Accepted Papers:

Instrumental, collaborative, agonistic: a spectrum of civic data projects in Los Angeles  


Morgan Currie (University of Edinburgh)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper analyzes civic data projects. The world-making capacities of these projects fall on a spectrum, with one end exemplifying participation that colludes with the administrative state, and the other end a means to political action by social movements advocating for systemic change.

Paper long abstract:

This paper proposes a theoretical analysis of civic data projects at the municipal level. The world-making capacities of these projects' data infrastructures range on a spectrum, with one end representing forms of participation that are collusive and by which individuals take part in reproducing the administrative state, and, at the other end, more monitory and antagonistic activity by social movements calling for broader political change.

Civic hacking, for instance, contributes to the design of public service provisions that complement or even supplement government policies. Civic hackers often focus on designing service infrastructure and are necessarily collaborative with city administrations; they design services per policies already in place. On the other end of the spectrum, grassroots data projects engage in monitory and antagonistic forms of data activism, either by calling for greater government transparency or by criticizing state-based statistical representations of an issue or group. Such projects may be part of broader social movement campaigns advocating for systemic change.

For evidence of these distinctions I draw on participant observation at civic hacking events and grassroots projects in Los Angeles' over a five-year period, from 2013 to 2017. This research entailed field visits and interviews at civic hacking events and meet-ups, and participant observation with civic data activism by three community groups: the Los Angeles Bike Coalition, which counts cyclists, and two social justice organizations, the Youth Justice Coalition, who count the dead at the hands of police, and Stop LAPD Spying, who track government data collection on poor and immigrant communities.

Panel C16
Data worlds? Public imagination and public experimentation with data infrastructures