2017 > Keynotes


Researching Data Power: Looking Forwards

Helen Kennedy

Professor of Digital Society, University of Sheffield, UK


Critical scholarship on data power has come a long way in a short time, providing us with detailed analysis of the costs of the data delirium (van Zoonen 2014) and the kinds of power that are enacted when data are employed by governments, security agencies and private corporations. Much of this important critical work has operated at a general and theoretical level, addressing questions related to the potential for contemporary techniques of data mining and analytics to contribute to new, unaccountable and opaque forms of population management and social control. This questioning of data power has been important in pointing to the serious issues that datafication raises in relation to rights, liberties and social justice. But what next for research on data power? In these opening reflections, I will suggest some future directions for this emergent field.


Helen Kennedy’s research has focused on: social media, data in society, data visualisation, inequality, web design, and digital identity. Recent work includes a) Seeing Data (www.seeingdata.org), which explored how non-experts relate to data visualisations, and b) Post, Mine, Repeat (2016), about what happens when social media data mining becomes ordinary (both funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council). She is interested in critical approaches to big data and data visualisations, how people live with data, how to make datafication and its consequences transparent, and whether it’s possible to ‘live well’ with data.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Reconciliation

Gwen Phillips

Governance Transition Ktunaxa Nation & BC First Nations Data Governance Champion


Gwen Phillips, citizen of the Ktunaxa Nation and BC First Nations Data Governance Champion, describes how many BC First Nations are transitioning from government imposed systems that measure sickness and poverty, as examples, to internally developed approaches to measuring the impacts of Nation Rebuilding; measuring strong, healthy citizens… The Ktunaxa Nation has been dispossessed of their data; of their identity. Nation rebuilding and data sovereignty go hand in hand. The Ktunaxa Nation began governance transition; a shift in their thinking by questioning why the results of federal programs were not meeting expectations. The Nation began rebuilding their own institutions and addressing the root causes of the communities’ issues rather than just treating the manifestations. The Nations is collecting, protecting and using data to empower the Nation and measuring progress towards what the Ktunaxa citizens defined as their vision. The Ktunaxa Nation asserts data sovereignty as a fundamental right and data governance as a fundamental responsibility.


Gwen is a citizen of the Ktunaxa Nation and has worked for the Ktunaxa Nation Council for the past thirty-four years, holding a variety of senior management functions, at times overseeing departments of Education, Health, Corporate Services, Traditional Knowledge and Language and for the past decade, functioning as the Director responsible for Governance Transition; leading the Ktunaxa Nation back to self-government.

Gwen has represented the Ktunaxa Nation on numerous Boards and Committees, locally, regionally and nationally and is currently championing the BC First Nations’ Data Governance Initiative (http://www.bcfndgi.com); a tripartite government initiative (federal, provincial and First Nations governments) with a key objective being timely access to quality data to plan, manage and account for investments and outcomes associated with First Nations well-being. As a member of the First Nations Health Council, Gwen is part of the team that negotiated the transfer of Health Canada’s BC Region First Nations and Inuit Health Branch to First Nations control, and she represents BC First Nations’ interests nationally in Data Governance, as a member of the First Nations Information Governance Centre Board.

Profession, Piecework, PR, or Propaganda? Futures of Journalism in an Era of Automation

Frank Pasquale

Professor of Law, University of Maryland Carey School of Law, USA


Communications scholars have insightfully illuminated the material foundations of the contemporary public sphere, and its fragmentation. As digital megaplatforms consolidate users, data, revenue, and power, they will increasingly govern the future of news—or, to be more precise, its futures. They can assist outlets that maintain the professional status of journalists, or continue to apply economic pressure that will reduce much of the public sphere to a patchwork of public relations, piecework, unvetted user-generated content, and propaganda. To the extent megaplatforms choose the latter course, communications policymakers should model and regulate them as utilities, to promote a more robust and democratic public sphere.

