Data at the Doorstep. Sites and Side Effects of Interrogation (c. 1800–1950)

Conference on Data in Social History in Vienna, Austria on January 23–24, 2020

Over the course of the 19th century, techniques for gaining knowledge about a given state’s population were successively perfected. Birthrates, legal customs, health metrics, family structures, property, and deviance were listed, processed, and recalculated. But where did these historical numbers come from originally, who collected this data, and who composed the questions it pursued? The planned conference investigates the practices of data production and knowledge gathering at the doorstep, as it were. Before technology could allow for ubiquitous data capture, the threshold of the home was a site of knowledge production: Envoys of the state or enumerators volunteering for an interest group arrived at people’s houses to make direct contact with the population of study. This mode of data collection is investigated in parallel to the rise in statistical numbers from 1800 to around 1950, with a particular emphasis on the data produced by private initiatives and collectives.

Our focus lies with the “scientification” of both the social (Lutz Raphael) and all forms of data about people. Firstly, we look at administrative practices and formats that choreograph what actors may protocol, process, or modify within the given information. Secondly, this scene of interrogation is guided by underlying categories and taxonomies within which these practices became possible. Both perspectives on data production impinge on the construction of subjects and privacy.

Further Information (LINK)