The ontological question of data power


*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


Contemporary theories of data power have primarily focused on the question of what data can do (boyd & Crawford, 2012). For instance, Katharina Pistor (2020) has argued that “statehood in the digital age” is “based primarily on data, not territory”, and state governance will progressively involve “harvesting data that individuals around the globe produce and share by entering digital platforms” (p. 3). Similarly, Angèle Christin (2020) conceptualizes data power in terms of its functions: “tracking, homogenizing, triaging, nudging, and valuating” (p. 1115). This paper frames the problem at a more fundamental level, focusing on digital technology’s pervasive ordering of the social itself. Our agency, individual and collective, is realized in an “ensemble of practices and orientations” (Jaeggi 2018, p. 3) that increasingly depend on, and are shaped by, digital infrastructures. Private actors own and administer these infrastructures, extracting value from the information stored, channeled, and processed therein. When their choices, preferences, and imperatives determine how those systems operate, our social agency is subject to a new kind of private government. This alters not only our personal conduct and self-understanding, but our shared normative orientations, the ends toward which our collective rationality (Feenberg 2017) can be directed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2021
EventSocial Ontology 2021 - Online Conference
Duration: 9 Aug 202121 Aug 2021


ConferenceSocial Ontology 2021
Internet address


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