Digital Traces in Context| Political Agency, Digital Traces, and Bottom-Up Data Practices

Stefania Milan


This theoretical article explores the bottom-up data practices enacted by individuals and groups in the context of organized collective action. Conversing with critical media theory, the sociology of social movements, and platform studies, it asks how activists largely reliant on social media for their activities can leverage datafication and mobilize social media data in their tactics and narratives. Using the notion of digital traces as a heuristic tool to understand the dynamics between platforms and their users, the article reflects on the concurrent materiality and discursiveness of digital traces and analyzes the evolution of political agency vis-à-vis the datafied self. It contributes to our understanding of “digital traces in context” by foregrounding human agency and the meaning-making activities of individuals and groups. Focusing on the possibilities opened up by digital traces, it considers how activists make sense of the ways in which social media structure their interactions. It shows how digital traces trigger a quest for visibility that is unprecedented in the social movement realm, and how they can function as particular “agency machines.”


datafication, bottom-up data practices, digital traces, political agency

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