The ongoing Research Themes are:

  • The Social Life of GDPR
  • Temporalities of Data
  • Data Citizenship
  • Digital Labour
  • Data Leakage (project)
  • Materialities of Computation
  • Methods, Methods

Research Themes are described in order to give support to Junior Research project ideas and new grant applications. In addition to this list, we also have a longer list of projects that you can have by contacting us or stopping by in our opening hours. You are also welcome to contact the affiliated researchers if you have a PhD proposal or would like to initiate collaboration through a project that falls under one of these themes. Please note that some researchers have more than one affiliation, so do specify the area you are interested in!

The Social Life of GDPR

Since GDPR was enforced across Europe on the 25th of May, data controllers have been coming to grips with their new responsibilities, organisations have had to revise their processes, software companies have redesigned their relationships to data, and the first fines have been issued for noncompliance. This research area brings together students and researchers at ITU with an interest in the sociallife of GDPR, exploring responses to and changes in data politics and governance across the European territory. We are interested in awareness campaigns, new business logics, sharing in a digital economy, local adaptations in legislation, sites of confusion and contestation, changing practices and debates over what the nature of data, under GDPR is. As the tensions inherent in the GDPR become visible, how are debates about data protection and data value changing? The first event of this research area will be the launch of the GDPR Chapbook, a collection of deletion poems created at the 2018 Great Deletion Poetry Rave, held at ETHOS Lab and ETHOX, Big Data Institute, Oxford. 

Students studying GDPR for their projects, bachelor or masters thesis should get in touch with Rachel Douglas-Jones, and the study group will be coordinated through the Lab.

Temporalities of Data

Affiliated Researchers: Rachel Douglas-Jones, Marisa Cohn

This research area puts questions of data temporality centre stage. In a world where immediacy is highlighted, we ask about the long duree. In logics of linearity, we ask about alternative evolutions, branchings and lifecycles. In a culture of the sparkling new, we look at creaking deaths and forgettings, as systems, codes and interfaces are painstakingly repaired or made obsolete. This is a research area which thinks there is sufficient experience to know that decay comes, systems built are lived with, formats change over time, and the futures we make in the present rapidly become our pasts. We advocate for the wisdom to counter a techno-optimistic hubris, and seek solutions for living with and caring for data in all its temporalities.

Keywords: maintenance, obsolesence, formats, care, temporality, futures


Data Citizenship

Affiliated Researchers : Christina Neumayer, Luca Rossi

This research area addresses problems of citizenship being increasingly defined by (big) data. Modern forms of citizenship assume that large quantities of information produced by people everyday and turned into data, might be a credible source to understand the needs of citizens in a democratic society. The idea of “data citizenship” assumes that the citizens will be visible to the state with the data they produce in their everyday life (such as registration in an online portal to access public services, or data produced by using public transport using a ‘smart’ payment method). The underlying ratio of big-data shifts citizenship from an intrinsic status of a group of people to a status achieved through (consumerist) action that leaves traces of data. Big data analysis is understood as a viable way to describe existing phenomena by categorization and to predict future developments. Large quantities of information and their automated analyses give big-data an apparently neutral, effective and efficient appearance. These two dimensions – size and unobstrusiveness – frame the contemporary big-data discussion without offering a critical exploration of the underlying assumption for collecting data to challenge the idea of the existence of raw data.

Through critical inquiry ETHOS researchers aim to debunk the misconception that the application of data-mining techniques on large quantities ‘raw data’, provides insights about citizens’ behaviour. Four key questions in this research area are:

  1. What processes of data citizenship can we observe and what are the effects?
  2. How does the relationship between data, citizen, public services and data analysts increasingly define citizenship?
  3. How can automated categorisation and sorting processes lead to new marginalization and exclusion of citizens?
  4. Which problems do we encounter at the intersection of data citizenship and surveillance?

Keywords: citizenship, big data, categorisation, exclusion, mining, behaviour, surveillance


Data Leakage (project)

Affiliated Projects/Researchers : VIRT-EU, PI Irina Shklovski 

This project is about data leakage on mobile phones and how people perceive such privacy tampering. We are looking for students interesting in doing some qualitative research on how people conceptualize data leakage. As part of the project, students would do user-evaluations with an existing app that monitors data leakage from your phone in real-time (this is being developed by our partners at UC Irvine) as well as an add-on to that software. The add-on enables users to trigger a tiny electric shock each time a leakage occurs, studying what happens if people can physically feel abstract concepts like data and data leakage. Access to the data being leaked is obtainable giving the option of using these data for more technical study of what types of data and types of leakage people might react to and why.


Digital Labour

Affiliated Researchers: Christopher Gad, Morten Hjelholt Vasilis Galis

Digial Labour is a research area organised around three core issues for contemporary organisations in an era of intensifying data work.

  1. How do data – in various forms – occupy a growing role in how organisations see themselves and make knowledge about their surroundings, whether that is clients, customers, citizens, or publics.?How this information is organised and put to use is an empirical question we pursue by investigating data based strategy and data management in the reflexive organisation.
  2. How are new forms of data are used as a basis for decisions? What does it take to generate organizational priorities from data sets and what form does that data need to take to be persuasive? As scholars in STS, we posit that orgnisations and their data work could always be otherwise. They are political, a matter of situated practice: organising and doing data. Ethnographic work with data driven decisions therefore provides the opportuity to show the possibilities for data-working to stablise policy and practice, maintain or subvert ideological organisational agendas and trajectories in the context of decisionmaking.
  3. What is the labour of data-work? Both data and digitalisation efforts involve work. This work is shaped both by information infrastructures and by people who work with data – to manage and govern it, to generate, select, curate, store and maintain datasets and databases. We are therefore interested in data work as a form of labour, in the situated politics and micropolitical economies of data work, and in the tactics data workers pursue within and on their organisational infrastructures.

Keywords: data, work, organizations, management, decisions, labour, policy, publics


Materialities of Computation

Affiliated Researchers : Marisa Cohn, Esther Fritsch, James Maguire, Nanna Gorm

Computation may seem to be composed of abstractions and algorithms, but recent research has focused on its materialities: the forms that computation takes – from databases to IoT devices – as well as the infrastructures – undersea cables, data centers, and services – that sustain computing and make it possible.

Taking a lens of materiality on computing enables us to consider computation as an accomplishment that requires many kinds of artifacts from notes on a whiteboard, to software architecture diagrams, to wires, storage devices, micro-controllers and censors. This research area takes up the concern of how computational methods become materialized in different projects. In particular we are interested in considering how data might be generated through an approach that takes this material embodiment of computation seriously.

  • What are the material forms of computation and how do we study them?
  • What does it mean to take the material embodiment of computation seriously?
  • How does the lens of materiality change our analytic attention?
  • How might the design of a computational technique or method, consider computation embedded within material environments, or performed in material spaces?

Keywords: materialities, infrastructures, design, artefacts