Objectivity vs affect: how competing forms of legitimacy can polarize public debate in data-driven public consultation

Paper by Alison Powell: “How do data and objectivity become politicized? How do processes intended to include citizen voices instead push them into social media that intensify negative expression? This paper examines the possibility and limits of ‘agonistic data practices’ (Crooks & Currie, 2021) examining how data-driven consultation practices create competing forms of legitimacy for quantifiable knowledge and affective lived experience. Drawing on a two-year study of a private Facebook group self-presenting as a supportive space for working-class people critical of the development of ‘low-traffic neighbourhoods’ (LTNs), the paper reveals how the dynamics of ‘affective polarization’ associated the use of data with elite and exclusionary politics. Participants addressed this by framing their online contributions as ‘vernacular data’ and also by associating numerical data with exclusion and inequality. Over time the strong statements of feeling began to support content of a conspiratorial nature, reflected at the social level of discourse in the broader media environment where stories of strong feeling gain legitimacy in right-wing sources. The paper concludes that ideologies of dataism and practices of datafication may create conditions for political extremism to develop when the potential conditions of ‘agonistic data practices’ are not met, and that consultation processes must avoid overly valorizing data and calculable knowledge if they wish to retain democratic accountability…(More)”.

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