By Jeroen

[BigDataSur] Widening the field of Critical Data Studies: reflections on four years of DATA POWER

Guest Author: Güneş Tavmen

In June 2015, on a Sunday afternoon, I was walking around the centre of Sheffield to buy an outfit to wear while presenting at my first major academic conference. Having forgotten the dress I had prepared at home, I was desperately trying to fix something that would make me look fairly presentable. The conference was the first-ever ‘Data Power’, one of the first academic conferences providing with a space focused on the critical interventions on ‘data’s ever more ubiquitous power’. While it was unclear as to whether this was a one-off conference, together with its successful reception, it has become a biannual conference later on. Besides the usual nerves that every PhD researcher experiences at their first international conference, I was also quite intimidated by the idea that my co-panellist was Rob Kitchin, one of the foremost academics in the smart city research. Having recently finished my first year into PhD studies, I found it daunting to talk about my work in progress next to such high-profile names. Fast forward to September 2019, this time I was strolling the streets of Bremen as I travelled there to attend the third Data Power conference – this time as a fresh doctor who does not get as nervous about what to wear while presenting anymore. Having marked the beginning and the end of my PhD (unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the second Data Power conference in 2017 since I had no travel funding to afford a trip to Canada), I want to briefly reflect on the shifts I have observed between the first conference and the last, since these transformations might also relate to the larger terrain of an emerging field that has become known as “Critical Data Studies”.

The first Data Power conference was an academic celebrity gathering with an exceptionally large number of established scholars across the field giving papers. The range of presentations was wide in disciplinary approach but was narrow in geographical diversity and representation. Many papers were adopting a philosophical point of view presenting ontological discussions on the datafication of, well, everything. ‘Big Data’ seemed to be the hot topic with many papers addressing it, and, was discussed in relation to a wide range of areas from art to finance. There was a high level of expectations and competition in the air as this field was still in the process of establishing itself as a distinct area of enquiry. Probably because of that, I remember being struck by the inflation of neologies offered in the papers across the panels. This was to the level that, it felt like everyone was working hard to mark their territories through these neologies in this newly established field.

To the contrary of the wide range of the topics discussed, there was a significant lack of diversity with a little attendance from the so-called ‘Global South’ – in other words, it was a highly ‘white’ conference both in terms of speakers and subjects discussed. Except for two presenters, all the papers and keynotes were from organisations in Europe, Australia and North America. I too was at the time representing an institution in London (Birkbeck, University of London) and my paper focused on the London case. However, I remember feeling like the odd one out as a participant originally from Turkey. At the end of the conference, I tweeted about this observation, and to my surprise, it was not very well received. Several attendants, who were all white and employed in European institutions, told me that it was not true that the field of critical data studies was not diverse enough. Well, at least, the alleged diversity was not observable at this particular conference.

Fast-forwarding to 2019, the third Data Power conference portrayed a significant acknowledgement of the need to ‘decolonise’ the field. From the selection of keynotes to the range of topics, there was a substantial effort to widen the field in terms of geographical and socio-cultural inclusion. However, this time, the diversity of the range of topics was relatively limited. Activism, algorithmic justice and ethics seemed to have been raised most frequently in the panels -together with high attention to algorithmic practices of public bodies- while many other topics seemed to have disappeared such as politics of quantified self, political economy of data practices, citizen-science and data-driven urbanism to name a few. Besides, the popularity of the label “Big Data” has gone down, replaced by lots of attention to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The field of Critical Data Studies has undoubtedly gained huge traction within the space of four years. While Data Power is the only comprehensive and periodic conference to be solely dedicated to Critical Data Studies (at least to my knowledge), there are now many ad-hoc specialised events being organised that deal with a focus on an aspect of data studies (e.g. feminist approaches, fake news and disinformation, data visualisation etc). Arguably, one might say that this might be the reason for the narrowing down of the range of topics, but I think it is not enough to explain the situation at the third Data Power conference. The heavy presence of papers auditing a wealth of public data practices, and the lesser discussion on what makes data practices so prominent in the first place, made me feel like we have given up on asking ontological questions. An overwhelming focus on how to make these systems more ethical and just with a lack of contestation of the domination of these systems through raising philosophical questions may indeed result in auxiliary proposals that help sustain these systems. To be clear, by no means I deny the importance of discussions on ethics and justice, but I believe that there is a strong need also for more genealogical excavations into how and why these systems are in place, as well as questions regarding ‘at what expense’ they perpetuate (e.g. environmental effects, precarious labour practices, political economy perspective and so on) at this conference. Locating data practices within a broader context would thus also inform discussions on ethics and justice.

