I'm a Cultural Data Scientist

I’ve been using this job title for several months now. On my website. In my portfolio. In talks and presentations. Even when I meet new people.

The thing is, the term “Cultural Data Scientist” doesn’t exist. I just made it up.

I am a data scientist who uses statistics, econometrics, machine learning, urban analytics, social media analytics and data visualization to understand and measure the economic and social impact of culture in cities.

But that’s obviously a bit of a mouthful, especially when I’m at the pub chatting with someone who doesn't know the definitions of any of those jargon terms.

So, I thought I’d write a blog post about it.

What is Culture?

Culture is one of those seriously loaded terms. The definition is split halfway between “the arts” and “social behaviour”, but it is a term that refers to us collectively.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of Culture is:

  1. The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

  2. The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

Wikipedia describes Culture as the “social behaviour and norms found in human societies.”

The UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) has a whole section which looks at the “cultural and creative” industries, which includes the Arts; Film, TV, and music; Radio; Photography; Crafts; Museums and galleries; Library and archives; Cultural education; and Operation of historic buildings and similar visitor attractions; Advertising and marketing; Architecture; Crafts; Design and designer fashion.

Annoyingly, the business world also seems to be hijacking the word recently.

What is Data Science?

Data science is a discipline where data is used and analyzed to test hypotheses, answer questions and understand insights. 

Data science is a “concept to unify statistics, data analysis, machine learning and their related methods” in order to “understand and analyze actual phenomena” with data.

Cultural Data Scientist

The job title Cultural Data Scientist, therefore, quite nicely sums up what I do.

I am a data scientist who uses statistics, econometrics, machine learning, urban analytics, social media analytics and data visualization to understand and measure the economic and social impact of culture in cities.

My research focus on culture started out with the arts but is now quite broad and spans across the arts to music, fashion, and food.

The job title is much better than “I’m a Data Scientist for the cultural sector”.

Comparables

Much like how you can be an Economic Consultant, Financial Consultant, Software Engineer, Machine Learning Engineer, or Civil Engineer…

I am a Cultural Data Scientist.

Maybe I’m being pedantic?

But the truth is, the people who I deal with on a day to day basis — people in the arts and cultural sector — tend not to even know what a Data Scientist is!

Placing “Cultural” in front of “Data Scientist” creates a distinction that is not only unique and interesting but also helpful to contextualise my work.

Research

To prove that the job title Cultural Data Scientist doesn’t exist, I’ll link to a few popular and well-used search engines.

According to Google Trends — here — the term doesn’t exist (retrieved on 11th February 2019).

LinkedIn — here — there isn’t anyone else with that job title (retrieved on 11th February 2019).

There was also no jobs on Angel List with that job title — here (retrieved on 11th February 2019).

Even a standard Google search doesn’t yield the term.

Cultural Analytics and Cultural Data Science

Admitadely, there are people using the term “cultural analytics” and a few universities who are using “cultural data science”.

The term Cultural Analytics, invented by Lev Manovich in 2007, is “the exploration and analysis of massive cultural data sets of visual material”.

On the other hand, McGill Univerity in Montreal, Canada has a Centre for Social and Cultural Data Science.

Imperial College in London has a Social and Cultural Analytics Lab but their Twitter account hasn’t tweeted once since 30 October 2015! Seriously poor effort!

The Bartlett at UCL, the faulty I am currently studying at, is releasing a new Masters degree called Data Science for Cultural Heritage.

But interesting, there isn’t anyone using the job title Cultural Data Scientist.

Did I just coin a new job title…?

I wasn't able to find anyone who was actively using the job title Cultural Data Scientist as of March 2019.

The term is needed. As we move into 2020, Culture is becoming more digital, larger data sets now exist, and there are more sophisticated methods to analyse that data.

If universities are creating these research labs then people should feel comfortable using the job title Cultural Data Scientist to describe the work their doing.

In my opinion, the word social scientist just won’t do and data scientist is too broad. Computational Social Scientist is a thing, but which social science are you referring to… Geography, Economics, Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science…all of them?

In any case, it looks like I’ve just coined a new job title, and it’s something I am going to stick with for some time!

Thanks for reading!

Vishal