The difficulty of the plains – 6 theses on open access

The following is a lightly edited text of a keynote address by Malte Hagener at NECS Open Media Studies Post-Conference, 30 June 2018, Hilversum, The Netherlands.

When Bertolt Brecht returned to (East) Germany in 1949 he wrote a short poem in which he reflected upon his own situation. The immediate fight against fascism had been won, but the more daunting task still lay ahead: building a new society. Many believed that the road ahead would be clear and easy from here on, but Brecht doubted this. He writes:

When the difficulty
Of the mountains is once behind
That’s when you’ll see
The difficulty of the plains will start

Of course, historical situations are always unique, singular and ultimately uncomparable. Nevertheless, I want to use Brecht’s metaphor of “the difficulties of the plains“ to talk about the stage we currently find ourselves in regarding open access. We have crossed a mountain range full of difficulties, we have mastered many challenges, but also full of amazing adventures and fascinating prospects. A lot has been achieved and while many thought the mountains were the only obstacle we had to overcome, we find ourselves in a plain devoid of perceivable obstacles or dangers, at least at first sight. The challenge has changed because we now rather face the problem of drudgery and orientation—how can we keep going without the large and overpowering challenges. To put it in even more emphatic terms: From a heroic struggle, we have to adapt to the problems of the everyday; it is as if an action blockbuster has given way to a Berlin school reflection on the mundane. The questions to be asked now are: Which direction do we take; How can we keep going when an immediate aim is no longer visible; How can we motivate ourselves and others? I want to illustrate my point in the form of five and a half theses.

1. We ain’t achieved nothing yet!

By now, most large European scientific organisations and funding bodies have, in one way or another, implemented Open Access into their funding policy and operational routines. The EU Commission states on its homepage regarding its flagship programme Horizon 2020: “The global shift towards making research findings available free of charge for readers, so-called ‘Open access’, has been a core strategy in the European Commission to improve knowledge circulation and thus innovation. It is illustrated in particular by the general principle for open access to scientific publications in Horizon 2020 and the pilot for research data.“ This shift in political thinking at the European level has trickled down to national funding agencies, to universities and to many individuals who have embraced the basic principles, including myself. Most disciplines have adopted open access as (at least) one way of publishing; many academics have gathered practical experience and have a basic knowledge of what OA stands for. A study conducted by the university library at the University of Utrecht in 2015/2016 found out that 86.8% of scholars support the general aims of open access, 9.3% were indecisive, and only 3.9% had a negative view of OA. In a way, OA has been thoroughly internalised into the academic system and it seems as if the struggle for open access has been won across the board.

At this point in time, one might be tempted to propose: Can we all go back to our “real“ duties (which are always urgent and pressing): do research, write papers and books, teach seminars and give lectures, counsel students, organise conferences and so on? I believe that this would be a serious misunderstanding, because we have not really achieved anything yet—if we are not careful to follow up with developing our own tools and to taking the power back. This is not some extra-work that we might want to do if we have a bit of extra time. It should, instead, be a central part of any scientific daily routine. Open Access, open data, open science—whichever term you prefer—if understood in its full complexity, is set to restructure the entire scientific process: from the way we develop questions and gather data through publishing and access all the way to the long-term strategies of safeguarding and archiving sources, material and publications. The whole cycle of knowledge production has to be integrated and restructured. Therefore, open access remains a constant task to develop and adapt in relation to the current tools and methods.

Another way to conceptualise the relationship would be to see open access and open science as a supplement in the way proposed by Jacques Derrida—something, allegedly secondary, that serves as an aid to something “original“ or “natural“. When we follow the endless game of references and links, we might want to reach a stable denoted reference, but that is ultimately impossible. It is at this missing origin, at the imaginary point of stability, that the supplement appears. The supplement is an add-on and a substitute, something that completes another thing and something that may replace it and therefore pose a potential threat. In this way, open access is a supplement to the existing scholarly ecosystem of editing, reviewing and publishing—it is meant to replace it, while also adding on to it. It is both an accretion (Hinzufügung) and a substitution. In this way, open access might also be a means to highlight the artificial and arbitrary nature of the publication system, which might have appeared natural and normal to many. And in this way, open access is also something that is never finished, that continues to elope and abscond us, a marker which reminds us of the unfinished business of circulation and knowledge production in the academic world. Everything remains open to revision; final stability can never be achieved.

2. The Empire Strikes Back – …for the benefit of humanity?

One way to put the argument of the supplement into more concrete terms would be to look at the dynamic restructuring of the publication system. If we look around, there is a mixture of the old system which open access was meant to overcome and new players and tools trying to take advantage of the rapidly transforming ecosystem. As it appears at the moment, it is the old players that seem to profit most. Look, for example, at Elsevier, our very own behemoth: Elsevier’s profits has swelled again last year, to €900 million in 2017, a profit margin of 37%—higher than Monsanto or Goldman Sachs. In a recent article, The Guardian put the business model of the publishing giants in provocative terms: “It is as if The New Yorker or The Economist demanded that journalists write and edit each other’s work for free, and asked the government to foot the bill. Outside observers tend to fall into a sort of stunned disbelief when describing this setup.“And this situation is far from over—the quote is from last year—so the old stakeholders are coming back with a vengeance if we are not careful.

In many European countries, new open access funds were introduced in the last five to ten years because the transformation to open access was not meeting the expected goals. These well-intentioned initiatives have led in many cases to what is now known as double dipping: There are still overpriced subscriptions, but there are also OA funds available for those at wealthy institutions to pay for overpriced APCs. When I wrote a review (not even an article) for a Taylor & Francis journal some years ago, they asked me for more than €1000, to make the article available in open access. Obviously, this has nothing to do with the real costs to the publisher, even if a creative bookkeeper can always come up with endless overhead which has to be covered. It is, rather, meant to kill two birds with one stone: If people agree to pay, it wins a handsome profit to the company; at the same time, it also gives the enterprise the opportunity to claim that they support (or at least allow) open access. With approval rates of more than 90% among academics, publishers would be crazy to oppose open access. But they have to fit it into their business model, so most take the path of least resistance.

Apart from the generally problematic nature of APCs, there is another effect of openness that we might have underestimated in the past—that openness is also open to businesses using the data for their own ends. Openness means transparency, and transparency—at least potentially—means control. This can be seen both on a political and an economic level. Let me turn again to Elsevier: The company is no longer calling itself a publishing company but, instead, a “global information analytics business that helps institutions and professionals advance healthcare, open science and improve performance for the benefit of humanity.” And, to make things even more ironic—indeed this is a punchline that you could not make up—the EU is in the process of implementing an Open Science Monitor, a “full-fledged monitoring system“ of open access and transparent research across countries, which is being developed in conjunction with none other than Elsevier. So one of the companies that profits most from the current set-up is gathering data and preparing policy decisions in the very field where many criticise its dominance. Open access has, at least partly, created a system in which the monopolists have been able to reap even more profit than before. And inadvertendly, we might help to shape an ecosystem in which science is being monitored even more closely by monopolists because output will be measurable in ever smaller amounts of data. Those who own and control the tools will be those who decide how to use them and who will profit from them.

Another example of how the old system has adapted to the new challenges and chances is the venture capital–funded platform Here, control of data and profit-seeking has given rise to a platform that masquerades as a scholar-friendly social network. There are more examples to give, but instead of preaching to the choir, let me move on.

3. Get out – of the Filter Bubble

Because “preaching to the choir“ exemplifies one of the key problems: We—as OA advocates—are largely talking to ourselves. There is, by now, a sizable community of people active in the field of open access; we meet at conferences such as this one, but often in designated slots and under specific headings. We are not a small group, but we are also, let’s face it, not the majority. Most colleagues would say they embrace open access (and I gave you the numbers), and I believe they do in principle; but in reality, they do not change their modus operandi. They still follow an opportunistic strategy in publishing and they are far from changing their practice. In fact, this is partly true for myself and—I believe—for many others. Habits are slow to change, and when you are invited to an established journal, it is hard to reject such an offer. It is hard to expect individuals to radically change their behaviour in an existing system, when the immediate effect of such changed behaviour has direct negative consequences.

