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Critical Data Practices: Remaking Data Archives, Subjects and Technologies

This symposium foregrounds Critical Data Practices to interrogate the ways in which data are collected, analysed, generated, archived, reused and disposed of, and to emphasize how data can be practiced through critical methods. With keynotes by Prof. Annalisa Pelizza, and Dr Nanna Thylstrup, and invited guest, this day-event will extend the framework of Critical Data Studies to consider data in practice, and processes that are at the core of governance of people, artifacts and natural phenomena.

Info about event


Tuesday 4 June 2024,  at 09:30 - 18:30


Langelandsgade 145, Building 1584, room 212 8000 Aarhus C

Extending the framework of Critical Data Studies, this symposium foregrounds Critical Data Practices to interrogate the ways in which data are collected, analysed, generated, archived, reused and disposed of, and to emphasize how data can be practiced through critical methods. 

Data processes are at the core of governance of people, artifacts and natural phenomena and therefore require novel interdisciplinary inquiry that productively queries the challenges that emerge across these various domains. Critical data practices wish to account for histories of data collections, including colonial practices, conditions of climate change, ethical challenges, and social, legal and regulatory concerns that emerge from the currents of digital transformations at all levels. Driving this is the recognition that data is both: 1) an active agent and material in production and representation of knowledge, governance of societies and individuals, and, as such 2) that data is practised in complex ecologies of people, artifacts, machines, software and natural phenomena. We see data as generative of relations that complicate object/subject separation while establishing new ones.

Simultaneously, Critical Data Practices move beyond normative approaches to data that assume what data is and what it can do, to instead question and shift the terms of its certainty towards ambiguity and material and interpretative complexity. Critical Data Practices push for other conceptions of data (or ‘capta’) that strive to make room for embodiment, unknowing, loss,  friction and other dimensions that data processes do not easily accommodate. 

This one-day symposium, which marks the launch of the Center for Critical Data Practices at the School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University, will engage with these questions by looking at data processes that inform contemporary practices of curation as data management, and governance and management of people. The symposium features different projects and approaches bridging critical data studies, software studies, STS and artistic research.

The symposium is jointly organised by the Centre’s directors Magdalena Tyżlik-Carver, Daniela Agostinho, Midas Nouwens, Pablo Velasco and Jussi Parikka, with support from the Research Programme Cultures and Practices of Digital Technologies and the Center for the Study of Technological, Emerging, and Ethical Methods. 


9:30 – 9:45 Introduction: Magdalena Tyżlik-Carver, Daniela Agostinho, Midas Nouwens

9:45 – 11:15 Keynote 1:  Scripts of Alterity: How Data Schemas Enact People on the Move as Irregular Subjects at the European Borders

Annalisa Pelizza Professor of Science and Technology Studies Aarhus University (DK), and University of Bolognia (IT)

Drawing on the early STS notion of “script”, my lecture will investigate the types of knowledge produced about people on the move by the European border security apparatus. I suggest, first, that analyzing classification schemas implemented in data systems used at the European borders can reveal assumptions and limitations about people on the move—what I call “scripts of alterity.” Second, I identify four scripts of alterity, which materialize relations in data systems and are thus relatively stabilized. Third, I identify as “de-inscriptions” forms of resistance specific to scripts of alterity. These can still be contested and I account for three contingent practices of de-inscription from scripts of alterity identified by ethnographic observation of data systems’ use.

(chaired by Magdalena Tyżlik-Carver)

11:15 – 11:35 Break 

11:35 – 13:00 Panel 1: Data Subjects at the Borders 

Moderator: Midas Nouwens

In this panel/round-table conversation, we will discuss the data imaginaries of European borders, how people are datafied as they move across those borders, and different real-world situations where this data is used to reject or accept requests to enter the land. Mahmoud Ismail will talk about the history and experience of Palestinian borders, Nanna Dahler will share her empirical work on age assessments of young asylum seekers and Sophie Kloos will discuss her work running a volunteer network to do country of origin research.


Mahmoud Ismail

Sophie Kloos (Asylos, country of origin research volunteer network, Amsterdam)

Nanna Dahler (Department of Gender Studies, Lund University) 

13:00 14:00 Lunch 

14:00 – 15:30 Panel 2 – Troubling the Lifecycles of Data

Moderators: Daniela Agostinho and Magdalena Tyżlik-Carver

Left and found wanting, some speculations about the digital image in the archival condition.

