16:15 - 16:45
Towards Data Justice: Social Justice in the Era of Datafication

Short thesis

We are living in a datafied society in which the collection and processing of massive amounts of data is being used for decision-making and governance across more and more areas of social life. How do we address possible harms and challenges for social justice? Are calls for individual privacy and encryption tools sufficient? This talk will propose a broader agenda to both understand and create social justice in the era of datafication.


The technical ability to turn vast amounts of activity and human behaviour into data points that can be tracked and profiled has led to significant changes across government, business and civil society. Whilst the documents on digital surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden led to important questions being asked about what this means for individual rights to privacy and the protection of personal data, concerns with datafication are now increasingly shifting towards a more explicit engagement with power. These concerns emphasise that data processes are not ‘flat’ and do not implicate everyone in the same way, but, rather, are part of a system of ‘social sorting’, creating new categories of citizens that are premised on a new order of ‘have’ and ‘have nots’ between data profilers and data subjects. In such a context, questions of social justice come to the fore in discussions of datafication. What are the implications of, for example, the use of data scores in predictive policing, the criminal justice system, migration management, and health insurances; or of omnipresent monitoring of citizens in ‘smart cities’? How do we address new data-based challenges to civil and democratic rights? Do we have the tools and concepts to properly understand them?

In this presentation we explore the meaning of social justice in an age of datafication. We propose ‘data justice’ as a frame for an agenda of both research and action. This agenda moves beyond notions of individual privacy to broader questions of social justice in a digital society, and connects questions of (and campaigns on) digital and non-digital rights. It brings together discussions on the political economy of digital platforms, surveillance, technological design, and power shifts between citizens and the state. And it is a call for action to address key problems of our times in new ways. The talk will draw on the work of a new research initiative, the Data Justice Lab, as well as similar initiatives.