We have to change the environment in such a way that open access becomes the normal way of doing things. And we have to change the environment in such a way that it is not the big players that are able to profit even more than before. If you go back and read what was written five or ten years ago, it was all about implementing open access and changing people’s minds. But mentalities are slow to change. Since the process was not fast enough for the ambitious aims of the large stakeholders (the European Commission, large funding agencies, governments), money was pumped into the system that went towards those at the crucial junctions. Something similar might happen again and again, if we don’t make ourselves heard.

4. The Paradoxical Self-Evidence of Openness

Openness appears to be a self-explanatory concept. In almost all discussions I hear about open science, open access, open source and so on, it is always assumed that openness is inherently, yes almost ontologically, a good thing. Now, I consider myself an OA-advocate and therefore I am standing here before you as a proponent of such a view. Yet we should, at least for the sake of argument, step back for a moment and reconsider if openness is always already good, no matter what the social, political or cultural circumstances are. First of all, we have to ask ourselves what openness really means. It is a relational term that is dependent on perspective and context. Crucial questions have to be asked here because very seldomly are all aspects open in the same way: What exactly is open to whom under what circumstances? And also: Who can use the openly available materials to what ends? Who has control and power (both in legal and economic terms) to use material published under the sign of open access, open data or open source? Openness and privacy—which is an ideal that most of us, I assume, would not want to give up lightly—are more often than not in conflict with each other because privacy is always balancing out access of others with control of the self.

I have found a welcome and sober antidote to the ideological positioning of openness as inherently good in the work of danah boyd. boyd has repeatedly and forcefully argued that data is never neutral, that opening up data and making it available for third parties always has political implications and possible side effects that might not be apparent at first sight. It is not enough to give people access to data; we need to also make tools available to understand that data, and we need to construct an environment in which the circulation of data can be monitored and registered. One example that boyd gives is the open availability of information on schools, which usually has the directly observable effect of higher ethnic and social segretation—because specific groups might (and will) read this data in a certain way. Certain individuals and collectives have resources available (knowledge or capital to pay someone to use a certain knowledge) that allows them to make use of data in a specific way. boyd even demonstrates how algorithms might inadvertently contribute to inequality, because the way certain elements correlate makes it more likely to include discriminatory elements of another level into the equation. Therefore, data about your family or your place of residence might influence your credit score or the likelihood of getting parole without any conscious discrimination, but rather as ripple effects of algorithms. This kind of algorithmic discrimination will be an important topic of discussion in the next couple of years.

5. Sustainability Means Discrimination

I still occasionally encounter colleagues who believe that something is open access because it can be found on the internet. Often, they have built a project website, some WordPress structure that a student assistant programmed and another one renovated after the first one has left. Some years later, money on that specific project has run out and the research interest has shifted elsewhere; no one is caring for the dilapitated structure anymore, and some browser generations later, the website will be unusable, inaccessible, or simply gone. In the old days of what McLuhan has called the “Gutenberg galaxy”, books were delivered to libraries, where they could still be accessed hundreds of years later—even if no one in the meantime had cared to look at them. The sources and structures of the digital age have a radically reduced half-life period. This puts a much higher pressure on the infrastructure that we need to build and maintain. The speed of production and reproduction, the sheer amount of data being produced today, means that we have to discriminate what we want to keep and what we risk to lose.

I am consciously using the term discrimination here because creating data and making research always means making distinction, drawing a line, identifying something as meaningful (and, by implication, something else as not meaningful). We discriminate, too, if we decide to archive something, to build structures that are meant to keep and safeguard material for a longer period of time. Most of us still grew up in McLuhan’s “Gutenberg galaxy“—it has a five-hundred-year history and we did not need to think too much about how it functioned. We did research and wrote, we handed it in, we got a review and if we were good (or lucky) enough, we got published. There were specific roles in the process: advisors and editors, publishers and reviewers, printers and librarians—a whole system constructed towards quality control (discrimination of the first order) and long-term preservation (discrimination of the second order). Currently, we begin to understand how the shape of a new system might look like or at least what the stakes are: It is an accelerated system in which the temporal cycle of discovery, publication and discussion has been radically shrunk; this might not be visible in the same degree for the humanities and social sciences as for the natural and life sciences, but it is still beginning to be felt. At the same time, we have large private companies which aggressively enter into some parts of this system with the aim of making profit. While profit has always been part of the system, it has now taken on a very different function.

Discrimination is a key concept that is built into the nature of information. Whenever we create data that has a structure that is machine-readable, we make specific kinds of distinctions. This is again danah boyd on data analysis and discrimination: “discrimination as a concept has mathematical and economic roots that are core to data analysis. The practices of data cleaning, clustering data, running statistical correlations, etc., are practices of using information to discern between one set of information and another. They are a form of mathematical discrimination. The big question presented by data practices is: Who gets to choose what is acceptable discrimination? Who gets to choose what values and trade-offs are given priority?” And this is, again, why I believe we have to obtain a certain degree of data literacy, because it is only if we understand the tools we are using that we also understand what forms of discrimination they entail.

6. From Collecting to Curating

If we look at the natural sciences, we can see that the line between what counts as data and what counts as a publication is increasingly blurry. The difference between research data and a journal article is currently a hot topic of discussion, just as research data management as a strategic field has taken the place of OA in the minds of big funding organisations. The large grants and strategic attention that were devoted to open access ten years ago are now geared towards research data management. Of course, this dynamic movement (just like open access fifteen years ago) originates with the STEM crowd, but it will inevitably reach and transform the humanities and social sciences as well. The larger and more established disciplines in our field such as history, art history, philosophy or literary studies, will have the reputation and the power to eventually build their own platforms or participate in larger infrastructures. If media studies wants to be more than an appendix to one of those disciplines, we have to move fast and decisively, because our only reasonable alternative is to be attractive as an innovative pathfinder and as an experimental field. If we do not react at all, the bandwagon will pull ahead without stopping. No one is waiting for media studies to get moving. Therefore, we need to build our own infrastructure,n which is actually much more fun than some of you might believe.

Let me sidetrack a little to tell you what I actually do in a project that has only recently made its public appearance. We have launched in September a repository with funding from the German research association DFG. Because funding is still largely a national concern, we have started in the first phase with mostly German-language sources. But the larger idea for the future is an infrastructure for the sustainable archiving and publication of research within the larger field of film and media studies, regardless of language or origin. We try to be as inclusive as possible, but we also have to make distinctions as to what belongs to media studies and what does not. It is naive to assume that collecting is some natural flow of things and that collections have a systematic logic that is beyond individual decision-making processes. We should be aware of the fact that archival collections, be they analog or digital, are always curated. And in this sense, I consider MediaRep to also be a curated collection—but we want to make the decisions and the process visible to users. I believe that openness in this sense is more than online collections without paywalls, but a transparent way of decision-making.


I hope that I have been able to show you some of the challenges and dangers that I would see as the “difficulties of the plains”. The difficulties of the mountain are a thing of the past ten years: we just had to rally behind the term open access and convince people of its value. This mission has been accomplished, but now we have to do many different tasks at once: We need to understand—and make it understandable to others—that publishing, editing and reviewing is an ethical decision and that our actions have consequences for a larger field. We need to be aware of the ripple effects and collateral damages of specific actions in specific situations—or even the consequences of the lack of actions. Maybe this could be a topic for professional associations such as NECS: to formulate best practice models for publishing.

We need to talk to librarians and funders, to presidents and politicians; we need to make our voice heard beyond our immediate circle of friends and supporters. We need to build alliances in order to be able to formulate and follow long-term goals. We need to construct infrastructure in the way that magazines and libraries, repositories and social networking platforms are infrastructure. We need to run and oversee this crucial infrastructure. We also need to understand that all these practices are not inherently good just because we mean well—therefore, we need to constantly monitor the effects, because in a complex and dynamic system an effect can never be directly determined.

