PhD Thesis proposal

Is Big Data Shaping Democracy? A Critical Account.

Supervisor/s: José Manuel Mendes

Doctoral Programme: Post-Colonialisms and Global Citizenship

Funding: FCT

The access and the control of information has been transforming citizenship. Democracies are facing new claims since political will is now expressed at several different stances in times of networked communication. New possibilities imply converse standings that must be considered. The age of data deluge is rearranging the concept of power elsewhere, as democracies are challenged by the upsurge in technology, but especially because greater social control may be assumed by small cohorts at a transnational level. Information and numbers and particular remain important since they work as a unique type of cartography, being able to represent reality in one hand, as to assemble or construct particular realities on the other hand. Quantitative data and statistics in particular represent simultaneously a recurrent tool for deconstruction as public discussions requires, first of all, informed reasoning. The novelty of present days is given by the unparalleled flow of unstructured data that requires proper assessment for consequences and magnitude.

This research project therefore intends to explore how citizenship and human rights may be threatened and jeopardized in this age of big data and overconfidence in information. A critical stance is required in order to verify whether a new approach towards neo-colonialist political rule is being exerted under the guise of data science inside the new digital economy. For that, it may be important to evaluate the role assumed by transnational organizations in global governance and in global political action. In addition, it will be important to identify or foresee alternatives in the production, control and retention of information under an emancipating framework, capable of fostering citizenship and democracy.