Let me finish by underlining that these are my humble observations, and of course, they are partial since I did not have the chance to listen to all the presentations. Whatever is expecting us in the next Data Power conference in 2021, I hope that there will be a diverse group of attendees and a solid critical approach, which might help tackle the atrocities our world is facing today. I also hope that it will be in a country where I will not need to go through the horrific process of visa application—which is another, often overlooked dimension to consider when we discuss ‘data power’.

About Güneş Tavmen

Güneş Tavmen is ESRC postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London. She earned her PhD from Birkbeck, University of London; her research focuses on the (open) data-driven initiatives, practices and discourses in the context of smart city making in London.

New additions to the team

Starting in November, we would like to welcome three additions to the DATACTIVE team. We will have Sander van Haperen, Zhen Ye and Tomás Dodds Rohas (left-to-right) each joining us for a couple of months to strengthen the team making the most out of our final year of research.

Please find the individual profiles below (and on our team page).

Sander van Haperen is postdoc fellow at DATACTIVE. He studies the development of social movements, with a particular interest in leadership, governance, and digital networks. His research advances computational methods, drawing on social media, complexity, and network analysis, as well as qualitative inquiry.

Zhen Ye is a student assistant at DATACTIVE. She is currently enrolled in Media Studies as a Research Master student at the University of Amsterdam. Her research interests focuses on (gendered) digital labour on social media platforms.

Tomás Dodds Rojas is a PhD researcher at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University. His research is concerned with how newsmakers are appropriating digital technologies and how these innovations are transforming the infrastructure, temporality and form of the newsmaking process.

[BigDataSur] On the Coloniality of Data Relations: Revisiting Data Colonialism as Research Paradigm (2/2)

Author Monika Halkort

In this twofold blogpost (2/2), guest author Monika Halkort complicates the notion of ‘data colonialism’ as employed in The Cost of Connection by Nick Couldry & Ulises Mejias (2019a), drawing on a case study of early datafication practices in historical Palestine. This blogpost is the last out of two: the first contextualizes ‘the colonial’ in data colonialism, the second draws on the casestudy to argue for the need to reimagine data agency in times of data colonialism. Read the first post here.

In the previous blogpost I argued for historically situated study of data colonialism to highlight the intersectionality of its effects. In my work on data relations in the historical experience of Palestinians I draw on modern property, census practices and map making rationalities to achieve that. These examples demonstrate the profound ontological violence involved in projecting the bi-polar structure of European Cartesian thinking upon non-European people and places.

The Ottoman government had never conducted a comprehensive land survey up until the arrival of colonial explorers in the mid 19th century. The census, the cadaster and maps in this sense can be understood as the first wave of datafication in the history of Palestinians. Taken together they provided the key political technologies for dispossessing commonly held grazing grounds and agricultural resources, paving the way for the subsequent transfer of land to Zionist settlers long before the foundation of the state of Israel (Halkort, 2016; 2019). The combined impact of calculating, measuring and reclassifying social and spatial identities and relations systematically disaggregated shared ownership and use rights into exclusivist title deeds and data units, which facilitated the radical reterritorialization of spaces and bodies on the basis of abstract universals – race, class, colonial citizenship and religion – and rendered the lived and embodied topology of social contracts and obligations unintelligible and hence obsolete. As McRae (1993, p. 345) writes, the new techniques of surveying land reconstructed rights as something that could be clearly and objectively measured and determined, in a manner which precluded competing, loosely held customary claims.

