Beyond Data Bodies: New Directions for a Feminist Theory of Data Sovereignty

A global market in menstrual apps illustrates a new datafied regime of governmentality that erodes personal autonomy. Emphasizing that bodily sovereignty is integral to data sovereignty, feminist intervention has sought to tackle such violations of personhood by putting bodies back into data governance debates. The 24th working paper of the Data Governance Network by Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami demonstrates that such an approach may not be adequate to challenge the relations of domination encoded in data. It argues that what is needed, instead, is a shift in focus from reclaiming the materiality of embodiment to restructuring the material relations of data as a social knowledge commons. Centering a feminist relational ontology and ethics, the paper offers some concrete directions for collective social control over the health data commons. It shows how, in the final analysis, equality of autonomy in the datafied social is predicated on an expanded idea of data sovereignty – one that promotes the public commons of social knowledge, even as it strives to prevent incursions into the private space.

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