Data Luddism

The notion of Data Luddism acts as a historically-grounded lens through which to assess both the emergence of data as productive power and the significance of forms of resistance. Data Luddism asks how control, discrimination, and social sorting may lead to a broader reconfiguration of social relationships that parallel in scope and significance the shift from artisan to factory labour. These shifts include a consequential loss of agency by sections of the population and the establishment of unaccountable powers. Drawing on scholarship that reframes Luddism as an enacted critique of socio-technical consequences, I examine contemporary forms. At the same time I explore the absence of popular mobilisation in the face of negative data consequences, to ask - why there are no angry crowds outside Facebook data centers?

Taking machinery as a central figure, Data Luddism anchors the consequences of data power in the materiality of technology. At the same time it motivates a reading of the technology in the light of broader social, economic and political conditions. The era of Luddism was the period of the Napoleonic Wars, an era also marked by harsh austerity, external conflict and apocalyptic social threats. To conclude, I will engage in speculative reading of history to ask what might have been possible if the Luddites had been in a position to hack the technology of their time, as a way to surface the real if not actual potential of a different kind of data power.