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BigBang v0.2.0 ‘Tulip Revolution’ released


DATACTIVE has been collaborating with researchers from New York University and the University of California at Berkeley to release version 0.2.0 of the quantitative mailinglists analysis software BigBang. Mailinglists are among the most widely used communication tools in Internet Governance institutions and among software developers. Therefore mailinglists lend themselves really well to do analysis on the development of the communities as well as topics for discussion and their propagation through the community. BigBang, a python based tool, is there to facilitate this. You can start analyzing mailinglists with BigBang by following the installation instructions.

This release, BigBang v0.2.0 Tulip Revolution, marks a new milestone in BigBang development. A few new features:
– Gender participation estimation
– Improved support for IETF and ICANN mailing list ingest
– Extensive gardening and upgrade of the example notebooks
– Upgraded all notebooks to Jupyter 4
– Improved installation process based on user testing

En route to this milestone, the BigBang community made a number of changes to its procedures. These include:

– The adoption of a Governance document for guiding decision-making.
– The adoption of a Code of Conduct establishing norms of respectful behavior within the community.
– The creation of an ombudsteam for handling personal disputes.

We have also for this milestone adopted by community decision the GNU Affero General Public License v3.0.

If you have any questions or comment, feel free to join the mailinglist,
join us on gitter chat or file an issue on Github.

If you are interested in using BigBang but don’t know where to start, we are happy to help you on your way via videochat or organize a webinar for you and your community. Feel free to get in touch!


[blog] Growth for Critical Studies? Social scholars, let’s be shrewder

Author: Miren Gutierrez
This is a response the call for a critical community studies  ‘Tech, data and social change: A plea for cross-disciplinary engagement, historical memory, and … Critical Community Studies‘ by Kersti Wissenbach and the first contribution to the debate  ‘Can We Plan Slow – But Steady – Growth for Critical Studies?’ by Charlotte Ryan.
Commenting on the thought-provoking blogs by Charlotte Ryan and Kersti Wissenbach, I feel in good company. Both of them speak of the need in research to address inequalities embedded in technology and to focus on the critical role that communities play in remedying dominant techno-centric discourses and practices, and of the idea of new critical community studies. That is, the need to place people and communities at the centre of our activity as researchers and practitioners, asking questions about the communities instead of about the technologies, demanding a stronger collaboration between the two, and the challenges that this approach generates.
Their blogs incite different but related ideas.

First, different power imbalances can be found in scholarship. Wissenbach suggests that dominant discourses in academia, as well as in practice and donor agendas, are driving the technology hype. But as Ryan proposes, academia is not a homogeneous terrain.

Always speaking from the point of view of critical data studies, the current predominant techno-centrism seems to be diverting research funding towards applied sciences, engineering and tools (what Wissenbach calls “the state of technology” and Ryan refers to as a “profit-making industry”). Talking about Canada, Srigley describes how, for a while, even the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada “fell into line by focusing its funding on business-related degrees. All the while monies for teaching and research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences with no obvious connection to industry, which is to say, most of it, began to dry up”(Srigley 2018).  Srigley seems to summarise what is happening everywhere. “Sponsored research” and institutions requiring that research can be linked to business and industry partners appear as the current mantra.

Other social scholars around me are coming up with similar stories: social sciences focusing critically on data are getting a fraction of the research funding opportunities vis-à-vis computational data-enabled science and engineering within the fields of business and industry, environment and climate, materials design, robotics, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and biology and biomedicine. Meanwhile, critical studies on data justice, governance and how ordinary people, communities and non-governmental organisations experience and use data are left for another day.
Thus, the current infatuation with technology appears not to be evenly distributed across donors and academia.

Second, I could not agree more with Wissenbach and Ryan when they say that we should take communities as entry points in the study of technology for social change. Wissenbach further argues against the objectification of “communities”, calling for actual needs-driven engaged research and more aligned with practice.

Then again, here lies another imbalance. Even if scholars work alongside with practitioners to bolster new critical community studies, these actors are not in the same positions. We, social scholars, are gatekeepers of what is known in academia, we are often more skilful in accessing funds, we dominate the lingo. Inclusion therefore lies at the heart of this argument and remains challenging.

