A Data Power Special Issue of Online Information Review

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15 Oct 2019 Publication

A Special Issue of Online Information Review (OIR) was published this week, co-edited by Living With Data’s Jo Bates.

All the articles in this Special Issue were presented at the Data Power Conference 2017, which was established by Living With Data researchers, Professor Helen Kennedy & Dr Jo Bates together with University of Sheffield colleague, Dr Ysabel Gerrard.

Now approaching its third iteration, the Data Power Conference focuses on critical questions about the relationship between data and society, with conference speakers invited to address the social and cultural consequences of data’s pervasiveness in our everyday lives.

The Data Power Conference 2017, and by extension the seven papers in this Special Issue, addressed three questions:

  1. How can we reclaim some form of data-based power and autonomy, and advance data-based technological citizenship, while living in regimes of data power?
  2. Is it possible to regain agency and mobilise data for the common good? To do so, which theories help to interrogate and make sense of the operations of data power?
  3. What kind of design frameworks are needed to build and deploy data-based technologies with values and ethics that are equitable and fair? How can big data be mobilised to improve how we live, beyond notions of efficiency and innovation?

These questions broadly emphasise the reclamation of power, retention of agency and ethics of data-based technologies, and they reflect a broader moment in recent data studies scholarship. While early critical research on “big data” – a term that captures the technologies, analytics and mythologies of increasingly large data sets (Boyd and Crawford, 2012) – could only hypothesise the inequalities and deepened forms discrimination that might emerge as data sets grew in volume, many of those predictions have now become real. The articles in this Special Issue ask pressing questions about data power at a time when we have learned that data are too frequently handled in a way that deepens social inequalities and injustices (amongst others, Eubanks, 2018; Noble, 2018).

The papers in this Special Issue approach discussions of inequality and injustice through three broad lenses: the tactics people use to confront unequal distributions of (data) power; the access to data that are most relevant and essential for particular social groups, coupled with the changing and uncertain legalities of data access; and the shaping of social relations by and through data, whether through the demands placed on app users to disclose more personal information, the use of data to construct cultures of compliance or through the very methodologies commonly used to organise and label information. While these three themes do not exhaustively capture the range of topics addressed in this Special Issue, at the Data Power Conferences, or within the field at large, they represent an emphasis within data studies scholarship on shedding light on the most pressing issues confronting our increasingly datafied world.

Data Power 2017 took place at Carleton University, Canada, 22-23 June, organised by local hosts Dr Tracey Lauriault and Dr Merlyna Lim, with support from the wider Data Power Steering Committee comprising Professor Helen Kennedy, Dr Jo Bates and Dr Ysabel Gerrard (Sheffield, UK).