CfP: Born-digital objects: transformations and new documentary challenges?

Call for papers, deadline 15 June 2019

Can Smart City applications, 3D displays, tweets, or software be considered as documents? Is the concept of ‘‘document’’ still valid in a structurally unstable digital context that is continuously changing? Such questions emerge naturally when we consider the born-digital objects which are thriving today in a great variety of forms. Behind the term “born-digital”, we here refer to any entity, produced using digital technology and perceived by our senses (of sight, hearing or touch). C. Paloque-Berges (2016) offers the following typology: digital data; computer code; digital documents; tangible artifacts. In our interpretation, we focus on non-stabilised digital productions which fit into a flow approach (Rifkin and St Upery, 2002): research data, source codes, simulations or displays, data from social networks, Video on Demand services, data from connected objects, web pages, Wikipedia (Barbe et al., 2015), video games, music streaming, interactive streetmaps and plans, digital works of art… This list is by no means exhaustive.  

Several features can be highlighted to characterize such objects. In our approach, they are progressively constructed through a complex system, organised in layers and of which certain elements in the core of the machine remain practically invisible to the user and are therefore not easy to understand. The data is recorded in a file, which is encoded in a specific computer format, which in its turn determines the type of software which can be used to read the file, and the type of compatible hardware (computer, smartphone, etc.). Furthermore they cover several areas (technical, social, legal, etc.), as with the logistical aspect: they no longer exist as autonomous and unique objects but are part of a flow logistics system (Robert & Pinède, 2012).  Similarly, it is not uncommon for them to form and transform on the screen varying according to the digital shapes they take on (Robert & Tona, 2016). One of the remarkable features of these objects is therefore this permanent reconfiguration related to the digital environment from which they are engendered. Complex, multi-form, hybrid (partly digital, partly physical), dynamic, connected to one another or to other objects (especially in the context of the Internet of Things), they possess unique structuring properties that raise many questions, especially when considered as documentary objects (Delve and Anderson, 2014). 

It is this problem that we intend to explore in the first issue of the Journal Balisages: how to deal with the structural instability of these complex and evolving objects from an info-documentary point of view? The example of INRIA's Software Heritage is significant in this respect. It aims to "collect all publicly available software items in source code form, together with their development history, then massively duplicate them to ensure their preservation, and finally share them with all who need them". This raises traditionally documentary issues for objects that are not documents in the traditional sense (Abramatic et al., 2018). 

It is therefore this conflict between born digital objects of a heterogeneous, unstable, complex, dynamic and hybrid nature and the established documentation rationale (collection, description, classification, sharing, dissemination, conservation and archiving...) that we wish to investigate here, by exploring the nature of permanence and ongoing renewal, based on examples of various objects (research data, cultural products, scientific objects, heritage objects, to name but a few...). 

The following questions shall be addressed in particular: 

- How can a "born- digital object" be qualified? Is it still a document?

- What are the challenges resulting from these new digital objects compared to traditional documentary objects as far as documentary practice is concerned? Do these new objects escape the classic documentary rationale?

- What approaches related to technical devices make their access, outreach, dissemination, etc. possible? 

- Which actors do they mobilise? Which documentary ecosystems do they belong to?  What new skills (documentary or other) do they require?

- What legal and ethical issues do they raise?  


15th June 2019 : submission of manuscripts for peer-review

15th September 2019 : referees’ reports

1 st November 2019 : receipt of final versions of manuscripts

December 2019 : publication of the 1st issue of the journal Balisages

Guidelines for authors

Submissions in both French and English are welcome. The texts must be approximately 40,000 characters long (including spaces). Authors are encouraged to comply with the guidelines concerning the formatting of the text and the standardisation of bibliographic references.

Manuscripts will be subject to 2 blind peer reviews. Article proposals should be sent to the three coordinators of this special issue, Benoît Epron (, Nathalie Pinède ( and Agnieszka Tona ( ).

Bibliographic references

Abramatic, J.F., Di Cosmo, R. & Zacchiroli, S. (2018). Building the universal archive of source code. Communication of the ACM, vol. 61 (n° 10), p. 29-31. DOI : 10.1145/3183558.

Barbe, L., Merzeau, L., & Schafer, V. (Eds.). (2015). Wikipédia, objet scientifique non identifié. Nanterre : Presses universitaires de Paris Nanterre.

Delve, J & Anderson, D. (2014). Preserving Complex Digital Objects. London : Facet.

Paloque-Berges, C. (2016). Les sources nativement numériques pour les sciences humaines et sociales. Histoire@Politique, 30 (3), 221-244. DOI : 10.3917/hp.030.0221.

Rifkin, J. & Saint-Upéry, M. (2002). L'âge de l'accès: La révolution de la nouvelle économie. Paris: La Découverte.

Robert, P. & Tona, A. (2016). Du mode d’existence des quasi-objets documentarisés. Hermès, 74 (1), 219-228.

Robert, P. & Pinède, N. (2012). Le document numérique, un nouvel équipement politique de la mémoire sociale ? Communication & Organisation, 42, 191-201. DOI : 10.4000/communicationorganisation.3948

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