Animated GIF of Wassily Kandinsky’s “Analysis of Still Life”, 1929-30

Animated GIF of Wassily Kandinsky’s “Analysis of Still Life” (1929-30), Bauhaus-Archiv, Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin.

Kandinsky's Analysis of Still Life, 1929-30

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A Data Revolution for Whom?

This piece was originally published in Open Democracy on 10th July 2015.

The growing availability of digital data and data technologies has led many civil society groups, governments, and international organisations to talk of a “data revolution”. But what kinds of political projects, models of citizenship and forms of action will such a data revolution enable? And whom will it ultimately serve?

Following debates about open government amongst political actors from the White House to Wikileaks, you could be forgiven for thinking that the critical political question around digital data generated by states is what information is disclosed to whom.

Leakers, hackers and whistleblowers transgress disclosure rules to bring caches of data to the masses, arguing that the sunlight of public scrutiny should be allowed to shine in on documents which were previously dark.

In parallel, the concept of “open data” has gained significant traction amongst transparency activists and amongst politicians in some of the world’s most powerful nations. Advocates of open data often focus on how information is released, arguing for legal and technical modes of disclosure which enable everything from new kinds of computational analysis to glittering ecosystems of web services and applications.

But a politics of public information predominantly focused on the transparency, disclosure and “opening up” of official information risks overlooking several critical parts of the bigger picture – including what information is generated, who uses it to what end, and how it organises collective life.

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Talk on “How is Data Made? From Dataset Literacy to Data Infrastructure Literacy”, Web Science 2015, University of Oxford

Today I gave a talk titled “How is Data Made? From Dataset Literacy to Data Infrastructure Literacy” as part of the Data Literacy Workshop at ACM Web Science 2015 hosted at the University of Oxford.

Drawing on a comparison between data and photography that I made in an article for the Guardian several years ago, the talk focused on the development of critical literacies for data. In particular it argued for going beyond literacies with datasets, towards literacies around data infrastructures as socio-technical systems – including looking at questions of what is measured and how.

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Talk on “The Politics of Open Data: Past, Present and Future” at Data Power conference, University of Sheffield, 22nd June 2015

I’m giving a talk today on “The Politics of Open Data: Past, Present and Future” at the Data Power conference at the University of Sheffield. The slides and abstract for the talk are copied below.

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Posted in academia, actor-network theory, advocacy, conferences, data, digital methods, digitalhumanities, history, humanities, intellectualhistory, legalhistory, open data, politics, research, sociology, talks | 1 Response

Talks at “Policy-Making in the Big Data Era” conference, University of Cambridge, 17th June 2015

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On Wednesday I will give three papers at the Policy-Making in the Big Data Era conference at the University of Cambridge.

One paper will argue for a broadening of the politics of public information from a focus on the disclosure of datasets to the reshaping of data infrastructures. Another will look at the use and potential of network analysis and network mapping in digital journalism. The last one will look at ongoing empirical work to map the politics of open data on digital media, concluding with some reflections on the value of digital methods for policy research. Abstracts for all three papers are copied below.

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Towards a New Politics of Public Information: From Opening Up Datasets to Reshaping Data Infrastructures?

Today I’m giving a working paper exploring a politics of public information that goes beyond a focus on the disclosure of datasets and looks towards interventions into the data infrastructures through which they are produced.

The paper was co-authored with Tim Davies at the University of Southampton and will be delivered at the Open Data Research Symposium as part of the 3rd International Open Government Data Conference in Ottawa. It draws on research undertaken as part of the EU H2020 funded ROUTE-TO-PA project.

The current version of the working paper is available on the symposium website as well as on SSRN. The abstract and slides are included below.

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Talk on “Using Data for Science Journalism” at International School of Science Journalism, 10th May 2015

Talk on “Using Data for Science Journalism” at International School of Science Journalism, 10 May 2015

Today Liliana Bounegru and I gave a talk at the International School of Science Journalism in Erice, Italy about the uses of data in science journalism. The slides from our talk are included below.

In addition to the talk we ran a workshop on how to design data projects – which resulted in project briefs looking into drones, vaccination and the public reach of scientists.

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Talk on “Digital Transparency and the Politics of Open Data” at King’s College London, 8th May 2015

I was invited to give a talk at a conference on the “Politics of Big Data” at King’s College London, which took place yesterday. I spoke about “Digital Transparency and the Politics of Open Data” and gave an overview of several ongoing research projects around these topics. The abstract for the talk was as follows, and the slides are included below.

In recent years the concept of open data has developed from being a niche idea at the margins of software development communities to playing a central role in global information policy. This paper draws on a combination of historical and empirical research to examine open data as a contested political concept that is continually reconfigured in response to shifting ideals, conceptions and practices of governance and democracy in different contexts. This includes work towards a “genealogy of open data”, as well as the findings from several research projects at the Digital Methods Initiative to map the politics of open data as an issue on digital media. It concludes with reflections on open data initiatives as sociotechnical assemblages and on emerging forms of intervention calling not just for the disclosure of information but for more fundamental changes in the composition of information infrastructures that organise collective life.

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Posted in academia, actor-network theory, conferences, data, digital methods, digitalhumanities, history, open data, policy, politics, research | 2 Responses

On Critical Theories and Digital Media

The following is a review of David M. Berry’s Critical Theory and the Digital (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) and Christian Fuchs’s Social Media: A Critical Introduction (London: Sage, 2014) which was published in Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy 2015, Issue 1: Pirates & Privateers.

What might critical theory contribute to the study of digital media? And how might the study of digital media help to advance, complicate or challenge concepts, theories and agendas associated with critical theory, broadly conceived? These questions are central to two recent books by David Berry and Christian Fuchs, who both draw on the theoretical legacy of Frankfurt’s Institute for Social Research to analyse the social, economic, cultural, political implications of new kinds of information technologies.

The two books are set against the background of the accelerating and deepening entanglement of digital technologies and their accompanying concepts and practises with nearly all areas of human life, exemplified by phenomena such as ‘flash crashes’ caused by self-learning algorithms that trade with each other automatically, weaponised computer viruses capable of destroying military equipment, brain interfaces and ‘secondary memory’ devices, ubiquitous state and corporate surveillance, networked social and political movements, hyper-temporary digital jobs, gargantuan real-time data streams, drone assassinations, attention markets, 3D printed guns, darknets and megaleaks. Berry and Fuchs both argue for the continuing relevance of thinkers associated with the Frankfurt School (as well as their philosophical progenitors and progeny), whom have hitherto occupied a comparatively marginal position in new media studies, in understanding these developments.

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Dutch student protests ignite movement for the democratisation of universities

An edited version of the following piece appeared in The Guardian on 17th March 2015 with the title “Dutch student protests ignite movement against management of universities”. For other pieces in the Guardian see my contributor profile.

Protesters outside the University of Amsterdam on 25th February 2015. Photograph: © 2015 Wimer Hazenberg/flickr.com/photos/monokai

Protesters outside the University of Amsterdam on 25th February 2015.
Photograph: © 2015 Wimer Hazenberg / flickr.com/photos/monokai

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