rather than stand in as fixed representations. By tracing how the very concept of the
authoritative image has been transformed, the chapter shows how visual knowing takes shape in
research practices and situates it in the digital and networked settings of contemporary science.