From show in team updates

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new article: Playing with data and its consequences out in First Monday

The January 2019 issue of First Monday includes an article by research associate Miren Gutierrez and PI Stefania Milan on the consequences of engagement with data. The article is entitled “Playing with data and its consequences” and is the lead article of the issue. Check it out!

Abstract. 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.

Citation: Gutierrez, Milan and Stefania Milan (2019). Playing with data and its consequences, First Monday, Volume 24, Number 1 – 7 January 2019, https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/9554/7716
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i1.9554

 

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Stefania at the Me, We And The Machine Institute of theory and practice, December 13

On December the 13th, Stefania will speak on data activism at the Me, We, and The Machine Institute of theory and practice. Organized by the Mumbai-based civil society organization Point of View in Amsterdam, Me, We And The Machine is a seven-day residential institute that dives deep into two questions:

• How does technology shape and influence sexuality, gender and rights?

• How do sexuality, gender and rights inform and shape technology?

Read more.

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Davide at the Amsterdam Research Initiative seminar, November 29

On 29 November, Davide will present at the seminar organized for the Communication Science master students by the Amsterdam Research Initiative. The lecture is titled ‘Algorithms Exposed – Research Ethics and Data Activism’. Davide will present DATACTIVE’s spin-off project ALEX, and introduce the students to the debates around algorithmic accountability, data activism and ethics of social media research.

Read more here

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Stefania at the Pathways to impact in the SSH research conference, Vienna, November 28-29

Stefania will contribute to the conference on Pathways to impact in the Social Science and Humanities research conference, taking place in Vienna on November 28-29 in the framework of the Austrian Presidency of the European Union. Stefania serves in the Scientific Committee supporting the organization of the conference. In Vienna she will chair the session “Valuation pathways of SSH – drivers, barriers, successes and failures”. Both days of the conference are streamed live.

 

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Stefania speaks at Falling Walls 2018 in Berlin

DATACTIVE PI Stefania Milan is in Berlin on November 8-9, as an invited speaker at the Falling Wall conference 2018. Falling Walls is an annual science event that coincides with the anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The one-day scientific conference showcases the research work of international scientists from a wide range of fields. Stefania’s presentation will revolve around the theme of data empowerment. Check out the conference program, and the description. The event is streamed live.

Stefania will also attend the Falling Wall Circle, whose theme this year in “Human genius in the age of Artificial Intelligence”.

Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

Lonneke on Open Sourcing Open Source Intelligence

In late September, I gave a talk in which she considered the connections between Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and data activism at the ‘DIGITAL CULTURES: Knowledge / Culture / Technology’ conference at Leuphana University Lüneburg. The presentation asked how OSINT might be understood through the prism of ‘data activist epistemologies’ (Milan and Van der Velden 2016).

The starting point for this interrogation is that Open Source Intelligence, despite its name, appears to have little in common with ‘open source’ cultures as we know them, for example through open source technologies. Open Source Intelligence simply means intelligence, for states or businesses, that is gathered from ‘open’ or publicly available sources. The initial question in the paper is, thus, one of terminology: What is really ‘open source’ about OSINT? And how might a critical interrogation of ‘open source’ change the way we think about OSINT? Hence the title of the talk: ‘Open Sourcing Open Source Intelligence’.

As a type of data activism, open source can be described as having its associated ‘epistemic culture’. This is a concept which refers to the diversity in modes of knowledge-making. ‘Epistemic culture’ originally comes from studies into scientific practices, and it directs attention to the ‘specific strategies that generate, validate, and communicate scientific accomplishments’ (Knorr-Cetina and Reichmann 2015, 873). It guides one’s focus toward the complex ‘relationships between experts, organisational formats, and epistemic objects’ (ibid. 873-4).

What we encounter in open source cultures is that knowledge is not legitimated institutionally, but technologically: the (open source) software function as a token of trust. The knowledge is legitimated because the software and the verification model can be reviewed, the methods are shared publicly, many of the findings are publicly shared, public learning is crucial and, ideally, expertise thus becomes distributed.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), by contrast, is a practice that seems to belong to – and to be legitimated by – formal and relatively closed institutions such as intelligence agencies. Yet the label can usefully be reclaimed to describe activist projects – such as the Syrian Archive – which seek to put open source tools and principles in the service of a different kind of knowledge-making, one that is genuinely public-oriented and collective. The question thus becomes: What can we learn from the interface between OSINT and open source? What kind of knowledge is being made, how? And how might activist forms of OSINT inform our understanding of data activism broadly speaking?

Stay tuned for the forthcoming paper, which is being co-authored with Jeff Deutch from the Syrian Archive. It will no doubt be enriched by a good discussion with the conference audience.

The abstract for the talk is available through the full conference programme (pp. 215-6).

 

Lonneke van der Velden is postdoctoral researcher with DATACTIVE and a lecturer at the department of media studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research deals with internet surveillance and activism. She is part of the editorial board of Krisis, Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, and is on the Board of Directors of Bits of Freedom.   

 

References:

Knorr Cetina, Karin, and Werner Reichmann (2015) Epistemic cultures, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, ed. James D. Wright. Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 873-880.

Milan, Stefania, and Lonneke Van der Velden (2016) The Alternative Epistemologies of Data Activism. Digital Culture & Society 2(2) pp. 57-74.

Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak from Pexels

26 October: Noortje Marres and DATACTIVE in conversation on the social science scene today

On 26 October, DATACTIVE hosts the philosopher and science studies scholar Noortje Marres to discuss and problematize the role of social science today.  The DATACTIVE team will engage with Marres to discuss chapters of her book Digital Sociology: The Reinvention of Social Research. The exchange is expected to delve into the social sciences from various perspectives derived from team members’ research fields, and will be anchored in the contemporary challenges to digital societies and beyond.

