Science, Technology and Society Seminar: STS Circle at Harvard


Monday, October 21, 2019, 12:15pm to 2:00pm


CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Room S250

"The (Non)Imaginaries of “Data” in Law, and their Politics"


Przemyslaw Palka, Research Scholar in Law and Private Law Fellow, Yale Law School.


Sam Weiss Evans, Science, Technology & Society Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School.

Co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.


STS Program


Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.

Lunch is provided if you RSVP. via our online form before Thursday afternoon, September 26th.


This talk maps the imaginaries of “data” used in the current legal debates in order to bring their politics to the fore. Building upon the insights offered by the field of STS, it assumes that every epistemological framework has normative implications, and demonstrates what those are in the discussions about data. The aim is to equip scholars, activists and policymakers with a critical understanding of the ontological commitments of their politics, and political presuppositions of their epistemologies. Several imaginaries of “data” are scrutinized, including “data as the new oil”, access to information, data protection, and data as labor. I argue that three general narratives--knowledge, property and privacy--inform the imaginaries currently in use. However, the law itself remains surprisingly quiet regarding the normativity of data. Property, contract, tort and consumer law seem essentially blind to the socio-technological reality centered on data collection and usage. Possible reasons for, and consequences of, this legal non-imaginary are explored.


Przemyslaw Palka is a research scholar at Yale Law School, a Fellow in Private Law at the YLS Center for Private Law, and a Resident Fellow at the YLS Information Society Project. His research interests encompass the intersections of law and technology, in particular consumer law, data collection and automation. He studies the ways in which socio-technological changes challenge the assumptions engrained in legal conceptual frameworks, and how legal discourses go about reacting to these changes. Prior to his work at Yale, Przemyslaw was a researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where he also earned his PhD. Originally from Poland, in his free time he makes memes out of works of art, and blogs (way less often than he would like to).

A complete list of STS Circle at Harvard events can be found on the STS website.