Nicolas Malevé (Department of Aesthetics and Culture, Aarhus University) 

The point of departure of the talk is a project initiated in 2013 by the Active Archives collective (Michael Murtaugh and Nicolas Malevé) that explored the trail of documents obsessively accumulated by Erkki Kurenniemi, pioneering electro acoustic musician and inventor of early synthesizers. Kurenniemi documented his life but not archived it in any traditional sense, and didn’t develop a systematic model for what he called a template for all human life. In his profound techno-enthusiasm, he relied on future quantum computers to make sense of it all. The project Erkki Kurenniemi (in 2048) started shortly after a stroke interrupted Kurenniemi’s frantic data capture activities. Using a set of techniques that pre-dated the current deep learning paradigm, the Active Archives collective interrogated diverse collections of images and data scattered over hard drives and usb keys. As Kurenniemi’s archive contained a considerable amount of sexually explicit material, the archival experiment had also to navigate the complex lines of representation and consent. Following on W.J.T. Mitchell’s famous provocation that asked in which ways images can be said to want something, the talk will reflect on the ways in which Kurenniemi’s trail of documents, between archive and dataset, can be addressed as a site of divergent agencies that lack and want something rather than show and represent. Through the lens of this project, the talk will conclude by speculating on some of the normative assumptions embedded in critical AI methodologies.

Leaking Lands: The Aftermath of Cultural Data as a Site for Artistic Intervention 

Ofri Cnaani (artist and researcher, TU Wien)

In September 2018, a fatal fire brought to an end two centuries’ worth of treasures in Brazil’s national museum, leaving behind almost no digital traces, except for user-contributed content collection and Google virtual tour, where one can easily visit the no-longer existing museum.  

The talk will examine the complex case through the conceptual prism of ‘afterness.’ Afterness critically engages with the state of incompletion that follows the dissolution of an institutional site. It questions how, in the collapse of spatial infrastructure, the original orders and relations that shaped and conditioned its existence live on, mutate into new forms, or multiply within emerging socio-technical systems and arenas. The talk discusses several practice-based methodologies that trouble the afterlife of cultural data by approaching it as a site for artistic intervention that can potentially represent knowledge based on continuity of transformation between technical systems, matter formations, and biological life forms.  

15:30 – 15:45 BREAK

15:45 - 17:15 Keynote 2: Data Loss: the Politics of Disappearance, Destruction, and Dispossession in Digital Societies

Nanna Bonde Thylstrup Associate Professor (Promotion Program) in Modern and Digital Culture, Copenhagen University

(chaired by Daniela Agostinho)

Challenging mainstream assertions that digital societies ‘do not forget,’ this talk explores the multiple politics of digital data loss. It posits that data loss is not an anomaly but an integral part of digital data. I unpack this argument by examining how data loss manifests materially, politically, and culturally. More specifically, I present a conceptual framework around loss to address questions such as: What does it mean for digital data to ‘disappear’? How do digital infrastructures create new everyday practices of data destruction? And do communities of dispossesion form around data platforms? These questions are explored not only as empirical puzzles but also as ethical concerns. Engaging with Daniela Agostinho’s work on archival encounters, then, the talk concludes with reflections on the ethico-political implications of researching data loss.

17:15-17:30 Closing remarks  

17:30 – 18:30 Reception


Annalisa Pelizza is full professor of science and technology studies (STS) at Aarhus University,  department of Digital Design and Information Studies, and at the University of Bologna, department of philosophy. She is vice president of STS Italia, member of the Editorial Board of Science, Technology & Human Values, member of the International Advisory Board of Tecnoscienza. Her research interests span governance of and by data infrastructures; long-term transformations in modern institutions often unnoticed and hidden in technical minutiae; sociotechnical aspects of data infrastructures, including ontologies and interoperability; social informatics and its methods. Prof. Pelizza has been the recipient of excellence science grants, including two Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the Processing Citizenship research project funded by the European Research Council.

Nanna Dahler is a Ph.D. candidate in Gender Studies at Lund University. Her research is about forced adoptions as child welfare policy in Denmark. She holds a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in anthropology from University of Copenhagen and has written on biometrics as imperialism, and incarceration of migrants in Denmark.

