The Political Theory of Data: Institutions, Algorithms, & Formats in Racial Redlining

Political Theory 50 (2):337-361 (2022)
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Abstract

Despite widespread recognition of an emergent politics of data in our midst, we strikingly lack a political theory of data. We readily acknowledge the presence of data across our political lives, but we often do not know how to conceptualize the politics of all those data points—the forms of power they constitute and the kinds of political subjects they implicate. Recent work in numerous academic disciplines is evidence of the first steps toward a political theory of data. This article maps some limits of this emergent literature with an eye to enriching its theoretical range. The literature on data politics, both within political theory and elsewhere, has thus far focused almost exclusively on the algorithm. This article locates a further dimension of data politics in the work of formatting technology or, more simply, formats. Formats are simultaneously conceptual and technical in the ways they define what can even count as data, and by extension who can count as data and how they can count. A focus on formats is of theoretical value because it provides a bridge between work on the conceptual contours of categories and the technology-centric literature on algorithms that tends to ignore the more conceptual dimensions of data technology. The political insight enabled by format theory is shown in the context of an extended interrogation of the politics of racialized redlining.

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Colin Koopman
University of Oregon

References found in this work

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The Imperative of Integration.Elizabeth Anderson - 2010 - Princeton University Press.
The taming of chance.Ian Hacking - 1990 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Do artifacts have politics?Langdon Winner - 1980 - Daedalus 109 (1):121--136.

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