University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Information Models as Representations of Paradox of Change and Control in Digital Infrastructures
Teija Tuulia Oikarinen, Helena Karasti

Last modified: 2011-12-22


The abstract presents the concept of digital infrastructure (DI), and an associated theory of social dynamics as an attempt to address the paradox of control and change that is concretized in information models and standards in archaeology. The theory derives from sociotechnical information system research (ISR).

CIDOC object-oriented Conceptual Reference Model is an example of emerging global information infrastructure. It has an established position “as ontology of culture heritage information” and offers extensible semantic framework for combining information and data. This is proved by the attained official standard (ISO 21127:2006).

In ISR the DIs have been framed as a missing agenda. The interest has reawakened to theorize their nature and design. Originally they have been defined in the nineties. Recently they have been rephrased “as shared, unbounded, heterogeneous, open and evolving socio-technical systems comprising an installed base of diversified information technology capabilities and their user, operations and design communities”. They spread over specific systems’ boundaries and applications’ functionalities. DIs have not been understood as relevant research subjects (IT artefacts) in ISR, although digitalization has changed the world from organized structures to heterogeneous networks. DIs are evolved for integration of heterogeneity, to guarantee future use of information. The method for interoperability is the use of standards, which concerning DIs can be observed from theoretical and methodological perspective.

Archaeological information models have a position in the network of social dynamics in DIs. According to theorists, DIs have to be organized flexible on stable basis; to be in control but autonomous. Technical stability is needed for their functionality and social stability to agree data definitions and interfaces. This leads to standardization and to the paradox of change and control in DIs. Technology is a control point, which controls connections in sociotechnical system, such as behaviour, use of products and applications. It may restrict emerge of new control mechanisms and provoke conflicts. Recent articles have presented that research in mechanisms for co-creating of technology, services and information use could produce guides for designers, managers and policymakers. The theory offers a theoretical background for research questions from archaeological perspective considering information modelling design and use.  

In archaeology digital curation and combining of diverse data sets produced by manifold actors is challenging. The designs and their specifications for DIs have to anticipate the future purposes of archaeology. Requirements for these designs have recently been discussed. Technical, metadata and content standards are crucial for the data integration. As control points, standards and technology can have implications on archaeological practises, knowledge production and scientific procedures. Archaeology is a process of selection, fragmentation, interpretation, or transformation, translation and reiteration. It shares a vision ‘to save past for the future’. Reflection of this relation is on-going in archaeological theoretical and methodological discussions. DI point of view offers a new position to theorize the methods and practises used in archaeology. The awareness of evolving DIs, control points and their effects, both opening and restrictive could deepen these reflections.   

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digital infrastructures; information infrastructures; standardization; information modelling