Author: Guillen

New Paper Out: Institutional Resistance To Transparency

Guillén published a paper in the latest number of the Journal Of Resistance Studies. You can download a pre-print version of it here. And read the abstract here:

Despite the popularization of progressive Freedom of Information and Open Data policies, both transparency practitioners and academia have warned about an increase in attempts to control and reduce the information that flows from the state to citizens. Within the literature dedicated to investigate this phenomenon, the notion of resistance to transparency has been used often to characterize instances of problematic governmental information control. However, within this body of research, the concept of resistance has been stripped of its contentious elements and treated as a synonym of reluctance, unwillingness or foot-dragging, rather than a category with an inherent political dimension. As a result, what is institutional resistance to transparency and what are its political consequences remains vague. Drawing from the theoretical toolbox of the fields of Resistance Studies and Science and Technology Studies, this paper explores the politics of institutional resistance to transparency through a case study of Mexican information activists. By focusing on activists’ experiences, I suggest that institutional resistance originates in how transparency mechanisms allow some citizens to make the state more legible, controllable, and accountable. Furthermore, I argue that institutional resistance is carried out mostly through everyday, subtle, seemingly non-political strategies implemented by the state’s institutions, which reduce citizens’ ability to produce and/or process data regarding governmental action.

Everyday Data: a Workshop Report

By Becky Kazansky and Guillen Torres

Intro

On September 15th 2019, DATACTIVE held a one-day workshop following on the heels of the Data Power conference in Bremen, Germany. We were kindly hosted by the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKIi) of the University of Bremen. Over this day, we sought to create a space to explore and unpack the concept of the ‘everyday’ as it figures into studies of data practices and resistance to datafication. The workshop brought together a small group of interdisciplinary scholars working on issues related to the making and unmaking of datafication, to paraphrase Neal and Murji (2015). Participants came from sociology, anthropology, computer science, media studies, and informatics. Their topics of research include community activism, platform labor, feminist data practices, and the data-resistant practices of states, studying datafication through the respective participation of citizens, governments, corporations, and academia. In this blog post we explain our inspiration for this workshop, and highlight some of the discussions that resulted. We conclude with an invitation for further ideas and contributions. 

 

From data activism to everyday data

Since coming together in 2015, the DATACTIVE research group has been engaged in the empirical study of the ‘politics of data according to civil society’. During the past four years, we have interviewed over 200 civil society actors from all over the world, who ‘reactively’ or ‘proactively’ (see: Milan and Van der Velden, 2016) engage with datafication through a myriad of different projects (Check our output and blogs for some examples!).  Our approach to these data practices was initially guided by the category of data activism, which helped us foreground new types of political activity made possible by the availability of data. We have since observed that the data activist lens holds the potential to draw sharp boundaries between political and non-political engagements with data. Yet, as datafication has continued to become more pervasive, with responses (including tactics of resistance from different parts of society) to it ever more varied, it has become harder to pinpoint what practices qualify as activism per se —  and which ones do not. 

 

In our research we have encountered many ‘data practices’ that sit within an interzone that blurs hard distinctions between the ‘activist’ and the ‘everyday’. Furthermore, the big and small data-related controversies of the past years have made evident that what is regarded as ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ shifts with the diffusion of new technologies, forms of knowledge production, and sociopolitical instabilities (Amoore, 2013). Furthermore, we’ve noted that what is considered ‘everyday’ or ‘extraordinary’ fundamentally pivots around the perspective privileged in making this distinction. We have thus grown interested in exploring how the ordinary and everyday should be accounted for in the study of data practices and in our understanding of resistance to the harms of datafication. 

 

Much research on the relation between datafication and people’s agency has focused on highly- skilled proactive data activists (Gutierrez and Milan 2019), or on how human agency is overridden by algorithmic decision-making. Taking a slightly different road, we seek to explore how power asymmetries are constantly reproduced or challenged through people’s engagement with data in everyday life. In our view, investigating how datafication is “made and unmade” in everyday life implies foregrounding practices which may not be immediately recognized as data activism, but still consist of a response that can be understood as political, even if not necessarily classified as such. 