The double movement of reterritorialization and enclosure conscripted the population into an ongoing process of self-measuring activity in which the political recognition of aspiring national subjects became ever more dependent on their social separability as property owners, on terms and conditions that were themselves racially marked. It’s in this sense, I conclude, that the accumulative impact of property, census and the map, enabled colonial data infrastructures to function as powerful ontological machines that fundamentally transformed the conditions for articulating and affirming the historical existence and claims of the Palestinian people – not through the use of force, but rather through the “self organizing” principles of the free market competition that brought race, class, religion, property and gender to fold into each other such that they provided a self-generating axes along which shared life unfolds.

Against his backdrop, it becomes possible to see that the violence of dispossession of both modern-colonial and contemporary data regimes, is not reducible to the unfettered capitalization of life without limit, nor to the totalizing structure of social control and ubiquitous surveillance data extraction enrolls. It rather lies in the attempt to enclose the very ‘substance’ of life as central object of political strategy and commodification (Foucault), while successfully concealing how this “substance” is configured alongside binary distinctions – i.e. space and society, data and subjects, nature and politics as the central organizing principle of social and political subjectivities in liberal-capitalist democracies. In other words, what is dispossessed in data relations, are not pre-existing social entities and relations, but rather the very capacity of enacting and sustaining world-building relations that constitute collective life. The violence of data extraction, in this sense, never works on self-enclosed, autonomous bodies or acquired resources but rather through the flexible (re)assemblage of human and non-human entities into transversal arrangements that variously disposition people and things in relation to things of value that help stabilize Cartesian dualisms by foreclosing other ways of being and becoming in the world.

This capacity to affect life not only as it is already given, but its very becoming calls for an uncompromising revision of the techno-political heuristic that currently defines data policy and practice. Such a revision needs to start with a radical re-conception of data agency as the lived and embodied potentiality of materializing relations that implicate data into dynamics of struggle across platforms, operational divisions and scalar domains. Such an idea of data agency is not necessarily empowering, much less confined to human ambitions and concerns. What is gained, however, by rethinking data agency as such a transversal, multi-species arrangement, is that it successfully disrupts the seamless naturalization of data into an ownerless, self-enclosed, and ontologically distinct resource or mere by-product of social activity and relations to make room for acknowledging data as inextricably bound up with the lived and embodied infrastructure of collective life making, and, hence, as inseparable from the ethico-political substance it configures and performs.

 

About Monika Halkort

Monika Halkort is Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Social Communication at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. Her work traverses the fields of feminist STS, political ecology and post-humanist thinking to unpack the intersectional dynamics of racialization, de-humanisation and enclosure in contemporary data regimes. Her most recent project looks at the new patterns of bio-legitimacy that emerge from the ever denser convergence of social, biological and machine intelligence in environmental sensing and Earth Observation. Taking the Mediterranean sea as her prime example she unpacks how conflicting models of risk and premature death in data recalibrate ‘zones of being’ and ‘non-being’ (Fanon), opening up new platforms of oppression, alienation and ontological displacement that have been characteristic of modern coloniality.

References

Braidotti, Rosi. (2016). Posthuman Critical Theory. In D. Banerji, M. R. Paranjape (eds.), Critical Posthumanism and Planetary Futures (pp. 13–32). e-book: Springer India. doi: 10.1007/978-81-322-3637-5
Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. (2019a). The Costs of Connection: How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. (2019b). Data Colonialism: Rethinking Big Data’s Relation to the Contemporary Subject. Television and New Media, 1 -14.
Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. (2019c). The Costs of Connection: How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from Colonised by Data: https://colonizedbydata.com/
Halkort, M. (forthcoming) ‘Dying in the Technosphere. An intersectional analysis of Migration Crisis Maps’, in Specht, D. Mapping Crisis, London Consortium for Human Rights, University of London, London, UK
Halkort, M. (2019). Decolonizing Data Relations: On the moral economy of Data Sharing in a Palestinian Refugee Camp. Canadian Journal of Communication , 317-329.
Halkort, M. (2016) ‘Liquefying Social Capital. The Bio-politics of Digital Circulation in a Palestinian Refugee Camp’, in Tecnoscienza, Nr. 13, 7(2)
Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On the coloniality of being: contributions to the development of a concept. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3), 240-270.
Mbebe, A. (2017). Critique of Black Reason. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
McRae, Andrew. (1993). To know one’s own: Estate surveying and the representation of the land in early modern England. The Huntington Library Quarterly, 56(4), 333–57. doi: 10.2307/3817581
Mignolo, W. (2009). Coloniality: The darker side of modernity. In S. Breitwieser (Hrsg.), Modernologies. Contemporary artists researching modernity and modernism (S. 39 – 49). Barcelona: MACBA.
Quijano, A. (2007). Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3), 168-178.

