Data, knowledge and power in the 21st Century

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Science, Tech, Eng and Public Policy


Control over the production, communication, and use of knowledge are a key vector through which political and economic power is exercised in the 21st century. Examples of this can be seen all around us from the ascendancy of the modern monopoly, the online platform, contingent on data collection, control and commercialisation to the increasing use of data to inform and legitimise policy making around the world.

With infectious disease prevention and control a data-driven problem, the COVID-19 pandemic has only fortified and elevated the use of knowledge in the form of data within policy making around the world. Further, with lock-downs and social distancing measures enforced around the world during the pandemic, more people have fled online for longer periods of time, resulting in a dramatic increase in already vast profits reaped by online platforms.

And yet the relationship between knowledge, data and power is not well understood. Who controls data; how that control is a source of power and influence on social and economic and political outcomes; how the data works as a legitimising force in policy making (political power) or advertising sales (economic power). These are key governance questions that require addressing for it to be possible to take a critical view on power structures, processes and institutions in operation which shape the fates and life chances and actors around the world.

Knowledge as a form of power remains significantly under-studied within mainstream IPE scholarship. This project aims to address this shortfall and the questions above by asking the question: how is data and knowledge used as a form of power in the 21st century? The project takes a single case study approach, examining the use of knowledge and data in policy making within the initial phase of the UK government's pandemic response.

Specifically, the research describes and examines the specific 'geometry' of the power structure in play (in this case a centralised power structure), and investigates social, political and economic outcomes that result from it. Finally, the project assesses some of the practical benefits and limitations of the power structure in place (such as resource constraints and privacy implications) and assesses these in relation to the emergency pandemic context from which it emerged, as well as a business-as-usual scenari


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513143/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2023
2097317 Studentship EP/R513143/1 01/10/2018 07/11/2023 Anina Laura Henggeler
EP/T517793/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2025
2097317 Studentship EP/T517793/1 01/10/2018 07/11/2023 Anina Laura Henggeler