If funds for critical data studies are not abundant, resources to put in place data projects with social goals and more practice engaged research are even scarcer. That is, communities facing inequalities may find themselves competing for resources not only within their circles (as Ryan suggests). Speaking too as a data activist involved in projects that look at illegal fishing’s social impacts on coastal communities of developing countries (and trying hard to fund-raise for them), I think that we must make sure that more possible for data activism research does not mean less funding for data activist endeavours. I know they are not the same funds, but there are ways in which research could foster practice, and one of them is precisely putting communities at the centre.

Third, another divide lies underneath the academy’s resistance to engaged scholarship. While so-called “hard sciences” have no problems with “engaging”, some scholars in “soft-sciences” seem to recoil from it. Even if few people still support Chris Anderson’s “end of theory” musings (Anderson 2008), some techno-utopians pretend a state of asepsis exists, or at least it is possible now, in the age of big data. But they could not be more misleading. What can be more “engaged scholarship” than “sponsored research”? I mean, research driven and financed by companies is necessarily “engaged” with the private sector and its interests, but rarely acknowledges its own biases. Meanwhile, five decades after Robert Lynd asked “Knowledge for what?” (Lynd 1967), this question still looms over social sciences. Some social scientists shy away from causes and communities just in case they start marching into the realm of advocacy and any pretentions of “objectivity” disappear. While we know computational data-enabled science and engineering cannot be “objective”, why not accept and embrace engaged scholarship in social sciences, as long as we are transparent about our prejudices and systematically critical about our assumptions?

Fourth, data activism scholars have to be smarter in communicating findings and influencing discourses. Our lack of influence is not all attributable to market trends and donors’ obsessions; it is also our making. Currently, the stories of data success and progress come mostly from the private sector. And even when prevailing techno-enthusiastic views are contested, prominent criticism comes from the same quarters. An example is Bernard Marr’s article “Here’s why Data Is Not the New Oil”. Marr does not mention the obvious, that data are not natural resources, spontaneous and inevitable, but cultural ones, “made” in processes that are also “made” (Boellstorff 2013). In his article, Marr refers only to certain characteristics that make data different from oil. For example, while fossil fuels are finite, data are “infinitely durable and reusable”, etc. Is that all that donors, and publics, need to know about data? Although this debate has grown over the last years, is it reaching donors’ ears? Not long ago, during the Datamovida conference in Madrid in 2016 organised by Vizzuality, a fellow speaker –Aditya Agrawal from the Open Data Institute and Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data— opened his presentation saying precisely that data were “the new oil”. If key data people in the UN system have not caught up with the main ideas emerging from critical data studies, we are in trouble and it is partly our making.

This last argument is closely related to the other ideas in this blog. The more we can influence policy, public opinion, decision-makers and processes, the more resources data activism scholars can gather to work alongside with practitioners in exploring how people and organisations appropriate data and their processes, create new data relations and reverse dominant discourses. We cannot be content with publishing a few blogs, getting our articles in indexed journals and meeting once in a while in congresses that seldom resonate beyond our privilege bubbles. Both Wissenbach and Ryan argue for stronger collaborations and direct community engagement; but this is not the rule in social sciences.

Making an effort to reach broader publics could be a way to break the domination that, as Ryan says, brands, market niches and revenue streams seem to exert on academic institutions. Academia is a bubble but not entirely hermetic. And even if critical community studies will not ever be a “cash cow”, they could be influential. There are other critical voices in the field of journalism, for example, which have denounced a sort of obsession with technology (Kaplan 2013; Rosen 2014). Maybe critical community studies should embrace not only involved communities and scholars but also other critical voices from journalism, donors and other fields. The collective “we” that Ryan talks about could be even more inclusive. And to do that, we have to expand beyond the usual academic circles, which is exactly what Wissenbach and Ryan contend.

I do not know how critical community studies could look like; I hope this is the start of a conversation. In Madrid, in April, donors, platform developers, data activists and journalists met at the “Big Data for the Social Good” conference, organised by my programme at the University of Deusto focussing on what works and what does not in critical data projects. The more we expand this type of debates the more influence we could gain.