Not as Good as Gold: ‘Goodness’ of Genomic Data

Good Data edited by Angela Daly, S. Kate Devitt and Monique Mann will be published by INC in January 2019. The book launch will be 24 Januari 17:00 @ Spui25. In anticipation of the publication, we publish a series of posts by some of the authors of the book.

“Moving away from the strong body of critique of pervasive ‘bad data’ practices by both governments and private actors in the globalized digital economy, this book aims to paint an alternative, more optimistic but still pragmatic picture of the datafied future. The authors examine and propose ‘good data’ practices, values and principles from an interdisciplinary, international perspective. From ideas of data sovereignty and justice, to manifestos for change and calls for activism, this collection opens a multifaceted conversation on the kinds of futures we want to see, and presents concrete steps on how we can start realizing good data in practice.”

Not as Good as Gold: ‘Goodness’ of Genomic Data

By Bruce Baer Arnold and Wendy Bonython


Is the goodness of genomic data – our individual and collective entries in ‘the book of life’ – simply a matter of accuracy and a future in which ‘precision medicine’ averts or cures all ills?

In our ‘Not as Good As Gold’ chapter we argue that notions of goodness are necessarily conflicted, contested, and thus require more thought. Goodness encompasses questions about dignity (something valorized by philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, Rawls and Nussbaum) rather than promises of a glorious genomic future based on population-scale data collection.

Those questions are salient because 2018 was an unrecognized inflection point for law enforcement, ethicists, life-sciences researchers, investors and human rights advocates regarding genomic data collection and use. It was the year in which 23andMe, one of the dominant ‘recreational genomics’ enterprises engaged in the mass collection of genomic data, received a substantial investment from pharmaceutical giant GSK, and signed an exclusive agreement with the drug-maker drawing on data collected by 23andMe from five million people.

That deal substantiates the business model of 23andMe alongside competitors such as and MyHeritage: collect population-scale genomic data through weakly-regulated direct-to-consumer (DTC) genomic testing services and then mine that data on a commercial basis, independently or with drug companies, insurers and other corporations that are conceptualizing health data as the new gold. It is data that is more valuable than oil or precious metal; data that may be gifted by naive DTC participants within an ineffective global regulatory framework; data that becomes exponentially more valuable as the size of the collection increases.

Last year was also one in which law enforcement identified a serial killer in the US through a simple search of genomic data shared by participants in an online genealogical service. Those people voluntarily provided data on a recreational basis, rather than for identification of criminals: gifting information for a sense of belonging and entertainment through building family trees with no thought that an astute investigator would use data to target suspects. There was no need for Californian police to coerce a DNA sample from people across the state or the US as a whole.

In 2018 and previous years people provided genomic data about themselves to businesses in the US and elsewhere because that provision was entertaining (exemplified by ‘DNA Spit Parties’ used in 23andMe marketing), offered supposed insights about susceptibility to health disorders, or allowed contributors to place themselves within a ‘social graph’ that includes figures such as Abraham Lincoln, King Henry VII, Donald Trump and Princess Di. In providing the data – initially in the form of a so-called ‘spit’ or buccal swab – the contributors were providing data about biological relatives, typically without the knowledge and thus without the consent of those relatives.

That provision raises under-acknowledged conundrums about privacy, autonomy, regulation, ownership and rewards. Should, for example, contributors of genomic data get to share in the commercial exploitation of that data? Should we regard it as part of a genomic commons in a world where companies such as Myriad are aggressively asserting exclusive rights under patent law?  Does privacy protection need to be strengthened? Is there meaningful disclosure by DTC enterprises and enforcement by consumer protection agencies?

In ‘Not As Good As Gold’ we show how ‘goodness’ is often construed through a lens of accuracy: is data ‘true’ or not, with accuracy often enhanced by the size of the data collection. It is also often construed in terms of (positive or ‘Good’) outcomes: will data result in breakthroughs that save lives, improve the quality of life, reduce burdens on taxpayers and delight investors. In thinking about genomics we need to look beyond these outcomes. From both a bioethics and legal perspective the wrong questions about ‘good data’ are being asked.

Genomics enables us to read individuals and populations as abstractions – repositories of genetic data rather than persons entitled to respect irrespective of status or outcomes. Genomic ‘good data’ must be a matter of what is respectful of its human contributors rather than what is big (comprehensive) and better (more accurate). As nations move swiftly to whole-of-population data collection, analysis and sharing on a mandatory or voluntary basis – commercial or otherwise – we argue that construing bigger and better data as necessarily beneficial to people is contrary to the dignity that is central to personhood.

It is imperative to consider meaningful consent regarding data collection and use, alongside establishment of a genomic commons that addresses problems inherent in propertization of the genome through patent law. Public and private goods can be fostered through regulation that ensures data quality and an information framework centered on public education about genomic data, encouraging responsible use of data within and across national borders. But at present, this framework is lacking.

If the genome is ‘the book of life’ we must ensure that ‘good’ data is available to all and is understood rather than monopolized, mishandled or misread.

Contra La Pared: Reggaetón and Dissonance in Naarm, Melbourne

In “Asesina,” Darell opens the track shouting “Everybody go to the discotek,” a call for listeners to respond to the catchy beat and come dance. In this series on rap in Spanish and Sound Studies, we’re calling you out to the dance floor…and we have plenty to say about it. Your playlist will not sound the same after we’re through.

Throughout January, we will explore what Spanish rap has to say on the dance floor, in our cars, and through our headsets. We’ll read about trap in Cuba and about femme sexuality in Cardi B’s music. And because no forum on Spanish rap is complete without a mixtape, we’ll close out our forum with a free playlist for our readers. Today we continue No Pare, Sigue Sigue: Spanish Rap & Sound Studies with Lucreccia Quintanilla’s essay on reggaetón and Latinx identity in Australia.

Liana M. Silva, forum editor

The first time I heard Cypress Hill was at my fellow Salvadoran friend’s house in the outer suburbs of Brisbane, Australia. She was wearing big baggy clothes and announced that we needed to go in her room the very minute I arrived. So, we left our parents to talk in the lounge room and we sat on her bed and listened. Latin rap had arrived in my life! In the world of pop and the Latin American classics we kept hearing at quinceañeras, here was something new and energetic for us. It was our language, our people: in this way it provided a much needed connection to the outside world for us who existed in what was then quite a small and freshly arrived Latinx community. The place we found ourselves in was particularly racist, and for a moment we felt acknowledged and could just be proud of being who we were. The trumpets and snippets of familiar sounds mixed in with hip hop activated the familiar. But these Latinxs did not even try to be “good” migrants like we did. This was so refreshing to me.

It has been a long time since I was a fifteen-year-old, freshly arrived in Australia, in a classic story that involved fleeing from the Salvadoran Civil War and a period of migration to New York before finally landing in Australia. Pretty soon after arriving, I realised that Australia was not the place that I had seen in the documentary back in El Salvador about Indigenous people here. The one where thousands of years of culture were acknowledged and respected. Slowly, I came to the understanding that I too was a settler on this land at the expense of its indigenous people. Colonisation remains a continual process, and the effects of The White Australia Policy, which excluded non-European migrants until the late 1970s, is still clearly evident in the current political climate, epitomised by the treatment of asylum seekers coming from mainly Afghanistan, Iran, and Sri Lanka to these shores.

Because of Australia’s geographical and cultural disconnect it seemed rather difficult to find a space that was not an over simplified version of “Latinness” because of the relatively small communities where they played the old classics and followed traditions nostalgically closer than our relatives back home. As for me, back in El Salvador, I listened to the live cumbias–which were mostly salsa and cumbias–playing in the party hall behind my house while I slept, which had an obvious and subliminal impact on me. I spent years humming Ivy Queen’s “Muchos Quieren Tumbarme” to myself until the day a decade later I sat down determined to find the original on Youtube. With all the might one has to muster to not be swept up by the broom of assimilation, I was exhausted and I had not found the time to listen to the music that was present in parts of my mind—and those parts were beginning to lose patience.

