CIVIC TECH AS ACTIVISM – WHOSE TECH, WHOSE DATA, WHOSE VOICE?
AN EXAMINATION OF INCLUSIVE AND EXCLUSIVE POWER DYNAMICS WITHIN TRANSNATIONAL GOVERNANCE DIRECTED DATA ACTIVISM COMMUNITIES
A few years ago, and many years after I had left academia, I embarked on the journey to write my dissertation as an external researcher, whenever I can spare time from my professional work. I would have never wanted to give up my work as a practitioner in order to fully move to the research side. However, having had the honor to work on the intersection of data, technology and sociopolitical change with civil society in challenging, oftentimes remote and disconnected, but above all extremely diverse contexts, I needed a valve to process my experiences and to contribute to a constructive critical discourse around those practices as well as related research agendas.
DATACTIVE, our great family of critical activist researchers, provides me the space and trust to continue this rocky path.
So in brief, my dissertation project is a study of community dynamics within the transnational civic tech community, with a focus on power dynamics related to the role of technology in political participation.
My research of the globally spanning community around the freedom of information tool Alaveteli and its sister software FROIDE, and its implemented instances in over twenty-five contextually diverse countries, aims to unpack how communicative practices within this civic tech community shape decisions regarding the technological choices underlying their activism. Given that those decisions impact which parts of wider civil society will be able to access and benefit from the technology, I am researching if the transnational civic tech activism community around these FOI platforms can foster inclusive and context-sensitive data activism.
BUILDING TOWARDS A CRITICAL COMMUNITY STUDIES
In line with my dissertation related research, I am working towards encouraging dialogue between disciplines which aims to re-surface and strengthen critical attention on the civic over the tech. We find underestimation as well as conceptual vagueness in various academic discourse which let to an ongoing series of blog contributions discussing how we can address such challenge.
The entire conversation can be found here, with outstanding contributions from wonderful scholars. My initial contribution with the title ‘Tech, data and social change: A plea for cross-disciplinary engagement, historical memory, and … Critical Community Studies’ can be found here and I am welcoming new contributions.
[This is a non-funded research project which is part of the ERC project ‘DATACTIVE: The Politics of Data According to Civil Society’, headed by Stefania Milan and located at the Department of Media Studies of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.]