As part of our ongoing interest in locating spaces for human agency within datafication, we DATACTIVE project members have engaged in a number of lively internal discussions about how data activism fits with broader conceptualizations of ‘data practices’ (Fotoupoulo, 2019), emerging notions of ‘data politics’ (Ruppert et al., 2017), and the imperative to study the ‘everyday’ of dataficatication (Kennedy, 2018). With the goal of questioning the notion of the “ordinary” amidst continuous optimization (Gürses, et al, 2018), creeping surveillance (Monahan, 2010) and perpetually looming states of exception (McQuillan, 2015), we decided to organize a workshop to explore the role of the everyday as a locus of agency, resistance and political intervention. 

 

The workshop

We kept the format of the day a bit experimental: rather than requiring participants to produce an original piece for the workshop, we asked them to take their existing work around datafication and reflect upon it through the lens of several exploratory questions:

  • How do every-day acts come to be understood as spaces of political intervention?
  • What are the every-day and banal aspects of “acting on” and “through” data? 
  • How does agency evolve in relation to everyday engagement with data? 
  • Who determines what is considered the “everyday”?
  • What perspectives are privileged to build the ordinary/extraordinary distinction?
  • How does the ordinary change with the diffusion of new technologies and politics?
  • What happens between the extraordinary moments of political mobilisation that we hear about in the media?

Probing these unwieldy questions in our small pocket of space-time surfaced a number of shared concerns, which we briefly highlight below. 

 

Big P politics and the everyday

Subjacent to our interest in the everyday is the distinction between The Political (read in an egregious Carl Schmitt voice) and politics. During the workshop, this found expression in a collective concern about what we, as researchers, may leave out of sight if we only focus on what seems overtly political. One of the initial intuitions guiding the theme of the  workshop was that the distinction between activist and non-activist engagements with data hides a very Political decision that needs to be questioned, and during the discussion this proved to be a key topic. When focusing on everyday experiences of datafication, we, as researchers, are responsible for locating, highlighting and questioning the political consequences of our making (extra)ordinary of data practices. This requires a sensibility towards the context and discourses of the people enacting the practices we study, which means that their status as Political/activist depends more on their own lived experiences and less on our analytical categories. The relevance of people’s everyday lived experiences also means that we need to remain attentive to how race, gender, class and politics influence what practitioners, observers and powerful actors understand as Political or ordinary.

 

Marginalized, minoritized, colonized and exploited, but (re)gaining agency.

Slowly but surely, narratives about datafication in which human agency is missing are being challenged. All workshop presentations reflected around the ever-growing number of ways through which people can and already do gain agency through or in relation to data, overcoming governments or companies who, thanks to their privileged access to technology, have turned datafication into a tool particularly suitable for control, oppression, surveillance and exploitation. The examples of responses to this fatalist narrative of datafication are as diverse as the communities who put them forward. Inspired by Dr Seeta Peña Gangadharan’s keynote days earlier at the Data Power conference, we discussed calls to practice (and recognize) small acts of refusal in situations of data harm — as well as the long history of organizing that informs recent calls to abolish unjust data-driven systems. We looked at feminist data practices putting forward alternative versions of datafication to question privileges and oppression. We discussed contemporary modes of worker resistance to the unethical conditions of surveillance capitalism, as well as the forms of ‘resistance’ that can arise from people participating within oppressive structures themselves. The general feeling of the workshop was that the pervasiveness of datafication is making evident a plethora of other spaces and strategies for claiming agency beyond exceptional moments of collective mobilisation and existing categories of explicitly political action.

 

In all these examples, we notice the presence of actors who might not fit the label of data activists very visibly challenging the unjust consequences of datafication in their everyday lives. This is, however, hardly a new phenomenon. Minoritized, marginalized, colonized and exploited communities have always experienced everyday life as a space of political struggle. Workshop participants reflected on the experiences of people of color, rural dwellers attempting to benefit from the perks of digital citizenship, Latin American feminist activists, and data intermediaries working with marginalized city dwellers, amongst others.  From these reflections originated questions concerning research ethics and positionality: What role does the ‘agency’ of these communities play in making and unmaking datafication? Where does individual agency fit in relation to governance and accountability for data harms? Is it right to analyze the refusal of actors thought of as more ‘powerful’ through the same lens of resistance as marginalized or harmed communities? 

