Tag: conference

Video: Stefania on “redefining citizenship” (ICA pre-conference)

Stefania couldn’t make it to ‘Data and the Future of Critical Social Research’, a pre-conference to the the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association. Organized by Andreas Hepp and Nick Couldry, the pre-conference took place on May 25 in San Diego, CA. The organizers, however, allowed Stefania to be present in spirit and… video. This is the presentation prepared for the event; below the abstract.


Abstract: Redefining citizenship. For a socio-technical theory of agency in datafied societies by Stefania Milan

Datafication has brought about a fundamental paradigm shift in the contemporary socio-political order. Information has become the one constitutive force in society capable to shape social reality (Braman, 2009). On the one hand, the advent of ‘big data’ has altered our conditions of existence in society. On the other, the crisis that has infected liberal democracy at the turn of the century has been accelerated by the so-called ‘surveillance capitalism’, and democratic norms are challenged by the new expression of power enshrined in the global architecture of data extraction, commodification, and control (Zuboff, 2015). The state-industry surveillant complex, replacing governments as the primary holder of the monopoly over information and control, recursively engages in exercises of definition and activation of the ‘algorithmic citizenship’ (Cheney-Lippold, 2011). This distributed ‘algorithmic power’ has generative properties that leave little room for human agency (Lash, 2007). Linked databases, platforms and apps—the information architecture of datafication—are changing the definition of what constitutes public sphere and participation in the datafied society. Hence we ought to ask what constitutes democratic agency today. How is its nature changing? What practices create or jeopardize it? What makes collectivity nowadays? But also: Who are the drivers of the on-going process of redefinition of citizenship? What sort of spaces, mechanisms, and actors meet the growing demand for citizen participation? How does this redefinition of citizenship change institutions themselves?

This theoretical contribution addresses three notions, namely ‘data citizenship’, ‘data activism’ (Milan & van der Velden, 2016) and ‘data epistemology’. Taking data and datafication simultaneously as objects of contentions and elements of a novel politics of the quotidian, and exploring forms of resilience and mobilization as democratic processes, the presentation explores how contemporary engagement with grassroots and top-down data politics and practices alters the way people enact their democratic agency. While the lack of transparency and the threats to privacy negatively alter the trust relation between people and the ruling institutions, emerging data practices have the ability to carve out space for a new relationship, giving new meaning to the notion of democratic agency and forcing us to rethink the relationship between the state and its citizens. Data citizenship, data activism and data epistemology are offered as the building blocks of an emerging socio-technical theory of agency in the datafied society, needed to meet the ontological challenges datafication poses to established socio-political practices in Western democracies.

Cited works

Braman, S. (2009). Change of state: Information, policy, and power. MIT Press.

Cheney-Lippold, J. (2011). A New Algorithmic Identity Soft Biopolitics and the Modulation of Control. Theory, Culture & Society, 28(6), 164–181.

Lash, S. (2007). Power after hegemony: Cultural studies in mutation. Theory, Culture & Society, 24(3), 55–78.

Milan, S., & van der Velden, L. (2016). The alternative epistemologies of data activism. Digital Culture & Society, 2(2), 57–74.

Zuboff, S. (2015). Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization. Journal of Information Technology, 30(1), 75–89.


The DATACTIVE team will host a session at AIOR2016 Big Data Meet Grassroots Activism, Berlin, 5-8 October, 2016

Stefania Milan, Lonneke van der Velden, Jonathan Gray, Becky Kazansky, Frederike Kaltheuner

How are data and information changing contemporary activism? How do individuals and collectives resist massive data collection? How do they take advantage of the increasing availability of data for advocacy and social change?

Citizens are increasingly aware of the critical role of information as the new fabric of social life. This awareness translates into new forms of civic engagement and sociotechnical practices that creatively combine complex information, software and platforms, and political activism. However, to date little has been said about the relation between the organized civil society, activism, and big data broadly defined. In particular, the dimension of collective action, the shaping role of technology and software environments, and the impact of big data on the civil society’s ecosystem remain largely unexplored.

This fishbowl session aims at stimulating an interdisciplinary debate on the interplay between big data broadly defined and grassroots activism. It intends to involve scholars of internet studies, science and technology studies, platform and software studies, as well as political sociology and activism. It evokes internet culture and practices, collective identities and organizational forms, activism and social justice, looking for their entanglement with software and code, platforms, and sociotechnical interfaces that facilitate grassroots’ engagement with data and information.

The five initial participants will contribute to set the agenda of the debate, by offering 5-minute presentations on the different aspects of the suggested theme, namely: data activism, open source intelligence and the use of devices to ‘watch the watchers’, open data for social change, activism and predictive analytics, anti-surveillance and privacy activism.

