Big Data from the South: From media to mediations, from datafication to data activism
Location: Cartagena, Colombia
Date and Time: July 15, 2017, 10am-6pm
Conference Description: Critical scholarship has exposed how big data brings along new and opaque regimes of population management, control, and discrimination. Building on this scholarship, this pre-conference engages in a dialogue with traditions that critique the dominance of Western approaches to datafication that do not recognize the diversity of the Global South. Moving from datafication to data activism, this event will examine the diverse ways through which citizens and the organized civil society in the Global South engage in bottom-up data practices for social change as well as resistance to “dark” uses of big data that increase oppression and inequality.
Call for Proposal: We accept abstract in both English and Spanish. Send your 300 – 500 word abstract to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Abstracts must be received by 23:59 GMT on 1 March.
Call for Papers – IAMCR pre-conference
Big Data from the South: From media to mediations, from datafication to data activism
Organizers: Emiliano Treré (Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy), Stefania Milan
(University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Datafication has dramatically altered the way we understand the world around us. The phenomenon of “Big Data”, tinted with the narratives of positivism and modernization, has been widely praised for its revolutionary possibilities especially in the fields of politics and citizen participation. But big data is not without risks and threats, as some critical voices within media studies and neighbouring disciplines remind us. These argue that big data is not merely a technological issue or a flywheel of knowledge and change, but a ‘mythology’ that we ought to interrogate and critically engage with (boyd & Crawford, 2012; Couldry & Powell, 2014; Mosco, 2014; Tufekci, 2014). “Critical data studies” increasingly question the potential inequality and discrimination as well as exclusion harboured by the mechanisms of big data and the associated policies (Gangadharan, 2012; Dalton, Taylor, & Thatcher, 2016). Yet, most of these analyses emerged in a Western, post-industrial context and narrative, often ignoring the specificities of datafication “from the South”. The consequences of these new regimes of data inequality and discrimination, however, are particularly acute in the Global South, where they intersect with other practices of social and political oppression, and where fewer tools are available to citizens to fight back the novel incarnations of data power promoted and imposed by institutions, governments, and corporations alike. We propose to approach “big data from the South”, shedding light on the unintended consequences that datafication has in parts of the world that are often considered ‘peripheral’ in dominant narratives of globalization and post-modernity, and where the effects of global inequality are particularly felt, especially in relation to media access and participation (Couldry & Rodriguez, 2016).
Understanding big data means to explore the profound consequences of the current ‘computational turn’ across multiple disciplines, as well as the alterations in the spheres of epistemology, ontology and ethics, and the limitations, errors and biases that surface in the gathering, interpretation and access to information. Critical scholarship has exposed how the advent of big data brings along new and opaque regimes of population management, control, discrimination and exclusion (see Andrejevic, 2012; Beer & Burrows, 2013; Gillespie, 2014; Hearn, 2010; Turow, 2012; van Dijck, 2013). The expansion of data mining practices and the activities of national security agencies and law enforcement as well as major social media corporations themselves, gives rise to critical claims about systematic surveillance, privacy invasion and inequality (Lyon, 2014; van Dijck, 2014). In particular, contemporary politics is increasingly constrained with the traps, dangers and biases of new forms of computational propaganda (Woolley & Howard, 2016). And digital dissidence and political activism are undermined by new algorithmic forms of control (Treré, 2016) that heavily rely on the political uses of social bots (Woolley, 2016).
‘Big Data from the South’ builds on these critical perspectives, and engages in a dialogue with traditions, epistemologies and experiences that critique and deconstruct the dominance of Western approaches to datafication that do not recognize the plurality, the diversity, and the cultural richness of the Global South (Huerfano et al., 2016). Almost thirty years ago, the Spanish-Colombian comunicologist Jesús Martín-Barbero urged us to move ‘from media to mediations’, 2 that is, from functionalist media-centered analyses to the exploration of everyday practices of media appropriation through which social actors enact resistance to domination and hegemony (1987). We argue that in the present scenario it is about time to move from datafication to data activism (Milan & Gutierrez, 2015), and examine the diverse ways through which citizens and the organized civil society in the Global South engage in bottom-up data practices for social change as well as resistance to “dark” uses of big data that increase oppression and inequality. It is pivotal to recognize and assess which alternatives to the oppressive use of data and which creative and innovative forms of algorithmic resistance (Treré 2016) are being forged in Latin America and beyond, in order to harness the power of data towards social justice and political transformation.
