Data and the Paradox of Plenty: A decolonial critique of data as a non-rival resource

To wrap up this semester's School Research Seminar series, we will welcome Ulises A. Mejias (State University of New York at Oswego) to present a decolonial critique of data.

Not too long ago, we were told that the internet created a non-rival data commons based on a post-capitalist sharing economy. Today, as we witness the levels of data extraction required to train predictive machine learning models, we must acknowledge that the romanticized notion of data as a non-rival resource has turned out to be an unsustainable illusion. This illusion must be understood in a historical context, which the theory of data colonialism (Couldry and Mejias, 2019) can help us do. Using this framework, we can see that the true ‘tragedy of the commons’ is that the sharing economy has become the gig economy, and that non-rival data has become training data for corporate AI products that undermine our welfare. In short, when it comes to data, we are facing a new ‘resource curse’, a residual paradox from colonial times where the wealthiest in resources become the poorest in economic opportunity. Addressing these challenges will require a creative application of decolonial thinking. 

Speaker Bio: 
Ulises A. Mejias is professor of Communication Studies at SUNY Oswego, recipient of the 2023 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship, and a Fulbright Specialist from 2021 to 2025. He is a media scholar whose work encompasses critical internet studies, philosophy and sociology of technology, and political economy of digital media. His most recent book (co-authored with Nick Couldry) is "The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating it for Capitalism" (2019, Stanford University Press). Dr. Mejias is also co-founder of Tierra Común (, a network of activists, educators and scholars working towards the decolonization of data. 

Zoom login details:  

Meeting ID: 853 9000 1226 

Passcode: bHY$x1