I am a research candidate with the DATACTIVE research group, based at the Department of Media Studies at the School of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam.

DATACTIVE is studying the politics of big data according to civil society.

I am conducting my research under the supervision of Dr. Stefania Milan, Prof. Cees Hamelink, and Prof. Dr. Richard Rogers.

As external candidate I work as a non-funded researcher.

My project is complementing the ERC project by bringing in a specific focus on civic tech initiatives at the intersection of data activism and development work.

More soon, for now check out our project website.

My research is at an initial stage but here a first blurb of what I am busy with.

More soon!

 

COUNTERACTING THE DATA DIVIDE

– How social movements bring the human back into civic tech

 

The diffusion of ICTs has originated unprecedented opportunities for citizens to unveil injustice and promote change, globally. It has empowered a rapidly growing civic tech community, embracing newly emerged networks of trans-locally connected digital toolmakers, hackers, and (data) activists. However, data and information are created in an environment where power dynamics dictate who is involved in the data creation and utilization process, originating “data divides” rather than “revolutions”.

Whilst civic tech activism emerged out of earlier activism sub-cultures, such as the hacker and open source movements (Milan 2014), the proclaimed revolutionary opportunities of ICTs and big data also found prominent attention in international development cooperation. In development contexts, however, civic technologies are dominantly utilized in traditional programming frameworks of development agencies, oftentimes following a tech-deterministic approach due to limitations through organisational and funding structures. Civil society is continuously handled as ‘object of intervention’. Such utilization of civic technologies on behalf of civil society risks the re-entrenchment of vertical, exclusive power structures rather than utilizing the counter-acting potential a dispersedly growing civic tech community could manifest. Simultaneously, civic tech communities seemingly evolve along dominant lines of education, access, and cultural affiliations which weights specifically heavy in marginalized societies.

It has widely been recognized that ICTs are mere tools whilst ‘leaderless’ uprisings is a genuine bottom-up expression of public will (Frangonikolopoulos, Chapsos 2012). Nevertheless, much attention is dedicated to tools and its end-users rather than inclusive growth patterns and the process of collective identity formation of the community itself. These recognitions substantiate the need to re-direct attention towards communication as human interaction over communications as information and technologies which allows to direct attention towards the community dimension of civic tech.

My research adopts a cross-disciplinary approach, positioned on the intersection of social movement studies and development studies. One of the prerequisites of social movements is collective identity, whereby social actors recognize each other as part of the same struggle (Melucci, 1996). Consequently, I am adopting a process-centred approach on how the civic tech community constructs collective identity in action. Such epistemology of action perspective shifts away from a subject-object separation within change processes, focusing on the direct relation of people’s integrity with certain contexts for political will formation and engagement. It will be explored, if dynamics, structures, and practises of the transnational civic tech community enable a collective identity capable to invigorate inclusive and context-determined civic driven change.

The research relies on a mixed-method approach combining computational network analysis methods with qualitative and ethnographic methods. Computational methods will track community structures and demographics involved in software development and appropriation. Qualitative methods will be essential to identify by whom and how civic technologies have been used in various contexts. Qualitative and ethnographic methods will allow for in-depth analysis of the collective identity process.

First results will be shown in regards to the actor structure and geographic scope of civic tech creation and utilization. Intended is also a presentation of first findings in regards to motivational and contextual patterns within the civic tech community.