Trading Twitter. Amateur Recorders and Economies of Scientific Exchange at the Cornell Library of Natural Sounds.

J.L.M. Bruyninckx*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Scientists have long engaged in collaborations with field collectors, but how are such collaborations established and maintained? This article examines structures of collaborative data collection between professional scientists and various field recorders around the Cornell Library of Natural Sounds. The Library collects animal sound recordings for use in education, preservation, and entertainment, but primarily in the scientific field of bio-acoustics. Since 1945, the Library has enlisted academic researchers, commercial recorders and broadcasters (such as the British Broadcasting Corporation), and amateur sound hunters in its expansion. I argue that the Cornell Library of Natural Sounds managed to craft and sustain a crucial network of contributors through creative and strategic brokering with its collection of recordings/data. Drawing on notions from exchange theory, I show that sound recordings were valued not just as scientific data, but also as copyrighted commodities that could be bought, sold, traded, and converted in a range of economic, social, and symbolic capitals within collaborators' respective social fields. Thus, aligning collaborators' interests, these exchange relations enabled the Cornell Library of Natural Sounds to negotiate amateur recorders' reliability, willingness to share work, and commitment to scientific standards, as well as the bonds that solidified their collaboration with the Cornell Library of Natural Sounds. Attending to the micro-economics of data exchange, this article thus brings into perspective the multi-dimensional processes through which data-flows are managed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-370
Number of pages27
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


  • amateurs
  • collaboration
  • natural sounds
  • scientific exchange
  • social capital

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