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Institute of Applied Data Science



Data as an Instrument of Coloniality: The Alan Turing Institute's panel discussion on digital and data colonialism

22 April 2021

Professor Ruth Ahnert
Professor Ruth Ahnert

What do algorithmic racial violence, quarantine applications and vaccination apartheid have to do with the history of European and American colonialism?

Register now for the Alan Turing Institute's panel discussion on digital and data colonialism, on Tuesday 27 April, at 3.30-5.00pm.

About the event

Maps and surveys of "new worlds", passport photos and vaccination cards to control the movement of "impure" bodies, accounting spreadsheets used in plantations of enslaved peoples... all of these technologies suggest that data has always been an instrument of colonialism.

But can the history of European and American colonialism also help us interpret contemporary phenomena like algorithmic racial violence, quarantine apps and vaccination apartheid, the injustices of the gig economy, and disinformation campaigns that threaten our democratic futures? By examining these trends not just in the context of the past few decades, but through the lens of the past 500 years, we can perhaps gain new insights into why theories of capitalist production may not be enough to make sense of the extractivist technologies of today. These technologies need to be understood as manifestations of something deeper, constitutive of colonialism. Only by looking at the histories of colonial extraction and appropriation of land, nature and labor can we understand that our lives are being reconfigured in unprecedented ways, through the medium of data.

Confronted with the new infrastructures of data colonialism, which perpetuate old racial, gender and class injustices, we must learn from past and present anti-colonial and anti-racist movements and thinkers. Decolonising our data in this context means developing new strategies for resisting the new extractivist order, and for re-imagining internet governance and the digital commons.

Join us for this important discussion with four authors who, in different ways, have analysed our datafied world through the framework of coloniality.


Data as an instrument of coloniality

15:30: Welcome and introductions (5 minutes)

15:35 – 16:15: Hosted roundtable discussion (40 minutes)

16:15 – 16:35: Q&A webinar format (20 minutes)

16:35 – 17:00: Informal discussion via a separate link, with limited attendance (25 minutes)

Speakers will include: Professor Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor at the Gallatin School and Department of Media Culture and Communication, New York University; Professor Nick Couldry, Professor of Media Communications and Social Theory, London School of Economics; Dr Miriyam Aouragh, Reader, University of Westminster; Professor Ulises Mejias, Professor of Communication Studies, State University of New York at Oswego; and Dr Alison Powell, Assistant Professor, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics.

This panel discussion event is organised by our IADS member and Queen Mary Turing Fellow, Professor Ruth Ahnert, and Andre Piza, Research Project Manager (Data Science for Science, AI for Arts), Alan Turing Institute.