Small Data is Beautiful: Analytics, Art and Narrative


Date and location

In the interests of moving towards an in-person (and online) event, we present confirmed new dates: Friday 18th & Saturday 19th February 2022
Submission of proposals 10 December 2021

Submissions invited from Humanities, Social Sciences, Arts, Computing, Sociology, Anthropology, Library and Heritage Studies for panels, presentations and demonstrations at the Digital Studio, University of Melbourne and online. Topics may include:

  • The politics of small data: How does small data resist colonising or imperial trajectories: data production and industries, data and subjectivity and what is ‘smart’ data?
  • Methodologies of small data as research in different disciplines: Collecting as little as possible: how small is small? How do you organise small data? And mix it with other narratives or collections? What does partial or aberrant data reveal?
  • Small data art, performance and aesthetics: does miniaturisation lead to new ways of seeing or imagining? Data as ritual, the performance of bio-data, and the body as data.
  • Ethics and histories of small data curation: the close-up, the fragment, the short distance, privacy and initimacy or disruptions from data instances

We are excited to announce confirmed keynote speakers:

Professor Katherine Bode (ANU), author of A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History (Michigan 2018)

Professor Roopika Risam (Salem, US), author of The Digital Black Atlantic (Minnesota 2021)

Professor Lisa Blackman, (Goldsmiths, London), author of Haunted Data: Affect, Transmedia, Weird Science (Bloomsbury 2019).

Rowan McNaught, (Melbourne), artist and publisher of artworks, software, anthologies, documentation, secrets and correspondence (Darpa press)

The Organising Committee at Melbourne includes Dr Tyne Sumner (SCC), Dr Signe Ravn (SSPS), Dr Danny Butt (VCA), Dr Ashley Barnwell (SSPS) and Professor Rachel Fensham (SCC)


Taking inspiration from the ‘small is beautiful’ mantra of the 1970s which provoked counter-cultural economic and scientific expertise in the name of planetary survival, this symposium invites scholars working on computational methods in the arts, humanities and social sciences to discuss their research with ‘small data’.
Big data is often characterised by the volume, speed and aggregation made possible by automated and intensive computational systems, and over the last decade, data scraping methods and ‘large N’ studies have become dominant trends in socio-cultural digital research. Conversely, small data may be characterised by their limited volume or greater diversity of anomalous patterns, case studies, and research collected manually to answer specific questions.
This concept of “small is beautiful” has a distinctive history and place in the humanities and creative arts, producing specific (if not unique) works and critical commentary in archives tied to the authorial or artistic signature. From a social science perspective, small data may be associated with some forms of qualitative methods, marginalia, ephemera, data that ‘glows’ or narrative analysis of ‘small stories’. Moreover digital platforms with readily accessible technologies are recomposing scale in unprecedented ways. Such approaches give rise to new possibilities for mass circulation of intimate gestures and the affordances of transnational and first person voices that may not identify with colonising structures or professional institutions of art, culture and political organisation.

Hosted by the Australian Cultural Data Engine, the Narrative Network and the Victorian College for the Arts, this interdisciplinary symposium seeks to nurture and advance our understanding of small data that involves human-scale analyses, thinking about aesthetics, and exploring how narratives emerge from data patterns and their anomalies. Key questions guiding the event are: how do interactions with small data shape and inspire transformations of knowledge in the twenty-first century? Who collects, owns and curates small data? And when and where does small data hold power? What kind of actions, or play, are possible with small data? Which stories can be told with small data?

ABSTRACT SUBMISSION: please send a 250 word-abstract and bio marked “Small Data” to: before December 10, 2021.