Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 45 (2020) 77–79  ©2020 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation 

Special Section: Data Power – Two


Tracey P. Lauriault & Merlyna Lim, Carleton University

Tracey P. Lauriault is Assistant Professor of Critical Media and Big Data in the School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University. Email:  Merlyna Lim  is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Digital Media and Global Network Society in the School of Journalism and Communication.  Email:

We are pleased to publish the final six articles of a two-part series on data power. Following the first series, “Data Power – Two” also focuses on critical questions and reflections on the social and political consequences of data, particularly in large database systems. The editors of this special section, Tracey P. Lauriault and Merlyna Lim, hosted the Data Power 2017 Conference in Ottawa.1

“Data Power – One” (Lauriault & Lim, 2019) included an article by Monika Halkort (2019) about “Decolonizing Data Relations: On the Moral Economy of Data-Sharing in Palestinian Refugee Camps,” an article by Kathy Dobson (2019) on the topic ofWelfare Fraud 2.0? Using Big Data to Surveil, Stigmatize, and Criminalize the Poor,” an article by Carlos Barreneche (2019) about “Data Corruption: The Institutional Cultures of Data Collection—the Case of a Crime-Mapping System in Latin America,” and an article by Sophie Toupin (2019)entitled “‘Hacking in’ Wikipedia Zero in Angola.” The issue ended with Lindsay Poirier’s (2019)article on “Classification as Catachresis: Double Binds of Representing Difference with Semiotic Infrastructure.” 

“Data Power –Two” starts with an article by Helena Machado and Rafaela Granja; they utilized a case study on “DNA Transnational Data Journeys and the Construction of Categories of Suspicion” to examine the exchange of biometric facts in the European Union’s large-scale transnational Prüm system. They identify the interplay between governance, surveillance, and the social control of criminality in different parts of the world by following DNA data journeys in these interconnected databases and demonstrate how categories of suspicion are constructed. Furthermore, they show how supranational and national conceptions of data ownership articulate data power and discuss the societal implications of datafication and data justice issues.

“What Counts as Police Violence? A Case Study of Data in CATO’s Police Misconduct” by Anna Feigenbaum and Dan G. B. Weissmann presents a case study about the role of data in the California Association of Tactical Officers (CATO) misconduct reporting project. The authors reflect on what counts as police violence, arguing that a clearer sense of the traumatic cycle of policing can only be gleaned by comparing data on acts of violence that occur when an officer is on duty and off-duty, and that do or do not involve a firearm. They suggest that reading these data requires situating them in the broader practices of “copwatching” and broader definitions of what counts as “violence.”

Joanna Redden, in her article on “Predictive Analytics and Child Welfare: Toward Data Justice,” examines a range of risks and concerns that come with the hurried adoption of predictive analytics in child welfare systems. She suggests there is a need for greater critical reflection by those who adopt and operationalize these systems and calls for more public scrutiny regarding the implications of automation in the social sector.

Lianrui Jia addresses data power by focusing on the recalibration and re-articulation of power between the state, the market, and the public in “Unpacking China’s Social Credit System: Informatization, Regulatory Framework, and Market Dynamics.” Jia’s data power case study provides an historical and contextualized understanding of China’s social credit score, which, she argues, is interrelated with big data developments. Further, she also discusses the implications of these developments for the globalizing Chinese internet, related technology companies, and the Chinese public.

In their article on “Framing Policy Visions of Big Data in Emerging States,” Laura Mahrenbach and Katja Mayer discuss their assessment of the big data visions of emerging states, specifically Brazil, India, and China (collectively known as the BICs). They demonstrate that BIC governments frame data-driven ambitions in relation to the diverse issue areas in which they plan to use big data and to recast the role of government and citizen. Their observations point to the need for a more nuanced assessment of political communication and rationalization of big data to better understand how this form of data power disrupts and preserves existing political processes and relationships.

In the last article,“Technoliberalism in Iceland: The Fog of Information Infrastructure,”Julian von Bargen and Adam Fish examine the work of data activists who wanted to make post-financial crisis Iceland a global “data haven.” This advocacy fell short, they argue, because efforts focused solely on the moral argument of data equity and failed to address the inequities in the materiality of the communication infrastructure. To achieve data justice in Iceland, they suggest, also requires addressing infrastructural inequality and the data power of the political economy of the internet, its material infrastructure, geography, and the nation state.

Together, these six articles critically examine unique cases of data power within and between nation states and regions, and in a global context. They demonstrate how data are inseparable from the infrastructure and institutions that produce them, and how the proximity between state and corporate actors in data systems makes it difficult to identify who governors what. These articles also generate insights into how databases produce knowledge and shape people, and the implications these datafication processes have socially and materially. Each article calls for a critical reading of data, database actions, and large-scale economic and political framings.

We hope that the eleven articles of this two-part Data Power series generate new insight and provide useful case studies about inequality and about large and small, but interconnected, social and technological data systems.


The authors would like to thank Carleton University, including the Faculty of Public Affairs, the School of Journalism and Communication, MacOdrum Library, the Carleton Institute for Data Science (CUIDS), and the Carleton Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice for their generous support in funding Data Power 2017. The authors would also like to acknowledge the individual research grant contributions from Tracey P. Lauriault and Jeffrey Monahan of Carleton University, and from Merlyna Lim’s Canada Research Chair Grant.


  1. The first conference was held in 2015 in Sheffield and was hosted by its founders Helen Kennedy, Jo Bates, and Ysabel Gerrard. The Data Power 2019 conference on Global in/securities was hosted by ZeMKI the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research at the University of Bremen in cooperation with Carleton University (Canada) and the University of Sheffield (U.K.). The Bremen Conference was inspired in part by some articles in these two special issues and the 2017 conference.


Lauriault, Tracey P., & Lim, Merlyna. (2019). Special section: Data power introduction. Canadian Journal of Communication, 44(3), 315–316.

Barreneche, Carlos. (2019). Data corruption: The institutional cultures of data collection and the case of a crime-mapping system in Latin America. Canadian Journal of Communication, 44(3), 343–350.

Dobson, Kathy. (2019). Welfare fraud 2.0? Using big data to stigmatize and criminalize the poor. Canadian Journal of Communication, 44(3), 331–342.

Halkort, Monika. (2019). Decolonizing data relations: On the moral economy of data sharing in Palestinian refugee camps. Canadian Journal of Communication, 44(3), 317–329.

Poirier, Lindsay. (2019). Classification as Catachresis: Double Binds of Poirier, Lindsay. (2019). Classification as catachresis: Double binds of representing difference with semiotic infrastructure. Canadian Journal of Communication, 44(3), 361–371.

Toupin, Sophie. (2019). “‘Hacking in” Wikipedia zero in Angola. Canadian Journal of Communication, 44(3), 351–359.