 

Acting on the everyday

Another one of our core interests in organizing the Everyday Data workshop was to reflect around the everyday as a space to foster resistance to the harmful consequences of datafication, and whether we, as academics, should open it up for examination or leave it alone to prevent its cooptation. During the discussion, this concern acquired two forms. The first was related to how to approach the everyday from our positionality as academics, which implies questioning how notions of ‘everyday’ are shaped not just by datafication but by the way ‘ life’ is ordered and categorized — for example, imagining what the everyday would mean without the implicit structuring of capitalist consumption or labor. The second concern was connected to the role that research on these issues may play in relation to advocacy. What do we want to see ‘happen’ with our research findings? How to best support groups seeking just conditions under datafication? These questions are particularly hard when we decide to join the work of the communities we are interested in on their own terms and honoring the specificities of their values and their epistemic contributions, rather than imposing academic frameworks around ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’.

 

Contribute to the discussion

Following the rich discussion of our workshop, we are looking into ways to grow our brainstorm further. To that end, we invite those interested in reflecting upon the everyday dimension of datafication to write for our blog or propose another contribution. Please get in touch directly with Guillen & Becky. 

 

References and further reading

Amoore, L. (2013). The politics of possibility: Risk and security beyond probability. Durham: Duke University Press.

Datafication and Community Activism Workshop Participants (2019), What We Mean When We Say #AbolishBigData2019. In: Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@rncrooks/what-we-mean-when-we-say-abolishbigdata2019-d030799ab22e.

D’Ignazio, Catherine. K., Lauren, F. (2020). Data Feminism. S.I.: MIT Press.

Fotopoulou, A. (2019). Understanding citizen data practices from a feminist perspective. Embodiment and the ethics of care. In H. Stephansen & E. Trere (Eds.), Citizen Media and Practice. Oxford: Routledge.

Gutiérrez, M., & Milan, S. (2019). Playing with data and its consequences. First Monday, 24(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i1.9554

Gurses, Seda, Rebekah Overdorf, and Ero Balsa. (2018). POTs: The revolution will not be optimized? 11th Hot Topics in Privacy Enhancing Technologies (HotPETs).

Kennedy, H. (n.d.). Living With Data: Aligning Data Studies and Data Activism Through a Focus on Everyday Experiences of Datafication. Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, 1, 18–30.

Milan, S., & van der Velden, L. (2018). Reversing Data Politics: An Introduction to the Special Issue. Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, 2018(1), 1–3.

Milan, S., & Velden, L. van der. (2016). The Alternative Epistemologies of Data Activism. Digital Culture & Society, 2(2). https://doi.org/10.14361/dcs-2016-0205

Neal, Sarah and Karim Murji. (2015). “Sociologies of everyday life: editors’ introduction to the special issue.” Sociology 49 (5): 811-819.

Ruppert, E., Isin, E., & Bigo, D. (2017). Data politics. Big Data & Society, 4(2), 205395171771774. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951717717749

Photo Credit: Telmo32

 

[BigDataSur] Cashlessness for development: A dangerous orthodoxy

Silvia Masiero, Loughborough University, s.masiero@lboro.ac.uk

Soumyo Das, International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore, soumyo@iiitb.org

Silvia Masiero (Loughborough University) and Soumyo Das (International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore) examine the gaps between the design of India’s cashless transaction architectures and the reality lived by urban street sellers in Bangalore, problematising the orthodoxy of “inclusive cashlessness” underlying the push to diffusion of such architectures.

As the idea of “digital for development” becomes ingrained in global anti-poverty agendas, cashless economies are increasingly represented as a step towards economic prosperity in developing nations. The term “cashless” refers to financial transactions operated through transfers of digital information rather than physical currency, and extensively indicates economies shifting from cash-based systems to digitally-enabled ones. The point that cashlessness is capable of inducing transparency of currency movements, thereby combating illicit money flows through digitally-induced traceability, is acquiring weight in the making of development schemes at the national and international level. In a recent report, the World Bank links the establishment of cashless systems to financial inclusion, motivating their function as a means to the incorporation of marginalised actors in the formal economy.

Yet against this backdrop, limited empirical evidence so far links cashlessness to the pursuit of financially inclusive policies in developing nations. At a time when the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are openly associated to the adoption and use of digital technologies, it is important to examine perceptions of cashless transactions by actors operating in traditionally cash-based systems, such as the informal economies within which the large majority of the world’s transactions occur. As a result part of our ongoing research focuses on India, where a policy move referred to as demonetisationin November 2016 banned the majority of the nation’s banknotes, replacing these with new ones in an attempt to curb the proliferation of black money. This temporary move preceded the shift, advocated by the national government and multiple private providers, to a cashless system characterised by the diffusion of digital transactions, largely operated through an ecosystem of digital wallet applications.

In a study recently presented at the Development Studies Association (DSA) Conference (Milton Keynes, United Kingdom), we share preliminary findings from an investigation of cashless transactions among street sellers in Bangalore, a large Indian city with consistently high volumes of digital payments. Our research interest was triggered by how, in spite of the “inclusive cashlessness” operations promulgated by the national and state governments, street markets are still dominated by a cash-based system, with few digital transactions occurring in our on-the-ground observations. Bangalore street markets provide an urban setting where connectivity is generally good, and we focused our interviews on street sellers who are owners of smart mobile devices on which digital wallets are built to operate. Moving around three large markets in the city, we became interested in street sellers’ perception of the affordances of cashless transactions for their businesses.

In conversation with us, answering questions on their use (or lack thereof) of digital wallets, multiple sellers voiced primary concerns with the design of such applications. Street vendors – whose living is built through the day-to-day profits of microbusinesses – place high value on immediate notification of transactions, which does happen with cash – but much less with a text-message notification that “may or may not” reach them, generating uncertainty especially at times of the day (or indeed, of the week) when many small transactions occur. Furthermore, digital wallets mean regular visits to financial institutions to withdraw cash-in-hand, which sellers need for daily transactions and is subject to a fee of variable entity. Overarching is, in street sellers’ narratives, the theme of the uncertainty associated to digital transactions: limited awareness of back-end processes occurring from customers’ payments to the reception of money actively discourages the use of digital transaction apps. Cashless systems, well-devised for formal economic transactions, do not seem to be designed to manage the multiple uncertainties that historically characterise Bangalore’s street selling ecosystems.

A second issue lies in the rupture that apps cause in established street-market economic processes. The introduction of cashless architectures breaks a continuity that characterises street-vending ecosystems since the early days: from street sellers we learned that suppliers “will want to be paid cash” rather than accepting any other form of payment. It was, amongst other factors, the well-rootedness of cash-based systems that paralysed entire sectors of the Indian economy during demonetisation, as the sudden discontinuity of cash flows blocked the only way many actors knew to transact. The street sellers we spoke to are frequently visited by representatives of digital wallet companies providing information on their products: yet such systems, rather than building on the long-standing ecosystems of street vending, are designed in rupture with these, effectively dismantling their transactional architecture.

As part of our ongoing study, it is important to seek explanations for the observed gaps between cashless architectures and informal economies. The link between cashlessness and development is articulated by its proponents along two sub-links, one consisting of anti-diversion (combating black money through traceability) and one passing through financial inclusion (building systems that marginalised actors can access). Since the days of demonetisation, the Indian case reveals a focus on anti-diversion, proposing the cash ban (and, subsequently, cashless systems) as a means to securely trace transactions in the economy, easily detecting suspicious ones and preventing them from happening. These systems are characterised by the inbuilt functionality of tracing money flows: in doing so they act as monitoring devices, whose affordances point to sheer tracing of ongoing transactions in the economy.

We are currently seeking to trace the history of diffusion of cashless architectures in India, with particular attention to the balance between private actors (owners of a large majority of digital wallets) and the governmental agencies endorsing them. In mid-2017, the Reserve Bank of India’s report that 99.3% of the currency was back in the system post-demonetisation shed doubts on the effectiveness of this policy move. The functionality of e-wallets as a tracing measure, capable of enacting the inbuilt functionality of finding and preventing illegal transactions, seems to be accompanied by limited evidence of its effectiveness as a means to anti-diversion or, indeed, inclusive policies. In this context, the orthodoxy of “cashlessness for development” equates “development” with transaction tracing, dangerously neglecting the implications of the “tracing” function and its impact on users’ entitlements.