[BigDataSur] On the Coloniality of Data Relations: Revisiting Data Colonialism as Research Paradigm (1/2)

Author Monika Halkort

In this twofold blogpost (1/2), guest author Monika Halkort complicates the notion of ‘data colonialism’ as employed in The Cost of Connection by Nick Couldry & Ulises Mejias (2019a), drawing on a case study of early datafication practices in historical Palestine. This blogpost is one out of two: the first contextualizes ‘the colonial’ in data colonialism, the second draws on the casestudy to argue for the need to reimagine data agency in times of data colonialism.

One of the underlying themes running through the workshop Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda was the question how to characterize our relations with data, focusing specifically on the geo- and bio-politically context of the Souths. Our working group took up the critical task of reviewing the concept of ‘data colonialism’ to discuss whether it provides a productive framework for understanding forms of dispossession, enclosure and violence inhered in contemporary data regimes. Nick Couldry and Ulises Mejias (2019a), both participants in the workshop, make precisely this point in their new book “The Cost of Connection” where they argue that the unfettered capture of data from social activities and relations confronts us with a new social order – a new universal regime of appropriation – akin to the extractive logic of historical colonization. (Find Ulises Mejias’ recent blogpost on decolonizing data here.)

Data colonialism, in their view, combines the predatory extractive practices of the past with the abstract quantification methods of contemporary computing. This would ensure a seemingly natural conversion of daily life converges into streams of data that can be appropriated for value, based on the premise of generating new insights from data that would otherwise be considered to be noise. Thus, while data colonialism may not forcefully annex or dispossess land, people or territories in the way historical colonialism did, it nonetheless relies on the same self-legitimizing, utilitarian logic that objectified nature and the environment as raw materials, that are ‘just out there’, only waiting to be extracted, monetized or mined (2019b, p. 4). It’s this shift from the appropriation of natural to social resources that, for Couldry and Mejias, characterizes the colonial moment of contemporary data capitalism (2019b, p. 10). It ushers in a new regime of dispossession and enclosure that leaves no part of human life, no layer of experience, that is not extractable for economic value (2019b, p. 3; 2019c). This produces the social for capital under the pretext of advancing scientific knowledge, rationalizing management or personalizing marketing and services (2019c).

Couldry and Mejias emphasis on the expansion of dispossession from natural to social resources begs for a closer examination, for it implies an inherent split between the social and the natural as ontologically distinct categories of social existence, that may end up reifying the very structures of coloniality they seek to confront. Or, to put it differently, there is a need to better situate data within ontologies of the social if we are to fully understand who or what is dispossessed in data and in the name of whom or what. Such a self-reflexive task only becomes meaningful if conducted in historically and geographically specific contexts, to avoid losing sight of the differential effects that distinguish the beneficiaries of historical forms of colonialism from those who continue to struggle against its impact and consequence. Such a situated analysis also helps to emphasize the intersectionality of violence of dispossession and displacement in data relations and to draw a clear distinction between settler colonialism and other modes of colonisation, both of which are the main focus of my own research (2019 forthcoming, 2019, 2016).

Colonialism, after all, is not a fixed, universal structure, much less a coherent vector of power or rule. Colonialism operates through multiple forms of domination – military, economic, religious, cultural and onto-epistemic – each with its own legitimation narratives and tactics, rhetorical maneuvers and trajectories. What unites them into a shared set of characteristics, in my view, are the ways they contributed to the projection of modern, European knowledge onto the rest of the planet, such that other ways of knowing and being in the world were delegitimated and disavowed.

Modern European knowledge, as decolonial theory remind us, was firmly grounded in Cartesian dualisms that divided the world into two separate independent realms – body and mind, thinking and non-thinking substance – from which a whole range of other binaries i.e.: nature and society, subjects and objects of knowledge, human and non-human could be inferred (Braidotti, 2016; Maldonado-Torres, 2007; Mbebe, 2017; Quijano, 2007). Taken together they provided the normative horizon for managing social and spatial relations throughout the modern colonial period and that laid out the central parameters around which ethico-political subjectivities could be forged.

