Metaphors for Data and the Unshackling of Digital Power Asymmetries

In the last few years, data has been likened, aside from the hackneyed comparison to ‘oil’, to any number of tangible entities such as mineral deposits, dividend deposits, and even the Alaskan Permanent Fund. Metaphors as a tool could re-entrench existing power asymmetries or resist them, depending on how they impact and influence our understanding of data. This research attempts to address two key questions: How does a regulatory metaphor protect the human rights and dignity of individuals and communities? Second, how does a regulatory metaphor help unshackle existing power asymmetries in the global political economy of data?

The paper begins with a section explaining why a study of metaphors is so critical to understanding and evaluating regulatory regimes. The authors then unpack the existing state of the global digital-political economy, and then move on to evaluating clusters of metaphors. First, they evaluate metaphors of autonomy, then metaphors of ownership, and finally, end with a section on alternate metaphors of control relevant for private actors and nation-states.

This paper is part of IT for Change's 'Unskewing the Data Value Chain' project.

Read the complete paper here.

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