Accepted Paper:

Data cultures from the Global South: decentering data universalism  


Stefania Milan (University of Amsterdam)
Anita Chan (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Paper short abstract:

Feminist and decolonial STS has critiqued hyper-celebratory framings of ICTs in the Global South as offering a universal path towards a digital future. Building on critiques of the myth of a salvationary "digital universalism," we explore efforts in the Global South challenging data universalism.

Paper long abstract:

Critical approaches in feminist and decolonial STS have challenged hyper-celebratory framings of ICTs in the Global South as offering a "universal" path towards a digital future modeled on the West. Building on critiques of the myth of a salvationary "digital universalism" (Chan 2014), this paper explores growing efforts in the Global South to contend with emerging forms of "data universalism." Such frames project big data as offering future-ready solutions - that automate population management, social order, and behavioral prediction - in the promise of economic optimization and territorial security. We explore instead emerging practices from the Global South that critique big data's expansion, and challenge dominant approaches to datafication that fail to recognize the range of experimental methods and practices adopted by diverse Global Data Cultures. Moving from datafication to data activism, we examine the varied ways that actors in and of the Global South - including migrant populations in the West and in Latin America - engage in bottom-up data practices for social change. More broadly, we explore how the availability of open data ecologies have fostered critical approaches to data applications among Southern actors; and how networks of interdisciplinary, intersectional practices of resistance draw from technological imaginaries and cultures beyond those typically associated with "big data" experts. From such experimental collaborations, that is, emerge diverse forms of Global Data Cultures that contend with the prediction-oriented, future-fixated chrono-politics of big data centers, to press for a distinct form of accountability to the publics and pasts from the periphery.

Panel C23
STS meet ICT: politics and the collaborative turn in STS