Numbers Will Not Save Us: Agonistic Data Practices

Crooks, Roderic; Currie, Morgan
The Information Society

Contemporary forms of data activism promise community organizers the means to pursue political action, but they simultaneously threaten to responsibilize individuals and communities for documenting collective harms that are already known to the state. In this article, we use Mouffe’s articulation of agonistic pluralism to analyze recent literature on data activism in terms of this double bind, the threat that authentic community voice might be muted when data is used for activist purposes. We argue that community organizers navigate this double bind through agonistic data practices, tactics which draw on the affective and narrative potentialities of data to dispute the terms by which majoritarian political agents rationalize their actions and direct policy. Agonistic data practices do not presume that data will lead to more equitable consensus in representative government or to a more rational debate in the public sphere; instead, agonistic data practices mobilize the antagonisms that motivate people to act, to imagine alternative political arrangements, and to contribute to long-term collective action. We conclude by mapping out a research agenda that focuses on agonistic data practices enacted in minoritized communities in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.