Social Justice for the Information Age: Towards a Political Theory of Datafication

Project: Research project

Project Details


The technical ability to turn human activities and other natural or social phenomena into quantified formats (or data points) has enabled a wide range of technologies. Datafication refers to the modern technological trend of turning many aspects of our life into computerised data that can be recorded and analysed to extract new insights or create new forms of value. The wide-ranging applications of data-driven technologies in contemporary societies present distinctive ethical challenges to the realisation of social justice because of the technologies’ automation, opacity, pervasiveness, and connectivity. These technologies substantively enhance the possibility of predicting and controlling citizen activities and of granting states and private companies the power to profile, sort, and categorise the population. In the economic sphere, data are becoming increasingly essential. New information technologies and AI-powered algorithms can turn data about people and society into profits. Increasingly, data have been seen as a valuable economic asset. Finally, datafication has also transformed the conditions and landscape within which public civic engagements takes place, as digital tools offer many opportunities for active political and social participation by citizens. However, the rise of social media platforms as major sources of information has led users to operate in social media networks that provide limited interaction with users who hold different views.

Against this background, the proposed research project will aim to explore what is required to achieve social justice in the context of the datafication of society. Unlike most accounts of algorithmic justice, the proposed research will adopt the perspective of relational egalitarianism, according to which the value of equality is not ultimately about distributing goods but about the quality of people’s social relationships. Since dataficaton is fundamentally transforming our society and the social relationships we have with one another, the relational approach will provide important insights on key issues arising from datafication. The proposed research project will address the following research questions. How should we understand the demands of social justice in the context of datafication? Is datafication creating oppressive social relationships? Are datafication and AI-powered algorithms enhancing or impeding individual autonomy? Are people who provide their personal data to Internet companies or social media platforms (wrongfully) exploited? What rights and duties of citizenship are needed to provide the conditions for securing the social good of equal membership in an increasingly datafied society?
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …


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