Informational Citizenship: Toward a Global Ethnography of Practices and Infrastructures of Datafication in the Global South (InfoCitizen)

Data has been extolled as the new frontier of development. Whereas western elite actors have contested big data for its flattening of social life and information extraction, grassroots initiatives have been championing big data to promote citizen rights, improve state accountability, and reduce inequality.

InfoCitizen will:

(1) study the citizenship practices and technologies coalescing around model initiatives to produce and circulate data in the Global South. We contend that for favela residents in Brazil, ethnic minorities in Portugal and Germany, and poor citizens in Tanzania and Kenya, far from splintering and prying, data has the potential to promote cultural change, political identity, and economic wellbeing via “better,” “faster,” and “more reliable” public and private statistics.

(2) blend insights from the social studies of quantification, the anthropology of data, and citizenship studies to grasp data produced by experts and citizens across top-down and bottom-up data  ecosystems. Via the concept of informational citizenship, we will illuminate the politics (infrastructures, epistemologies, visibilities) and poetics (experiences, socialities, and affects) of datafication, their impacts on law- and policymaking, and their effects on individuals, communities, and institutions in Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Tanzania, and Kenya.

(3) combine archival, digital, audiovisual, and quanti-qualitative methods to unpack the tools— censuses, smartphones, policy reports—and actors—NGOs, data labs, legal commissions—crystallizing in the wake of grassroots numbers. We propose a global and comparative ethnography of datafied subjectivities and their interplay with transnational networks of expertise—such as think tanks, governments, and businesses.

(4) generate applied and analytical research and a unique database of quantification tools and practices to critically probe the imaginaries, contingencies, materialities, and spaces of data for radical democratic change today.