Datafication genealogies beyond algorithmic fairness: making up racialised subjects

Valdivia, Ana and Tazzioli, Martina. 2023. 'Datafication genealogies beyond algorithmic fairness: making up racialised subjects'. In: FAccT '23. Chicago, Illinois, United States 12 - 15 June 2023. [Conference or Workshop Item]

Valdivia_Tazzioli_2023_datafication_genealogies_beyond.pdf - Accepted Version

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Abstract or Description

A growing scholarship has discussed how datafication is grounded on algorithmic discrimination. However, these debates only marginally address how racialised classification or race categories are enforced through quantification and neglect its political and historical conceptualisation. In this work, we argue that literature partially fails to show that datafication reinforces racial profiling beyond the creation of racial categories as features. This article casts a new light on datafication by retracing its genealogy focusing on identification procedures in the colony and at the border. Such a genealogy foregrounds how datafication enforces racialised profiles by showing that it is part of a longer historical trajectory of modes of racialising individuals beyond algorithms and racial categories. Building on archival material, it develops this argument through two case studies. First, it focuses on the study of datafication of colonised bodies through biometrics by Francis Galton during the 19th-century. Second, it takes into account police identification procedures about unauthorised migrants, enforced by the French police at the Italian border in the 20th-century. These two cases show that although race categories as variables have been historically used to translate individuals into data, datafication processes as such also produce racialised profiles. A genealogical approach highlights continuities as well as quantitative and qualitative shifts between analogue and digital datafication. The article concludes arguing that datafication mechanisms have historically enforced legal and political measures by states in the name of science and objectivity and debates around algorithmic fairness should bring this key aspect back to the core of their critiques.

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Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

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"© 2023 Copyright held by the owner/author(s). This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive Version of Record is available at,"

The work by Ana Valdivia has been supported by the Dieter Schwarz Foundation. Martina Tazzioli’s work has been supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant No. ES/S016643/1).


datafication, genealogies, racialised subjects, classification, borders

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6 April 2023Accepted
12 June 2023Published

Event Location:

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Date range:

12 - 15 June 2023

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Date Deposited:

29 Aug 2023 08:40

Last Modified:

30 Aug 2023 08:16


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