Playing with data and its consequences


  • Miren Gutiérrez University of Deusto
  • Stefania Milan University of Amsterdam



data activism, big data, data infrastructure, pioneering communities, movement outcomes, digital activism, critical data studies, social movement studies


The fundamental paradigm shift brought about by datafication alters how people participate as citizens on a daily basis. “Big data” has come to constitute a new terrain of engagement, which brings organized collective action, communicative practices and data infrastructure into a fruitful dialogue. While scholarship is progressively acknowledging the emergence of bottom-up data practices, to date no research has explored the influence of these practices on the activists themselves. Leveraging the disciplines of critical data and social movement studies, this paper explores “proactive data activism”, using, producing and/or appropriating data for social change, and examines its biographical, political, tactical and epistemological consequences. Approaching engagement with data as practice, this study focuses on the social contexts in which data are produced, consumed and circulated, and analyzes how tactics, skills and emotions of individuals evolve in interplay with data. Through content and co-occurrence analysis of semi-structured practitioner interviews (N=20), the article shows how the employment of data and data infrastructure in activism fundamentally transforms the way activists go about changing the world.

Author Biographies

Miren Gutiérrez, University of Deusto

Miren Gutierrez ( is director of the Expert Program on Data analysis research and communication at the University of Deusto (Spain), and a Research Associate at the Overseas Development Institute (UK) and DATACTIVE. She is the author of Data Activism and Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Her research interests include data activism, climate change and environmental

Stefania Milan, University of Amsterdam

Stefania Milan ( is Associate Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. She is the Principal Investigator of the DATACTIVE project (, exploring the politics of big data from the civil society perspective) and of the ALEX project (, investigating personalization algorithms), both funded by the European Research Council (grants 639379 and 825974). She is the author of Social Movements and Their Technologies: Wiring Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013/2016).




How to Cite

Gutiérrez, M., & Milan, S. (2019). Playing with data and its consequences. First Monday, 24(1).