The conference sets out from the idea that the public understanding of datafication is driven by discourses in the media and among policymakers and the imaginaries they evoke. The event invites us to look at what datafication is or should be for a variety of publics and speakers and how they discuss, criticize, or envision the collection and use of data at different places, speaking from different situations, and at different times.

Keynote (Minna Ruckenstein)

This talk mobilizes the notion of algorithmic folklore to delve into vernacular culture, encompassing beliefs and stories surrounding contemporary media technologies. While algorithmic folklore provides a lens to study the cultural life of algorithms, addressing historically rooted structures of thought and feeling, imaginaries, practices, and anticipations, it aids in resisting the urge to reduce people’s lives to mere landing zones for technologies. By introducing instability and complexity into discussions that often lean towards utopian and dystopian ends, algorithmic folklore opens up possibilities to rethink technological and political-economic aspects of algorithmic systems and to trace alternative collective futures and imaginaries. Attending to these alternatives allows for the consideration of concerns that are currently neglected, and facilitates the bridging of elements that may seem unbridgeable.

Minna Ruckenstein works as professor at the Consumer Society Research Centre. She directs The Datafied Life Collaboratory that studies processes of digitalization/datafication by highlighting emotional, social, political and economic aspects of current and emerging data practices. The disciplinary underpinnings of the work range from anthropology of technology, science and technology studies and communication to consumer economics.

Currently funded research projects focus on re-humanizing automated decision-making, algorithmic culture, and everyday engagements with algorithmic systems in Helsinki and in Shanghai and Hangzhou. Case studies in these projects deal with everyday and organizational aspects of datafication, in fields ranging from content moderation and advertising to digital health, insurance, and social work.

Some of this work is reported in the co-edited book Everyday Automation: Experiencing and anticipating emerging technologies (open access).


Conference Program

8:30 am


9:00 - 10:15 am

Algorithmic Folklore at the Edge of the Future
Minna Ruckenstein
University of Helsinki, Finland


10:15 - 10:25 am

I: Discourses of Datafication and AI (Chair: Charlotte Knorr)
10:30 am - 12:00 pm

I.1 Chasing the hype: AI Discourse in German Policy and Media
Laura Liebig
University of Bremen, Germany

I.2 Big Data Discourse in International Development
Michael Dokyum Kim
State University of New York at New Paltz, USA

I.3 Between ‘Stochastic Parrots’ and ‘Skynet’: Data Imaginaries in Popular Cultural Expressions on AI and Autonomous Technologies
Holger Pötzsch, Zoheb Mashiur, Melania Borit, Cornel Borit
UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Norway


12:15 - 12:55 pm

II: Contexts of Datafication (Chair: Christian Pentzold)
1:00 - 2:30 pm

II.1 Deceptive Stories about scale: Data-based health startups and the consequence of technology-driven innovation discourse
Alison Powell
London School of Economics and Political Science, UK

II.2 "It still tries to kill me, but less often." How Tesla Drivers Imagine Automation
Sebastian Pranz
Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, Germany

II.3 Domestication of Data in Journalism
Nadja Schaetz, Laura Laugwitz, Juliane A. Lischka
University of Hamburg, Germany

II.4 Towards a Datafied Mindset: Conceptualising Digital Dynamics and Analogue Resilience
Göran Bolin, Södertörn University, Sweden
Rita Figueiras, Universidade Catolica Portuguesa, Portugal
Veronika Kalmus, University of Tartu, Estonia

2:30 - 2:55 pm

III: Criticizing Datafication (Chair: Emma Hughes)
3:00 - 4:30 pm

III.1 No, Data is (not) the new oil? Fueling post-extractivist anxieties
Lisa Reutter
Copenhagen University, Denmark

III.2 Does content regulation AI promote democratic discourse? Feminist critique of toxic language AI
Dayei Oh, University of Helsinki, Finland
John Dowey, Loughborough University, UK

III.3 Datafication and data exploitation as a means of economic development. Critical data discourses in India
Ewa Dąbrowska
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

III.4 ChatGPT’s China: A Cultural Critique of ChatGPT’s Representations of China
Mengqi Li Sam, Birmingham City University, UK
Yuxuan Zhang Frida, BNU–HKBU United International College, China

4:30 - 4:40 pm

IV: Participation in Datafication (Chair: N.N.)
4:45 - 6:00 pm

IV.1 Reviewing Participatory Dimensions in Data-Centric Projects
Judith Fassbender
Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft, Germany

IV.2 What if it doesn´t go wrong when prisoners train AI
Tuukka Lehtiniemi
University of Helsinki, Finland

IV.3 Preconditions, Challenges, and Solutions for Enabling Large Scale Online Discourse Observation
Felix V. Münch, Gregor Wiedemann, Jan Philipp Rau, Phillip Kessling, Jan-Hinrik Schmidt
Leibniz-Institute for Media Research - Hans-Bredow-Institut, Germany


