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Accepted Contribution:

State digitalization and the changing praxis of data destruction in public bureaucracies  
Frederik Schade (Copenhagen Business School)

Short abstract:

The presentation investigates how mundane practices of data destruction in public bureaucracies are simultaneously challenged, transformed, and re-evaluated in the wake of digitalization. These developments raise questions concerning cultural memory and accountability that beg academic reflection.

Long abstract:

If the production of knowledge constitutes a key characteristic of institutions, so too does its destruction. In the context of democratic states, this dynamic is exemplified by regulatory norms concerning the (selective) preservation and potential destruction of public records for reasons of both government accountability and cultural memory. Rather than giving rise to public controversy, the continuous destruction(s) of information guided by such simultaneously legal, bureaucratic, and archival regimes constitute a deeply institutionalized element of bureaucratic praxis. However, as both the practices of government and the communication of public officials increasingly rely on digital technologies and platforms, mundane forms and procedures of data destruction in the public sector are being simultaneously challenged, transformed, and re-evaluated. Digitally enabled correspondence (e.g., emailing), ephemeral messaging facilitated by private platforms (e.g., the case of “government by Whatsapp”), and emergent concerns around data privacy thus all – in different ways – unsettle pre-existing norms for administering public records and other types of government data. Exploring these normative and practical disruptions, this presentation lays out a framework for the ethnographic study of mundane practices of data destruction in public bureaucracies. In particular, it centers on transformations in how data destruction is practiced and valued within increasingly digitalized democracies and the role of technological affordances in shaping these transformations. From these developments, questions emerge pertaining to both cultural memory and political accountability in the wake of digitalization.

Combined Format Open Panel P122
Degrowing data: valuing and practicing intentional data loss
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -