This one-day online symposium considers the theme of data circulations in the broad context of the ‘vital’ – bodies, life and death – and its various circulations – the biotic or pathogenic, the infrastructural, the digital, the transplantable and the heritable. Too much of a focus on matter in these contexts might elide the role that vital data play in these flows; as a virus and its mutations move around the world, calls come for data to be shared openly between nations. Before human tissue is shipped internationally for clinical transplant, donor and patient data must be checked for compatibility. Data and matter become entangled in vital circulations. As such, with this third of the Vital Circulations symposia, we explore how data – and the values and practices surrounding them – constitute an important current in these contemporary ‘vital circulations’. We do this through bringing into conversation a cross-disciplinary range of provocations from the arts and humanities, critical data studies, and the social sciences.
Confirmed speakers include:
Itzelle Medina-Perea, The University of Sheffield
Ilaria Galasso, University College Dublin
Ernesto Schwartz-Marín, University of Exeter
Eva Hilberg, The University of Sheffield
Presentations will include discussions of citizen-led forensics, the use of data mining for drug discovery, notions of ‘real world evidence’ and ideas of collective good in the context of genetic research. A programme will be published shortly, and registered attendees will be sent an update with it.
Over the last two years, we’ve been exposed to daily-updated data dashboards – figures of infection, hospitalisation, mortality, vaccine uptake. These digits might be understood as numeric representations of bodily states – disease, illness, death. They might be what most of us think of at the moment when we’re invited to consider how ‘vital’ data circulate. Yet they are part of a global mosaic of such data that do (and sometimes do not) flow; from the promises of expansive health data platforms and machine learning, the possibilities of citizen-led attempts to collate and manage health data, to the material complexities of infrastructural interoperability, and professional and public reticence about data giving, sharing and use.
Some of these vital data are heavily commercialised, their production encouraged by massive corporations who’ve increasingly sought to monetise well-established practices of tracking ourselves (Sharon 2018; Williams et al. 2020). These might be understood as another asset in the bow of what increasingly is referred to as platform capitalism (Snricek 2016). Other vital data have very different biographies. For example, plans to create links between the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) patient data and commercial and academic researchers have stalled multiple times; still other NHS data still managed to find their way into the Government’s Home Office, being used in live immigration cases (Medina Perea et al. 2020; Fitzgerald et al. 2020). Then there is the increasingly data-driven world of biomedicine. Genomics, regenerative and personalised medicine, pharmaceutical development – these fields (or at least our imaginaries of them) all rely on the fast, high yield of vital data to generate treatments and, perhaps, profit. What are the contours of these circulations, what constitute these data, and what values and practices delimit their circulation and use? Simultaneously, these data might also delineate difference: ethnic- or gender-specific drug outcomes might reify differences in unexpected ways, as data potentially participate in ‘othering’ us (Pollock 2012)
Through the symposium, we seek to ask:
In what ways do vital data circulate, or fail to flow, in the broader context of vital circulations?
In what different contexts do these vital data flows (and stoppages) take place? What values are entangled in these contexts? On what practices do they rely?
How might vital data play a role in (re)producing difference, or othering certain individuals or groups?
In what different contexts – the commercial, the commons – might vital data flow, and with what consequence?
The symposium is part of the wider Vital Circulations network, a ESRC White Rose University Consortium-funded collaborative network. It is the third in a series of symposia, including Biomes, Bodies and Buildings and Tissue Donations Beyond the Gift of Life. Discussions from these symposia will be drawn into a final network symposium in Autumn 2022, and contributors will be invited to participate in a network-wide special issue.