ODI Fridays: Life, death and data

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Fri Feb 5, 2021 13:00
Doug Specht and Monika Halkort explore the use of data in times of crisis

Join us on Zoom at lunchtime for our regular ODI Fridays talks. Once you’ve signed up, we’ll send you the link to join.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be one of the principal factors in how we now organize our daily existence. The pandemic has – rightly – become the focus of much of the planet and in the scramble to manage local outbreaks and protect national economies, new ways of collating information ‘to protect the public’ have been rolled out on masse. The pandemic, and our response to it, has brought to the fore many questions in relation to how and who collects, uses maps and understands data.

However, this is nothing new. While the idea of data driving our lives is newly confronting to many, such technologies – and their failings – have long been used to shape the lives, and deaths, of millions around the world. In the digital age, mapping and data continue to be seen as a fix-all. More people than ever are subjected to having their lives dictated not by elected officials, but by black box algorithms, maps, and data visualisations. As our attempts to hold the pandemic at bay continue, we must look at lessons from other crises and push for a more just world.

In this lunchtime lecture, Doug Specht (University of Westminster) and Monika Halkort (Lebanese American University), draw upon their research and recent publication, Mapping Crisis (2020, University of London Press) to examine the use of data in times of crisis and draw out ethical discussion and chart ways we can work better for the good of humanity.

About the speakers

Doug Specht is a Chartered Geographer (CGeog. FRGS), a Senior Lecturer (SFHEA) and the Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Westminster. His research examines how knowledge is constructed and codified through digital and cartographic artefacts, focusing on development issues in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, where he has carried out extensive fieldwork. He speaks and writes on topics of data ethics, development, education and mapping practices, is the editor of Mapping Crisis (2020, University of London Press), and co-editor for forthcoming volumes on Geospatial technology and society (2021, Routledge), and Apocalyptic politics in the Anthropocene (2021, Routledge Environmental Humanities).

Monika Halkort is an assistant professor of digital media and social communication at the Lebanese American University. Her research centres on the intersectional dynamics of digital materiality, race and dehumanisation in contemporary data regimes. Taking irregular migration in the Mediterranean as an example, her most recent work unpacks how conflicting horizons of death are negotiated and modelled in data, opening up new zones of non-being that have been characteristic of modern coloniality.

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