Until recently, World Music held Latin music as part of its domain at Multicultural events and festivals in mainstream Australia. Listen, there is nothing Latinxs love more than having our culture appreciated. We love it when non Latinxs also rush to the dance floor, liquid spilling out of their drink glasses, unable to keep up with the rush of the body that happens when Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” comes on. However, my focus here is to bring those who are ancestrally implicated in the music to the front. Music is where the multiplicity of Latinx cultural narratives converge, past, present and future all at once. This is what propelled me to finally take up DJing in my mid-twenties: I wanted to explore this way of telling stories at a time when I remembered how my body wanted to dance and I didn’t hear the right music for it around me. I spoke to some people who are engaging with and making space for themselves and others around reggaetón and Dembow. What follows are snippets of our online conversations.


“EDM / dance / festival” by Flickr user Patrick Savalle, CC BY-SA 2.0

In a place, haunted so actively by the cruelty of colonialism and so suspicious of difference it makes sense that music like reggaetón with its relentless beat becomes a disruption to a muffling veneer of politeness and civility. It is our punk! Peruvian– Australian writer, DJ and event producer Triana Hernandez aka Airhorn Mami sees a politics of disruption in the music she plays. In response to some questions I posed she writes:

Music has historically always been a healing and therapeutic experience, and this continues to be the case today. I think about how White Australia has a huge disease called National Amnesia, a mental illness mostly enforced by silencing and lacks of moments of self-expression I think perreo/dembow/etc. have a really Caribbean or sun-filled, upbeat mood and bass-heavy nature so it is somehow like feeding Vitamin D into people. It’s just really liberating and playful sounds.

For me, finding my own voice within the music of La Hill, Ivy Queen, and lately Tomasa del Real and Amara La Negra, amongst others has been a really exciting feminist moment. It is a feminism very far away from the offensive lyrics that have given the genre a bad name, but also from the prevailing privilege that infuses Western feminism here. Within a mainstream charged with expectations of emotional and sexual repression, music like reggaetón presents another possible way of existing as a woman: as one who tells it like it is, is proud of her sexuality and aware of her body, her community and her culture.

Argentinian/Australian community worker and DJ Rebeca Sacchero founder of Nuestro Planeta, a queer, feminist collective, describes her experience of navigating the contradictions that exist within reggaetón:

Eliza and I really wanted to make a femme-energy heavy party where people who are female, non-binary, trans, or queer would be able to feel welcome to enjoy music that isn’t always welcoming in its lyrical content or in the spaces it dominates. Being Latinx for me is fraught with contradictions, for example my staunch feminism and then deeply held cultural values which view gender and sexuality in ways which depart from western conditioning. I see these tensions and contradictions as beautiful yet difficult and I see the same things play out in the music I enjoy.

…That said, a lot of the music we love comes from unsafe spaces and is born from resilience and tension, so we appreciate and honour the magic that comes from having a diverse crowd and try to have patience and love for everyone and understand that knowledge about how to behave in a club space is a privilege. My work as a youth worker has also had a huge impact on Nuestro Planeta. I work in Fitzroy, running graffiti and djing programs mostly with young people from the housing estates in the city of Yarra and young people in and out of home care. Skating, graffiti, rap music, clubbing and art are all ways young people resist oppressive structures and I think that they are all beautiful and important, so my events need to be a space that offer an alternative to an oppressive structu not mimic one

On a more experimental front Galambo, the solo live project by Chilean-Australian Bryan Phillips who works with beats such as Dembow and Cumbia as well as experimental sound production, poetically describes the conversation that takes place as he performs:

Doing the Galambo is a process where composing and performing occur at the same time—specific to site, time and people. My joy is trying to join with people in an embodied experience—a sonic ritual—through electronic dance music. Electronica de raíz, embracing electronic music from its material roots.

Sound like river. Son las vertientes—the streams of altered states of consciousness, that meander and bifurcate and join waters. The main body being the sonido rajado—the torn sound of the Bailes Chinos of the southern Andes—el sonido originario. The loud and dissonant flutes or pifulcas that resonate through the valleys, from the highest altar¬—Andacollo. The Andean dissonance that resists and brings difference to the coloniser culture of taming the sound through equal tempered pitches and harmony itself. That performing involves everyone present, en el presente.

These are narratives articulated via sounds and fragments that activate memory while becoming new. Importantly, these sounds give voice to an ongoing mythology, to a landscape that has seen and interacted with generations of the artists’ ancestors to be transmitted via echoes across the ocean thousands of miles away and as Galambo puts it in the “present.”

There has been a surge of reggaetón and Latin trap on the mainstream charts all around the world; not only are these beats “spicy” and contagious but they are also a type of living cultural archive. Latinx people find ourselves there in the indigenous tempo, Africa via the Caribbean, the undeniable middle eastern presence via rhythms, and in there is also colonisation in the Spanish lyrics and the U.S. twangs amongst other things. We don’t need to read books for this. We know and feel these stories. There are more experimental artists working in the genre all over the world that want to highlight different aspects of this history, namely the indigenous and Afro-Latinx artists Kelman Duran and Resla, and Tayhana, and producers and DJs like Riobamba. Thank you, Soundcloud!

It has been hard over the years to imagine creatively generative discussions around reggaetón in Australia as community building that also acknowledges both its negative and productive aspects and that engage with ideas around gender and experimentation. Reggaetón is even entering the club scene being sprinkled over the techno sets of Melbourne. As an artist, it has been completely worth the wait because in an art world still largely focussed on an inclusion/exclusion binary, experiencing people creating space around culture via music is pretty exciting. By doing so, artists on the margins of a Western mainstream are not waiting to be let in but creating our own space on our own terms, outside of presenting generic stereotypes. Instead this is a dynamic alive and growing space. Bryan Phillips expands on his creative process and his role as creating music in Australia:

I converse in a process of embodiment of sound, en el presente, that allows for the voice to emerge, that sings in huaynos, punk rock and cantos a lo humano, somehow always in español. I speak with el Pueblo, through Violeta Parra and the lineages of poetas populares. La Nueva Poesía Chilena-La Nueva Canción. Cecilia Vicuña, shamana poeta, the songs that teach us so much. That teach us to care. That performing is a subversive political act in itself. That performing involves everyone present, en el presente. That it sings in a voice that is indígena and feminista.

Phillips is right, it is political and life-giving to play and dance to this music. Perhaps the misogynist ‘catch cry: ‘contra la pared’ – against the wall- can mean something new to the Latinx community in this far away diaspora. It can connote something of solidarity and identification with our siblings and cousins in Latin American and the U.S.A. who are enduring tougher times.

Editor’s note: tune in next week, when we will release a mixtape by Lucreccia Quintanilla to accompany this post.

Featured image: “DJ” by Flickr user Ray_LAC, CC BY 2.0

Lucreccia Quintanilla  is an artist/DJ/writer and PhD candidate at Monash University in Naarm, Melbourne, Australia.

Unapologetic Paisa Chingona-ness: Listening to Fans’ Sonic Identities–Yessica Garcia Hernandez

Good Data Ethics by Andrea Zeffiro

Good Data edited by Angela Daly, S. Kate Devitt and Monique Mann will be published by INC in January 2019. The book launch will be 24 Januari @ Spui25. In anticipation of the publication, we publish a series of posts by some of the authors of the book.

“Moving away from the strong body of critique of pervasive ‘bad data’ practices by both governments and private actors in the globalized digital economy, this book aims to paint an alternative, more optimistic but still pragmatic picture of the datafied future. The authors examine and propose ‘good data’ practices, values and principles from an interdisciplinary, international perspective. From ideas of data sovereignty and justice, to manifestos for change and calls for activism, this collection opens a multifaceted conversation on the kinds of futures we want to see, and presents concrete steps on how we can start realizing good data in practice.”

