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This book efficiently contributes to our understanding of the interplay between data, technology and communicative practice on the one hand, and democratic participation on the other. It addresses the emergence of proactive data activism, a new sociotechnical phenomenon in the field of action that arises as a reaction to massive datafication, and makes affirmative use of data for advocacy and social change. By blending empirical observation and in-depth qualitative interviews, Gutiérrez brings to the fore a debate about the social uses of the data infrastructure and examines precisely how people employ it, in combination with other technologies, to collaborate and act for social change.



Chapter 1. Mapping a Better World: A Journey

This introduction presents data activism as new social practices rooted in technology, which take a critical view towards datafication and use it politically for meaning-making, coordination and change. It offers a conceptual toolkit, including definitions of big data in light of activism. It contains a ‘route map’ explaining the book’s structure, with presentations of Chapter 2, dedicated to the social uses of the data infrastructure; Chapter 3, tackling proactive data activism from different angles and providing taxonomies of activists; Chapter 4, focused on the case study; and Chapter 5, offering brief conclusions. The Ushahidi platform illustrates how organisations use the data infrastructure to understand complexity and generate solutions. A methodological note clarifies how empirical and participant observation, qualitative interviewing and the case study are employed.
Miren Gutiérrez

Chapter 2. The Many Faces of the Data Infrastructure

Governmental and corporate surveillance make extensive use of the data infrastructure, combined with individualised targeting, real-time experimentation, behavioural science, modelling, and control of the data and media environments. However, these bodies also use data for less sinister purposes, such as providing better services and products. This chapter looks briefly at the many social uses of the data infrastructure by different actors, including governments, corporations and intergovernmental agencies, as well as researchers and journalists. The idea is to frame and contextualise proactive data activism.
Miren Gutiérrez

Chapter 3. Proactive Data Activism

This chapter examines data activism from different perspectives, defines it and offers a classification of cases. Proactive data activists can be skills transferrers, specialised in transmitting skills and creating platforms, training and tools; catalysts, funding projects; producers of journalism; and data activists and geoactivists, using interactive cartography. Depending on how they gather data, data activists can be divided into several subgroups: they can rely on whistle-blowers; employ open-source datasets; use crowdsourcing tools; appropriate data; and create data. This chapter offers definitions of notions (e.g. crisis and activist mapping) and data activists’ action repertoires and examines the associations that have been fashioned around data. Finally, it explores how the data infrastructure can help build democratic interactions, empower people and create alternative digital public spheres for action.
Miren Gutiérrez

Chapter 4. Crowdsourcing and Mapping Data for Humanitarianism

Combining communication and data infrastructures with interactive mapping and data crowdsourcing capabilities, Ushahidi was launched in Kenya in 2008. It filled a gap in the mediascape, mapping electoral turmoil and violence when there was no information available. The initial Ushahidi team expanded, requested the help of techies around the world to improve the platform and in 2010, with the Haiti deployment, Ushahidi became known as a global emergency facility, revolutionising humanitarianism. Since then, it has been employed in major crises and disasters globally. This chapter applies the classification of proactive data activism and concepts described in Chapter 3 to examine Ushahidi. It also scrutinises the organisation’s failures and lessons learnt, to help develop a model for effective proactive data activism that can be applied to other initiatives.
Miren Gutiérrez

Chapter 5. Conclusions and Areas for Further Research

Even if the data infrastructure embeds flaws, gaps and biases, people are using it to understand complexity and find solutions to social problems in a democratic, participatory way. Researchers, thinkers and practitioners around the world are engaged in collective number-churning, map-making and social action based on new ways to generate and use data. By doing so, they are also empowering people and causing paradigm changes (e.g. digital humanitarianism) as well as disruptions and irritations in top-down, mainstream, conventional approaches to datafication. They are action-oriented scholars data-based activists and journalists generating maps, platforms and alliances for a better world.
Miren Gutiérrez


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