This pre-conference aims at interrogating the specific politics, specificities and peculiarities of data activism in the Global South, with emphasis on Latin American practices and on cross-South and North/South comparative perspectives. It will address a number of questions, including
- Does the availability of data bring novel opportunities to the Global South? How do activists take advantage of big data for social justice advocacy? What initiatives and actors ask for the release of data?
- What negative consequences of datification are activists and organizations facing in the Global South ? What practices of resistance emerge?
- What frames of reference, imaginaries, and culture do people mobilize in relation to big data and massive data collection?
- Which coceptual and methodological frameworks are best suited to capture the complexity and the peculiarities of data activism in the Global South?
- Which alternative understandings and epistemologies could help us to better address the contested terrain of data power and activism in the Global South, and Latin America in particular?
A special issue of an international peer-reviewed journal on “Big data from the South” will gather the most interesting contributions from this event. Moreover, a blog series for Open Democracy (opendemocracy.net) will feature 500-word articles targeted to a global audience. The articles will also be translated in Spanish for inclusion in the journal Mediaciones (and vice-versa for articles originally written in Spanish). Send your abstract with 300-350 words to: email@example.com. Abstracts must be received by 23:59 GMT on 1 March.
Andrejevic, M. (2012). Exploitation in the data-mine. In C. Fuchs, K. Boersma, A. Albrechtslund, & M. Sandoval (Eds.), Internet and Surveillance: The Challenges of Web 2.0 and Social Media (pp. 71–88). New York: Routledge.
Beer, D., & Burrows, R. (2013). Popular culture, digital archives and the new social life of data. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(4), 47–71.
Boyd, dana, & Crawford, K. (2012). Critical questions for Big Data. Provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon. Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), 662–679.
Couldry, N., & Powell, A. (2014). Big data from the bottom up. Big Data & Society, 1(2), 1–5.
Couldry, N., & Rodriguez, C. (2016, December 2). How the Media is a Key Dimension of Global Inequality. The Wire. Retrieved from http://thewire.in/83509/why-the-media-isa-key-dimension-of-global-inequality/
Dalton, C. M., Taylor, L., & Thatcher, J. (2016). Critical Data Studies: A Dialog on Data and Space. Big Data & Society, January-June, 1–9.
Gangadharan, S. (2012). Digital inclusion and data profiling. First Monday, 17(5). Retrieved From http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3821/3199
Gillespie, T. (2014). The relevance of algorithms. In T. Gillespie, P. J. Boczkowski, & K. Foot
(Eds.), Media technologies: Essays on communication, materiality, and society (pp. 167–194). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 3
Hearn, A. (2010). Structuring feeling: Web 2.0, online ranking and rating, and the digital “reputation” economy. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organisation, 10(3/4). Retrieved from http://www.ephemerajournal.org/contribution/structuring-feeling-web- 20-online-ranking-and-rating-and-digital %E2%80%98reputation%E2%80%99- economy
Lyon, D. (2014). Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique. Big Data & Society, 1(2), 2053951714541861. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951714541861
Milan, S., & Gutierrez, M. (2015). Medios ciudadanos y big data: La emergencia del activismo de datos. Mediaciones, 14. Retrieved from
Mosco, V. (2014). To the Cloud: Big Data in a Turbulent World P. New York: Paradigm Publishers.
Treré, E. (2016). The Dark Side of Digital Politics: Understanding the Algorithmic Manufacturing of Consent and the Hindering of Online Dissidence. IDS Bulletin, 47(1). Retrieved from http://goo.gl/MEFYhn Tufekci, Z. (2014). Engeneering the Public: Big data, surveillance, and computational politics. First Monday, 19(7). Retrieved from
Turow, J. (2012). The Daily You: how the new advertising industry is defining your identity and your worth. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
van Dijck, J. (2013). The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
van Dijck, J. (2014). Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big data between scientific paradigm and ideology. Surveillance and Society, 12(3), 197–208.
Woolley, S. (2016). Automating power: Social bot interference in global politics. First Monday,
21(4). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6161/5300
Woolley, S., & Howard, P. N. (2016). Automation, Algorithms, and Politics| Political Communication, Computational Propaganda, and Autonomous Agents — Introduction. International Journal of Communication, 10(9). Retrieved from http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/6298/1809
Emiliano Treré (Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy)
Stefania Milan (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)