Good Data Ethics

By Andrea Zeffiro

It’s been nearly a year since the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal dominated news reports and collective fascination, and we now know more, though still not enough, as to how Facebook traffics consumer data. Indeed, Facebook is not alone in its disservice to those of us who use and rely on the platform and its other services, and like other Big Tech companies, Facebook has mastered its doublespeak by touting ‘transparency’ to convey a commitment to disclosing its internal practices, and an openness to public scrutiny. Last year, for example, Facebook released ad transparency tools that permitted users to see how advertisers use the platform.  For the average user, these tools reveal the amount of advertising activity carried out, but they do not make transparent exactly how ads operate on the platform. Simply because users are given access to more information does not mean it is easy to parse. Facebook’s ‘transparency’ serves to uphold its core policies and practices without revealing any more about how our data is trafficked. And rather than seek to inform consumers in clear terms as to the kinds of data collected and how the data is used, we are asked to accept opaque and malleable terms of service. If anything, what has been rendered transparent by the crises weathered by Facebook is the asymmetrical relationship between those who collect, mine, store and analyze data, and those whom data collection targets.

On the heels of public scrutiny on the (mis)uses of user-generated data, academic research communities continue to grapple with how to work with social media data without reproducing the kinds of power imbalances I describe above. One thing is certain: we cannot rely on social media platforms to set the ethical norms for academic research. My contribution to Good Data works through some (and there are many) of the complex ethical conundrums researchers face when working with social media data.

In 2017 I conducted a pilot study to assess the current trends, standards and norms for working with social media data in a Canadian academic context. My research has shown that few institutions in Canada have ethics guidelines that apply specifically to social media research. This dearth of guidance reflects broader trends in digital data policies and practices. As Sandra Soo-Jin Lee explains, the “vacuum in policy has placed unrealistic expectations on existing review structures to address the changing social and commercial arrangements that characterize these online platforms.” In turn, researchers are left struggling to understand their ethical obligations when it comes to the collection and management of ‘public’ data associated with social media.

The challenges researchers face stem in part from how traditional norms and values of ‘human research ethics’ become strained by the complexity of interactions between individuals, networks and technical systems in social media research. For instance, any conventional understanding of ‘informed consent’ is circumvented by third-party disclaimers in platform policies and renders refusal of participation defunct. In turn, ethical standards may be left to interpretation. For some, this may counteract concerns about ‘ethics creep’ and the continued bureaucratization of research. But at the same time, short of clear guidelines, certain forms of social media research are required to undergo institutional review while others are not, which is not to say that all social media research should be exempt from institutional review, but rather that such inconsistencies could very well denote exempted research as ‘ethical’ simply by virtue of exemption. Additionally, a lack of guidance could encourage researchers to abide by a social media platform’s terms of service as ‘rules’ for research, yet these terms do not clarify the conditions for ethical research, but instead govern how a researcher is permitted to access and use data.

In my chapter, I call on researchers and research communities to take the lead in developing research methods, practices, and norms that foster ‘good’ social media research data ethics. Along with the ethical considerations explored in the text, I formulate prompts for researchers to integrate during research design, that is, prior to data collection, but also throughout the life-cycle of a project. The sets of questions are meant to signal how social media research requires rigorous thinking about the ramifications of the choices we make in every part of our research process, rather than assuming that a platform’s terms and conditions or a university ethics board will fulfill the task of ensuring that research is conducted ethically.

The provocations and prompts I put forward join existing efforts to motivate research communities to (re)consider their ethical obligations in light of the challenges social media research brings to research ethics norms and conventions. What if research communities conceived of social media platforms not simply as sources of research evidence, but as collaborators in the construction of emerging research practices and knowledge production? Would this compel researchers to dig deeper into the politics of platforms as a condition of working with social media data? These kinds of questions – ones that connect our programs of research to contemporary data cultures – will initiate pathways to good data practices. After all, when we seek out social media data from a particular platform, we are in effect entering into a relationship with that platform, and our decision to work with these platforms as sources of data and as objects of research implicate us and our work into the power imbalances sustained by these entities. Good data ethics present an opportunity for researchers to start to talk back to the prescriptive data regimes set forth by social media platforms.


Everyone’s Going to the Rumba: Trap Latino and the Cuban Internet

In “Asesina,” Darell opens the track shouting “Everybody go to the discotek,” a call for listeners to respond to the catchy beat and come dance. In this series on rap in Spanish and Sound Studies, we’re calling you out to the dance floor…and we have plenty to say about it. Your playlist will not sound the same after we’re through.

Throughout January, we will explore what Spanish rap has to say on the dance floor, in our cars, and through our headsets. We’ll read about Latinx beats in Australian clubs, and about femme sexuality in Cardi B’s music. And because no forum on Spanish rap is complete without a mixtape, we’ll close out our forum with a free playlist for our readers. Today we start No Pare, Sigue Sigue: Spanish Rap & sound Studies with Michael Levine’s essay on Trap cubano and el paquete semanal.

-Liana M. Silva, forum editor

Trap Latino has grown popular in Cuba over the past few years. Listen to the speakers blaring from a young passerby’s cellphone on Calle G, or scan through the latest digital edition of el paquete semanal (the weekly package), and you are bound to hear the genre’s trademark 808 bass boom in full effect. The style however, is almost entirely absent from state radio, television, and concert venues. To the Cuban state (and many Cubans), the supposed musical and lyrical values expressed in the music are unacceptable for public consumption. Like reggaetón a decade before, the reputation of Trap Latino (and especially the homegrown version, Trap Cubano) intersects with contemporary debates regarding the future of Cuba’s national project. For many of its fans however, the style’s ability to challenge the narratives of the Cuban state is precisely what makes Trap Latino so appealing.

In an article published last year by Granma (Cuba’s official, state-run media source), Havana-based journalist Guillermo Carmona positions Trap Latino artists like Bad Bunny and Bryant Myers as a negative influence on Cuba’s youth, claiming the music sneaks its way into the ears of unsuspecting Cuban youth via the illicit channels of Cuba’s underground internet. With lyrics that celebrate the drug trade and treat women as “slot machines,” coupled with a preponderance of sound effects instead of “music notes,” Carmona considers Trap Latino aggressive, dangerous, and perhaps most perniciously of all, irredeemably foreign.

Towards the end of the article, Carmona focuses on his biggest concern: the performance of Trap Latino in public spaces. Carmona writes of those who play Trap from sound systems that “…they use portable speakers and walk through the streets (dangerously), like a baby driving a car. The combat between the bands that narrate some of these songs gestures towards another battlefield: the public sound space.” For Carmona, this public battlefield is sonically marked by Trap Latino’s encroachment on Cuba’s hallowed musical turf. His complaints highlight the fact that this Afro-Latinx style largely exists in Cuba on one side of what Jennifer Lynn Stoever refers to as the sonic color line, an “interpretive and socially constructed practice conditioned by historically contingent and culturally specific value systems riven with power relations” (14).

In Cuba, historically constructed power relations are responsible for much of the public reception of Afro-Cuban popular music, including rumba, timba, and reggaetón. But Trap Latino’s growing presence on the digital devices of Cuban youth is reshaping the boundaries of Cuba’s sonic color line. While these traperos are generally unable to perform in public (due to strict laws governing uses of Cuba’s public spaces) their music is nonetheless found across Havana’s urban soundscape, thanks to the illicit, but widespread, distribution of the “Cuban Internet.”Historically marginalized Afro-Cuban artists, like Alex Duvall, are today using creative digital strategies to make their music heard in ways that were impossible just a decade ago.


