Conference Agenda

Overview and details of the sessions of this conference. Please select a date or location to show only sessions at that day or location. Please select a single session for detailed view (with abstracts and downloads if available).

Session Overview
F-TC-1: Data, Activism and Transgression
Friday, 09/Mar/2018:
11:00am - 12:00pm

Session Chair: Marianne Ping Huang
Location: Think Corner

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11:00am - 11:30am
Long Paper (20+10min) [abstract]

Shaping data futures: Towards non-data-centric data activism

Minna Ruckenstein1, Tuukka Lehtiniemi2

1Consumer Society Research Centre, University of Helsinki, Finland,; 2HIIT, Aalto University

The social science debate that attends to the exploitative forces of the quantification of aspects of life previously experienced in qualitative form, recognising the ubiquitous forms of datafied power and domination, is by now an established perspective to question datafication and algorithmic control (Ruckenstein and Schüll, 2017). Drawing from the critical political economy and neo-Foucauldian analyses researchers have explored the effects of the datafication (Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier. 2013; Van Dijck, 2014) on the economy, public life, and self-understanding. Studies alert us to threats to privacy posed by “dataveillance” (Raley, 2012; Van Dijck, 2014), forms of surveillance distributed across multiple interested parties, including government agencies, insurance payers, operators, data aggregators, analytics companies, and individuals who provide the information either knowingly or unintentionally when going online, using self-tracking devices, loyalty programs, and credit cards. The “data traces” add to the data accumulated in databases and personal data – any data related to a person or resulting from actions by a person – becomes utilized for business and societal purposes in an increasingly systematic matter (Van Dijck and Poell, 2016; Zuboff, 2015).

In this paper, we take an “activist stance”, aiming to contribute to the current criticism of datafication with a more participatory and collaborative approach offered by “data activism” (Baack 2015; Milan and van der Velden, 2016), and civic and political engagement spurred by datafication. The various data-driven initiatives currently under development suggest that the problematic aspects of datafication, including the tension between data openness and data ownership (Neff, 2013), the asymmetries in terms of data usage and distribution (Wilbanks and Topol, 2016; Kish and Topol, 2015) and the inadequacy of existing informed consent and privacy protections (Sharon, 2016) are by now not only well recognized, but they are generating new forms of civic and political engagement and activism. This calls for more debate on what these new forms of data activism are and how scholars in the humanities and social science communities can assess them.

By relying on the approaches developed within the field of Techno-Anthropology (Børsen and Botin, 2013; Ruckenstein and Pantzar, 2015), seeking to translate and mediate knowledge concerning complex technoscientific projects and aims, we positioned ourselves as “outside insiders” with regard to a data-centric initiative called MyData. In 2014, we became observers and participants of the MyData, promoting the understanding that people benefit when they can control data gathering and analysis by public organizations and businesses and become more active data citizens and consumers. The high-level MyData vision, described in ‘the MyData white paper’ written primarily by researchers at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology and the Tampere University of Technology (Poikola et al., 2015), outlines an alternative future that transforms the ’organisation-centric system‘ into ’a human-centric system‘ that treats personal data as a resource that the individual can access, control, benefit and learn from.

The paper discusses “our” data activism and the activism of technology developers, promoting and relying on two different kinds of “social imaginaries” (Taylor, 2004). By doing so, we open a perspective to data activism that highlights ideological and political underpinnings of contested social imaginaries and aims. Current data-driven initiatives tend to proceed with a social imaginary that treats data arrangements as solutions, or corrective measures addressing unsatisfactory developments. They advance a logic of an innovation culture, relying on the development of new technology structures and computationally intensive tools. This means that the data-driven initiatives rely on an engineering attitude that does not question the power of technological innovation for creating better societal solutions or, more broadly, the role of datafication in societal development. The main focus is on the correct positioning of technology: undesirable, or harmful developments need to be reversed, or redirected towards ethically more fair and responsible practices.

Since we do not possess impressive technology skills, or proficiency in legal and regulatory matters, which would have aligned us with the innovation-driven data activism, our position in the technology-driven data activism scene is structurally fairly weak. Our data activism is informed by a sensitivity to questions of cultural change and the critical stance representative to social scientific inquiry, questioning the optimistic and future-oriented social imaginary of technology developers. As will be discussed in our presentation, this means that our data activism is incompatible with those of technology developers in a profound sense, explaining why our activist role was repeatedly reduced to viewing a stream of diagrams on PowerPoint slides depicting databases and data flows. In terms of designing future data transfers and data flows, our social imaginary remained oddly irrelevant, intensifying the feeling that we were observing a moving target and our task was to simply keep up, while the engineers were busy doing to the real work of activists, developing approaches that give users more control over their personal data, such as the Kantara Initiative’s User-Managed Access (UMA) protocol, experimenting with Blockchain technologies for digital identities such as Sovrin, and learning about “Vendor Relationship Management” systems (see, Belli et al., 2017).

