Issue 1, 2018: Data Activism

Issue 1, 2018: Data Activism

Stefania Milan, Jonathan Gray, Stefan Baack, Helen Kennedy, Lina Dencik, Miren Gutiérrez, Leah Horgan, Paul Dourish, Thijs Lijster, Patricia de Vries, Niels van Doorn, Jan Overwijk & Lonneke van der Velden

Digital data increasingly plays a central role in contemporary politics and public life. Citizen voices are increasingly mediated by proprietary social media platforms and are shaped by algorithmic ranking and re-ordering, but data informs how states act, too. This special issue wants to shift the focus of the conversation. Non-governmental organizations, hackers, and activists of all kinds provide a myriad of ‘alternative’ interventions, interpretations, and imaginaries of what data stands for and what can be done with it.

Jonathan Gray starts off this special issue by suggesting how data can be involved in providing horizons of intelligibility and organising social and political life. Helen Kennedy’s contribution advocates for a focus on emotions and everyday lived experiences with data. Lina Dencik puts forward the notion of ‘surveillance realism’ to explore the pervasiveness of contemporary surveillance and the emergence of alternative imaginaries. Stefan Baack investigates how data are used to facilitate civic engagement. Miren Gutiérrez explores how activists can make use of data infrastructures such as databases, servers, and algorithms. Finally, Leah Horgan and Paul Dourish critically engage with the notion of data activism by looking at everyday data work in a local administration. Further, this issue features an interview with Boris Groys by Thijs Lijster, whose work Über das Neue enjoys its 25th anniversary last year. Lastly, three book reviews illuminate key aspects of datafication. Patricia de Vries reviews Metahavens’ Black Transparency; Niels van Doorn writes on Platform Capitalism by Nick Srnicek and Jan Overwijk comments on The Entrepeneurial Self by Ulrich Bröckling.

Image from Tactical Tech‘s “Our Data Our Selves” Project.


Stefania Milan

Stefania Milan is Associate Professor of New Media at the University of Amsterdam and Associate Professor (II) of Media Innovation at the University of Oslo. She is the Principal Investigator of the DATACTIVE project, investigating the politics of big data according to civil society and funded by a Starting Grant of the European Research Council.

Jonathan Gray

Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds and the politics of public information. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at and he tweets at @jwyg.

Stefan Baack

Stefan Baack is a PhD student at the Centre for Media and Journalism Studies at the University of Groningen (Netherlands). In his work, he studies the ways in which the steady quantification of social life affects democratic publics, and in particular how such publics are envisioned and assembled. He published about the open data movement, civic tech, and data journalism.

Helen Kennedy

Helen Kennedy (@hmtk) is Professor of Digital Society at the University of Sheffield. Her research has focused on: social media, data in society, data visualisation, inequality, digital labour, digital identity and other things digital. Recent work has explored how non-experts relate to data visualisations, and what happens when social media data mining becomes ordinary. She is interested in critical approaches to big data and data visualisations, how people experience and live with data and the relationship be-tween datafication, well-being and justice.

Lina Dencik

Lina Dencik is Co-Director of the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University, UK.

Miren Gutiérrez

Miren Gutierrez (; @gutierrezmiren) is director of the Expert Program on Data analysis research and communication at the University of Deusto (Spain), and Research Associate at the Overseas Development Institute (UK) and DATACTIVE. She is the author of Data Activism and Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Her research interests include data activism, climate change and environmental loss.

Leah Horgan

Leah Horgan is a designer, ethnographer, and Ph.D. student in Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, where her dissertation research focuses on data practices in urban governance.

Paul Dourish

Paul Dourish is Chancellor’s Professor of Informatics and Associate Dean for Research in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. His re-search interests lie largely in digital media, science studies, and software studies, with a particular focus on human-computer interaction.

Thijs Lijster

Thijs Lijster is assistant professor in the philosophy of art and culture at the University of Groningen, and postdoctoral researcher at the Culture Commons Quest Office of the University of Antwerp. He studied philosophy in Groningen and New York, and received his PhD at the University of Groningen in 2012. He was awarded with the ABG/VN Essay prize in 2009, the Dutch/Flemisch Prize for Young Art Critics in 2010, the NWO/Boekman dissertation prize in 2015, and the Essay Prize of the Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature (KANTL) in 2018. His publications include De grote vlucht inwaarts [The Great Leap Inward] (2016), Benjamin and Adorno on Art and Art Criticism (2017) and Kijken, proeven, denken [Seeing, Tasting, Thinking] (2019), and he was editor of the books Spaces for Criticism. Shifts in Contemporary Art Discourses (2015) and The Future of the New. Artistic Innovation in Times of Social Acceleration (2018).

Patricia de Vries

Patricia de Vries is a PhD candidate at Erasmus University Rotterdam, a lecturer and researcher at the Institute of Network Cultures, and editor at Felix & Sofie. She reads and writes about algorithmic epistemologies in the arts. More about her can be found at

Niels van Doorn

Niels van Doorn is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amster-dam. He is also the Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded research project Platform Labor: Digital Transformations of Work and Livelihood in Post-Welfare Societies (2018-22; more info). His abiding research interests are guided by two questions: how do people sustain themselves and each other under precarious conditions?; and how does the notion of value come into being at the intersection of political and moral economies? His first book, Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenship, is forthcoming from Temple University Press.

Jan Overwijk

Jan Overwijk is a PhD-candidate in Social Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam

Lonneke van der Velden

Lonneke van der Velden is a postdoctoral researcher at the research project DATACTIVE: the politics of data according to civil society, and teaches at the the New Media and Digital Culture program at the UvA. She is also part of the editorial board of Krisis, journal for contemporary philosophy.