Agonism & Activism: community organizing in datafied worlds, with Roderic Crooks

Contemporary forms of data activism promise community organizers the means to pursue political action, but they simultaneously threaten to responsibilize individuals and communities for documenting collective harms that are already known to the state (and to community members themselves). This talk uses Mouffe’s articulation of agonistic pluralism to analyze recent literature on data activism in terms of this double bind, the threat that authentic community voice might be muted when data is used for activist purposes. I argue that community organizers navigate this double bind through agonistic data practices, tactics which draw on the affective and narrative qualities of data to dispute the terms by which majoritarian political agents rationalize their actions and direct policy. Agonistic data practices do not presume that data will lead to more equitable consensus in representative government or to a more rational debate in the public sphere; instead, agonistic data practices mobilize the antagonisms that motivate people to act, to imagine alternative political arrangements, and to contribute to long-term collective action. I conclude by mapping out a research agenda that focuses on agonistic data practices enacted in pursuit of criminal justice reform, prison abolition, and other sites of resistance in working-class communities of color.

Roderic Crooks is an assistant professor in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine. His research examines how the use of digital technology by public institutions contributes to the minoritization of working-class communities of color. His current project explores how community organizers in working-class communities of color use data for activist projects, even as they dispute the proliferation of data-intensive technologies in education, law enforcement, financial services, and other vital sites of public life. He has published extensively in human-computer interaction (HCI), science and technology studies (STS), and social science venues on topics including political theories of online participation, equity of access, and document theory