Mirko Tobias Schäfer / Assistant Professor
University of Utrecht Department for Media and Culture Studies

Master class: Power &    
Participation in the Age of Big Data

The Datafication of the Public Sphere

Social media, such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, were initially developed to capitalize on targeted advertising and user data analysis. Deeply intertwined with traditional media and the so-called blogosphere, social media constitute a new arena for political debate. Deprived of traditional editorial control, they inherently blur the private and the public, emotional gut reaction and informed debate. The public sphere now effectively extends through networked media: new layers of social interaction and novel forms of civic participation, political campaign and debate, new distribution channels and new means of communication.

Most importantly, these platforms record every click users make, every comment users post, their every interaction. This 'datafication' constitutes a data layer, a quickly growing repository of all comments, posts and social interactions within social media, providing an unprecedented analytical basis for polling, campaigning, editing and governing. It also produces novel means for control and surveillance. This 'governmentality' renders social media into tightly monitored platforms contradicting the traditional understanding of civic participation in exchanging information and forming opinion.

Datafication and governmentality affect largely the possibilities for participation in the networked public sphere and as such they are a challenge for our future democracy. However, the working mechanisms of these platforms remain largely opaque. This masterclass responds to the challenge of opening the 'black box' of algorithmic governance and discusses the opportunities and limits of participation.

A Masterclass on Power and Participation

This masterclass discusses research proposals related to connected media, participation and governance. It aims at developing frameworks for conceptual and empirical understanding of the profound transformation that affects most aspects of everyday life through the emerging data practices. In an interdisciplinary effort we will revisit concepts of participation and discuss research methods for unraveling power asymmetries. We invite participants from (but not limited to) media studies, communication studies, urban planning, architecture, political sciences and the arts who are conducting research that touches upon issues of power, participation and governance. During the masterclass, participants will engage in discussing research projects and developing methods and theoretical concepts. Prior to the masterclass, participants will be provided with a syllabus and
reading list.

Research topics/interests could include: crowd control, urban planning and security, data journalism, citizen journalism, activism and media technology, surveillance, interventions in public space, critical media art, algorithms, interface design, information design, insurgence and counterinsurgence, terrorism and counter-terrorism, DIY drones, civic rights, information law, etc.

Symposium: The Datafication of the Public Sphere

This masterclass is part of the symposium “The Datafication of the Public Sphere", a transdisciplinary event on theory and practice of smartphone use and related digital tools. The symposion (May 07 - 09 May 2015) deals with the impact of rapidly diffusing, continuously and quickly changing processes of a society transforming through digitization. Which strategies of appropriation and subversion remain to foster the vision of an elucidated and democratic society? What are possible roles for art to play in this effort?

Together with the symposium, the AIL (Angewandte Innovation Lab) hosts the performative installation bastard_crowd_mobile. It revolves around the everyday use of smartphones. These gadgets rapidly diffuse on a global scale and support the datafication of the public sphere bei delivering data of all kind via their internet connections to social networks and service providers. Bastard_crowding is introducing an artistic practice for intervening locally in Europe as well as in Asia and Africa in order to make the ambiguity of technology visible and discuss media practices in local environments.

How to participate?

The masterclass takes place on may 08 and 09 2015 from 10 am until 1 pm. Participants receive a full pass for the entire symposium and are invited to actively participate in the other sessions.

The masterclass is limited to 12 participants. Candidates are required to apply with a brief letter of motivation and to attach a CV and a brief summary of their research projects or their research interest.

Deadline for application: 05. April; Notification of acceptance: 10 April.

Information on the master class instructor

Mirko Tobias Schäfer is an expert on participation and political debates on technology. He is Assistant Professor for New Media & Digital Culture at the University of Utrecht and principal investigator of the Utrecht Data School.

Mirko's research interest revolves around the socio-political impact of media technology. His publications cover user participation in cultural production, hacking communities, politics of software design and communication in social media. He is co-editor and co-author of the volume Digital Material. Tracing New Media in Everyday Life and Technology (Amsterdam University Press, 2009) and author of Bastard Culture! How User participation Transforms Cultural Production (Amsterdam University Press 2011). Mirko is a curator for the Centre for
Humanities-Impakt Festival Fellowship and co-curator of the Utrecht New Media Evening at Impakt. In 2012 and 2013 he was appointed research fellow at the Vienna University of Applied Arts, where he is affiliated with the Artistic Technology Research Lab. Mirko is a member of the advisory board of the media lab SETUP Utrecht and a postdoctoral research fellow at Utrecht University Centre for Humanities.

Time and Location

Symposium and performative installation: May: 7-9 2015

Franz Josefs Kai 3
1010 Vienna, Austria

Master class: May 8-9 2015
Deadline for applying for participation in the master class:
5 April 2015 by sending CV, motivation letter and summary of research project/interest to

Image: Neil Hester

Date March 2015 Category News

The symposium "The Datafication of the Public Sphere" at Angewandte Innovation Lab in Vienna provides the platform for a two day master class with Mirko Tobias Schäfer on possibilities and limits of civic participation.

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