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Living and working with data in times of datafication -panel
Living and working with data in times of datafication
Helen Kennedy (University of Sheffield), Mirko Tobias Schäfer and Aline Franzke (Utrecht University) , Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki); Thomas Poell (University of Amsterdam)
Datafication – the quantification of aspects of social life previously experienced in qualitative, non-numeric form – is increasingly ubiquitous, and the norms, strategies, mechanisms and economies that underpin it are extending into an ever-broader range of fields (van Dijck and Poell 2013). Responses to datafication are polarized: on the one hand, celebrants claim that because widely available data provide access to opinions and behaviors in real time, at great volume and speed, better decision-making and greater efficiencies result. Academic researchers are not immune from the big data buzz – they too express belief that datafication presents an opportunity to advance understanding of human behavior and society (Mayer-Schönberger & Cukier 2013). On the other hand, critics warn that unaccountable uses of data in regimes of datafication result in the management of populations and in new, opaque forms of control. Because these polarized positions have dominated scholarship on big data and datafication, not much attention has been paid to how people live and work with data as part of their everyday lives. This panel attends to these everyday experiences. In so doing, it shifts the focus of critical data studies to the everyday, small-scale organisations and communities in which datafication is taking place, something which Couldry and Powell (2014), amongst others, claim is urgently needed. Because these ordinary, everyday experiences and practices do not fit easily into one or the other of these binary frameworks, they lead us to propose new concepts, approaches and methodologies for studying life and work with data in times of datafication.
The panel focuses on four aspects of living and working with data. It is comprised of papers that draw on diverse empirical studies, including of: protest events, voluntary self-tracking, start up companies promoting new business models that improve individuals’ control of data, public sector management and other aspects of ordinary, everyday life. The first paper draws on an ethnography of data practices in public management, which reveals asymmetric knowledge concerning the implementation of data practices, related laws and regulation, and the social impact of novel data practices. The second paper explores how datafication is promoted, practiced and lived with across a range of sectors, attending to both experts’ and non-experts’ relationships with data and data practices. The third paper explores what living with and within streams of social media data means for the concept of publicness, addressing the question ‘what is publicness in the age of datafication’? The final paper is a manifesto for studying living with data ‘from the bottom up’. It argues that ordinary people need to be more central to data studies to facilitate understanding of how people live with and how they imagine they might live well with data, and it proposes some conceptual tools and methodological approaches in order to do this.
Couldry, N., & Powell, A. (2014). Big Data from the bottom up. Big Data & Society, 1(2), 2053951714539277.
Mayer-Schönberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2013) Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Van Dijck, J., & Poell, T. (2013) Understanding social media logic. Media and Communication, 1(1), 2-14.