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Participatory action research in critical data studies: Interrogating AI from a South–North approach

A Research Paper by Andrea Medrado and Pieter Verdegem, published by Big Data & Society

In this article, we draw inspiration from participatory action research (PAR) and the work of Latin American thinkers such as Freire and Fals Borda to interrogate artificial intelligence (AI). We propose a South-North flow by utilising PAR approaches that stem from Latin America, challenging how the North’s centrality is taken for granted regarding AI epistemologies, experiences, and understandings. Conducting workshops in London with a diverse group of students, tech workers and activists, we argue that PAR can not only empower marginalised communities in the Global South; we can also learn more from its application in the Global North, in contexts where people deal with different struggles. Our analysis delves into three specific concepts around AI and data (in)justice: autonomy, empathy and dialogue. First, inspired by PAR principles, participants started to problematise what they called an empty interpretation of empathy, establishing parallels with transnational dynamics of data capitalism, which disadvantage marginalised communities in the Global South. Second, PAR offered a critical lens to analyse issues of AI and autonomy in ways that are less individualistic and more collective and politically engaged. Third, PAR’s dialogical spirit enabled participants to locate various intersections between AI and dialogue. Critiquing the idea of a superior AI, participants were reminded of the possibilities offered by human intelligence and the combination of thinking, making and feeling or what Fals Borda (2003. Ante la crisis del país: Ideas acción para el cambio, 1st. Ed. Bogotá: Panamericana) calls our sentipensante nature.


Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Andrea Medrado


Andrea Medrado is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Media and Communication of the University of Westminster. She is also the Course Leader for the BA Digital Media and the leader for the Cultural Identities and Social Change theme at the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI). Her research focuses on digital media activism and artivism as tools for social change in the Global South and on creative and participatory approaches to analysing marginalised communities’ information security needs and everyday engagements with artificial intelligence (AI). Her book Media Activism, Artivism and the Fight Against Marginalisation in the Global South was published by Routledge in 2023. She has also published in leading academic journals and contributed to several edited book collections. Andrea is currently the Vice President of IAMCR, the largest international association in the field of media and communication.


18 March 2024
Published By
Big Data & Society
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CAMRI | Participatory action research in critical data studies: Interrogating AI from a South–North approach - CAMRI
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