Keywords on the Datafied State

Call for Applications

(Application Closed)

The Datafied State is an emerging research initiative at Data & Society, launched last year. Our intention with this initiative is to build a coalition of researchers to learn about similar projects, and share approaches, methods, and findings. Toward that goal, we plan to convene a group of researchers to create a collection of keywords and concepts that are of central significance to this research area. 

Read more below about our theme, who we’re looking for, how to apply, our selection criteria, contributor expectations, key dates, and influential work and people.


The Datafied State is one remade by the data sources and infrastructures, computational tools and techniques that are now being adopted across government just as they are in the private sector. There is not an absolute distinction between public and private sectors in the Datafied State, but more of a blurred boundary. Government does not exist separately and outside of the tech industry, and its relationship to this industry is not simply as a source of regulatory pressure. Governments also procure, develop, implement, and legally mandate the use of digital and computational systems. Government use of tech — and the transformation of government through its use — is the primary interest and concern of our initiative on the Datafied State.

At Data & Society, our preferred method of research is immersion and observation, finding a way to get closer to a social phenomenon — to see things from the experiential point of view of actors in the field. This entails learning the language of insiders: terms, metaphors, aphorisms, and acronyms. Words that have a broad and general use can take on more specific meaning within the institutional contexts of government. By conducting interviews with government officials, being embedded in a government agency, or scrutinizing government documents or datasets, we can come to better understand the use of key terms. 

Words cross over from institutional practices and make their way into the discourse of scholarship. In Sorting Things Out, Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star showed how the nursing profession sought to elevate and define terms like “humor” to make undervalued dimensions of their professional practice more explicit and visible in the field’s standards manuals and academic journals. Raymond Williams’ classic book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society documented the etymological evolution of words as markers of key shifts in culture and society. Such terms capture our attention via their ambiguity, polysemy, or new frequency of use. That work has spawned many other keywords collections. Likewise, institutions and the public adopt language from scholarship. The word “algorithm” has in the past decade gone from an arcane technical term taught and used by computer scientists to one used in the mainstream media and pop culture, and invoked regularly within government as well.

We seek to commission succinct 3,000 word essays that offer a perspective on the Datafied State as viewed through the following terms:


Abolition Counterdata Procurement
Algorithm Criminal Legal System Public Administration
Automation Data Sovereignty Public Interest
Border Control Digital Colonialism Public Goods
Bureaucracy Digital ID Public-Private Partnership
Citizenship Documents Refusal
Civil Society Forensics Request for Proposals
Civic Tech Geopolitics Resistance
Corporate Capture National Security Smart City


Who we're looking for

We welcome applications from researchers with any disciplinary training working on the Datafied State, whether you work in universities or community-based organizations, or draw from your personal experience as government workers. We welcome researchers working from anywhere around the world.

How to apply

You are invited to select up to two keywords from the list above. Please list them in order of preference with a short abstract (~250 words each) of how your prior research or other expertise prepares you to write about that keyword and how you plan to approach it. Additionally, we invite you to suggest one word that is *not* on the list that you think we should add to the collection, and explain why we should include it. Finally, we encourage you to collaborate with a first time or non-traditional coauthor who brings a distinct viewpoint, lived experience, or deeper grounding in the term. Doing so will help uplift more voices in this space and expand our shared community. 

We plan to divide the collection into three parts. When writing a contribution, please indicate which of the following viewpoints you intend to take:

(1) High-level viewpoints: for conceptual clarification and etymological histories. This can include terms with ambiguous, multiple, or shifting definitions that are important for understanding the Datafied State.

(2) Viewpoints from within the Datafied State: for terms with currency and value within government. 

(3) Viewpoints from outside of the Datafied State: for terms that represent a critique of government generally, the datafication of government specifically, or that are used to argue for alternatives. 

If invited, we expect your contribution to have a definitional component as well as a clear point of view, and to incorporate important references with a citational justice perspective. Contributions can take any number of forms: yours might be an essay, a literature survey, or a story drawing from experience working within, outside of, or against the State. 


Selection process

Attributed applications will be reviewed by Jenna Burrell, Ranjit Singh, and Patrick Davison. Additional Data & Society staff may review materials anonymously. 

When reviewing submitted abstracts for potential inclusion in the collection, we will use the following criteria:

  1. Does the applicant’s expertise and experience uniquely position them to write about their selected keyword?
  2. Does the applicant’s articulation of a keyword offer balance, challenge, practical grounding, a novel argument, and/or an emerging research agenda for the Datafied State? 
  3. Does it add to the diversity of perspectives on the Datafied State when read alongside other selected contributors?


We aim to curate 30 essays, though this number may change.


Contributor expectations

Selected contributors to the keywords collection will be offered: 

  • Access to a shared Zotero library that we have built over the course of the year around The Datafied State theme.
  • Invitation to a contributors communications channel (TBD by group consensus)
  • Invitation to an online workshop to facilitate review and feedback on draft versions of essays. 
  • Editorial guidance, design, distribution, and promotion of the resulting collection, including up to two consultations by Data & Society staff.
  • A $250 stipend per eligible contributor in recognition of the labor you invest in writing your essay and participating in the workshop process.

Key dates

Applications due Monday, December 5, 2022 (by 11:59pm, AoE)

Notifications Friday, January 13, 2023

RSVPs due Monday, January 30, 2023 

Expanded abstracts due Monday, March 6, 2023  

Online workshop Thursday–Friday, March 30–31, 2023

Full draft essays due Monday, May 15, 2023

Collection consultations Summer 2023, TBD

Influential work and acknowledgments

The Keywords on the Datafied State project builds on conversations we’ve been having at Data & Society over the course of the past year including small group seminars, our summer methods series, and our public Databite series. We are also inspired by similar projects, some mentioned in the descriptions above and some in the list below. For more information see:

How to Cite Like a Badass Tech Feminist Scholar of Color: Zine 

The Datafied State: Public Databite Series

The Datafied State: Agenda

AI Now Institute: A New Lexicon