In part two: early Palestinian datafication practices demonstrate the violence of Cartesian thinking as a case of reimagining data agency. Read it here.

 

About Monika Halkort

Monika Halkort is Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Social Communication at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. Her work traverses the fields of feminist STS, political ecology and post-humanist thinking to unpack the intersectional dynamics of racialization, de-humanisation and enclosure in contemporary data regimes. Her most recent project looks at the new patterns of bio-legitimacy that emerge from the ever denser convergence of social, biological and machine intelligence in environmental sensing and Earth Observation. Taking the Mediterranean sea as her prime example she unpacks how conflicting models of risk and premature death in data recalibrate ‘zones of being’ and ‘non-being’ (Fanon), opening up new platforms of oppression, alienation and ontological displacement that have been characteristic of modern coloniality.

 

References

Braidotti, Rosi. (2016). Posthuman Critical Theory. In D. Banerji, M. R. Paranjape (eds.), Critical Posthumanism and Planetary Futures (pp. 13–32). e-book: Springer India. doi: 10.1007/978-81-322-3637-5
Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. (2019a). The Costs of Connection: How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. (2019b). Data Colonialism: Rethinking Big Data’s Relation to the Contemporary Subject. Television and New Media, 1 -14.
Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. (2019c). The Costs of Connection: How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from Colonised by Data: https://colonizedbydata.com/
Halkort, M. (forthcoming) ‘Dying in the Technosphere. An intersectional analysis of Migration Crisis Maps’, in Specht, D. Mapping Crisis, London Consortium for Human Rights, University of London, London, UK
Halkort, M. (2019). Decolonizing Data Relations: On the moral economy of Data Sharing in a Palestinian Refugee Camp. Canadian Journal of Communication , 317-329.
Halkort, M. (2016) ‘Liquefying Social Capital. The Bio-politics of Digital Circulation in a Palestinian Refugee Camp’, in Tecnoscienza, Nr. 13, 7(2)
Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On the coloniality of being: contributions to the development of a concept. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3), 240-270.
Mbebe, A. (2017). Critique of Black Reason. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
McRae, Andrew. (1993). To know one’s own: Estate surveying and the representation of the land in early modern England. The Huntington Library Quarterly, 56(4), 333–57. doi: 10.2307/3817581
Mignolo, W. (2009). Coloniality: The darker side of modernity. In S. Breitwieser (Hrsg.), Modernologies. Contemporary artists researching modernity and modernism (S. 39 – 49). Barcelona: MACBA.
Quijano, A. (2007). Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3), 168-178.

Stefania & Niels at workshop governance of free expression @St. Petersburg University

Niels ten Oever and Stefania Milan will be at the A workshop on Governance of Free Expression Online organised by the Centre for German and European Studies at the St. Petersburg State University – Bielefeld University. The workshop will be held at the CGES on October 11-12, 2019.

The workshop invites MA and PhD students as well as established scholars to present their research on topics related to conditions and forms of online communications, including but not limited to internet governance and regulation, online censorship, algorithms, and platforms. Aiming to address this gap, workshop speakers and participants will reflect on the following questions (but not limited to them):

  1. what theories and methods can be employed to study mechanisms that govern online
    expression?
  2. which theoretical and methodological difficulties have to be addressed by researchers?
  3. how institutions represent and construct free expression and censorship online?
  4. what socio-technical configurations enable or stifle free expression on the internet?

Full description of the workshop here,

More information on this event here

 

 

Stefania @Spui25 The work behind data. A seminar on systems and perspectives

 

Stefania Milan will be one of the speakers at The work behind data. A seminar on systems and perspectives. 
The event takes place October 10th, 13.00-15.00 @Spui25 (1012WX Amterdam)
Tickets are still available, but need reservation

About this event

Data has become central to many aspects of our society. However, the social and technical work that lies behind data is often overlooked. This seminar will explore the challenges and state of the art in working with data from both these vantage points.