The Cuban Internet

To get around the lack of an internet infrastructure either too costly, or too difficult to access, Cubans have developed a network for trading digital media referred to as “el paquete semanal,” contained on terabyte-sized USB memory sticks sold weekly to Cuban residents. These memory sticks contain plenty of content: movies, music, software applications, a “Craiglist”-styled bulletin board of local products for sale, and even an offline social network, among others. The device is traded surreptitiously, presumably without the knowledge of the state.

(There is some question surrounding the degree at which the state is unaware of the paquete trade. Robin Moore, in Music and Revolution, refers to the Cuban government’s propensity to selectively enforce certain illegalities as “lowered frequency”. Ex-president Raul Castro has publicly referred to the device as a ‘necessary evil,” suggesting knowledge, and tacit acceptance, of the device’s circulation.)

By providing a means for artists to circulate products outside of state-sanctioned channels of distribution, el paquete semanal greatly broadens the range of content available to the Cuban public. The importance of the paquete to Cuba’s youth cannot be overstated. According to Havana-based journalist José Raúl Concepción, over 40% of Cuban households consume the paquete on a weekly basis, and over 80% of citizens under the age of 21 consume the paquete daily. A high percentage of the music contained on these devices is not played on the radio or seen in live concerts. For many Cubans, it is only found in the folders contained on these devices. The paquete trade therefore, serves as an invaluable barometer of music trends, especially those of younger people who represent the largest number of consumers of the device.


A listing of folders on el paquete semanal from October 30, 2018.


Alex Duvall

There is a random-access, mix-tape quality to the paquete that encourages consumers to discover music by loading songs onto their cellphones, shuffling the contents, and pressing play (a practice as common in Cuba as it is in the US). This mode of consumption encourages listeners to discover music to which they otherwise would not be exposed. Reggaetón/Trap Latino artist Alex Duvall takes advantage of this organizing structure to promote his work in a unique manner: Duvall packages his reggaetón music separately from his Trap Latino releases. As a solo act, his reggaetón albums position catchy dembow rhythms alongside lyrics and videos that celebrate love of nation, Cuban women, and Havana’s historic landmarks. As a Trap Latino artist in the band “Trece,” his brand is positioned quite differently. Music videos like Trece’s “Mi Estilo de Vida” for instance, contain many of the markers that journalist Guillermo Carmona criticized in the aforementioned article: a range of women wear the band’s name on bandanas covering their faces, otherwise leaving the rest of their bodies exposed. US currency floats in mid-air, and lyrics address the pleasures of material comforts amid legally questionable ways of “making it.”

Especially as it becomes more and more common for Latinx artists to mix genres freely together in their music (as the catch-all genre format referred to as música urbana shows), it is significant that Alex Duvall prefers to keep these styles separate in his own work. The strategy reveals a musical divide between foreign and domestic elements. Duvall’s reggaetón releases emphasize percussive effects, and the Caribbean-based “dembow riddim” that many Cubans would quickly recognize. The synthesized elements in his Trap Latino work however, belong to an aesthetic foreign to historic representations of Cuban music, representing broader circulations of sound that now extend up to the US. Textures and rhythms originating from Atlanta (along with their attendant political and historical baggage) now share space in the sonic palette of a popular Cuban artist.


Going to the Rumba

These cultural circulations complicate narratives coming from the Cuban state that tend to minimize the cultural impact of music originating from the yankui neighbor to the north. These narratives exert powerful political pressure. Because of this, artists are careful when describing their involvement with Trap music. Duvall’s digital strategy allows for a degree of freedom in traveling back and forth across the sonic color line, but permits only so much mobility.

In an interview conducted by MiHabanaTV, Duvall distances himself from Trap Latino’s reputation, defending his project by appealing to the genre’s international popularity, and the need to bring it home to Cuba. But the 2017 song “Hasta La Mañana” documents one of his most concise explanations for his involvement in Trece, in the following lyrics:

“El tiempo va atando billetes a cien
Pero todos va para la rumba
Entonces yo quiero sumarme tambien.”
Time is tying hundred dollar bills together
Everyone is going to the rumba
And I also want to join.


He uses “rumba” here as shorthand to refer to the subversive actions that people take in order to succeed in difficult situations. Duvall needs to make money. If everyone else gets rich by going to “the rumba,” why can’t he? The reference is revealing. Rumba marks another Afro-Cuban tradition with a history of marginalized figures engaged in debates over appropriate aural uses of public space. Today, cellphone speakers and boom boxes sound Havana’s parks and streets. Historically, Afro-Cuban rumberos made these spaces audible through live performance, but similar issues of race animate both of these moments.

In the essay “Walking,” sociologist Lisa Maya Knauer explains that it was not uncommon for police to break up a rumba being performed in the streets or someone’s home throughout the twentieth century “on the grounds that it was too disruptive.” (153) Knauer states that rumba music is historically associated with “rowdiness, civil disorder, and unbridled sexuality, while simultaneously celebrated as an icon of national identity”. (131) The quote also reveals a contrast between the public receptions of rumba and Trap Latino. Duvall’s work, and Trap Latino more generally, is similarly fixed amid a complex web of racialized associations. But unlike rumba, refuses to appeal to state-sanctioned ideals of national identity.

Afro-Cuban musicians are often pressured to adopt nationally sanctioned modes of participation in order to acquire official recognition and state funding. The acceptable display of blackness in Cuba’s public spaces, especially while performing for the country’s growing number of tourists, is a process that anthropologist Marc D. Perry calls the “buenavistization” of Cuba in his work Negro Soy Yo. This phrase refers to the success of popular Son heritage group Buena Vista Social Club, and the revival of Afro-Cuban heritage musical styles that this group and its associated film popularized. Unlike Rumba and Son however, Trap Latino is considered irredeemably foreign (given its roots in both the US city of Atlanta and later, Puerto Rico), therefore presenting difficulties in assimilating the genre to dominant models of Cuban national identity. This tension, I believe, is also responsible for it’s success among Cuba’s youth.

Trap Cubano’s growing appeal stems instead from artists’ adoption of a radically counter-cultural positionality often avoided in popular contemporary styles like reggaetón. While it would be unfair to accuse reggaetón as being entirely co-opted (a point musicologist Geoff Baker makes convincingly in “Cuba Rebelión: Underground Music in Havana”), it is certainly true that as reggaetóneros achieve greater success in ever widening circles of international popularity, the amount of scandalized lyrics, eroticized imagery, and the sound of the original dembow riddim itself (with its well documented roots in homophobia and virulent masculinity) has diminished considerably. Trap Latino’s sonic subversions fill this gap. While the genre similarly praises the fulfillment of male, material fantasies, it troubles the narrative that increased access to money solves social, racial, and gender imbalances, while sonically acknowledging the role that the US shares in shaping it’s musical terrain.

This centering of materialism amid representations of marginalized Afro-Cuban artists is foreign to both historic and touristic representations of Cuba, but relevant to a younger generation increasingly confronted with the pressures of encroaching capitalism. Trap Cubano renders visible (and audible) an emerging culture managing life on the less privileged side of the sonic color line. From the speakers blaring from a young passerby’s cellphone on Calle G, to the USB stick plugged in to a blaring sound system, to the rumba where Alex Duvall is headed, Trap Latino broadcasts the concerns of a younger generation challenging what it means to be Cuban in the 21st century, and what that future sounds like.

Involving himself in the music scenes of Brooklyn, N.Y. over the past decade, Mike Levine has utilized a dual background in academic research and web-based application technologies to support sustainable local music scenes. His research now takes him to Cuba, where he studies the artists and fans circulating music in this vibrant and fast-changing space via Havana’s USB-based, ‘people-powered’ internet (el paquete semanal) amidst challenging political and economic circumstances.

Featured image: “Hotel Cohiba – Havana, Cuba” by Flickr user Chris Goldberg, CC BY-NC 2.0

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SO! Reads: Shana Redmond’s Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora–Ashon Crawley

Music Meant to Make You Move: Considering the Aural Kinesthetic– Imani Kai Johnson

Principles of ‘Good Data’

Good Data edited by Angela Daly, S. Kate Devitt and Monique Mann will be published by INC in January 2019. The book launch will be 24 Januari @ Spui25. In anticipation of the publication, we publish a series of posts by some of the authors of the book.

