Living with Data: Ethics, Politics and Justice in Data Worlds

PhD course with Professor Jarrett Zigon, University of Virginia and Dr Lina Dencik, Cardiff University

Data is currently proliferating, multiplying and seeping into seemingly every corner of society. Great ambitions are often associated with the capacity of data and data infrastructures to ‘drive’ organizational change, revolutionize governmental institutions, optimize private companies and ease everyday life. Unwilling to accept that practices, organizations and identities are simply being ‘technically upgraded’, anthropologists and scholars in science and technology studies (STS) have emphasized how datafication involves heterogenous ontological experiments and world-building efforts. In the wake of these developments, it has also become clear that the effects of datafication reach far beyond original intentions. Heightened surveillance, discriminatory sorting practices and targeted forms of data collection, often perpetuating deep-seated racial stereotypes, are but some of the issues currently brought to the foreground by data practices. Indeed, far from offering solutions to common matters of concern, all too often datafication produces disappointment and disconcertment. Living with data can seem unbearable, especially for those whose life is continuously produced as targets of discrimination. What openings might there be out of this situation?

This PhD course seeks to offer a space for critically engaging with, against and in the midst of contemporary data worlds. The course will focus specifically on what it means to think through issues of social justice in relation to specific data situations and practices. Beyond inherited ideals of universal rights and equality, what are the specific and situated challenges posed by emerging data worlds? How do data influence the distribution of life chances, resources and opportunities? How is data implicated in making certain lives worth living, while others are excluded or made invisible? How and to what extend do certain data sets and their modes of ordering become authoritative regimes of enunciation and what worlds are silenced by this? By working through such issues, the course introduces students to on-going conversations in anthropology, critical data studies and STS. It offers a series of concepts and methods that can help build socially just and analytically robust engagements with emerging data worlds, explicitly searching for experimental openings in our ways of relating to all things digital.

Target group:

The course is aimed at PhD students working with questions of data, justice and data infrastructures, particularly (though not exclusively) from anthropology, science and technology studies, critical data studies and sociology. We especially encourage students working with ethnographic field studies and/or qualitative approaches to apply.




The course will combine lectures, group sessions and paper presentations. All participants are expected to hand in a research paper (5-7 pages), detailing their project with a specific focus on issues of ethics, justice and data, and present it at the course. They moreover have to give feedback to another paper at one of the four paper sessions. Literature will be circulated before the course and must be read as preparation. Research papers must be circulated no later than 4 weeks ahead of the course.



Practical information:

Date: June 17 at 11 hrs – June 19 at 15 hrs, 2019.

Place: IT University of Copenhagen, Rued Langaards Vej 7, DK-2300 Copenhagen S.

The course is free of charge, but participants must cover their own travel, accommodation and evening meals. During day time food and drinks will be provided. Reading materials will be provided no later than 8 weeks in advance of the course.

Registration: PhD students must apply to the course by writing to stating their full name, institutional affiliation as well as 3—5 sentences on the participant’s PhD project. As the number of participants is limited, the final list of participants will be chosen based on the intellectual fit between projects and the course. All participants will be notified ten weeks before the course as to whether they have been accepted or not.


Professor Brit Ross Winthereik

Associate Professor Christopher Gad

Assistant Professor Jannick Schou

Technologies in Practice, Department of Business IT, IT University of Copenhagen