Lina Dencik


Resistance in the detached society: From data ethics to data justice

Wednesday, October 31st, 18:00 – 20:00, PALAZZO CONGRESSI Auditorium A

As more and more social activity and human behaviour is being turned into data points that can be tracked, collected and analysed, we are seeing the advancement of new forms of decision-making and governance. This speaks to a significant transformation in how our society is organized and the ways in which we are able to participate in it. Whilst much debate on this datafication of society has focused on the need for efficient and supposedly more objective responses to social problems on the one hand and a concern with individual privacy and the protection of personal data on the other, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need a broader framework for understanding these developments. This is one that can account for the disparities in how different people might be implicated and that recognizes that the shift to data-driven economies is not merely technical. In such context, how we understand the opportunities and challenges for advancing resistance in the datafied society is key. This presentation engages with emerging shifts in responses to datafication, particularly within civil society across different boundaries. Whilst concerns with data have previously struggled to reach beyond confined expert groups and technology activists, we are beginning to see broader responses to the challenges of data-driven decision-making. One prominent area for civil society is the growing field of ‘data ethics’, which has emerged as a popular framework for engaging with the wider issues at stake with datafication. Key issues concern re-identification or de-anonymisation and risks for privacy, forms of discrimination and abuse, trust, transparency, accountability, lack of public awareness and responsible innovation and usage. These themes are increasingly prevalent in civil society advocacy where data ethics is providing a framework for guidelines to advance ‘responsible’ data developments across a range of contexts. However, in making data the entry-point for ethical inquiries, we also risk understanding data-extractive technologies as abstracted from broader relations of power. In this sense, the focus of resistance becomes on the ‘responsible’ handling of data or the ‘transparent’ and ‘fair’ nature of the algorithms themselves, whilst still accepting much of the premise of a data-driven economy. The question becomes the extent to which this can serve to advance more substantial challenges to dominant power relations manifested in data politics at different and interconnected scales (Ruppert et al. 2017). In this presentation, I draw on research for an ERC-funded project on ‘data justice’ as an alternative framing of what is at stake with datafication. Data justice as a framework is intended to connote the intricate relationship between datafication and social justice by foregrounding and highlighting the politics of data-driven processes and connecting concerns of anti-surveillance movements (e.g. privacy and data protection) with social and economic justice concerns (Dencik et al. 2016). I will argue that such an approach is needed in light of the role of datafication in contemporary forms of governance.

  • Datafication
  • Resistance
  • Data justice

Dr Lina Dencik is Senior Lecturer 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, 2018). Her current project, funded by an ERC Starting Grant, is ‘Data Justice: Understanding datafication in relation to social justice’ (DATAJUSTICE).

For more information, see: Cardiff University