 

Silvia Masiero is a Lecturer in International Development at the School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University. Her research focuses on the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the field of socio-economic development.

Soumyo Das is affiliated to the Centre for Information Technology and Public Policy. His current research focusses on the social and economic implications of digitalization of retail banking practices for customers in developing states.

DATACTIVE at DATAPOWER

Most of the DATACTIVE team will be in Bremen for the DATAPOWER 2019 conference. Hit us up on twitter if you would like to meet! Below you can find the abstracts to the papers we will be presenting.

Plus, on Saturday, we’ll lead the invitation-only post-conference workshop “Everyday Data”. More info about that project will follow soon!

What feminist theory of datafication emerges from contemporary data activism? (S. Milan)
Data activism articulates critical interpretations of datafication, wiring them in a myriad of sociotechnical practices that directly question mainstream rituals such as the quantification of human existence, the blanket monitoring of citizens, and the institutional rhetoric of transparency. While in its early days data activism leveraged mostly cypherpunk and/or techno-positivist narratives, these increasingly make room for feminist and postcolonial interpretations of the consequences of datafication for individuals and communities. But what does it mean to be a feminist in the age of datafication? This paper asks what feminist theory(ies) of datafication emerges from contemporary data activism. Grounded on a rich body of qualitative data gathered over the period 2015-2019 and consisting of over 200 semi-structured practitioner interviews and extensive participation in activist events, the paper investigates the co-constitution of feminist data activism projects and their material counterparts, namely apps, websites, and artistic interventions. It looks at projects like Chupadatos (“the data sucker”), by the Latin American organization Coding Rights, which questions gender-based discrimination and anti-feminist narratives encoded in tracking and dating apps (https://chupadados.codingrights.org/en/). Similar to Wajcman (2010) and Costanza-Chock (2018), this paper finds that the relationship between data/fication and gender is situated and fluid. Feminism and intersectionality emerge as fruitful venues to rethink gender-based discrimination and the sociotechnical reproduction of the gender binary. WATCH THE PRESENTATION HERE.


Cited works
Costanza-Chock, S. (2018). Design Justice, A.I., and Escape from the Matrix of Domination. Retrieved from https://jods.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/costanza-chock?version=c5860136-8a6c-424b-b07c-9c8c071615b0
Wajcman, J. (2010). Feminist theories of technology. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34(1), 143–152.
From Data Politics to the Contentious Politics of Data (D. Beraldo, S. Milan)

This article approaches the paradigm shift of datafication from the perspective of civil society. Looking at how individuals and groups engage with datafication, it draws upon the notion of data politics as defined by Ruppert, Isin and Bigo (2017), and complements it by exploring the “contentious politics of data”. By contentious politics of data we indicate the multiplicity of bottom-up, transformative initiatives interfering with and/or hijacking dominant, top-down processes of datafication, by means of contesting existing power relations and narratives, or by re-appropriating data practices and infrastructure for purposes distinct from the intended. Said contentious politics of data is articulated in an array of practices of data activism, taking a critical stance towards datafication and massive data collection. Data activism is characterized by the role of data as mediators, deployed as part of an action repertoire or as objects of struggle in their own right. Leveraging social movement studies and science and technology studies, this paper is illustrated with qualitative data collected in the framework of a multi-year project exploring the politics of big data from the perspective of civil society. It argues that data activism manifests itself along two continuums: data as “stakes” (that is, as issues/objects of political struggle in their own right) versus data as “repertoires” (or modular tools for political struggle), and individual practice versus collective action. The emergence of a political data subject in the realm of the civil society might lie at the intersection of these two dimensions.