Marres is Associate Professor in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies at the University of Warwick and sits in the advisory board of DATACTIVE. Currently, she is a Visiting Professor in the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at the University of Leiden. Her work is located in the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology and Society (STS).

Photo by Ngai Man Yan from Pexels

Organization After Social Media: orgnets and alternative socio-technical infrastructures

by Lonneke van der Velden

Last month, I was invited to be a respondent (together with Harriet Bergman) for the launch of Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter’s latest book, Organization After Social Media. The book is a collection of essays which re-interrogate the concerns and contributions of social movements and counter-cultural collectives in light of a significant contemporary problem: the existence of tech-monopolies such as Google and Facebook.

If social media cannot deliver on their promise to help collectives organize, how then should movements proceed? How to make such movements sustainable? The authors invite us to reflect on these issues through central concept of ‘organized networks’, or ‘orgnets’.

I liked many aspects of the book, but will highlight here two things I found interesting from the perspective of DATACTIVE’s own concerns. The first has to do with a re-evaluation of encryption, and the second with where we search for historical and theoretical lessons to help us organize ‘after social media’.

Re-evaluating encryption?

One thing I read in the book is a re-evaluation of encryption. Encryption is presented, not as an individual intervention, but as an intervention with a potential to allow for the emergence of collective forms. “The trick,” the authors tell us, “is to achieve a form of collective invisibility without having to reconstitute authority” (p. 5).

I think this collective potential of encryption is interesting. Research into activism in the UK after the Snowden revelations (Dencik, Hintz & Cable 2016) showed that digital rights groups tended to operate in a rather specialized space demarcated from issues championed by other groups and organizations. Digital rights organizations speak about privacy and freedom of speech, but hardly touch upon other social issues. And vice versa: organizations that work on, for instance, social justice issues, tend to regard digital rights as a working package for those specific NGOs that are dedicated to privacy. Encryption does not feature as a strategy that is part of their activist work. This has only partly to do with a lack of knowledge. What’s more, activists told the researchers that they want to do things in public, and using encryption is associated with having something to hide. This is a reductive summary of some of the findings by Dencik and others, but the study provides food for thought about how encryption is often precipitated.

What Lovink and Rossiter’s book nicely does is show that this is not the only possible way to conceive of encryption, opening up a different interpretation. Not one that stages privacy or security, which is a discourse about protection, but one that forefronts organized unpredictability, which is a more productive discourse about what encryption has to offer in terms of collective organization. This idea might be more interesting for activist groups; that is, if they are not interested in hiding, they might well want to remain unsuspected and surprising.

Against the background of the analysis that social media and algorithms make people readable and predictable, infrastructures that help organize unpredictability become important. In fact, from the discussion that followed with the authors during the book launch, it turned out that many of the concerns in the book relate to organizing unpredictability: merging the inventive (as exemplified by tactical media) with a wish for sustainability. How to build digital infrastructures that allow for the disruptive qualities that tactical media had in the past?

Some questions remain. Technologies of encryption are not infrastructures that can emerge out of the blue: they in turn need organized networks and communal work to remain up to date. Together with the audience at the book launch, we had an interesting back and forth about whether a notion of ‘community’, and community struggles, was needed.

Realizing organized networks

Another thing we talked about that evening was the tension between organized networks as a concept and as actually-existing practices. As the authors write: “Organized networks are out there. They exist. But they should still be read as a proposal. This is why we emphasize the design element. Please come on board to collectively define what orgnets could be all about.” (p. 16)

Hence, the authors invite anyone who has been part of an organized network, or thinks that he or she had been part of one, or wished that their network had been more organized, to ‘fill in’ their core concept. That means that much is left open in the book to the inventive powers of orgnet-organizers.

Technological infrastructures are an exception: the book is quite prescriptive in this regard, arguing for example that servers should not be centralized, and that we should prevent the emergence of tech-giants and develop alternative protocols and new spaces for action.

I could not help but wonder about the other kinds of prescription that are not so present in the book. Might we also offer prescriptive accounts in respect to things social movements experience over and over again, such as burnouts, internal strife, sexual harassment, and all things that hinder the sustainability of networks? And shouldn’t we reach out for documentation from, say, social movement studies or feminist histories, in addition to media theory? I am thinking about these in echo of Kersti’s and others’ discussion around community and critical community studies.

All in all, given that the focus of Lovink and Rossiter’s book is on forms of organization ‘after social media’, the choice of focusing on (alternative) socio-technical infrastructures is as understandable as it is valuable in itself. Indeed, it is an issue our research group cares about a lot; we hope to contribute to some of the causes laid out in the book.

The book can be ordered here and is also freely available online in pdf.

 

Lonneke van der Velden is a lecturer at the department of media studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research deals with conceptualizations of internet surveillance and internet activism. She is also on the Board of Directors of Bits of Freedom.   

 

Dencik, Lina, Arne Hintz, and Jonathan Cable. 2016. “Towards Data Justice? The Ambiguity of Anti-Surveillance Resistance in Political Activism.” Big Data & Society 3 (2): 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951716679678.

Rossiter, Ned, and Geert Lovink. Organization after Social Media. Minor Compositions, 2018.

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Stefania at the AoIR 2018 conference, Montreal

DATACTIVE PI Stefania Milan has taken part in the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers, in Montreal (Canada), October 10-13. This year’s conference theme was “Transnational materialities”. Among others, she presented a work in progress, co-authored with Miren Gutierrez (Universidad de Deusto), on the social consequences of engagement with data and data infrastructure. On October 14th, she has taken part in the academic Festschrift to celebrate the career of Prof. Marc Raboy. The event, entitled Networking Global Communication in and Beyond the Age of Social Media, took place at McGill University.