Dinner at Auerbachs Keller (self-pay)
7:00 pm

Mädler Passage
Grimmaische Strasse 2-4
D-04109 Leipzig, Germany

8:00 am


V: Datafication and Public Services (Chair: Christian Pentzold)
8:30 - 10:00 am

V.1 Transforming interaction between the state and the cititizen - the case of "Siri of the public sector services"
Maris Männiste
Södertörn University, Sweden
V.2 From Decisions to Data – Datafication and Automation in the Swedish Public Services
Amela Muratspahić
Södertörn University, Sweden
V.3 Automation as Mediation: Making sense of messy entanglements in AI-driven ADM
Jannie Møller-Hartley, Roskilde University, Denmark
Anne Kaun, Södertörn University, Sweden
V.4 Infrastructures of welfare. Narratives and counter-narratives of data infrastructures in the context of public health insurance and open commons
Astrid Mager, Doris Allhutter
Austrian Academy of Services, Austria

10:00 - 10:25 am


VI: Datafication and Control (Chair: Charlotte Knorr)
10:30 - 12:00 am

VI.1 Outsoursing security intelligence: the risks of digital litter in migration control practices
Veronika Nagy
Utrecht University, The Netherlands
VI.2 Datafication Discourses in Migration and Asylum Governance in Germany
Jasper van der Kist, Silvan Pollozek
European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), Germany
VI.3 Datafied Welfare: Discourses about Regulation and Care
Irina Zakharova
Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany
VI.4 False promises of a paradigm shift in welfare administration. Deconstructing digital transformation of care service policy in Warsaw, Poland
Mateusz Trochymiak, Robert E. Zajonc, Warsaw University, Poland
Sebastian Sosnowski, Polish Academy of Science (IFIS PAN), Poland

12:00 - 1:00 pm

Call for Abstracts

Big Data Discourses: Communicating, Deliberating, and Imagining Datafication

International Conference

  • Leipzig University, 1–2 February, 2024
  • Supported by the German Research Foundation
  • The conference will take place at the Department for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. 
  • Confirmed keynote speaker: Minna Ruckenstein, University of Helsinki


Approaching datafication through discourse means to understand and to engage with the eminent reality-making power of communication, deliberation, and imagination. It foregrounds the work that goes into rendering datafication a socially relevant phenomenon and problem.

The conference sets out from the idea that the public understanding of datafication is driven by discourses in the media and among policymakers and the imaginaries they evoke. The event invites us to look at what datafication is or should be for a variety of publics and speakers and how they discuss, criticize, or envision the collection and use of data at different places, speaking from different situations, and at different times. That way, the conference does not merely interrogate the status quo of big data analytics. Rather, discourses also involve prospective ambitions and normative stances about potential, desirable, or unwanted innovations. The conference turns its attention to discourses whose programs of thought actively shape the social constitution of Big Data and translate into practices, organizational forms, policies, and institutions. Discourses are in fact integral to how we come to engage with datafication.

Inquiring into the semantics, interpretations, and cultural values that prelude, accompany, and surround investments and innovations into Big Data requires by definition interdisciplinary work. This includes, among others, critical data studies, STS, sociology, communication, linguistics, political science, cultural studies, geography and education, as well as security studies and gender studies.

By taking the understanding of datafication as a matter of contingent articulation, the conference helps to dismantle claims about the given and irrevocable facticity of data formats and data analytics so as to explore ways of reimagining their status and implications. In doing so, it seeks to gain leverage in critically examining how datafication’s social imaginations are shaped and to enable alternative readings.

The conference is open to theoretical and empirical approaches. Due to the variety of paradigms, we believe that it is necessary to work across disciplines and embrace an international perspective. It invites senior as well as emerging scholars to contemplate the entanglement of discourse and technology.

Contributions can address, but are not limited to, the following aspects:

  • Deliberation, policymaking processes, and datafication
  • Rhetoric and metaphors of dataism
  • Datafication imagery and visuals
  • Critiques of dataveillance and data colonialism
  • Non-Western voices on global and local form of data exploitation  
  • Media reports and (data) journalism on data analytics
  • Discourses around data analytics in fields such as education, health, policing, welfare, etc.
  • Visions and anticipations of future data usage
  • Fictions and works of art engaging with data and data analytics 
  • Domestication of data-driven services and technologies
  • Folk theories around datafication and people’s algorithmic imaginaries
  • Critical studies on data analytics' marketing material and business talk
  • Self-presentation of actors from data-rich sectors
  • Data feminism
  • Data scandals and the performance of whistleblowers as public figures
  • Narratives and counternarratives around datafication
  • Abstracts must be submitted via email: bigdatadiscourses(at) by 15 October 2023.
  • Submissions must contain a front page with all information about the author(s) as well as an anonymized extended abstract (max. 500 words excl. front page and bibliographical references).
  • 15 October 2023: deadline for abstract submissions
  • 1 November 2023: notification of acceptance
  • 1 November 2023: preliminary program online
  • 22 November 2023: registration to the conference
  • 1 to 2 February 2024: conference 


The conference will take place at the Department for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. 

Zeppelinhaus Leipzig
Nikolaistraße 27-29
04109 Leipzig

The venue is located near the Hotel Motel One Leipzig-Nikolaikirche and Leipzig Central Station.