12 Oct

Digital Citizenship in a Datafied Society

Posted By Arne Hintz, Lina Dencik & Karin Wahl-Jorgensen


In contemporary societies, our everyday actions and interactions produce data. From using social media to shopping online, from supporting political campaigns to checking our health, and from operating a smart TV to walking through a smart city, data traces are produced, collected, and analysed. Through this data we are increasingly categorized, rated, ranked and scored – as consumers but also as citizens. This leads to a transformation in the relations between the state and the citizen.

The concept of digital citizenship has been particularly helpful in understanding how people interact with their social, political and economic environment in a digital world. Focusing on people’s active creation of citizenship in digital environments, it has emphasized citizen agency and empowerment. However, as contemporary governance becomes increasingly centred on the collection and analysis of personal data, the age of ‘datafication’ requires us to rethink the concept and its implications. While digital tools continue to help citizens develop their own position in society, they also enhance the opportunities for governmental and commercial institutions to trace and track, sort and profile, assess and monitor citizens and thus to assign citizenship roles through data analysis.

In this book, we investigate a complex set of processes through which digital citizenship in a datafied society is constituted, taking the responses to the Snowden revelations on mass surveillance by Western intelligence agencies as starting-point but moving beyond these to current debates on datafication. In particular, we address four dimensions which are constitutive for digital citizenship: the policy and regulatory context; mediated public debate; public knowledge and understanding; and the responses by ‘active citizens’ and civil society. Each of these areas would need to contribute essential building-blocks for digital citizenship to flourish: a robust legal framework of data protection and privacy, extensive media coverage of datafication, leading to informed debate and public understanding, and new approaches for citizens to intervene into data debates and data-based governance. What we can observe, however, are strong limitations in each of these fields.

The book thereby formulates conditions for digital citizenship in a datafied society and assesses the degree to which they have been fulfilled at a historic moment in which datafication and surveillance have become increasingly prominent. Most of all, it invites us to re-think digital citizenship in light of the datafication of our lives.

Arne Hintz is Senior Lecturer, Lina Dencik is Reader, and Karin Wahl-Jorgensen is Professor in the School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University. Their book, Digital Citizenship in a Datafied Society, is now available from Polity.