'More Than What It Seems': How Critical Theory, Popular Engagement and Apps Like Tinder Can Help Us Reframe Metadata and Its Consequences

Deborah Maron, Erin Carter

Abstract


Metadata is a term no longer only of interest to information professionals; recently, it has also compelled a wider global population. How might the metadata community guide popular understandings around metadata’s relationship to privacy, surveillance, and identity building, while also taking cues from the outside to complement current professional practice? Rather than taking at face value the definitions, presentations, skills, practices and situations that we are told constitute the concept of metadata, we can consider alternative and complementary thinking, broadening what we consider to be metadata at all; this process of rethinking is known as problematization and has its roots in critical theory. We use problematization, as well as critical theory constructs like Derrida’s différance and digital trace, to examine the popular dating site Tinder, which we consider to be metadata in its own right. In doing so, we make new assumptions about metadata and its implications in digitally-mediated identity construction. We hope that our effort—a contribution to Science and Technology Studies (STS) and also to metadata studies—has professional implications, such as providing companion methods for reading metadata-dependent systems as ‘material metadata discourse.’ We likewise hope to show that popular, wider-world discourse can cast back onto our profession in a meaningful way.

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