Finally, the message emerging from critical data studies cannot be only about dataveillance (van Dijck 2014) and ways of data resistance. However imperfect and biased, the data infrastructure is enabling ordinary people and organised society to produce diagnoses and solutions to their problems (Gutiérrez 2018). Engaged research means we need to look at what communities do with data and how the experience the data infrastructure, not only at how communities contest dataveillance, which I have the feeling has dominated critical data studies so far. Yes, we have to acknowledge that often these technologies are shaped by external actors with vested interests before communities use them and that they embed power imbalances. But if we want to capture people’s and donor’s imagination, the stories of data success and progress within organised and non-organised society should be told by social scholarship as well. Paraphrasing Ryan, we may lose but live to fight another day.

Cited work
Anderson, Chris. 2008. ‘The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete’. Wired.
Boellstorff, Tom. 2013. ‘Making Big Data, in Theory’. First Monday 18 (10).
Dijck, Jose van. 2014. ‘Datafication, Dataism and Dataveillance: Big Data between Scientific Paradigm and Ideology’. Surveillance & Society 12 (2): 197–208.
Gutierrez, Miren. 2018. Data Activism and Social Change. Pivot. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kaplan, David E. 2013. ‘Why Open Data Isn´t Enough’. Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN). 4 February 2013.
Lynd, Robert Staughton. 1967. Knowledge for What: The Place of Social Science in American Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Rosen, Larry. 2014. ‘Our Obsessive Relationship With Technology’. Huffington Post, 2014.
Srigley, Ron. 2018. ‘Whose University Is It Anyway?’, 2018.


Stefania keynotes at ‘The Digital Self’ workshop, Kings’ College London, July 6

On July 6, Stefania will deliver a keynote at the workshop ‘The Digital Self’, organized by the Departments of Digital Humanities and of Culture, Media & Creative Industries of Kings’ College, London. This workshop focuses on how digital technology influences our daily lives, its impacts on the ways culture is re-shaped, and as a result how our identities as workers, consumers and media and cultural producers are changing. Stefania’s keynote is entitled ‘Identity and data infrastructure’. Read more.





Kersti presenting during RNW Media Global Weeks, July 6

With her talk ‘NGO ETHICS IN THE DIGITAL AGEHOW TO WORK WITH DATA  RESPONSIBLY’ Kersti will address a transnational team of media and advocacy practitioners during RNW Media‘s annual summit.

RNW Media is working with youth in fragile and repressive states, aiming to empower young women and men to unleash their own potential for social change. As the organization has transitioned from a traditional international broadcaster towards increasing engagement in advocacy activities utilizing digital means and data, a critical moment of moving towards a responsible data approach has come.

Kersti is consulting RNW Media on the process to develop a responsible data framework and respective program strategies.


Advisory Board Workshop, July 4-5

In July 4-5, DATACTIVE has gathered the Advisory Board members for a sharing & feedback workshop.

Participants include Anita Say Chan (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Chris Csikszentmihályi (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute), Ronald Deibert (University of Toronto), Seda Gürses (KU Leuven), Evelyn Ruppert (Goldsmiths, University of London), Hishant Shah (ArtEZ) … and the DATACTIVE team. Day 1 only: Hisham Al-Miraat (Justice & Peace Netherlands), Julia Hoffmann (Hivos).

*Day 1*
Fireside chat from 4pm @ Terre Lente, followed by light dinner [CLOSED]
Public event at 8pm @ SPUI25: ‘Democracy Under Siege: Digital Espionage and Civil Society Resistance’, with Ronald Deibert (Citizen Lab – University of Toronto), Seda Guerses (COSIC/ESAT – KU Leuven), and Nishant Shah (ArtEZ / Leuphana University)

*Day 2* @ the University Library, Singel 425 [BY INVITATION ONLY]
9.30 Welcome & coffee
9.45 Intro (Stefania)
Session 1 (10-11am): The framework: Concepts and Infrastructure (Presenters: Stefania & Davide)
Session 2 (11.10-12.15): Data as stakes (Presenters: Becky & Niels)
Lunch break (12.15-1.30)
Session 3 (1.30-2.35): Data as tools (Presenters: Guillen & Kersti)
Session 4 (2.40-3.45): Next in line: Emerging work (Presenters: Fabien, Jeroen, Quynn)
Session 5 (4-4.30) Wrap-up (Stefania, all)