Expected outcomes include a) an interdisciplinary debate on the intersection of big data and grassroots activism structured around the fish’s ice-breaker presentations, and b) the creation of a network of interested individuals working on the interplay between big data and the civil society broadly defined.

Lonneke van der Velden and Stefania Milan present at 4S/EASTT

Stefania Milan, Annalisa Pelizza (University of Twente) and Francesca Musiani (CNRS) organised a track at 4S/EASTT (european association for the study of science and technology) on “Materialising Governance by Information Infrastructure” and gave a joint presentation “Embedding rules and values in information technology infrastructure: A reflection”. Lonneke van der Velden presented at 4S/EASTT on Open Source Intelligence as a form of data activism.

Stefania Milan at the 66th Annual ICA Conference in Japan

Stefania Milan presented at the annual conference of the international communication association Communication through Power, Fukuoka, Japan – 9-13 June 2016.

Big Data & Activism: A (Grassroots) Research Agenda for Big Data

Organizers: Stefania Milan (U of Amsterdam), S.Milan@uva.nl

Date: Friday, June 10; 9:30 – 10:45

Location: Akane, Fukuoka Hilton

Description: Citizens are increasingly aware of the critical role of informationas the new fabric of social life. This awareness translates into new forms of civic engagement andpolitical action that go under the rubric of ‘data activism’. Data activism embraces a variety of sociotechnical practices that in different forms, from the local to the transnational level, and from different points of departure take a critical perspective towards massive data collection.Data activismtakes big data both as a challenge to civil rights, and a novel set of opportunities for social change; itleverages technological innovation, and software in particular, for political or social change purposes.Activiststakeinformation as a constitutive force in society capable to shape social reality (Braman, Change of State, 2009).

Up to now, little has been said about the relation between the organized civil society and big data. Scholars have focused their attention on individual forms of resistance to computer–enabled data collection, or on the role of business actors in enabling massive data collection. However, the dimension of collective action, the shaping role oftechnology and software environments, and the impact of big dataon the civil society’s ecosystem andthe related action repertoires, among others,remainlargely unexplored.

The goal of this blue sky workshop is to brainstorm an interdisciplinary, multi-method research agenda for big data from the perspective of the (organized) civil society, around and beyond the notion of data activism. Expected outcomes include structured notes for a research agenda touching also upon epistemological, methodological, and ethical concernsof studying big data and massive data collection from a grassroots perspective, as well as the creation of a network of interested individuals working on the interplay between big data and the civil society broadly defined. The workshopbuilds on the experience of the DATACTIVE research project and collective based at the Department of Media Studies of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands (https://data-activism.net).

Stefania Milan and Becky Kazansky at the 7th biennial Surveillance & Society

Stefania Milan and Becky Kazansky presented at the 7th biennial Surveillance & Society conference in Barcelona, April 21-23, 2016. Stefania talked about “Data activism as an emerging epistemic culture within civil society”, Becky about “Instrumentalising Risk to Conduct Surveillance and Defend Against it: the Risk Calculation Practices of Cybersecurity Actors and Human Rights Defenders”.

DATACTIVE at 32c3: Mahsa Alimardani’s Talk on the Iranian Internet

The DATACTIVE collective thought of no better way to end 2015 that to attend the 32nd Chaos Computer Congress (32c3). Four of us decided to cut into our holidays to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Hamburg, Germany. We joined in the annual hacker pilgrimage, somewhat of a ritual for digital activists, advocates, and techies across the world. Organized by the Chaos Computer Club, the Congress has become a platform for some key controversial talks over the year. Months after the groundbreaking release of the Snowden files, for example, Glenn Greenwald gave the keynote address at 30c3 (short for the 30th Congress), where he set the tone of the event for a rush for freedom of information and scrutiny of the surveillance complex.

Many of the themes, speakers and talks of 32C3 trigger our curiosity and inspire our own research–which is why we were particularly excited that this year’s congress featured a talk by one of our own team members. Mahsa Alimardani presented her research on Iran’s censorship and surveillance apparatuses in her talk “Mobile Censorship in Iran.” She looked particularly into how mobile phones have been a target of control by the Iranian government through various projects and initiatives. She concluded her talk with a call to technologists, activists and policy analysts alike to pay particular attention to Iran’s Internet environment ahead of a sensitive political events such as the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for February 25, 2016 ( past elections have been targets of Internet blackouts, digital surveillance, and throttling).

Mahsa was one of the 31 female speakers out of a total of 186 speakers [1]; she was the only Iranian speaker, and featured the only Iran talk at the event.

We encourage you to watch Mahsa’s talk and check out all the other inspiring talks and panels that animated 32c3. This one on open source intelligence was one of our favourites.

[1] https://50prozent.speakerinnen.org/en/events/319