The following is a short video on Reshaping Data Worlds prepared for the 17th annual meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers – AoIR 2016 on “Internet Rules!” – which takes place in Berlin on 5-8th October 2016. It is part of a session on Big Data Meet Grassroots Activism organised by the DATACTIVE project. The transcript of the video is included below.
We can imagine data infrastructures not only as instruments of knowledge, but as devices which contribute to staging and performing the world in different ways.
Data infrastructures can be envisaged as socio-technical systems which provide the conditions of possibility for different ways of knowing and acting – articulating different kinds of social, political, economic and cultural worlds or “data worlds”.
Hence we might ask: Who will shape the future of these data worlds? How are different publics enrolled as part of them and implicated in processes of their articulation? What is at stake for whom in the patterning and composition of these infrastructures? And how and where will contestation and deliberation play out within and around them?
These questions open up many new objects and sites of study.
We can look at how issues are articulated through data infrastructures. For example, how issues such as gender and income inequality, climate change, human rights, poverty, free expression, pollution, health and wellbeing are measured, monitored, evaluated and enacted through different kinds of information systems.
We can look at chart the rise and fall, the evolution and institutionalisation of these different kinds of issues in public information systems.
We can also look at how these different articulations of issues in data infrastructures are being challenged and contested, including through the provision of alternative systems.
Civil society groups, journalists and others may not only question official figures, but also generate their own – in order to draw attention to different aspects of issues or to propose different issue agendas entirely.
New technologies make it possible to creatively repurpose “born digital” data – from online platforms and a wide array of devices – in order to generate different kinds of data infrastructures, whether for tracking pollution events, systematically counting police killings or migrant deaths, or documenting new forms of algorithmic discrimination or inequality.
There are also shifts in the provision and political economics of publicly available information, as the production and use of data is redistributed – leading at the same time to new dynamics of participation and engagement, as well as to new forms of enclosure and commercialisation, surveillance and governmentality.
These developments open up possibilities not only for new objects and sites of research, but also new forms of intervention. Researchers can play a role not only in relation to understanding these new data worlds, but also in relation to changing them.
Beyond the production of maps and critical cartographies of these emerging data infrastrutures, and genealogies of their making, we might ask: what role might researchers play in the recomposition of the data infrastructures that shape collective life? How might we produce accounts of these phenomena or stage interventions in a way which serves to re-align data infrastructures with the concerns of different publics? How might we help to open up space for democratic deliberation around data infrastructures, as well as critically studying the modes of engagement and registers of experience that they facilitate? And how might we cultivate the capacities not only to “get by” as auditorial or entrepreneurial data subjects, but also to contribute to shaping the future of the data worlds that surround us?