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Accepted Paper:

Imperial datafication: historicising modern datafication and development  
Preeti Raghunath (University of Sheffield, UK)

Paper short abstract:

Datafication can be traced back to histories of colonial capitalism (Cieslik and Margócsy, 2022), with analogue modes of datafication accompanying colonial governance. My paper studies two grand initiatives of development–colonial railways and accompanying practices of modern datafication in India.

Paper long abstract:

When Cukier and Mayer-Shoenberger (2013) coined the term ‘datafication’, they referred to the explosion of quantifiable and quantified big data in digital form. However, histories of modern datafication are not a vestige of the digital era alone. Datafication in its present form can be traced back to histories of colonial capitalism (Cieslik and Margócsy, 2022). Colonial modernity brought with it a particular kind of data-gathering and governance that involved the translation of qualitative experiences into large-scale quantifiable information – analogue datafication, in other words. The emergence of early European corporations predated or coincided with the emergence of the Westphalian nation-state, bringing modern practices of business operations and governance not only in Europe but in Europe’s new colonies of the time. Analogue datafication accompanied colonial exploration and expansion across territories, and served as a means for further consolidation of colonial rule and trade interests in Europe’s colonies. Goldsmith (2002) writes about development as being ideologically driven, and historicises the linkages between development and colonialism. Drawing on this, my paper looks at the interstices of two grand initiatives of development – colonial railways and modern datafication. I study practices of analogue datafication set forth by British companies and the Crown in building the railways in British India. In doing so, I propose the idea of Imperial Datafication, investigating the amalgam of corporate power, expansionist states and trans/-national elites, to locate and extend our understandings of datafication and development historically and today.

Panel P04
Data justice and development [Digital Technologies, Data and Development SG]
  Session 3 Friday 28 June, 2024, -