Stabilizing Digital Infrastructures in Distributed Social Science Collaboration

Authored by: Steve Sawyer , Jaime Snyder , Matt Willis , Sarika Sharma , Carsten Østerlund , Emma Allen

Fields of Practice and Applied Solutions within Distributed Team Cognition

Print publication date:  September  2020
Online publication date:  September  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138626003
eBook ISBN: 9780429459542
Adobe ISBN:


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We focus on the practices and uses of digital resources by social scientists collaborating at a distance in order to pursue insights into “infrastructure in use.” In doing this we seek to explicitly connect the fast-growing scholarship focused on cyberinfrastructure with the broader scholarship on distributed cognition. Empirically, we draw on interviews with 31 researchers involved in more than 100 distributed social science collaborations to provide the empirical basis for this study. Respondents articulated their need to create steadily evolving assemblages of commercially available software packages, online platforms and subscription-based repositories to maintain engagement with their distributed collaborators and provide digital access to shared materials. The dynamic nature of these collaborations often resulted in the development of a range of adaptive design practices for establishing and maintaining these digital arrangements. Building on this we contrast the sociotechnical concept of stabilized digital infrastructures with the technological principles of standardized cyberinfrastructures (CI) to help make clear the ways in which digital arrangements are embedded into collaborations. This work conceptualizes the stabilizing work performed by social scientists as an indicator of an under-examined aspect of infrastructure for supporting distributed collaborative scientific work. These findings suggest that current approaches to CI may fail to adequately account for social negotiation, evolving uses of commercial products, and relatively short-lived project organizations that characterize the practices of the social scientists we interviewed.

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