Friday, April 9th, 2021 Lives of Data: Computational Cultures from India

Friday, April 9, 202110:00AM - 12:00PMOnline Event, Online Event


Political Life of Information Series


“The Political Life of Information” series at the Asian Institute brings together scholars, activists, artists, and other practitioners to reflect on practices of surveillance, data visualization, population management and identification, news and journalism, and the social aspects of algorithms from a perspective based in Asia, but speaking to a broad audience interested in the political ramifications of media and information technology.

This, our second event will focus on the edited volume, Lives of Data, edited by Sandeep Mertia, a groundbreaking new study mapping the historical and emergent dynamics of big data, computing, and society in India. Data infrastructures are now more global than ever before. In much of the world, new sociotechnical possibilities of big data and artificial intelligence are unfolding under the long shadows cast by infra/structural inequalities, colonialism, modernization, and national sovereignty. This book offers critical vantage points for looking at big data and its shadows, as they play out in uneven encounters of machinic and cultural relationalities of data in India’s socio-politically disparate and diverse contexts.

Lives of Data emerged from research projects and workshops at the Sarai programme, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. It brings together fifteen interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners to set up a collaborative research agenda on computational cultures. The essays offer wide-ranging analyses of media and techno-scientific trajectories of data analytics, disruptive formations of digital economy, and the grounded practices of data-driven governance in India. Encompassing history, anthropology, science and technology studies (STS), media studies, civic technology, data science, digital humanities, and journalism, the essays open up possibilities for a truly situated global and sociotechnically specific understanding of the many lives of data.

*** Link to the Lives of Data volume, published in the “Theory on Demand” series by the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam:

SANDEEP MERTIA is a PhD candidate at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and Urban Doctoral Fellow at New York University. He is an ICT engineer by training, and former Research Associate at The Sarai Programme, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

TONG LAM is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto and a visual artist. He is the author of A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation-State, 1900–1949 (University of California Press, 2011), Abandoned Futures: A Journey to the Posthuman World (Carpet Bombing Culture, 2013), and the co-editor (with Jahnavi Phalkey) of the inaugural special issue of BJHS Themes: Sciences of Giants: China and India in the Twentieth Century (2016). His current research focuses on information, infrastructure, special zones, and borders in socialist and postsocialist China. His ongoing research-based visual projects examine contemporary China’s breakneck transformation, as well as the material evidence of Cold War mobilizations globally and their environmental and social consequences. He has exhibited his photographic and video works internationally.

SARAH SHARMA is Director of the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto and Associate Professor of Media Theory at the ICCIT. Her research and teaching focuses on the relationship between technology, time, and labour with a specific focus on the politics of gender and race. She is the author of In the Meantime: Temporality and Cultural Politics (Duke UP, 2014). Sarah is currently at work on a new book on technology and feminism tentatively titled Broken Machine Feminism. Next year Duke University Press will publish her co-edited collection MsUnderstanding Media: A Feminist Medium is the Message (with Rianka Singh). She has also published articles in such venues as Cultural Studies, The Boston Review, Feminist Media Studies, Canadian Journal of Communication, Communication and Critical Cultural Studies, and Transfers: Journal of Mobility Studies.

MARIANA VALVERDE is a noted sociolegal scholar who has worked on diverse issues and topics over the years, but has recently focused attention on ‘smart city’ initiatives, mainly in Canada but also elsewhere including India. Her most recent book is the co-edited collection Smart Cities in Canada: Digital Dreams, Corporate Designs (2020)


Sandeep Mertia
PhD candidate at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and Urban Doctoral Fellow, New York University

Tong Lam
Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Toronto; Acting Director, Dr. David Chu Program in Asia-Pacific Studies at the Asian Institute, Munk School

Sarah Sharma
Director of the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology; Associate Professor of Media Theory at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (ICCIT), University of Toronto

Mariana Valverde
Professor Emerita, Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto

Francis Cody
Director, Dr. David Chu Program in Contemporary Asian Studies, Asian Institute; Associate Professor, Asian Institute and Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto

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