Still from Incoming (2017), by Richard Mosse -

[blog] Making ‘community’ critical: Tech collectives through the prism of power

Author: Fabien Cante

In her recent blog post, Kersti Wissenbach expresses her frustration with the field of “civic tech,” which, as she puts it, remains far more focused on the “tech” than the “civic.” This resonates with me in many ways. I write as someone who is possibly more of an outsider to the field than Wissenbach: my previous research was on local radio (all analog), and as my DATACTIVE colleagues have found out, I am clueless about even the basics of encryption, so anything more technically complex will leave me flummoxed. In agreeing with Wissenbach, then, I do not mean to diminish the wonders of tech itself, as a field of knowledge and intervention, but rather underscore that the civic (or “the social,” as my former supervisor Nick Couldry would put it) is itself an immensely complex realm of knowledge, let alone action.

Wissenbach proposes that our thinking efforts, as scholars and activists concerned about the relations between technology and social change, shift toward “Critical Community Studies.” By this she means that we should ask “critical questions beyond technology and about communities instead.” I strongly agree. The research projects around data, tech and society that most excite me are the ones that are rooted in some community or other – transnational activist communities, in the case of DATACTIVE, or marginalised urban communities, in the case of the Our Data Bodies project. However, like Charlotte Ryan (whose response to Wissenbach can be read here), I would also like to be a bit cautious. In what follows, I really emphasise the critical and contextual aspects of Critical Community Studies, as envisioned by Wissenbach. I do so because I am a bit sceptical about the middle term – community.

I am involved in urban planning struggles in south London where the word “community” is frequently employed. Indeed, it serves as a kind of talisman: it invokes legitimacy and embeddedness. Community is claimed by activists, local authorities, and even developers, for obviously very different aims. This experience has shown me that, politically, community is an empty signifier. Bullshit job titles like “Community Manager” in marketing departments (see also Mark Zuckerberg speeches) further suggest to me that community is one of the most widely misappropriated words of our time.

More seriously, and more academically perhaps, community denotes a well-defined and cohesive social group, based on strong relationships, and as such self-evident for analysis. This is not, in many if not most circumstances, what collectives actually look like in real life. Anthropologist John Postill (2008), studying internet uptake in urban Malaysia, writes that researchers too often approach tech users as either “communities” or “networks.” Neither of these concepts captures how technology is woven into social relations. Where community presumes strong bonds and a shared identity, network reduces human relations to interaction frequencies and distance between nodes, flattening power differentials.

As Wissenbach rightly notes, people who use tech, either as producers or users, are “complex [beings] embedded in civil society networks and power structures.” It is these power structures, and the often tense dynamics of embeddedness, that Wissenbach seems to find most interesting – and I do too. This, for me, is the vital question behind Critical Community Studies (or, for that matter, the study of data activism): what specific power relations do groups enact and contest?

Still from Incoming (2017), by Richard Mosse -
Still from Incoming (2017), by Richard Mosse –

The critical in Critical Community Studies thus asks tough questions about race, class, gender, and other lines of inequality and marginalization. It asks how these lines intersect both in the community under study (in the quality of interactions, the kinds of capital required to join the collective, language, prejudices, etc.) and beyond it (in wider patterns of inequality, exclusion, and institutionalized domination). We see examples of such questioning happening, outside academia, through now widespread feminist critiques calling out pervasive gender inequalities in the tech industry, or through Data for Black Lives’ efforts to firmly center race as a concern for digital platforms’ diversity and accountability. Within the university, Seda Gürses, Arun Kundnani and Joris Van Hoboken’s (2016) paper “Crypto and Empire,” which could be said to examine the “crypto community” (however diffuse), offers some brilliant avenues to think data/tech communities critically, and thereby “re-politicize” data itself. More broadly, a wealth of feminist, post/decolonial (e.g. Mignolo 2011; Bhambra 2014; or Flavia Dzodan’s stellar Twitter feed) and critical race theory (see for example Browne 2015) can help us think through the histories from which civic tech communities arise, their positions in a complex landscape of power and inequality, and the ways in which they see their place in the world.

