The Digital is Political, Isn't It?

Critical approaches to surveillance technologies and big data

Time: Tue 22 (08:30) - Wed 23 (14:00) November 2016
Place: PRIO, Hausmanns gate 3, Oslo

Attendance is by invitation only

​This workshop is organized as part of the research and dissemination activities of the NordSTE​VA Digital Matters Research Group, and of the PRIO Strategic Initiative on Surveillance and Data Protection in Europe.

Algorithms, computers, databases, smartphone applications, interfaces and the Internet are among the technologies that support, hamper, or more in general, influence our daily doings. News about the scope of mass-surveillance, the occurrence of data security breaches, and the promises of potential of big data analytics, remind us how the digital has become part and parcel of our socio-political environment. While its inner workings remain often discreet and out-of-sight, the digital increasingly mediate our everyday lives. This event suggests that digital technologies, (big) data and practices are not only central to different political arenas, but that they in fact have begun to bring about their own political workings. If digital things play a constitutive role within our societies, how can we discuss something like politics and the digital, as well as the politics of the digital?

This event aims to take stock of ongoing research that engages and explores the digital, in relation to practices that define, control and steer societies and individual behavior. One of our goals is to discuss the potential and the limits of different critical approaches to surveillance technologies, but also to examine the rise of digital data and practices in various areas of societal life. Some key questions are:

  • What does it mean to adopt a critical take in relation to the digital?
  • What are the most promising entry points for studying the political dimensions of the digital? (E.g. algorithms, critical infrastructure, institutional policies, societal controversies, etc.)
  • What are the methodological challenges raised by the growing variety and distribution of surveillance practices?
  • How are security and risk management redefined by practices of data processing?
  • How do institutional politics and policy-making relate to the digital? And what are the political arenas that digital practices give rise to?​

Call for Papers and Participants​​​

Paper proposals are hereby invited for Sessions 3 and 4 (see program below). Please send your proposal in a word document, with (1) your name, position, affiliation and e-mail, (2) paper title and (3) an abstract of max. 200 words, to, with cc. to and Deadline: 22 October, or sooner. Your proposal would be much appreciated.

You would also be most welcome to register for the workshop without proposing a paper, by sending an e-mail to the above addresses. 


Program (tentat​​ive)

Day 1: 22 Novem​ber 2016

Session 1

​Public roundtable on After Snowden: New Arenas for Politics and the Digital & Pre-Launch of Sp​​ecial Issue 'Politics and the Digital'

Introductory comment: Elisabeth Eide, Vice President of Norwegian PEN, Professor of Journalism at the University College in Oslo. Norwegian PEN awarded Snowden the Ossietzky-price in November 2016.

  • What kind of political arena has Snowden's revelations given rise to? What kind of political actors do we need at a time where the digital is present in many areas of everyday life?
  • How can we describe 'the digital' as something that gives rise to different political workings?
  • What are new arenas for politics and the digital and how do we understand a politics of the digital?

Roundtable participants include:

Tobias Blanke, Reader in Social and Cultural Informatics, Kings College London (tbc)

Jan Albrecht, Member of European Parliament with a focus on Data Protection (tbc)

Julien Jeandesboz, Département de Science politique at Université Libre de Bruxelles

Rocco Bellanova, PRIO

Chair: Mareile Kaufmann, PRIO



Session 2

Algorithms, Surve​​illance and Data Protection (Strategic Initiative)​

  • What does mass-surveillance change to the study of security practices?
  • What is the role played by data protection in the regulation and development of algorithms and big data?
  • How does the corporate/state surveillance nexus influence data-driven governance?

Chair: Stine Bergersen

Discussant: tbc



Session 3​​

Security-as-S​​urveillance in Europe (NordSTEVA/ Strategic Initiative)​

  • What are the main forms of data-driven surveillance in Europe?
  • To which kind of security practice does surveillance contribute to?
  • How do EU institutions frame and deal with the spread of data-driven surveillance?

Chair: Rocco Bellanova

Discussant: tbc​

Day 2: 23 November 201​6 (NordSTEVA Digital Matters Research Group)

​Session 4

Data-driven Societal Security​ (NordSTEVA/Digital Matters)​

  • How is the digital influencing and (re)shaping understandings of the concept of Societal Security?
  • What are the most prominent technologies shaping Societal Security (in Europe)?
  • How is the expansion of the digital impacting the 'societal' in 'Societal Security'?

Chair: Kristoffer Lidén

Discussant: tbc



​​Session 5

NordSTEVA Digital Matters business meeting

​​​Chair: Kristoffer Lidén​