Minutes from September meeting

Discussion of Fisher, Sadowski, and D’Ignazio & Klein:

  • We tried to find a common thread within all of the readings to pull them together. Fisher and Sadowski both related to how we look at data; if we can look at it outside of the construct of Capital and what data would look like in this scenario. Fisher seems to say that there has to be a way to view data that isn’t through the lens of capital and that any rejection of this idea is a result of internalised Ideology. Sadowski, on the other hand, seems to say that discussing data as non-capitalist is a bit of a moot point currently because of the ways in which data are used. It was raised that this may be a problem of how the concept of ‘data’ is framed. If we only recognise things which are innately capitalistic as data, then Sadowski appears correct. However, if we go back to the Indigenous Data Sovereignty book, we can see that data can be (and is) encoded in ways not recognised in traditional tech structures of capital. Should we, therefore, be looking at types of data which are not valorised as ‘legitimate’ data by colonial ideologies?
  • It is important to remember that talking about data in a very abstract sense is not necessarily accurate or helpful. Data is something produced by contemporary technological systems and are completely implicated in forms of capitalism. This makes the Sadowski article seem somewhat banal in its observations. It doesn’t say anything that isn’t already obvious. On the other side of this, Sadowski is offering very straight-forward and plain ways of putting forward ideas around data and capital. This makes the article a very useful resource due to its potential banality.
  • Regarding Fisher, he seems to only offer a textual analysis of multiple different pieces of media. In a sense, this just replicates the problems which he seeks to identify. He seems to state that society is X way; analyse pieces of media with that in mind; and conclude that society is, in fact, X way. It doesn’t necessarily offer much more than saying that society is organised and rationalised in a capitalist manner, which again seems so banal to be obvious.
  • The data feminism book does offer something different from this by trying to offer alternative ways of doing data. There may be a problem here of trying to swim against the current (in which you will inevitably get swept away) but it still offers something imaginative. The concept of data for co-liberation was interesting and useful for this reason. It reimagines how we can do research in practice, rather than just abstractly critiquing data about how it could be different. This was particularly true for the requirements they set out for how to do data ethically. This included involving members of the researched communities at all points in the research process, and ensuring that infrastructures are left behind to allow this community to keep doing data for co-liberation after the initial project ends.
  • The question was raised about the utility of the framing of Data Feminism as feminism. Could this have been framed as any progressive ideology? Feminism was defined broadly in the introduction and the focus was placed more on a broad move towards social justice. Resultantly, a lot of the cases discussed apply just as much to many of the issues addressed by Black Lives Matter movements currently. The book does address this though, with a specific focus on intersectional feminism, with the chapters being organised based around core tenets of intersectionality. 
  • Another potential issue raised around the Data Feminism book was the issue of impact. This comes back to the idea that it may be swimming against the current. Is criticising it for not being at a macro scale actually asking too much of it, as a single book? There is a section at the end of chapter five that addresses how data for co-liberation can be scaled up to be Big Data for co-liberation too, so again this is at least addressed by the chapter in question. 
  • It was raised that much of what we have spoken about (not just in this session) is data which is naturally capitalist, or at least data as having a natural economic framing. Would it be more useful and contemporary to look at how data can have naturally political structurings too? As in, how data can be naturally fascist, for example. Or even forms of data which are open repositories and are then used for nefarious political purposes. This links back to the Data Feminism book, as it addresses the history of statistics being bound up with the history of eugenics in many ways. This is addressed by Black’s IBM and the Holocaust, which we may come back to at a later date.
  • Other books raised for future consideration were: Loukissas’s All Data Are Local; Parikka’s The Contemporary Condition; and Harraway’s Staying With The Trouble
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