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Towards a Genealogy of 
Open Data 
European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) 
Annual Conference, Glasgow 2014 
! 
...
The Politics of Open Data 
Proposed three part research programme: 
• Historical - genealogy of open data 
• Empirical - s...
The Politics of Open Data 
Proposed three part research programme: 
• Historical - genealogy of open data 
• Empirical - s...
Research Questions 
• Where does the idea of “open data” come from? 
• How did it come to possess the constellation of mea...
What is genealogy? 
• Michel Foucault: “gray, meticulous, and patiently documentary” 
study of contingent and contested ge...
Example: Samuel Moyn 
on Human Rights 
• Against tendency to “monumentalize human rights by rooting 
them deep in the past...
What might a genealogy of open data 
look like? 
• Not just history of legal/technical definitions or key 
actors or momen...
Some proposed threads for a 
genealogy of open data 
• Public Sector Information, Open Data and Economic 
Growth 
• Innova...
Public Sector Information, Open Data 
and Economic Growth 
• Public sector information policies in 1990s and early 2000s -...
Innovation, The Invisible Hand and 
Government as a Platform 
• Circular A-76: “in the process of governing, the Governmen...
Transparency, Efficiency, Public Sector 
Reform and Neoliberalisation 
• Open data and “new public management”? (Bates, 20...
Open Source, Open Access and Civic 
Hacking 
• Open geospatial data: Open Street Map (2004), 
Public Geo Data campaign (20...
Open Data for Journalism and 
Advocacy 
• Comparatively marginal in political discourse 
• “Computational journalism” or “...
Conclusion and Further Areas for 
Research 
• Genealogy: open data is not a free-floating, ahistorical 
concept, but a mal...
Thank you 
Jonathan Gray 
Royal Holloway, University of London 
! 
Twitter: @jwyg 
Email: contact@jonathangray.org 
Web: h...
Towards a Genealogy of Open Data
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Towards a Genealogy of Open Data

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Slides for paper on “Open Data and the Politics of Transparency” at European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference 2014, University of Glasgow.

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Towards a Genealogy of Open Data

  1. 1. Towards a Genealogy of Open Data European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Annual Conference, Glasgow 2014 ! Jonathan Gray Royal Holloway, University of London ! Twitter: @jwyg Email: contact@jonathangray.org Web: http://jonathangray.org
  2. 2. The Politics of Open Data Proposed three part research programme: • Historical - genealogy of open data • Empirical - sociology of open data • Theoretical - normative analysis of open data
  3. 3. The Politics of Open Data Proposed three part research programme: • Historical - genealogy of open data • Empirical - sociology of open data • Theoretical - normative analysis of open data
  4. 4. Research Questions • Where does the idea of “open data” come from? • How did it come to possess the constellation of meanings that has for different actors today? • Who is using the concept, how are they using it, and for what? • What role might it play in broader attempts to theorise about transparency, accountability, democracy, justice, civil society and the state? • What promise does it hold for democratic politics?
  5. 5. What is genealogy? • Michel Foucault: “gray, meticulous, and patiently documentary” study of contingent and contested genesis of ideas from “feverish agitation” of history • Friedrich Nietzsche: unexpected conflict and mundane material conditions surrounding development of Christian morality • Raymond Geuss: “the exact reverse of what we might call ‘tracing a pedigree’” - i.e. - “disentangling the separate strands of meaning that have come together in a (contingent) unity in the present” • Alexander Nehemas: not “some particular kind of method or special approach”, but “simply ... history, correctly practised”
  6. 6. Example: Samuel Moyn on Human Rights • Against tendency to “monumentalize human rights by rooting them deep in the past” • Highlights recency, contingency, broken and episodic development, and manifold origins • Certain strands neglected – e.g. relationship between human rights and the welfare state • Other strands over-emphasised – e.g. the depoliticising shift to focus on pity and “spectacularised” violence • Raises possibility of a new, more politically charged, socially progressive conception of human rights
  7. 7. What might a genealogy of open data look like? • Not just history of legal/technical definitions or key actors or moments • Need to untangle different threads that contribute to giving open data the significance it has today • Looking at the constellation of different political visions and values behind rhetoric of open data • Some of these threads and tensions between them are alluded to in existing literature on open data.
  8. 8. Some proposed threads for a genealogy of open data • Public Sector Information, Open Data and Economic Growth • Innovation, The Invisible Hand and Government as a Platform • Transparency, Efficiency, Public Sector Reform and Neoliberalisation • Open Source, Open Access and Civic Hacking • Open Data for Journalism and Advocacy
  9. 9. Public Sector Information, Open Data and Economic Growth • Public sector information policies in 1990s and early 2000s - including debates about different copyright, licensing, pricing, charging and cost recovery models • Debates about the economic and social potential of geospatial information and geospatial data • Peter Weiss (NWS): “internationally harmonized open and unrestricted data policies” to realise ““wealth creating possibilities” • “Consensus view in US”: governments should not add “specialized value to public data and information” (Stiglitz) • Private sector actors more visible/dominant in PSI policy space
  10. 10. Innovation, The Invisible Hand and Government as a Platform • Circular A-76: “in the process of governing, the Government should not compete with its citizens” • Robinson, Yu, Zeller and Felten: “Government Data and the Invisible Hand” (2008) • Tim O’Reilly:“Government as a Platform” (2010) • UK Government: “Open Public Services” and GDS “digital marketplace” = “doing more with less” • Steinberg & Mayo: “Power of Information Review”(2007) • Free Our Data: “public-sector behemoths” should stay out of the “knowledge economy” (2006)
  11. 11. Transparency, Efficiency, Public Sector Reform and Neoliberalisation • Open data and “new public management”? (Bates, 2014; Longo, 2011; Margetts, 2013) • UK Government: open data is said to play central role in public sector reform,“dismantling the central state” and redistributing responsibility from “big state” to “big society” • Democratisation of information, centralisation of control in key areas (cf. Roberts’ Logic of Discipline) • Role of information and IT in Clinton-Gore administration’s “Reinventing Government” programme of 1990s
  12. 12. Open Source, Open Access and Civic Hacking • Open geospatial data: Open Street Map (2004), Public Geo Data campaign (2006), OS Geo (2006) • Tim O’Reilly on open data in “Four Big Ideas About Open Source” at OSCON 2006 • XTech 2007: “open data movement” and open source for knowledge (Pollock & Walsh, 2007) • Political reception of “civic hackers” like mySociety and Sunlight Foundation
  13. 13. Open Data for Journalism and Advocacy • Comparatively marginal in political discourse • “Computational journalism” or “data journalism” initiatives which explicitly support “open data” - e.g. The Guardian, La Nacion, the African Media Initiative and the Farm Subsidy • Advocacy groups which explicitly support open data - e.g. Global Witness, Greenpeace, Open Oil, Tax Hack • Other avenues for exploration: access to information; pre-history of data visualisation; the Social Survey Movements; computer assisted reporting of the 1950s and 1960s; “radical transparency”.
  14. 14. Conclusion and Further Areas for Research • Genealogy: open data is not a free-floating, ahistorical concept, but a malleable idea whose meaning is continually reconfigured in response to shifting conceptions and practices of governance and democracy in different contexts • Empirical study using Actor-Network Theory and controversy mapping (Latour, 2007; Venturini, 2010), operationalised using Digital Methods (Rogers, 2013) • Theoretical reassessment looking at open data and its relationship to government openness and transparency more generally, drawing on historical and contemporary social and political theory.
  15. 15. Thank you Jonathan Gray Royal Holloway, University of London ! Twitter: @jwyg Email: contact@jonathangray.org Web: http://jonathangray.org

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