Infrastructural Interactions

Project Duration: 1 October 2020 → 1 June 2021 Funded by: Human Data Interaction: Legibility, Agency, Negotiability’ Network Plus, UK EPSRC.

How can data infrastructures contribute to the flourishing of public life? Infrastructural Interactions is a transdisciplinary research initiative inquiring into the different ways that harmful data practices extend into public services and in response seeks to develop and imagine technical alternatives to Software-as-a-Service and agile solutions.

Data-infrastructures, made up of cloud and mobile computational infrastructures, are concentrated in the hands of a few companies. They purposefully promote data intensive services running on these infrastructures, rather than pre-packaged and locally run software instances. These data-infrastructures range from health databases, border informatics, data storage warehouses, to city-dashboards for monitoring citizen flows, educational platforms and the optimisation of logistics. Data infrastructures generate harms and damage beyond ethical issues of privacy, ownership and confidentiality, through the depletion of resources for public life.

To address this we will investigate how data-infrastructures capture public data by interfacing (public) institutions and their constituents through Software-as-a-Service solutions, therefore reconfiguring their public mandate and narrowing their modes of functioning to forms of logistics (delivering a “solution” to a “need”), and optimization.

Drawing on trans*feminist, queer and anti-colonial perspectives, the research project develops tools for political and creative agency for situations perceived as in the public interest but outside of public intervention. We will work with activists (specifically groups organising with refugees and around Anti-Racist, Trans, Queer and Sex work), artists and technologists to ask how they are mobilising creative forms of organising and inventive methods to ensure that data can support their practices instead of extracting from it. How are these practices not just responding but also proposing new modes of imagining technology in the public interest? What can creative practice bring to understanding data-infrastructures and their alternatives? And how effective are these creative responses or new infrastructures?

Infrastructural Interactions is initiated by an interdisciplinary team of researchers and artists with widely recognized experience in technological analysis, community involvement, activist practice and cultural development. They have previously collaborated on technological practice from feminist, queer and anti-colonial perspectives. The project will consist of 8-10 interviews, 2 workshops, a digitally mediated event, a research paper and a digital workbook.