From the outsider position, we started to craft a narrative about the MyData initiative that aligns with our social imaginary. We wanted to push the conversation further, beyond the usual technological, legal and policy frameworks, and suggest that with its techno-optimism the current MyData work might actually weaken data activism and public support for it. We turned to literary and scholarly sources with the aim of opening a critical, but hopefully also a productive conversation about MyData in order to offer ideas of how to promote socially more robust data activism. A seminal text that shares aims of the MyData initiative is the Autonomous Technology – Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (1978) by Langdon Winner. Winner perceives the relationship between human and technology in terms of Kantian autonomy: via analysis of interrelations of independence and dependence. The core ideas of the MyData vision have particular resonance with the way Winner (1978) considers “reverse adaptation”, wherein the human adapts to the power of the system and not the other way around.

In this paper, we first describe the MyData vision, as it has been presented by the activists, and situate it in the framework of technology critique and current critique of the digital culture and economy. Here, we demonstrate that the outside position can, in fact, resource a re-articulation of data activism. After this, we detail some further developments in the MyData scene and possibilities that have opened for dialogue and collaboration during our data activism journey. We end the discussion by noting that for truly promoting societally beneficial data arrangements, work is needed to circumvent the individualistic and data-centric biases of initiatives such as the MyData. We promote non-data-centric data activism that meshes critical thinking into the mundane realities of everyday practices and calls for historically informed and collectively oriented alternatives and action.

Overall, our goal is to demonstrate that with a focus on ordinary people, professionals and communities of practice, ethnographic methods and practice-based analysis can deepen understandings of datafication by revealing how data and its technologies are taken up, valued, enacted, and sometimes repurposed in ways that either do not comply with imposed data regimes, or mobilize data in inventive ways (Nafus & Sherman, 2014). By learning about everyday data worlds and actual material data practices, we can strengthen the understanding of how data technologies could become a part of promoting and enacting more responsible data futures. Paradoxically, in order to arrive to an understanding of how data initiatives support societally beneficial developments, non-data-centric data activism is called for. By aiming at non-data-centric data activism, we can continue to argue against triumphant data stories and technological solutionism in ways that are critical, but do not deny the possible value of digital data in future making. We will not try to protect ourselves against data forces but act imaginatively with and within them to develop new concepts, frameworks and collaborations in order to better steer them.


Baack, S. 2015. Datafication and empowerment: How the open data movement re-articulates notions of democracy, participation, and journalism. Big Data & Society, Oct.

Belli, L., Schwartz, M., & Louzada, L. (2017). Selling your soul while negotiating the conditions: from notice and consent to data control by design. Health and Technology, 1-15.

Børsen, T. & Botin, L. (eds) (2013). What Is Techno-Anthropology? Aalborg, Denmark: Aalborg University Press.

Kish, L. J., & Topol, E. J. (2015). Unpatients: why patients should own their medical data. Nature biotechnology, 33(9), 921-924.

Mayer-Schönberger, V., and K. Cukier. (2013). Big data: a revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

McQuillan, D. (2016). Algorithmic Paranoia and the Convivial Alternative. Big Data and Society 3(2).

McStay, Andrew (2013). Privacy and Philosophy: New Media and Affective Protocol. New York: Peter Lang.

Milan, S., & Velden, L. V. D. (2016). The alternative epistemologies of data activism. Digital Culture & Society, 2(2), 57-74.

Nafus, D. and Sherman, J. (2014). This One Does Not Go Up to 11: The Quantified Self Movement as an Alternative Big Data Practice. International Journal of Communication 8: 1784-1794.

Poikola, A.; Kuikkaniemi, K.; & Kuittinen, O. (2014). My Data – Johdatus ihmiskeskeiseen henkilötiedon hyödyntämiseen [‘My Data – Introduction to Human-centred Utilisation of Personal Data’]. Helsinki: Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Poikola, A.; Kuikkaniemi, K.; & Honko, H. (2015). MyData – a Nordic Model for Human-centered Personal Data Management and Processing. Helsinki: Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Raley, R. (2013). Dataveillance and Counterveillance, in ed. Gitelman, Raw Data is an Oxymoron. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Ruckenstein, M. & Pantzar, M. (2015). Datafied life: Techno-anthropology as a site for exploration and experimentation. Techné: Research in Philosophy & Technology. 19(2), 191–210.