“Moving away from the strong body of critique of pervasive ‘bad data’ practices by both governments and private actors in the globalized digital economy, this book aims to paint an alternative, more optimistic but still pragmatic picture of the datafied future. The authors examine and propose ‘good data’ practices, values and principles from an interdisciplinary, international perspective. From ideas of data sovereignty and justice, to manifestos for change and calls for activism, this collection opens a multifaceted conversation on the kinds of futures we want to see, and presents concrete steps on how we can start realizing good data in practice.”

The ‘Good Data’ Project

By S. Kate Devitt, Monique Mann and Angela Daly 

The Good Data project was initiated by us when we were all based together at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane/Meanjin – located on traditional Turrbal and Jagera land in what is now known as Brisbane, Australia – in late 2017. Each of us had been working on research engaging with social science aspects of data and digital technologies, and Angela and Monique had also been very active in digital rights activism. The situation in Australia was then, and still is, far from ‘best practice’ in data and digital issues. Australia  lacks an enforceable constitutional right to privacy, the Australian government exhibits ongoing digital colonialism perpetuated against Indigenous peoples, refugees and other marginalised people and there are a myriad of other unethical data practices being implemented (e.g., robo-debt fiasco, #censusfail and the ‘war on maths’. However, these issues are not only confined to Australia – ‘bad’ data practices permeate the digital society and economy globally.

While we had spent a lot of time and energy criticising bad data practices from both academic and activist perspectives, we realised that we had not presented an alternative more positive alternative. This became our main focus, leading us to consider the idea of what this positive vision of data could look like. The concept of ‘Good data’ was first interrogated  in  a good data workshop bringing together interdisciplinary academics, activists, information consultants, and then through soliciting contributions to a book on Good Data about to be published by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam.

In this blog post we present some of the lessons that we have taken away from the Good Data project. Many of the contributions we received for the book advocated data methods to dismantle existing power structures through the empowerment of communities and citizens. We have synthesised the contributions to present 15 (preliminary) principles of Good Data. Of course all principles are normative and their exact meaning and application differ dependent on context (particularly as regards to tensions between open data and data protection and privacy) – although these context-dependent distinctions should be fairly obvious.

Data for challenging colonial and neoliberal data practices

The first Good Data principle we advance is a critique of colonial and neoliberal data practices, economic systems and capitalist relations. In their Good Data book chapter Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS) scholars and advocates Lovett and colleagues examined how western-colonial data practices affect self-determination and autonomy within Indigenous and First Nations groups that have been subject to various forms of data domination. Their findings relate to the first Good Data principle:

Principle #1: Data collection, analysis and use must be orchestrated and mediated by and for data subjects, rather than determined by those in power.

Account must be taken of the specificities of particular data subjects and their communities, cultures and histories. Indigenous Data Sovereignty principles may overlap with aspects of western data protection laws but may also impose different and additional requirements beyond this legislation, which reflect First Nations peoples’ own laws and sovereignty rights.

In another contribution to the Good Data book, Ho and Chuang critique neoliberal data protection models which emphasize individual autonomy and choice through concepts such as consent and anonymization – indeed, this is an argument that has previously been made in the data protection literature. Instead, they propose that communal data sharing models present a good data alternative to the current widespread proprietary and extractive models. This would mean moving towards data cooperatives where the value of data, and the governance of the system, is shared by data subjects.

Principle #2 Communal data sharing can assist community participation in data related decision-making and governance.

Such an approach presents an alternative means of governing and using data based on data subjects’ participation and power over their own data, and also moves away from an individualistic approach to data ownership, use and sharing, presenting a paradigm shift from the current extractive model which leaves data subjects largely powerless regarding meaningful control over their own data.

As part of a bigger discussion around use of data for societal sustainability, Kuch and colleagues argue that individuals and collectives should have access to the data about the energy they produce and consume (e.g. solar) to hasten take-up and implementation of sustainable energy in a sustainable, communal way. This also relates to principle 2 above as regards to communal data sharing and community participation in decision-making and governance.

Principle #3 Individuals and collectives should have access to their own data to promote sustainable, communal living.

Data for empowering citizens

The second set of principles we consider concern methods for empowering citizens against governments and corporations that use data for social control and to perpetuate structural inequalities. Poletti and Gray suggest that Good Data can be used to critique power dynamics associated with the use of data, and with a focus on economic and technological environments in which they are generated.

Principle #4 Good data reveals and challenges the political and economic order.

Good Data can also improve the landscape for citizens vis-à-vis governments and corporations. One example can be found in Ritsema van Eck’s chapter where he argues that data in smart cities needs to undergo Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) to identify risks at an early stage. These should be consultative so that representatives of local (disadvantaged) groups and citizen groups can proactively shape the environments in which they live. Valencia and Restrepo also argue for citizen-led data initiatives to produce bottom-up smart cities instead of top-down controlled environments. Taken together and at a higher level of abstraction, our fifth principle is that inclusive and citizen-led social data practices empower citizens, encompassing Good Data process and Good Data outcomes.

Principle #5 Citizen led data initiatives lead to empowered citizens.

Ozalp, among many other authors including ourselves, argues for strong information security to support citizen activism to produce good democracies using the case study of the ByLock persecutions in Turkey. In this way, Good Data can contribute to achieving broader societal goals such as good democracy.

Principle #6 Strong information security, online anonymity and encryption tools are integral to a good democracy.

Open data is also a Good Data way of empowering citizens. Gray and Lämmerhirt examined how the Open Data Index (ODI) influences participation and data politics, comparing indexes to the political mobilization afforded by rallies, petitions and hashtags.

Principle #7 Open data enables citizen activism and empowerment.

Good Data does not have to be perfect data though. Gutiérrez advocates for ‘good enough data’ to progress social justice issues, i.e. the provision of sufficient data to sustain ongoing legal investigations while deficits are acknowledged (see her blog post on this).

Principle #8 Social activism must proceed with ‘good enough data’ to promote the use of data by citizens to impose political pressure for social ends.

Data for Justice

The third set of principles specifically relate to how data intersects with various conceptions of justice. Bosua and colleagues argue that users should be able to exert greater control over the collection, storage and use of their personal data. Personal data empowerment can be achieved through design that make data flows more transparent to users.

Principle #9 Users must be able to understand and control their personal data.

Societal changes from reliance on connected devices within groups is examined by Flintham and colleagues research on interpersonal data. They note specific issues that arise when personal information is shared with other members and has consequences for the ongoing relationships in intimate groups.

Principle #10: Data driven technologies must respect interpersonal relationships (i.e. data is relational).

As regards to genomic data Arnold and Bonython argue data collection and use must embody respect for human dignity which ought to manifest, for instance, in truly consensual, fair and transparent data collection and use. This also relates to sovereignty and control over data – whether individual or group.

Principle #11 Data collection and use must be consensual, fair and transparent.

McNamara and colleagues examined algorithmic bias in recidivism prediction methods with the objective of identifying and rectifying racial bias perpetuated in the criminal justice system. In doing so they argue that criterions and meanings of ‘fairness’ (and by extension other values) attributed to data or that are adopted in models should be explicit. What looks ‘fair’ or ‘just’ to a computer scientist looks different to a philosopher or a criminologist – that is, there are subjective meanings of ‘goodness’, and these should be explicit to enable evaluation.

Principle #12 Measures of ‘fairness’ and other values attributed to data should be explicit.          

Good data practices

Trenham and Steer set out a series of ‘Good Data’ questions that data producers and consumers should ask, constituting three principles which can be used to guide data collection, storage, and re-use, including:

Principle #13 Data should be usable and fit for purpose.

Principle #14 Data should respect human rights and the natural world.

