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Surveillance capitalism, governance and social justice: moving beyond data centrism

Date & Time:
15:30 - 17:00,
Tuesday 13 November, 2018


The use of data and algorithmic processes for decision-making is now a growing part of social life. Digitally monitoring, tracking, profiling and predicting human behaviour and social activities is what underpins the new information order described as surveillance capitalism. Increasingly, it is also what helps determine decisions that are central to our ability to participate in society, such as welfare, education, crime, work, and if we can cross borders. How should we understand what is at stake with such developments? Often, we are dealt a simple binary that suggests that the issue is one of increased (state-)security and efficiency on the one hand and concerns with privacy and protection of personal data on the other. Recently, we have also seen a growing focus on questions of bias, discrimination and ‘fairness’ enter this debate. In this presentation, I will take stock of these concerns, and will draw on a number of different case studies across policing, welfare and border control that looks at the implementation of algorithmic processes in practice. I will make the case that we need to understand data systems as part of a broader transformation of governance that places much greater emphasis on why these technologies are developed and implemented in the first place and stresses how data practices relate to other social practices, rather than focusing on the data system itself. In so doing, I will outline a more comprehensive engagement with data politics, as the performative power of or in data (Ruppert et al. 2017), that considers how algorithmic processes relate to wider interests, power relations, and particular agendas. I will end by considering what this means for addressing challenges and advancing social justice in an age of datafication.

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  • Name: Dr Lina Dencik
  • Affiliation: Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC)
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  • Bio: Dr Lina Dencik is Reader at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC). Her research concerns the interplay between media developments and social and political change, with a particular focus on resistance. In recent years, she has moved into the areas of digital surveillance and the politics of data and she is Co-Founder of the Data Justice Lab. Lina has written several articles and books, most recently, Digital Citizenship in a Datafied Society (with Arne Hintz and Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Polity Press, 2018). Her current projects include ‘Data Justice: Understanding datafication in relation to social justice’ (DATAJUSTICE) funded by an ERC Starting Grant and ‘Data Scores as Governance: Investigating uses of citizen scoring in public services’ funded by the Open Society Foundations.