Infrastructures of Anticipation: exploring emergent civil society strategies (of resistance) to pervasive surveillance and data exploitation (B. Kazansky)

As the ubiquity of surveillance and data exploitation have increasingly impacted the work of civil society actors, there has been a turn to specific practices to help anticipate surveillance and data related problems. These practices, which I term ‘anticipatory data practices’, help cut through the uncertainties that surround how surveillance is conducted and data is exploited. My paper offers a case study exploring these emergent practices, as part of the larger DATACTIVE project looking into the ‘politics of big data according to civil society’. I draw on ethnographic data from 50 interviews with civil society actors across transnational networks of coordination, along with extensive participant observation and the analysis of secondary data from a corpus of technical materials. I will show in particular at how ‘anticipatory data practices’ give rise to new forms of infrastructures which bring civil society actors together across diffuse configurations to collect, analyse, and track data in order to anticipate and prevent future surveillance-related events. These infrastructures respond to a desire for better structured and more collective practices, opening up new ways for civil society actors to work with each other, with data, and with possible futures. However, while offering up exciting new possibilities, these emergent practices also raise a number of critical questions. Here I highlight two: first, there is a worry that engaging in an anticipatory dynamic can lead to an escalation in the surveillance-resistance dynamics at play. Second, there is a concern over what is seen as an adoption of data-driven logics and techniques from other sectors. What might be lost from civil society work with the increased emphasis on data? I will explore these questions in my presentation.

Playing with data and its consequences (M. Gutierrez, S. Milan)
The fundamental paradigm shift brought about by datafication alters how people participate as citizens on a daily basis. “Big data” has come to constitute a new terrain of engagement, which brings organized collective action, communicative practices and data infrastructure into a fruitful dialogue. While scholarship is progressively acknowledging the emergence of bottom-up data practices, to date no research has explored the influence of these practices on the activists themselves. Leveraging the disciplines of critical data and social movement studies, this paper explores “proactive data activism”, using, producing and/or appropriating data for social change, and examines its biographical, political, tactical and epistemological consequences. Approaching engagement with data as practice, this study focuses on the social contexts in which data are produced, consumed and circulated, and analyzes how tactics, skills and emotions of individuals evolve in interplay with data. Through content and co-occurrence analysis of semi-structured practitioner interviews (N=20), the article shows how the employment of data and data infrastructure in activism fundamentally transforms the way activists go about changing the world.
(Re-)assembling data publics? Cases from open data, data journalism and data activism (J. Gray, L. van der Velden, L. Bounegru)
 The concept of “data publics” (Ruppert, 2015) has been used to describe the making and gathering of publics around data. Taking this concept as a starting point, in this paper we ask: What are data publics? Are there different kinds of data publics? What assembles them and holds them together? What does the concept do? How might it open up space for thinking about data politics?

Drawing on a range of different empirical vignettes from our previous and ongoing research on open data, data journalism and data activism, we aim to situate, conceptually unpack, critically explore and empirically specify the notion of data publics. We explore the ways in which data publics are assembled, configured, invited to act and act in ways other than expected. Drawing on perspectives in STS and media studies, we examine some of the different ways in which data publics are enrolled as witnesses, auditors, investigators, innovators and sensors, including through issues such as surveillance, climate denial, air pollution, and devices such as data portals, indexes, repositories, forums, kits and apps.

References

Ruppert, E. (2015). Doing the Transparent State: Open Government Data as Performance Indicators. In R. Rottenburg, S. E. Merry, S.-J. Park, & J. Mugler (Eds.), A World of Indicators: The Making of Governmental Knowledge Through Quantification (pp. 127–150). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Citizen engagement with superior audit institutions: the possibilities of citizen generated data (G. Torres, D. Lämmerhirt)
Superior Audit Institutions (SAI) oversee fiscal activities and the compliance of other government agencies. As independent bodies, their accounts provide key information in tackling corruption (OECD 2018). In past decades citizen-led ‘social audits’ or ‘ground-truthing’ were developed to propose alternative ways of evaluating, and to close ‘accountability gaps’.

Recently, some SAIs started to invite citizens to participate in auditing. Throughout Latin America, for example, different mechanisms allow citizens to join SAIs by suggesting specific audits, making particular complaints about suspected violations, joining the yearly planning of audits to be conducted, or following-up the recommendations produced by the SAI.

Despite substantive attention to the practices of social audits, little attention is paid to how these practices relate to traditional auditing. Literature suggests different conditions enabling cooperation or take-up of citizen-generated data by government (McElfish, Pendergrass, Fox 2016). Instead of regarding citizen data as mere resource, authors emphasise that data-intensive citizen-state cooperation must inquire the politics defining what can be known and audited (Oettinger 2009). The paper builds on these debates asking: What conventions and standards do Superior Audit Institutions develop to engage with traditional and non-traditional types of data? How do these conventions and standards interplay with the practices of citizen auditing?