Data collection structures, processes and tools must be considered against potential human rights violations and impacts on the natural world, including environmental (e.g. the energy impacts of mining cryptocurrencies).

Principle #15 Good data should be published, revisable and form useful social capital where appropriate to do so.

Good data should be open to enable the data activism and the communal data sharing practices outlined above unless there are ethical reasons to withhold this information. We acknowledge the tension between open data and misuse of this data by institutions, corporations and governments to protect and retain power. Principle #6 defends security and encryption and principle #9 ensures individual’s rights to their own data that must be considered aligned with and the broader goal of communal data practices discussed throughout.

In sum, Good Data must be orchestrated and mediated by and for data subjects (Principle 1), including communal sharing for community decision-making and self-governance (Principle 2, 3). Good Data should be collected with respect to humans and their rights and the natural world (Principle 14). It is usable and fit for purpose (Principle 13); consensual, fair and transparent (Principle 9, 11 & 12), and must respect interpersonal relationships (Principle 10). Good data reveals and challenges the existing political and economic order (Principle 3) so that data empowered citizens can secure a good democracy (Principle 5, 6, 7, 8). Dependent on context, and with reasonable exceptions, Good Data should be open / published, revisable and form useful social capital (Principle 15).

We look forward to launching the Good Data book which includes the contributions we have drawn on above, and more, in late January 2019. Join us at our book launch on 24 January 2019 at Spui 25 in Amsterdam.



Forthcoming Good Data Chapters in A Daly, SK Devitt & M Mann (eds), Good Data. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Arnold, B. & Bonython, W. (2019). Not as Good as Gold? Genomics, Data and Dignity.

Bosua, R., Clark, K., Richardson, M. & Webb, J. (2019). Intelligent Warming Systems: ‘Technological Nudges’ to Enhance User Control of IoT Data Collection, Storage and Use.

Flintham, M., Goulden, M., Price, D., & Urquhart, L. (2019). Domesticating Data: Socio-Legal Perspectives on Smart Homes and Good Data Design.

Gray, D. & Lämmerhirt, D. Making Data Public? The Open Data Index as Participatory Device.

Gutierrez, M. (2019). The Good, the Bad and the Beauty of ‘Good Enough Data’.

Ho, CH. & Chuang, TR. (2019). Governance of Communal Data Sharing.

Kuch, D., Stringer, N., Marshall, L., Young, S., Roberts, M., MacGill, I., Bruce, A., & Passey, R. (2019). An  Energy  Data  Manifesto.

Lovett, R., Lee, V., Kukutai, T., Cormack, D., Carroll Rainie, S., & Walker, J. (2019). Good data practices for Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Governance.

Poletti, C. & Gray, D. (2019). Good Data is Critical Data: An Appeal for Critical Digital Studies.

Ritsema van Eck, G. (2019). Algorithmic Mapmaking in ‘Smart Cities’: Data Protection Impact Assessments as a means of Protection for Groups.

Trenham, C. & Steer, A. (2019). The Good Data Manifesto.

Valencia, JC. & Restrepo, P. (2019). Truly Smart Cities. Buen Conocer, Digital Activism and Urban Agroecology in Colombia.

SO! Amplifies: Phantom Power

SO! Amplifies. . .a highly-curated, rolling mini-post series by which we editors hip you to cultural makers and organizations doing work we really really dig.  You’re welcome!

Phantom Power is an aural exploration of the sonic arts and humanities, that launched in March 2018 with Episode 1: Dead Air (John Biguenet and Rodrigo Toscano) Hosted by poet + media artist cris cheek and sound + media scholar Mack Hagood, this podcast explores the sounds and ideas of artists, technologists, producers, composers, ethnographers, historians, cultural scholars, philosophers, and others working in sound.  Because Phantom Power is about to kick off its second season on February 1, 2019, we thought we’d dig a little deeper into who they are and who they’d like to reach with their good vibrations.

Funded through a generous grant from the Miami University Humanities Center and The National Endowment for the Humanities, Phantom Power was created with the goal of bringing together three important streams of conversation in the humanities

(1) diverse and interdisciplinary scholarly pursuits, taking place under the umbrella of “sound studies,” that analyze and critique the sonic entanglements and practices of human beings;

(2) experimental aesthetic practices that use sound as a medium and inspiration to expand the boundaries of art, music, and poetry;

and (3) the nascent use of podcasting as a mode of scholarship, intra-/interdisciplinary communication, and public outreach.

The public-facing podcast draws on the extensive radio experience of co-host cris cheek, creator of Music of Madagascar, made for BBC Radio 3 in 1994, which won the SONY GOLD AWARD, Specialist Music Program of the Year. In 1998 he made crowding, a three and a half hour live-streamed webcast of largely improvised speech and sound events, commissioned as part of Torkradio from by Junction Multimedia in Cambridge. In 2004, cheek was part of the BBC series Between the Ears, on the subject of speaking in tongues, in conversation with the artist and film-director Steve McQueen, exploring the boundaries of vocal expression with actress Billie Whitelaw, and linguistics professor William Samarin. cheek appears in the first episode talking about the many contradictory experiences of “dead air” in an age of changing media technologies.

Phantom Power also alchemizes the scholarship of co-host Mack Hagood (see Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control forthcoming in March 2019 from Duke University Press and his 2012 SO! post Listening to Tinnitus: Roles of Media When Hearing Breaks Down”) as well as his audio production background as a musician, producer, and radio DJ—skills he has long incorporated into his scholarship and teaching. At Indiana University, for example, he and his  students and won the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists’ 2012 Best Radio Use of Sound award for our documentary series “I-69: Sounds and Stories in the Path of a Superhighway.”  The first episode even featured music by Hagood and by Graeme Gibson, who was touring on drums with Michael Nau and the Mighty Thread at the time. Additional sound is by Cl0v3n.

“We spend a lot of time on the production aspects of this podcast,” says Hagood, “because we want it to be a sonic and affective experience, not just an intellectual one. Many of us in sound studies have complained that we always find ourselves writing about sound. Phantom Power is our attempt to treat sound not only as an object of study, but also a means of understanding and feeling sound scholarship. This makes our show very different from most academic podcasts, which are usually lo-fi discussions between scholars about recent books. We love that kind of podcast but we build upon it by using narrative, sound design, and music to tell a compelling story that we hope will appeal to the public and sound specialists alike.”

In addition to their exploration of “dead air,” Phantom Power’s inaugural season included longform interviews with urban scholar Shannon Mattern (Episode 2, “City of Voices”), sound artist Brian House (Episode 3, “Dirty Rat”), Australia-based sound composer, media artist and curator Lawrence English (Episode 4, “On Listening In” ), and with scholar and SO! ed Jennifer Stoever (Episode 5, “Ears Racing”).  The final two episodes explored what “the future will sound like” on World Listening Day (July 18th) [Episode 6: Data Streams (Leah Barclay and Teresa Barrozo) and featured Houston’s SLAB car culture [Episode 7: Screwed & Chopped (Langston Collin Wilkins)].

 “I’m super excited about Season Two,” says Hagood. “Our opener stars one of my favorite sound scholars, NYU’s Mara Mills. It also uses one of my favorite formats that cris and I have developed, where one of us brings in some crazy sounds for the other to listen and react to, then we gradually develop the backstory to the sounds through our guest’s words, eventually landing on the sonic and cultural implications of it all. It’s like a fun mystery, where one co-host acts as guide and the other gets to stand in for the listener—reacting, laughing, and questioning.”

When Phantom Power returns next month, other new entries will feature cheek’s interviews with Charles Hayward of legendary experimental rock band This Heat and poet Caroline Bergvall, whose work has been commissioned by such institutions as MoMA and the Tate Modern. “I interview amazing sound scholars, but I’m a bit star struck by some of the musicians, sound artists, and poets cris interviews!” says Hagood.

You can access Phantom Power and subscribe on a plethora of outlets: itunes, android, stitcher, google podcasts, and/or by email.


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