feminist data studies: using digital methods for ethical, reflexive and situated socio-cultural research
- 497 Downloads
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).
- Appadurai, A., 2016. The academic digital divide and uneven global development. Annenberg School for Communication Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication Press, 22 June. Available at: https://www.asc.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/documents/0106_15_PARGC_Paper4_FINAL.pdf [last accessed 9 September 2016].
- Arora, P., 2016. The bottom of the data pyramid: big data and the Global South. International Journal of Communication, 10, pp. 1681–1699.Google Scholar
- Benhabib, S., 2002. The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Berry, D., 2014. Critical Theory and the Digital. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
- Bivens, R., 2015b. The gender binary will not be deprogrammed: ten years of coding gender on Facebook. New Media & Society, 20(10), pp. 1–19.Google Scholar
- Centre for BOLD Cities, 2016. NRC interview with Dirk Helbing: ‘We are building a data dictatorship’. Centre for BOLD Cities, 23 Aug. Available at: http://www.centre-for-bold-cities.nl/news/nrc-interview-with-dirk-helbing-we-are-building-a-data-dictatorship [last accessed 9 September 2016].
- Collins, S.G. and Slover Durington, M., 2015. Networked Anthropology. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Cooke, B. and Kothari, U., 2001. Participation: The New Tyranny? London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
- Couldry, N., 2017. The myth of big data. In K. van Es and M. Schäfer, eds. The Datafied Society: Studying Culture Through Data. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 55–68.Google Scholar
- Crawford, K., 2013. The hidden biases in big data. HBR.org, 1 April. Available at: https://hbr.org/2013/04/the-hidden-biases-in-big-data [last accessed 25 March 2016].
- Day, R.E., 2014. Indexing it all: the modern documentary subsuming of the subject and its mediation of the real. Conference paper presented at iConference, 4–7 March. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.Google Scholar
- De Lissovoy, N., 2010. Decolonial pedagogy and the ethics of the global. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 31(3), pp. 279–293.Google Scholar
- Edwards, R. and Mauthner, M., 2012. Ethics and feminist research: theory and practice. In T. Miller, M. Birch, M. Mauthner and J. Jessop, eds. Ethics in Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publications Ltd, pp. 14–28.Google Scholar
- Fuchs, C., 2014. Digital Labour and Karl Marx. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Gajjala, R., 2004. Cyber Selves: Feminist Ethnographies of South-Asian Women. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
- Georgiou, M., 2016. Conviviality is not enough: a communication perspective to the city of difference. Communication, Culture & Critique, 26 July. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cccr.12154/full [last accessed 2 August 2016].
- Gubrium, A. and Harper, K., 2013. Participatory Visual and Digital Methods. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
- Haraway, D., 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Harding, S., 1991. Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women’s Lives. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Harding, S., ed., 2011. The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- Hesse-Biber, S.N., ed., 2012. Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Praxis. London: Sage Publications, Inc..Google Scholar
- Hill Collins, P., 1991. Black Feminist Thought. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Hoffman, A.L., 2016. CFP: “counter-cultures of data”—special issue of philosophy and technology. Annaeveryday, 28 June. Available at: http://annaeveryday.com/cfp-countercultures-of-data-special-issue-of-philosophy-technology/ [last accessed 5 July 2016].
- Hollway, W. and Jefferson, T., 2009. Researching defended subjects with the free association narrative interviewing method. In H.J. Cook, S. Bhattacharya and A. Hardy, eds. History of the Social Determinants of Health: Global Histories, Contemporary Debates. Hyderabad: Orient Black Swan, pp. 296–315.Google Scholar
- Koh, A., 2015. A letter to the humanities: DH will not save you. Hybrid Pedagogy, 19 April. Available at: http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/a-letter-to-the-humanities-dh-will-not-save-you/ [last accessed 7 July 2016].
- Leurs, K. and Zimmer, M., eds., 2017. Platform values: an introduction to the #AoIR16 special issue. Information, Communication & Society, 20(6), pp. 803–946. Google Scholar
- Magee, D., 2011. London riots: BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter used as weapons. International Business Times, 11 April. Available at: http://www.ibtimes.com/london-riots-blackberry-messenger-twitter-used-weapons-828319 [last accessed 11 April 2017].
- Manovich, L., 2017. Cultural analytics, social computing and digital humanities. In M. Schäfer and K. van Es, eds. The Datafied Society: Studying Culture Through Data. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 55–68.Google Scholar
- McDonald, C., 2016. Is there a sexist data crisis? BBC News, 18 May. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36314061 [last accessed 7 July 2016].
- Newman, M., Barabási, A.L. and Watts, D.J., 2006. The Structure and Dynamics of Networks. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Pink, S., Horst, H., Postill, J., Hjorth, L., Lewis, T. and Tacchi, J., 2016. Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practice. London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
- Prime Minister’s Office, 2012. PM announces £50m funding to regenerate Old Street roundabout: major new investments from companies and government announced in Tech City. Press release. Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, 6 December. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-announces-50m-funding-to-regenerate-old-street-roundabout [last accessed 15 July 2016].
- Risam, R., 2015. Beyond the margins: intersectionality and the digital humanities. DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly, 9(2). Available at: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/9/2/000208/000208.html [last accessed: 15 July 2016].
- Rogers, R., 2013. Digital Methods. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Schäfer, M. and van Es, K., eds., 2017. The Datafied Society: Studying Culture Through Data. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.Google Scholar
- Shepherd, T., 2015. Mapped, measured, and mined: the social graph and colonial visuality. Social Media + Society, 1(1), pp. 1–2.Google Scholar
- Shepherd, T., Harvey, A., Jordan, T., Srauy, S. and Miltner, K., 2015. Histories of hating. Social Media + Society, 1(2), pp. 1–10.Google Scholar
- Svensson, P., 2012. Envisioning the digital humanities. DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly, 6(1). Available at: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/6/1/000112/000112.html. [last accessed 15 July 2016].
- Taylor, A., 2011. Over 150 arrested after London hit by huge race riots. Business Insider, 8 August. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/london-riots-mark-duggan-tottenham-2011-8?IR=T [last accessed 5 July 2016].
- Tikly, L. and Bond, T., 2013. Towards a postcolonial research ethics in comparative and international education. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 43(4), pp. 422–442.Google Scholar
- TouchGraph, 2014. Mobile application software. Facebook version. New York: TouchGraph. Available at: https://apps.facebook.com/touchgraph [last accessed 11 April 2017].
- Tronto, J., 1994. Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Tsianos, V. and Kuster, B., 2012. Thematic report ‘Border Crossings’. MIG@NET, 30 October. Available at: http://www.mignetproject.eu/?p=577 [last accessed 25 March 2016].
- Uprichard, E., 2015. Most big data is social data—the analytics need serious interrogation. LSE Impact Blog, 12 February. Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/02/12/philosophy-of-datascience-emma-uprichard/ [last accessed 11 April 2017].
- Wajcman, J., 2004. TechnoFeminism. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
- Zook, M., Barocas, S., Boyd, D., Crawford, K., Keller, E., Gangadharan, S.P., Goodman, A., Hollander, R., Koenig, B.A., Metcalf, J., Narayanan, A., Nelson, A. and Pasquale, F., 2017. Ten simple rules for responsible big data research. PLoS Computational Biology, 13(3), pp. 1–10. CrossRefGoogle Scholar