The largest of the day’s un-sessions discussed issues of agency in consumer-citizen-user figurations. The central question asked was whether we are in danger of giving victim status to consumers / citizens / users, and whether we can move towards thinking about more active participants in a data economy? Although involving a compounding of all the terms – the emphasis here was primarily focused on what it means to participate in an economy (rather than citizenship or civil society, for example). Yet even within such a framework, we find data-use inviting questions about what other figurings of the consumer we might encounter, beyond that of participation in passive consumption. Colin Strong observed that relationships between companies and consumers are increasingly driven by data, but that this is not necessarily based on a sophisticated relationship. There is a sense that companies are warehousing data thats value is not yet ascertained. Various discussions of consumer agency were had that aimed to illustrate a reconfiguring of the power relations in interactions with companies. These discussions regularly turned to the emergent ‘sharing economy’. Here it was felt that companies are increasingly managing data flows rather than inventory. This again pushes at the boundaries of the role of consumers, who are also becoming providers. Participants in services such as Airbnb are sharing even more data in these contexts, but they are doing so voluntarily.
In the new relations being forged through data technologies, are consumers (or consumer-providers) being empowered? How might we want to frame these emerging but still transactional relationships in what might arguably be considered the broader forms of social and civic life?