This paper presents literature and empirical cases of SAI-citizen cooperation to explore the role that CDG could play within collaborative audits between civil society and governmental institutions. I focus particularly on how agreed practices of CDG interplay with the standards that SAIs establish to secure the robustness of their audits.

Decolonising Data. Undoing the South  (M. Halkort, M. Lim, T. Lauriault, S. Milan)
The Global South, once only a footnote in critical data studies, has become a “hot” topic of late. Papers emphasizing ‘a view from the South’ are proliferating at conference, workshops and events, broadening our understanding of the intersectional dynamics of data capitalism across the globe. Yet this renewed interest is not without risks, as it can easily subsume a wide range of locally specific dynamics and under one discrete geographical and onto-epistemic location, assigning the South once more a status of exceptionalism that merely reifies, extends and reconfigures structures of modern colonial thought. Against this backdrop, this proposed panel attempts to critically interrogate the multiple intersections, turbulences, interdependencies, and circulations shaping the political economy of data, both within and between “North” and South” that distribute logics of dispossession, exploitation, subalternity and domination – all master signifiers of colonial power relations – across markets, platforms, data practices and infrastructural domains. Putting empirical and theoretical contributions from a series of case studies into conversation with one another, this panel endeavours to reveal manifestations of data power that have so far remained hidden or insufficiently discussed. Moderated by Stefania Milan, the conversation in this panel includes, but not limited to, new faces of subalternity in big data sets of dead and missing migrants in the Mediterranean (Monika Halkort), post-colonial mapping Canada’s North, Ireland and the decolonisation of First Nations Data in Canada (Tracey Lauriault), decolonised practices of counter-mapping and data activism in Southeast Asia (Merlyna Lim). What brings this diverse range of experiences together is their commitment to re-think power asymmetries in planetary data infrastructures and computation from the view point of the border. The border here does not refer to a geopolitical location, but rather to an onto-epistemic disposition: a commitment to thinking between disciplines by building on concepts, ideas, practices and modes of questioning that have been denied proper recognition in academic thought.

Guillén at the Global Conference for Transparency Research 2019

Last week, Guillén was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to present part of his PhD project on the sociotechnical obstacles faced by data/information activists in Mexico and the strategies they develop to overcome them. His talk, “Institutional Resistance to Datafication-from-below”, was part of the pannel “Civil Society Experiences”, in which researchers and practitioners from México, India and the UK reflected around how the legal frameworks of transparency are experienced by engaged citizens.

Below you can find the abstract of his presentation. Get in touch with him if you’d like to discuss!

Governmental transparency through Freedom of Information Laws has become a standard in modern liberal democracies. Although the connection between transparency and political accountability has been thoroughly questioned, research seems to confirm that access to public sector information is a key (albeit not sufficient) factor fostering citizen empowerment. However, a recent trend in Latin America, denounced by both practitioners and academics, consists of governments, who in paper state their support for transparency, implementing various kinds of strategies to hinder the process of accessing public sector information, curbing governmental transparency. While a considerable body of research on transparency’s performance in many countries around the world has focused on its drawbacks and challenges, and there is even a specific set of literature looking particularly at the factors that affect governmental responsiveness to FOI requests, the attention of scholars has mostly been set on what happens within institutions, while the experiences of politically engaged citizens have received less study. In this paper I chose a different path, focusing on how Mexican information activists experience and make sense of delays, denials and obstacles during the process of accessing Public Sector Information through the Freedom of Information Law. Thus, I attempt to switch the attention from the evaluation of transparency policies through indexes that measure the achievement of policy goals, to the embodied experience of the communities involved in policy performance.

Good Data Book launch on January 24

For the past few months we worked in a new collective DATACTIVE publication: Data for the Social Good: Toward a data-activist research agenda. It will be one of the chapters in the forthcoming Good Data book, edited by Angela Daly, Kate Devitt and Monique Mann, and published by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam within their “Theory on Demand” series.

