My new research project is about to start (once a Research Assistant joins me: see job ad here). I have become very interested lately in what can constitute the principles of a critical data literacy that is central for citizen engagement. Big data are everywhere, and they are transforming the way we live. But making sense of data and communicating in ways that are relevant to broad audiences and for the social good requires the skills and literacy to access, analyse and interpret them. My new University of Brighton research project addresses the need to develop practices that allow citizens to work with data, to make data more relevant and appealing to communities, and enable their engagement in policy debates. Instead then of focusing on enhancing data analysis and technical skills, I am interested to explore how a combination of creative media, storytelling and analytics allows participants to generate debates around specific issues that affect their communities.
I will be working with community organisations in the Brighton area, running a Datahub workshop focusing on sexuality/gender as they play out with other social issues, such as poverty, unemployment and housing. For updates see https://criticaldataliteracy.com.
In my article Digital and networked by default? Women’s organizations and
the social imaginary of networked feminism, which got published online at the end of September in the academic journal New Media & Society, I discuss some key findings from my doctoral research. The article is a taste of what will follow in the book, hopefully coming out in early 2016 by Palgrave/MacMillan, which is really exciting news!
The article analyses the social imaginary of ‘networked feminism’ as an ideological construct of legitimate political engagement, drawing on ethnographic study conducted with London- based women’s organisations.
For many women’s groups, the desire to connect echoes libertarian visions of Web 2.0 as an ‘open’ and ‘shared’ space, and it is encouraged by widely circulating governmental narratives of digital inclusion. In the context of public services becoming digital by default, and severe funding cuts to volunteer organisations in the United Kingdom, feminist organisations are invited to revise the allocation of resources, in order to best accommodate the setting up of digital platforms, and at the same time, to maintain their political and social aims. It is argued that there are tensions between the imaginaries of a ‘digital sisterhood’ and the material realities of women’s organisations: age, lack of resources and media literacy were found to be the three most important factors that modulate participation, and in many cases become new types of exclusions of access to publicity and recognition.
By interrogating the circulation of dominant liberal narratives of digital engagement and digital inclusion that motivate new communicative practices between many feminist organisations today, the article offers a fuller understanding of networked media and activism for social justice.
The last (I think) of the research Outputs from the Storycircle project (Goldsmiths, University of London) that ended in July 2013, just got published online in the academic journal Information, Communication and Society. The title ‘Telling the story of the stories: online content curation and digital engagement’, is partly a quote from one of the participants in the study, a community reporter.
In the article, with co-author Prof Nick Couldry (LSE), we explore tensions between the imaginaries and material hindrances that accompany the development of digital infrastructures for narrative exchange and public engagement. Digital infrastructures allow civil society organizations to become narrators of their community lives, and to express solidarity and recognition. Often full development and implementation of such infrastructures result in drastic changes to an organization’s mode of operation. Drawing from empirical material collected during an action research project with an organization of community reporters in the North of England, here we examine the visions of ‘telling the story of the stories’ that motivated such changes, the experiments in web analytics and content curation that in practice realized these visions and the socio-economic contexts that constrained them. We attend to the wider social imaginaries about the digital as they help us understand better how social actors construct the worlds they want to inhabit within information society through mundane everyday practices. Examining how perceptions of digital engagement translate into such concrete practices is necessary in order to gain insight into the ways in which material infrastructures, such as resources and technologies, intertwine with social and cultural expectations about how life should be with digital technologies.