There is always a risk, when researchers consider community critically, that they put certain communities under strain; that they are seen to hinder positive work through their (our) critical discourse. Certainly, challenging a community’s inclusiveness is hard (and researchers are very bad at challenging their “own” community). But I think this is a limited view of critique as “not constructive” (a crime in certain circles where “getting things done” is a primary imperative). I would argue that collectives are strengthened through critique. As Charlotte Ryan beautifully puts it, Critical Community Studies can be instrumental in forming “a real ‘we’.” She adds: “an aggregate of individuals, even if they share common values, does not constitute ‘us’.” Building a “we” requires, at every step, asking difficult questions about who that “we” is (“we” the social movement, or “we” the civic tech community), who doesn’t fall under “we’s” embrace, and why.


Bhambra, Gurminder K. (2014) Connected Sociologies. London: Bloomsbury Press

Browne, Simone (2015) Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham, NC & London: Duke University Press

Gürses, Seda, Kundnani, Arun & Joris Van Hoboken (2016) “Crypto and Empire: The Contradictions of Counter-Surveillance Advocacy” Media, Culture & Society 38 (4), 576-590

Mignolo, Walter (2011) The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham, NC & London: Duke University Press

Postill, John (2008) “Localizing the Internet Beyond Communities and NetworksNew Media & Society 10 (3), 413-431

July Event Poster

[DATACTIVE event] Democracy Under Siege: Digital Espionage and Civil Society Resistance, July 4



July 4th, 20.00 hrs @spui25, (TICKETS HERE)

The most recent US elections, during which hackers exposed political parties’ internal communications, revealed the devastating power of digital espionage. But election meddling is only one aspect of this growing phenomenon. From Mexico to Egypt and Vietnam, human rights organizations, journalists, activists and opposition groups have been targeted by digital attacks. How can civil society defend itself against such threats?

The DATACTIVE project (University of Amsterdam) invites you to hear from leading experts on questions of digital espionage, cybersecurity and the protection of human rights in new technological environments. This public event aims to provide a global view of digital threats to civil society and discuss what can be done to fight back.

Ron Deibert (University of Toronto) will present the work of the Citizen Lab, which has pioneered investigation into information controls, covert surveillance and targeted digital espionage of civil society worldwide. He will be in conversation with Seda Gürses (KU Leuven) and Nishant Shah (ArtEZ University of the Arts/Leuphana University).


Ronald Deibert is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. The Citizen Lab undertakes interdisciplinary research at the intersection of global security, ICTs, and human rights. Deibert is the author of Black Code: Surveillance, Privacy, and the Dark Side of the Internet (Random House: 2013), as well as numerous books, chapters, articles, and reports on Internet censorship, surveillance, and cyber security. He is a former founder and principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative (2003-2014) and a founder of Psiphon, a world leader in providing open access to the Internet.

Seda Gürses is an FWO post-doctoral fellow at COSIC/ESAT in the Department of Electrical Engineering at KU Leuven, Belgium. She works at the intersection of computer science, engineering and privacy activism, with a focus on privacy enhancing technologies. She studies conceptions of privacy and surveillance in online social networks, requirements engineering, software engineering and algorithmic discrimination and looks into tackling some of the shortcomings of the counter-surveillance movements in the US and EU.

Nishant Shah is the Dean of Graduate School at ArtEZ University of the Arts, The Netherlands, Professor of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media at Leuphana University, Germany, and the co-founder of the Centre for Internet & Society, India. His work is informed by critical theory, political activism, and equality politics. He identifies as an accidental academic, radical humanist, and an unapologetic feminist, with particular interests in questions of life, love, and language. His current preoccupations are around digital learning and pedagogy, ethics and artificial intelligence, and being human in the face of seductive cyborgification.

This event is hosted by Spui25 and sponsored by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA).


Stefania at the Future Forum of IG Metall, Berlin

On June 19, Stefania will deliver a talk at the Zukunftsforum (‘Future Forum’) of IG Metall, the dominant metalworkers’ union in Germany and Europe’s largest industrial union. Stefania has been asked to reflect on how digitalisation and datafication change the dynamics of solidarity today. Check out the program of the day.

AGENDA Future Forum IG Metall 19.6.2018_final_eng

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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.