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Unblackboxing Gephi: How a user culture shapes its scientific instrument

Ouvrir la boîte noire de Gephi : comment un instrument scientifique est façonné par la culture de ses utilisateurs

Mathieu Jacomy
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  • PersonId : 1151127
Emilija Jokubauskaitė
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Network visualization tools are blamed for being black boxes, but depending on who criticizes, blackboxing has one of two meanings. Blackboxing by inscrutability blames opacity (inaccessibility of the method) while blackboxing by embodiment blames transparency (invisibility of the mediation), thus we propose to drop the confusing dichotomy of opacity/transparency. We focus on Gephi, a network visualization tool popular in the social sciences and humanities, addressing its criticism as a black box, in the hope of proposing useful interventions. By analyzing empirical material from participant observation, interviews, and a publication review, we find that Gephi's blackboxing problem is by embodiment. We observe that some researchers circulate Gephi images without a proper interpretative context, a situation we refer to as "storyletting", or use methodological shortcuts in time-constrained situations, trading methodological awareness for efficiency. We acknowledge the existence of an epistemic subculture around Gephi, and we argue that its practices are only partially aligned with the instrument's design. We contend that Gephi's black box materializes in cultural artifacts such as online documentation and tutorials. We conclude that these artifacts are a valid place of intervention to try unblackboxing Gephi, and that researchers are natural actors of this critical technical practice.
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Dates and versions

hal-03729114 , version 1 (21-07-2022)


  • HAL Id : hal-03729114 , version 1


Mathieu Jacomy, Emilija Jokubauskaitė. Unblackboxing Gephi: How a user culture shapes its scientific instrument. 2022. ⟨hal-03729114⟩


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