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Digital methods as ‘experimental a priori’–how to navigate vague empirical situations as an operationalist pragmatist

Digital methods as ‘experimental a priori’:
how to navigate empirical situations as an operationalist pragmatist

Anders Koed Madsen (Aalborg University)

A seminar hosted by the Centre for interdisciplinary Methodologies (University of Warwick)

Tuesday May 9, 15:00-17:00  
Location: OC1.07 and online

Digitalisation presents us with a vague empirical world that unsettles established links between measurements and values. In this talk, Anders Koed Madsen will propose to think of this critical potential as the possibility to practice what he terms the ’experimental a priori’ drawing on the work of Kant, Peirce, Dewey and C.I. Lewis.


Digitalisation and computation present us with a vague empirical world that unsettles established links between measurements and values. As more and more actors use digital media to produce data about aspects of the world they deem important, new possibilities for inscribing their lives emerge. The practical work with digital methods thus often involves the production of social visibilities that are misfits in the context of established data practices. In this talk Anders Koed Madsen will argue that this friction carries the distinct critical potential to design data experiments that (a) uses the act of operationalisation as an engine for creating intersubjective situations around the meaning of existing concepts and (b) takes advantage of algorithmic techniques to provoke a reassessment of some of the core assumptions that shape the way we normally frame empirical problems. Drawing on the work of Kant, Peirce, Dewey and C.I. Lewis, Anders propose to think of this critical potential as the possibility to practice what he terms ’experimental a priori’.

In the second part of the talk, Anders uses qualitative vignettes from two years of data experiments with GEHL architects to illustrate what this entails in practice. His collaboration with the architects was sparked by a shared concern that cities are becoming political filter bubbles and the experiment consisted in using traces from Facebook to design an interactive datascape that enabled the architects to explore this issue in new ways. This datascapeended up as a troubling cartography that reconfigured existing problematizations. Faced with the task of using traces from Facebook as an empirical source, the architects found themselves in a need to revisit inherited assumptions about the ontology of urban space and the way it can even be formulated as a problem of diversity. The decision to work with digital methods thus created a form of productive friction that stimulated new problem spaces. Anders will end his talk by outlining five design principles that can potentially steer data sprints towards such situations in the future.

If you are not affiliated with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies but would like to attend this seminar online, please email Kanisha Mathiarasan at by Friday May 4 2023, and she will email you the seminar link.


Anders Koed Madsen is associate professor at Aalborg University in Copenhagen, head of experimental practice at TANTLab and co-founder of The Public Data Lab. Both are institutional homes for researchers crossing STS and computational humanities. During the last five years he has developed ‘Soft City Sensing’ as a distinct framework for mapping and conceptualizing the social infrastructure of urban publics through the digital traces they leave of their urban life. This work draws on his distinct interdisciplinary background in pragmatist philosophy, computational humanities, internet studies and organizational analysis. Anders serves at editorial boards of - and have published extensively in - leading journals within computational humanities and urban cartography. He has authored books on valuation and cultural studies and is currently co-editing an international handbook of computational humanities. Anders directs the executive education in 'data-driven organizational development' and frequently gives presentations, also public ones, on topics relating to computational humanities, smart cities and digital citizen engagement.

The two papers that Anders will talk across can be found here: