A three-dimensional framework for analysing trading zones

The fourth edition of the Digital History in Sweden conference will be held today and tomorrow in Humlab (Umeå, Sweden). As the call for papers indicated that this year’s theme is Trading Zones of Digital History, I wanted to contribute with a presentation based on my recent open access book by the same title. One small advantage of the pandemic is that conferences are increasingly allowing remote participation and I’m happy that I can participate via Zoom. For this conference I focus on the theoretical framework underlying my research, namely the three-dimensional framework for analysing trading zones that I have developed. I propose to analyse trading zones according to 1) engagement, 2) power relations and 3) changing practices. Below you can find the abstract I submitted for the conference. If you are interested in a more elaborate discussion of this framework, see Chapter 2 of my book.

A three-dimensional framework for analysing trading zones

When historians and computational experts collaborate in digital history projects, uncertainty arises for both sides. Historians are uncertain how they as historians should use digital methods, while computational experts are uncertain how digital methods should work with historical datasets. The opportunity that arises from this uncertainty is that historians and computational experts need to negotiate the methods and concepts under development. To analyse such negotiations as part of cross-disciplinary collaborations, I propose a three-dimensional framework that models digital history collaborations as trading zones.

The first dimension, engagement (connected-disconnected), describes the extent to which the two communities meet and interact. That is, a collaboration where historians and computational experts share an office and meet on a daily basis is different from one where communication is done once a month per email. The second dimension, power relations (symmetric-asymmetric), describes the extent to which one community has a stronger negotiating power to decide goals and practices than the other community. For example, computational experts may push a tool for historians while historians remain unable to adapt the tool to their needs. Finally, the dimension of changing practices (homogeneous-heterogeneous) describes the extent to which a collaboration remains an interaction of distinct communities or merges into a singular community of shared practices. That is, whether these collaborators remain distinct historians and computational experts or blend into a community of digital historians. For an overview of the three dimensions and different types of trading zones, see Figure 1.

Figure 1. Three-dimensional framework of trading zones.

In this presentation I will elaborate the framework and how it aids analysis of digital history collaborations as trading zones. Based on my ethnographic research I will describe several case studies, how they differ across the three dimensions and how these various cross-disciplinary interactions lead to different trading zones.

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