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Fresh Kills: The Spectacle of (De)Composing Data

Holmes, R (2014) Fresh Kills: The Spectacle of (De)Composing Data. Qualitative Inquiry, 20. ISSN 1077-8004

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Abstract

This article has in its flesh the question of what I, as a qualitative researcher, do, other than code, when I do something I think is “analysis.” In 1850, Horne catalogs the ingredients of a huge decomposing dust-heap in Marylebone. It is described as comprising of original heterogeneous contents from all the dustbins of the London locality, as having grandeur and permanence and capable of sustaining life. Resembling the ethnographers’ scrutiny as she distils, condenses, and categorizes data, these contents are searched and sorted in accordance with their ongoing potential, the debris is organized to ensure the appropriation of (re)useable decomposing materials, “the dead cats are compromised . . . dealers come . . . they give sixpence for a white cat, fourpence for . . . a black one . . . the bones are . . . sold to the soap-boiler.” Integral to this process of decomposition is the mound’s uncanny life as a recipient of the dead and procurer of new life, as movement sparks from the heterogeneous matter of lifeless carcasses, disintegrated bone fragments, breeze, cinders, and dust. Given this backdrop of decomposition and becoming amid a plethora of life and death, movement and dispersion, this article opens up serendipitous encounters between an ethnographer and some data, whereby analysis is understood as a body encountering another body, or an idea another idea, and it happens that sometimes one decomposes the other, destroying the cohesion of its parts. In this encounter, the organic and the inorganic become folded into the other, allowing each to be dragged and dispersed among its own and each other’s mundane detail.

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