feminist data studies: using digital methods for ethical, reflexive and situated socio-cultural research
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What could a social-justice oriented, feminist data studies look like? The current datalogical turn foregrounds the digital datafication of everyday life, increasing algorithmic processing and data as an emergent regime of power/knowledge. Scholars celebrate the politics of big data knowledge production for its omnipotent objectivity or dismiss it outright as data fundamentalism that may lead to methodological genocide. In this feminist and postcolonial intervention into gender-, race- and geography-blind ‘big data’ ideologies, I call for ethical, anti-oppressive digital data-driven research in the social sciences and humanities. I argue that a reflexive data scholarship can emerge from the reintegration of feminist and postcolonial science studies and ethics of care ideals. Although it is not a panacea for all ails of data mining, I offer a road map for an alternative data-analysis practice that is more power-sensitive and accountable. By incorporating a people-centric and context-aware perspective that acknowledges relationships of dependency, reflects on temptations, and scrutinises benefits and harm, an ‘asymmetrically reciprocal’ (Young, 1997) research encounter may be achieved. I bring this perspective to bear on experiences of a two-year research project with eighty-four young Londoners on digital identities and living in a highly diverse city. I align awareness of uneven relations of power and knowledge with the messy relation of dependency between human and non-human actors in data analysis. This framework productively recognises that digital data cannot be expected to speak for itself, that data do not emerge from a vacuum, and that isolated data patterns cannot be the end-goal of a situated and reflexive research endeavor. Data-driven research, in turn, shows the urgency for renewed feminist ethical reflection on how digital mediation impacts upon responsibility, intersectional power relations, human subjectivity and the autonomy of research participants over their own data.
keywordsdata studies for social justice feminist data studies ethics of care feminist and postcolonial internet studies young people anti-oppressive methods
I am grateful to all the young people who let me into their lives. I benefitted from input from the Canadian SSHRC-funded network, The Fourchettes: Critical Methods in Technoculture (www.thefourchettes.net), and those who participated in the Spring 2016 seminar series ‘Sharing experiences “off the record”. Methodological and ethical reflections on doing fieldwork’, organised by Laura Boerhout at the University of Amsterdam. I also received valuable comments at the Netherlands Research School of Gender Studies (NOG) National Research Day on ‘Doing gender in the Netherlands’ held at Leiden University on 10 June 2016; the conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) held at the University of Leicester from 27 to 31 July 2016; and the NOISE Summer School on ‘Feminist media studies of migration’ held at Utrecht University from 29 August to 2 September 2016. Thanks to Tamara Shepherd, Myria Georgiou, Jasmijn van Gorp, Geertje Mak, Tessa Verhallen, Radhika Gajjala, Sandra Ponzanesi, Domitilla Olivieri, Laura Candidatu, Claudia Minchili, Melis Mevsimler, Donya Alinejad, the Feminist Review Collective, the themed issue editors and two anonymous reviewers for providing extremely valuable feedback. This research was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) Veni grant (‘Young connected migrants. Comparing digital practices of young asylum seekers and expatirates in the Netherlands’, project reference 275-45-007), and a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship within the 7th European Community Framework Programme (‘Urban Politics of London Youth Analyzed Digitally (UPLOAD)’, Project Reference 332318).
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