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Critically assessing digital documents: materiality and the interpretative role of software

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As a contribution to the ongoing tradition of critically assessing documents for research, this paper aims to highlight materiality as a key factor in the co-shaping of knowledge derived from digital documents. The paper first builds upon prior debates in document studies with work from the fields of Science and Technology Studies, and Communication Studies, to establish the role of document materiality in the interpretative process. By first establishing digital documents’ material reality as electrical signal, the paper then discusses the interpretative role of software, in both the representation of that signal for human interpretation and the production of the document through software tools. Finally, the paper considers the implications for persistence and access to digital documents posed by their material reality and the private archival contexts in which they often reside.
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Keywords: Digital document; critical assessment; materiality; software

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Colchester, UK

Publication date: November 2, 2018

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