Fintech apps and data-driven irrationalities: speculation in the face of precarity
(Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Paper short abstract:
This paper analyzes financial-technological apps and the (ir)rationalities of data-centric speculation. It draws on interviews with stakeholders and app analysis. It further probes tactics of data activism to conjure publics and tell stories that enable relations of solidarity.
Paper long abstract:
Fintech apps (financial technology applications) contribute to the rise of the speculator-citizen, for whom taking risk on the basis of speculative calculations, or being governed in terms of risk calculations, becomes part of everyday life and, ironically, the search for stability under conditions of precarity. Even though fintech apps advance datafication and data enclosure, they also promise financial participation by redistributing data-centric perception and cognition. Accordingly, in Hong Kong—a colony turned neoliberal testbed—fintech apps do not target the rich but rather millennials (i.e. students), elderly housewives, and the unbanked (i.e. migrant domestic workers). This paper analyzes the (ir)rationalities of data-centric speculation, taking into account the ungovernability of financial-technological systems (Lotti forthcoming; MacKenzie 2014; Pasquale 2015; Speculate This! 2013). Methodologically, it draws on interviews with stakeholders and app analysis, along with probing tactical data activism. First, I explore how the expediency of data is implicated in social stratification and self-responsibilization, for instance to secure one's (personal) future. I distinguish three "classes," namely user positions informed by distributions of data-centric perception and cognition: the predicting class equipped with robo-advisors; the predicted class self-identifying through credit scoring; and the unpredictive class, negotiating exclusion and anonymity. Second, I juxtapose articulations of uncertainty as quantified expression of risk and as cultural signification and affective experience of precarity. Turning to data activism, I ask whether and how personal and financial data could be made to conjure publics and tell stories that underscore the radical openness of the future or enable relations of solidarity.
Data worlds? Public imagination and public experimentation with data infrastructures