Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda
‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’ will combine a) a public event and b) a 1-day immersive research workshop whose participation will be limited to a max of 35 people in order to ensure fruitful, focused exchange.
How would datafication look like seen… ‘upside down’? What questions would we ask? What concepts, theories and methods would we embrace or have to devise? This research seminar interrogates ‘Big Data from the South’, moving beyond the Western centrism and ‘digital universalism’ (Say Chan, 2013) of the critical scholarship on datafication and digitalization. It builds on a successful event with the same title organized by Stefania Milan with Emiliano Treré(1) in Cartagena, Colombia on July 15, 2017, which saw the participation of over fifty between academics and practitioners interested in promoting a cross-disciplinary dialogue with traditions, epistemologies and experiences that deconstruct the dominance of Western approaches to datafication that fail to recognize the plurality, the diversity, and the cultural richness of the South(s). Following the event in Cartagena, we started a dedicated, multilingual and multidisciplinary blog(2), launched on October 16, 2017 with a co-authored inaugural post entitled ‘Big Data from the South: The beginning of a conversation we must have(3)’. We simultaneously launched a scholarly network, coordinated at least in its initial phase by Treré, Milan and Anita Say Chan(4). The research seminar ‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’ would allow this nascent network to start charting its field of inquiry, including in the conversation scholars from globalization studies, media studies, philosophy, science and technology studies, critical data studies, and counting.
‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’ will combine a) a public event and b) a 1-day immersive research workshop whose participation will be limited to a max of 35 people in order to ensure fruitful, focused exchange. The event builds on the work of DATACTIVE in thinking the relation between data, citizenship and participation, but goes well beyond engaging with a muchneeded debate at the intersection of globalisation studies, feminist theory, critical theory, and decolonial thinking, which, ‘thinking in radical exteriority’ (Vallega, 2015, p. x), interrogates the coloniality of power. The workshop intends to contribute also to the ongoing epistemological repositioning of the humanities and the social sciences in light of the pressing inequality. We depart from the observation that, ‘while the majority of the world’s population resides outside the West, we continue to frame key debates on democracy and surveillance—and the associated demands for alternative models and practices—by means of Western concerns, contexts, user behavior patterns, and theories’(Milan & Treré, 2017) . If on the one hand, ‘we need concerted and sustained scholarship on the role and impact of big data on the Global South’ (Arora, 2015, p. 1693), on the other ‘new’ theory and ‘new’ understandings are key, as ‘if the injustices of the past continue into the present and are in need of repair (and reparation), that reparative work must also be extended to the disciplinary structure that obscure as much as illuminate the path ahead’ (Bhambra & De Sousa Santos, 2017, p. 9). Thus, this event will be a first stepping stone towards rethinking the sociotechnical dynamics of datafication in light of ‘the historical processes of dispossession, enslavement, appropriation and extraction […] central to the emergence of the modern world’ (Ibid.).
It is worth noting that our definition of ‘South’ has two twists. First, it is a flexible and expansive one, inspired to the writings of globalization sociologist Boaventura De Sousa Santos (2014) who is at the forefront of the reflection on the emergence and the urgency of epistemologies from the South against the ‘epistemicide’ of neoliberalism. Including but also going beyond the geographical South, our South is a place for and a metaphor of resistance, subversion, and creativity. Secondly, our notion emerges in dialectic interaction with the continuous critical interrogating and situating of our privilege as Western academics vs. the imperative to do‘nothing about them without them’.