Ruckenstein, M., & Schüll, N. D. (2017). The Datafication of Health. Annual Review of Anthropology, (0).

Sharon, T. (2016) Self-Tracking for Health and the Quantified Self: Re-Articulating Autonomy, Solidarity, and Authenticity in an Age of Personalized Healthcare. Philosophy & Technology, 1-29.

Taylor, C. (2004). Modern social imaginaries. Duke University Press.

Van Dijck, J. (2014). Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big data between scientific paradigm and ideology. Surveillance and Society 12(2): 197–208

Van Dijck, J., & Poell, T. (2016) Understanding the promises and premises of online health platforms. Big Data & Society, 3(1), 1-11.

Wilbanks, J. T., & Topol, E. J. (2016). Stop the privatization of health data. Nature, 535, 345-348.

Winner, L. (1978). Autonomous Technology – Technics-out-of-Control As a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London: The MIT Press.

Zuboff, Shoshana. 2015. “Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization.” Journal of Information Technology 30: 75–89.

Ruckenstein-Shaping data futures-241_a.pdf

11:30am - 11:45am
Short Paper (10+5min) [publication ready]

Digitalisation of Consumption and Digital Humanities - Development Trajectories and Challenges for the Future

Toni Ryynänen, Torsti Hyyryläinen

University of Helsinki, Ruralia Institute

Digitalisation transforms practically all areas of the modern life: everything

that can, will be digitalised. Especially the everyday routines and consumption

practices are under continual change. New digital products and services

are introduced at an accelerating pace. Purpose of this article is two-fold: the first

aim is to explore the influence of digitalisation on consumption, and secondly, to

canvas reasons for these digitalisation-driven transformations and possible future

progressions. The transformations are explored through recent consumer studies

and the future development is based on interpretations about digitalisation. Our

article recounts that digitalisation of consumption have resulted in new forms of

e-commerce, changing consumer roles and the digital virtual consumption. Reasons for these changes and expected near future progressions are based on assumptions drawn from data-driven, platform-based and disruption-generated visions. Challenges of combining consumption and the digital humanities approach

are discussed in the conclusion Section of the article.

Ryynänen-Digitalisation of Consumption and Digital Humanities-202_a.pdf
Ryynänen-Digitalisation of Consumption and Digital Humanities-202_c.pdf

11:45am - 12:00pm
Short Paper (10+5min) [abstract]

Its your data, but my algorithms

Tomi Dufva

Aalto-University, the school of Arts, Design and Architecture,

The world is increasingly digital, but the understanding of how the digital affects everyday life is still often confused. Digitalisation is sometimes optimistically thought as a rescue from hardships, be it economical or even educational. On the other hand, digitalization is seen negatively as something one just can’t avoid. Digital technologies have replaced many previous tools used in work as well as in leisure. Furthermore, digital technologies present an agency of their own into the human processes as marked by David Berry. Through manipulating data through algorithms and communicating not only with humans, but other devices as well, digital technology presents new kind of challenges for the society and individual. These digital systems and data flow get their instructions from the code that runs on these systems. The underneath code itself is not objective nor value-free and carries own biases as well as programmers, software companies or larger cultural viewpoints objectives. As such, digital technology affects to the ways, we structure and comprehend, or are even able to comprehend the world around us.

This article looks at the surrounding digitality through an artistic research project. Through using code not as a functional tool but in a postmodern way as a material for expression, the research focuses on how code as art can express the digital condition that might otherwise be difficult to put into words or comprehend in everyday life. The art project consists of a drawing robot controlled by EEG-headband that the visitor can wear. The headband allows the visitor to control the robot through the EEG-readings read by the headband. As such the visitor might get a feeling of being able to control the robot, but at the same time the robot interprets the data through its algorithms and thus controls the visitor's data.

The aim of this research projects is to give perspectives to the everydayness of digitality. It wants to question how we comprehend digital in everyday life and asks how we should embody digitality in the future. The benefits of artistic research are in the way it can broaden the conceptions of how we know and as such can deepen one’s understanding of the complexities of the world. Furthermore, artistic research can expand the meaning to alternative interpretations of the research subjects. As such, this research project aims at the same time to deepen the discussion of digitalization and to broaden it to alternative understandings. The alternative ways of seeing a phenomenon, like digitality, are essential in the ways future is developed. The proposed research consists of both the theoretical text and the interactive artwork, which would be present in the conference.

Dufva-Its your data, but my algorithms-150_a.pdf

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