From access and transparency to refusal: Three responses to algorithmic governance

Publication Name

Internet Policy Review


In this paper, we identify three responses evident in the dialogue regarding the emergence and development of data driven algorithmic governance. The first two responses, ones of access, inclusion and transparency, seek to remedy harms produced by the deployment of advanced digital technologies in public sector service provision. However, with a limited interest in contextualising these technologies relative to the social relations in which they are designed and deployed, these responses ultimately risk misidentifying the sources of harm, thereby reinforcing injustices. The third response, one of data justice, abolition and refusal, seeks to address the limitations to achieving social justice through prioritising digital access, inclusion and transparency. Offering a more transformative response to algorithmic governance, this third response focuses on fundamental questions regarding the deeply unequal power relations, structural inequalities and racism embedded in algorithmic systems, providing a critical repertoire of options for contesting and reconfiguring these relations. While the three responses do not constitute a chronology, we conclude with a discussion of the resurgent interest in refusal as a framework and method to intervene in harmful data-driven algorithmic systems. In so doing, we offer suggestions for how to collectively and institutionally operationalise refusal, alongside abolitionism and data justice, particularly in the area of social welfare provision, and to imagine and bring about alternative social, political and economic systems and relations that are radically transformative.

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