Putting 'no' on the table: Refusal in the age of datafication event image

Putting 'no' on the table: Refusal in the age of datafication

Start Date
10:00 am - 12:30 pm
End Date
Hybrid event

Join us to discuss the concept of refusal in anarchist and abolitionist thought and practice for the age of datafication.

This hybrid workshop hosted by the UNSW Allens Hub for Law, Technology and Innovation's Data Justice Research Network stream will take place in-person at the UNSW Law & Justice Building in the Level 2 Boardroom and online via Teams. Please indicate your attendance preference on checkout.

Registrations will close on 12 July, so that the event team can distribute the suggested readings and full further details ahead of the workshop.

'Refusal’ has emerged as a key concept and proposal for action in recent scholarship on the consequences of ubiquitous datafication, in contexts of ongoing state and administrative violence, the automation of the neoliberal post-welfare state, increasing militarisation, the pandemic ‘recovery’, and continuing environmental degradation.

This workshop will trace the longer histories of abolitionist and anarchist forms of refusal, situating these relative to contemporary thinking around and practices of refusal relative to datafication. The workshop will take the form of a pop-up reading group. Participants will be asked to review several suggested readings, circulated in advance. Dr Andrew Whelan (University of Wollongong) will provide an opening provocation on anarchist refusal, particularly of work, and Dr Andrew Brooks (UNSW) will provide an opening provocation on abolitionist refusal.

Refusal is an active process, a form of dissent, a radical dialogue with power, and a strategy. It is a mode of intervention or engagement with long histories across social movements. Salient practices here include boycott, blockade, sabotage, strike (local strikes, wildcat strikes, the general strike, the hunger strike, rent strike and eviction resistance etc.), draft dodge, drop-out, as well as more diffuse examples of abstention, withdrawal and noncompliance (such as ‘NEETs’, ‘lying flat’ or ‘digital disconnection’). In historical terms, the most longstanding documented form of refusal is likely that concerning taxation.

In developing a toolkit of ‘abolitionist tools for the new Jim Code’, Ruha Benjamin reminds readers that calls for abolition are never simply about ending harmful systems; they are also about envisaging new ones (2019 p. 162). This dual movement is evident in the Feminist Data Manifest-No (Cifor et al., 2019), described as ‘a declaration of refusal and commitment’: refusing harmful data regimes and committing to more just data futures.

In this pop-up reading group, we will explore the longer traditions of thinking and practising refusal, with a focus on anarchist and abolitionist traditions. We will reflect on the implications and potentials of these traditions for the current political context, where data regimes are imbricated with broader dynamics of labour, corporate and state surveillance, racial and gendered hierarchies, and ecologically destructive data extractivism.


Andrew Whelan is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales. His research interests include digital media, bureaucratic administration through digital documentation and data, and online music subcultures and the circulation of music in digital formats. He has published in journals such as Critical Sociology, Social Media and Society, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Popular Communication, Open Cultural Studies, First Monday, and Sociological Research Online. He is completing a manuscript for MIT Press, entitled Destruction of Documents.

Andrew Brooks is Lecturer in the School of Arts and Media at UNSW whose work investigates media and mediation, infrastructure and inequality, policing and abolition, and aesthetics. He is a co-director of the UNSW Media Futures Hub, a founding member of the Infrastructural Inequalities research network, a co-editor of the publishing collective Rosa Press, and an affiliate investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society. With Astrid Lorange, he is one half of the critical art collective Snack Syndicate. Their book of essays on art and politics, Homework, was published by Discipline in 2021. He is working on a manuscript titled: Shouts and Whispers: Fugitive Listening and the Noise of Circulation.

This workshop is presented by the Data Justice Research Network, a stream of the UNSW Allens Hub for technology, law and innovation and co-convened by the stream lead, A/Prof Tanja Dreher and Danielle Hynes (UNSW). For any further details re the workshop, please contact Tanja Dreher at t.dreher@unsw.edu.au