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Big data, data activism, and the global civil society

26 Jan 2016

This talk uses the lenses of data activism to take a critical approach to civil society’s engagement with big data. Data activism indicates those grassroots mobilisations taking a critical stance towards massive data collection. It takes two forms: pro-active data activism, whereby citizens appropriate data and data narratives to foster social change, and re-active data activism, by which people resist and subvert massive data collection by means of technical fixes. Data activism allows us to reflect on anti-hegemonic data politics, a mix of transformative technical practice and sociopolitical imagination. Anti-hegemonic data politics facilitates the emergence within the organised civil society of a) new (data) epistemologies as a critical approach to the politics of representation; b) new rhizomes connecting distinct social actors with complementary skills, and characterised by specific ethical visions; c) new emancipatory sociotechnical practices based on first-person hands-on engagement with software and data, and d) a new vocabulary to talk about data and social change, as a crucial step towards a grassroots, transformative engagement with big data.