This event consists of talks from research leaders in computer science, social science and scholarly communication. With Luc Moreau we will see new research on data provenance and explanation that react to the social calls for greater transparency in algorithmic decision making based on data. Philippe Cudré-Maroux will argue that since data frequently captures interrelated entitles (e.g. social networks and knowledge graphs), we need new machine learning techniques (e.g. representation learning) that can work effectively with graph data. Stefania Milian will present her research on data epistemologies and the politics of data work. Finally, we will explore the challenges faced in working with data in scholarly practice. This multifaceted and interdisciplinary seminar provides a unique view on data work. Moderator: Paul Groth

For more information, see the Spui25 website.

[BigDataSur] Some thoughts on decolonizing data

By Ulises Mejias

Would it be too far-fetched to call the variety of today’s data collection practices a new form of colonialism, given the violence and historical specificity of European colonialism? In our work, Nick Couldry and I try to make a careful argument that yes, we should call it colonialism. We focus not so much on the form or content of European colonialism, but on the historical function, which was to dispossess. Instead of natural resources or human labor, what this new form of colonialism expropriates is human life, through the medium of digital data. We therefore define “data colonialism” as an emerging order for the appropriation of human life so that data can be continuously extracted from it for profit. This form of extractivism comes with its own forms of rationalization and violence, although the modes, intensities, and scales are different from those we saw during European colonialism.

It should then be possible to decolonize data in the same way we have decolonized history, knowledge, and culture. I can think of at least three initial approaches.

First, by questioning the universalism behind this new form of appropriation. During European colonialism, the colonized were presented with a justification for dispossession that revolved around grand narratives such as Progress, Development, and the Supremacy of European culture and history—indeed about the supremacy of the White race. These narratives were universalizing in that they sought to obliterate any challenges to them (European values were the *only* standards to be recognized). Today, the narratives which justify data extraction are equally universalizing and totalizing. We are told the dispossession of human life through data represents progress, that it is done for the benefit of humanity; that it brings human connection, new knowledge, distributed wealth, etc. Furthermore we are told that even though it is *our* data, we don’t have the knowledge and means to make use of this resource, so we better get out of the way and let the corporations do it for us, as they did during colonialism. The first step to decolonize data is to realize that this is the same ruse the powerful have played on us for 500 years. There is nothing natural, normal, or universally valid about the way human life is becoming a mere factor in capitalist production, and we must reject the new narratives deployed to justify this form of dispossession.

The second way in which data can be decolonized is by reclaiming the very resources that have been stolen from us. In other words, we need to rescue colonized space and time: the space that has become populated by devices that monitor our every move; the time (usually in front of a screen) that we devote to the production of data that is used to generate profit for corporations. Our spaces and times are not empty, passively available for extraction. We need to re-invest them with value, as a way to protect them from appropriation by corporations. Yes, at a basic level this might mean simply opting-out of certain platforms. But I think it goes deeper than that. To decolonize our space and our time means to re-conceptualize our role within capitalism, which extends beyond data relations. It extends to the environment, to the workplace… I am inspired to see that the environmental movement, the labor movement, the social justice movement, the peace movement, and the critical science & technology movement are converging, and are being reconfigured in the process. Yes, huge challenges remain—especially in the face of populist movements like the ones we are seeing around Trump, Balsonaro and Modi—but at least we are developing the awareness that individual and disjointed action (like, say, quitting Facebook) is meaningless if it doesn’t happen in connection with other struggles.

Speaking of which, we have to remain vigilant and sceptical of “solutions” that legitimize the status quo. Recently, the New York Times published a glossy proposal for “saving” the internet by making sure we get paid for the data we generate. Is this a viable solution? Imagine one day you discover hidden cameras have been installed to track your every move, invading your privacy in order to generate profit for a company. Would you be satisfied if, instead of removing the cameras and addressing the injustice, the company promised to pay you to continue to record your life? If you are facing economic hardship, you might accept, but that still wouldn’t make it right. The only thing that would be accomplished would be the continuation—the normalization, in fact—of a massive system of dispossession. To redirect a small portion of the accumulated wealth generated through data extraction to the people who actually generate it while leaving the rest of the system intact is not a return to dignity but the equivalent of putting a seal of approval on a system that has inequality at its core.