Suggested Reading:


Frank Pasquale researches the law and policy of artificial intelligence, big data, and algorithms. He has testified before or advised groups ranging from the Department of Health and Human Services, the House Judiciary Committee, the Federal Trade Commission, and directorates-general of the European Commission. He is the author of The Black Box Society (Harvard University Press, 2015), which develops a social theory of reputation, search, and finance, and has been translated into Chinese, Korean, French, and Serbian. The book offered critical legal commentary on algorithmic approaches to profiling, and recommended law & policy to make search engines and social networks more accountable. Frank has served on the NSF-sponsored Council on Big Data, Ethics, & Society, and has advised European policymakers on media regulation. He has coauthored a casebook on dministrative law and co-authored or authored over 50 scholarly articles, including several on search engines as communicative intermediaries.

Knowledge Infrastructures under Siege: Environmental Data Systems as Memory, Truce, and Target

Paul Edwards

Professor of Information and History, Distinguished Faculty in Sustainability, Graham Sustainability Institute, Senior Fellow, Michigan Society of Fellows University of Michigan School of Information, Ann Arbour, USA and (starting July 1, 2017) William J. Perry Fellow in International Security Center for International Security and Cooperation Stanford University


This talk examines the history of environmental data systems in the context of the Trump administration’s brutal assault on climate science. Data models — aka algorithms — are as important as “raw” data in generating knowledge of Earth’s climate. Yet they are also easy political targets. From an earlier focus on critiques of climate simulation models, since about 2000 climate denialism has shifted toward attacks on data and data models. This movement recently reached a crescendo, with the ascendancy of climate change deniers to dominant positions in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere. The shift is associated with new media environments that effectively created a “glass laboratory,” where even scientists’ emails became metadata in the public life of climate knowledge. In this situation, where previously settled norms and standards have become targets for wholesale elimination, data studies must balance the necessity of critique with its potentially destructive consequences.


Paul N. Edwards is William J. Perry Fellow in International Security at Stanford University (from July 2017) and Professor of Information at the University of Michigan. He writes and teaches about the history, politics, and culture of information infrastructures. Edwards is the author of A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (MIT Press, 2010) and The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (MIT Press, 1996), and co-editor of Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance (MIT Press, 2001), as well as numerous articles.

Data-logies. The conditions of possibility for democratic agency in the datafied society

Stefania Milan

Associate Professor of New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam & Associate Professor of Media Innovation (II), University of Oslo


Datafication has brought about a fundamental paradigm shift in the contemporary socio-political order. Its informational architecture—from data centers to linked datasets and apps—has altered our conditions of existence in society. It has accelerated the crisis of liberal democracy, changing our understanding of what constitutes citizenship, participation and secrecy in the datafied society. Emerging forms of power—encoded in opaque algorithms and impenetrable trade secrets, guarded lawmaking and overreaching law enforcement—seem to leave little room for human agency. But while the threats to privacy and individuality negatively alter the trust relation between people and the ruling institutions, emerging grassroots data practices have the ability to carve out space for novel forms of being-in-the-world, forcing us to rethink the relationship between the state and its citizens. This talk reflects on what constitutes democratic agency today, exploring its spaces and conditions of possibility and identifying frictions and instances of empowerment. Taking data and datafication simultaneously as objects of contention and elements of an embryonic novel politics of the quotidian, and exploring forms of resilience and mobilization as democratic processes, the talk explores how contemporary engagement with data politics and socio-technical practices alters the way people enact their democratic agency.


Stefania Milan (stefaniamilan.net) is curious about the intersection of digital technology, activism and governance. Exploring digital and action-oriented research methods, she is constantly looking for ways to bridge research with policy and action. Stefania holds a PhD in political and social sciences of the European University Institute. Prior to joining the University of Amsterdam, she worked at the University of Lucerne, Central European University, Citizen Lab (University of Toronto) and Tilburg University. Stefania is the author of Social Movements and Their Technologies: Wiring Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and co-author of Media/Society (Sage, 2011). She is currently working on a new manuscript on “cloud protesting”, investigating how the algorithmically mediated environment of social media changes organized collective action. Stefania likes cycling, boxing and tangoing, and loves mountains.