Our text builds upon the Data for the Social Good two-day focused encounter we organised in November 2017 (read the report here). During the first day of that event last year we discussed with Charlotte Ryan, Lorenzo Pezanni, Jeff Deutsch and Nico Para about the ways in which research and activism intersect in projects which rely on data. On the second day, we were joined by a diverse group of researchers and activists for a workshop exploring what a data-activist agenda would look like (seriously, read the report here!).

In Data for the Social Good: Toward a data-activist research agenda, we took that conversation and expanded it two fronts. First, we grounded theoretically our take on what it means to be a (data) activist, which implied clarifying what data activism means in the first place, as well as briefly revising the origin and evolution of engaged research. Secondly,  we reflected more deeply upon the ethics of collaborative investigations, paying particular attention to the power relations between the actors involved throughout the process.

The Good Data book will be launched in Amsterdam at 5pm of the 24th of January, at the cultural centre Spui25. It includes 20 different chapters exploring what good data practices are, from manifestos to smart city reflections (and nope, not a single reference to blockchain).  Both the editors and DATACTIVE will be around to discuss more about how to use data for good rather than evil, so join us if you’re interested in knowing more (or getting the book)!

Cheers!

DATACTIVE

 

 

DATACTIVE at EASST 2018

Stefania and Guillén will be present this week at EASST 2018: Meetings – Making Science, Technology and Society Together, in Lancaster, UK.

If you are around, drop by our panel “After data activism: reactions to civil society’s engagement with data” on Saturday morning (9:30) at the Elizabeth Livingston Lecture Theatre. We will be focusing on how data governance, data science and social technologies are co-producing asymmetries of power through five papers dealing with Data flows, data sharing, the scoring society, civil society and data practices, and resistance through data.

Apart from that, Stefania will also be presenting along Anita Chan a paper on “Data cultures from the Global South: decentering data universalism” and will participate in a panel organized by the European Research Council.

Come say hi!

Guillén at the CRISP biannual Doctoral Training School

As every two years, the Center for Research into Information, Surveillance and Privacy offers a summer school focused on Surveillance Studies. This time, it is the turn of the University of St. Andrews (yes, that one where Kate and Edward fell in love! *sarcastic wink*) to host, from Monday 18 to Friday 22 June.

The one-week course will feature sessions on the intersection between surveillance and religion, activism, privacy, Freedom of Information, and a two-day intensive research proposal competition. The activities are coordinated by Prof. Kirstie Ball.

EDIT: The team Guillen was a part of won the research proposal competition, getting awarded 2.5 million euros of fake funding for a project called: “New Lateral Surveillance in Naming and Shaming Culture: The Impact of Viral Media on Liberal Democracies“. You can check the slides here.

DATACTIVE Speaker Series: Mimi Onuoha

Next Wednesday, the artist and researcher Mimi Onuoha will be with us for another session of the DATACTIVE speaker series.

Mimi Onuoha is a Nigerian-American, Brooklyn-based artist and researcher whose work examines the implications of data collection and computational categorization. She uses code, writing, interventions, and objects to explore missing data and the ways in which people are abstracted, represented, and classified.

If you’re around Amsterdam and wish to attend, drop a line to guillen@data-activism.net.

Cheers!

Guillén at the WTMC Summer School

This year, the Netherlands Graduate Research School of Science, Technology and Modern Culture summer school focused on Ethnography, Digital Objects, and STS, under the guidance of Christine Hine. The yearly event takes place in the quiet former convent of Soeterbeeck, in Ravenstein, which is now a conference center of the Radboud Universiteit.

The goal of the Summer School was to reflect around how can researchers produce knowledge from digital objects, and what challenges does ‘The Digital’ imply for the methods of Social Sciences. The event consisted of a series of lectures by Christine Hine, who has developed extensive work on digital ethnography, and other STS scholars: Vlad Niculescu (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Nishant Shah (ArtEZ School of the Arts), Justus Uitermark (University of Amsterdam), Karin Wenz (Maastricht University), and Sally Wyatt (Maastricht University / Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences).

In addition to that, some of the attendees presented their own PhD research spanning a wide array of subjects, from period tracking apps, to mobility experiments, passing by digital patient records and The People’s Internet. I presented my work on Digital Shatter Zones: digital spaces in which public sector information and open data is made available without necessarily being accessible. You can see the slides here.