Sophie Kloos is a migration and justice advisor working at the intersection of research and policymaking. Between 2017 and 2024, she served as the Director of Asylos, a global NGO that produces and reviews Country of Origin Information research for asylum procedures. Prior to that, she worked with the UNDP and UNITAR as project manager in migration and development.

Nicolas Malevé is an artist, programmer and data activist. He is currently a postdoc researcher at the School of Communication and Culture at Aarhus University, supported by a grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation (NNF21OC0068539). His work explores various modes of intervention in the politics and aesthetics of computer vision.

Ofri Cnaani is an artist and researcher. Cnaani writes about data and coloniality, institutional practices in the algorithmic turn, and performance as a model to create critical technology. She is a visiting professor at the Institute of Visual Culture, TU Wien, Austria, and a research fellow at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) at the University of Amsterdam. She teaches at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, Shenkar College, and Tel Aviv University. Cnaani’s work appeared at Tate Britain, UK; Venice Architecture Biennale; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Inhotim Institute, Brazil; PS1/MoMA, NYC; BMW Guggenheim Lab, NYC; and Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, among others. She is the co-organizer of ‘Choreographic Devices’, an annual chorographic symposium at ICA, London, and recently completed a project at the International Space Station.

Nanna Bonde Thylstrup is Associate Professor on the Promotion Programme in Modern and Digital Culture at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen. She is PI of Data Loss: The Politics of Disappearance, Destruction and Dispossession in Digital Societies (DALOSS) funded by the European Research Council. In addition, she leads the Digital Culture Research Cluster at Copenhagen University. Her research and teaching focuses on the politics and ethics of data, machine learning and digital infrastructures. She is particularly interested in how digitization and algorithmic processes are changing how we encounter, govern and practice knowledge infrastructures, and the political and ethical dimensions of these changes. Thylstrup is the author and editor of several books, including Uncertain Archives: Critical Keywords for Big Data (MIT Press, 2021), (W)ARCHIVES: Archival Imaginaries, War, and Contemporary Art (Sternberg Press 2021), and The Politics of Mass Digitization (MIT Press, 2019). She is also editorial board member of a new flagship open access series on Artificial Intelligence in Culture and Society with Cambridge University Press. She has consulted for a number of cultural heritage organisations, governments and NGOs on issues related to digitization and emerging technologies, including the Danish National Archives, The Danish Royal Library, Bodleian Libraries and DanChurchAid.

Daniela Agostinho (she/her) is Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Digital Design and Information Studies at Aarhus University, where she is co-director of the Centre for Critical Data Practices, and of the Postcolonial Entanglements research unit. Her main areas of research and teaching are visual and digital culture, collaborative artistic research, critical data practices, and feminist and postcolonial studies. Her current work is concerned with ethics of digital archiving and curating digital images; reparative approaches to colonial archives; care and display of contested heritage; and artistic/practice-based responses to war and imperial histories.

Magdalena Tyżlik-Carver is Associate Professor of Digital Communication and Culture in the Dept. of Digital Design and Information Studies  and co-director of the Centre for Critical Data Practices, both at Aarhus University. Main areas of research and teaching are curating data, critical data practices/studies, network images, alternative data futures, trans*feminist practices, posthuman theory and new materialism, history of digital and network art. Her current work engages the concept of posthuman curating to inquire into computational and data cultures. Currently her focus is on the digital transformations in knowledge making practices driven by AI technologies, semantic web, and data infrastructures. As a curator and researcher she develops participatory methods for data practices beyond BigTech extractivism and expansive infrastructural politics by working with speculative methods and linked open data principles (Fermenting Data, common practice), as well as knowledge graphs, diagrams and guides (Curating Data).

Midas Nouwens is Associate Professor in the Department of Digital Design and Information Studies, as well as a Strategic Advisor at the Dutch Data Protection Authority. His main areas of interest are around questions of power and digital technology, digital rights and regulation, and theories of change. 

Pablo Velasco is Associate Professor at the department of Digital Design & Information Studies at the University of Aarhus, and co-PI at the SHAPE research center under the Digital Activism project. His research critically explores digital culture through its technical infrastructures and practices. He usually works with Digital Methods for Social Research, and is currently interested in the political and ontological implications of the use of automated computational techniques as well as decolonial practices of knowledge.