The last suggestion for decolonizing data is to learn from other decolonization struggles of the past and the present. It might seem like capitalism and data colonialism are all-encompassing regimes which we are incapable of resisting. But people have always found ways of resisting—whether through physical action or, when that is not possible, through intellectual work. The colonized employ their culture, their history, and even the technologies and languages of the colonizer to resist, to reject. I’m not saying this is as simple as declaring that we are all now as oppressed as native peoples in this new system. If anything, the legacy of colonial oppression continues to exact a heavier cost on vulnerable populations, which continue to be disproportionately discriminated against and abused under the new data colonialism. But I am saying that even privileged subjects can learn some lessons from people who have been resisting colonialism for centuries. More importantly, we need to develop new forms of solidarity that incorporate the fight against the appropriation of human life through data as part of the struggle for a better world.

 

About Ulises Mejias

Ulises A. Mejias is an associate professor in the Communication Studies department and the director of the Institute for Global Engagement at the State University of New York at Oswego. His research interests include critical internet studies, philosophy and sociology of technology, and political economy of digital media. His most recent book, co-authored with Nick Couldry, is The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating it for Capitalism (2019, Stanford University Press). He is also the author of Off the Network: Disrupting the Online World (2013, University of Minnesota Press), as well as various journal articles. For more info, see ulisesmejias.com.

DATACTIVE is hiring!

We are happy to announce two vacancies for temporary positions. We are looking for a Postdoctoral Fellow and a Student Assistant to strengthen the team and assist us in the last year of the project. ***Tight deadline!***

The Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) of the Faculty of Humanities is looking for a postdoctoral researcher and student assistant to join the ERC-funded project ‘Data Activism: The Politics of Big Data According to Civil Society’ (DATACTIVE), with Dr Stefania Milan as Principal Investigator. DATACTIVE investigates citizens’ engagement with massive data collection.

Apply through the university application process. Deadline Friday, October 4th 2019.
For more information:

  1. Postdoctoral fellow (DATACTIVE project)
  2. Student assistant (DATACTIVE project)

Data activism: The politics of big data according to civil society is a research project based at the Department of Media Studies of the University of Amsterdam. It is funded by a Starting Grant of the European Research Council (StG-2014_639379 DATACTIVE).

 

A kinder effective activism with Stefania Milan

Stefania will speak at ‘How to start a revolution: effective activism for a Kinder world’, 
3 October 2019, 6.30 PM @The Student Hotel, Wibautstraat 129, Amsterdam.
Join the conversation, as of writing – tickets are still available here (free).

About this event:

2019 has certainly been the year of protests – from climate strikes and anti-Brexit marches to Hong Kong, people across the world are standing up and taking action. At Kinder we believe in the power of the charitable sector, and we want to help concerned global citizens and activists learn from the organisations already successfully making a change, globally and here at home.

We’re delighted to be hosting this event in collaboration with our friends at The Student Hotel and will present to you organisations of different sizes that are making real change happen as we speak. After introducing you to the broader theme with the help of a keynote speaker there will be the opportunity to participate in Q&A’s with a wide range of speakers who approach the topic of activism from different perspectives.

Stefania @StadsSalonUrbains, Brussels

October 4th, Stefania will kick off the Stads Salon Urbains Lecture series: Platform Urbanism: Data Commons, Citizen Contestation and the Governance of Cities with her work: ‘Beta-testing democracy? Platforms forging citizens & how to resist them’.

About the lecture series:
Digitally enabled platforms are reshaping cities in the twenty-first century. Platform-based activities are spatially concentrated in cities and build upon existing uneven geographies while feeding into wider urbanization dynamics of economic development, environmental action, and everyday life. Urban platforms connect people and resources in new ways, recasting infrastructures as services, and make it possible for big data and monitoring logics to steer urban development. This raises questions about who determines such connections, who has the power to shape data-driven decision-making and what are possible modalities of contestation.

This public lecture series investigates the logics and rationales of digital platforms, the role of data and code in urban governance and surveillance, the infrastructural channeling of urban knowledge, and the progressive potential of platforms to facilitate sharing and the commoning of data.

Organized by BCUS, LSTS, SMIT, Cosmopolis, CRIS & Brussels Academy