’Positive engagement with politics can strengthen the academic community’

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At a time when the value of scientific expertise is being challenged in society, a positive engagement with politics can strengthen the academic community. That’s what Professor of International Data Governance Linnet Taylor will argue in her inaugural address on May 12th, 2023 at Tilburg University. The challenge is especially visible in her own field of technology governance.

The central question of Linnet Taylor’s lecture is why academics are being accused of activism, and why it is expected that scholars will not engage with the political implications of their work. She argues that when science addresses important issues, different ways of creating scientific knowledge come into conflict with each other. Some disciplines aim for objectivity, others for understanding subjectivity, yet both are grounded in scientific method.

Who has expertise?

This conflict plays out very visibly in relation to research on technology governance, Taylor’s own field of expertise. The question often boils down to who has expertise on the effects of digitisation and AI, and whom should we listen to in debates on governing digital technologies: the technologists who create the systems, or the people who experience them?

Taylor uses these discussions to ask, what is the value of going ’against the grain’ of existing research -  by tackling controversial topics such as gender, discrimination or social justice issues from a critical perspective - and, in doing so, engaging with politics? And how does this relate to the politics of the academic community itself, and to the roles and responsibilities of scholars?

She will argue that there is a positive engagement with politics that can strengthen our academic communities, at a time when the value of expertise is being challenged.

Inaugural address

Prof. Linnet Taylor will deliver her inaugural speech entitled ’"Doe eens gewoon": politics, community and the academy’ in Tilburg University’s Auditorium on Friday, 12 May 2023,4.15 PM. The speech will also be livestreamed.

Linnet Taylor is Professor of International Data Governance at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT), at Tilburg Law School. She has an interdisciplinary background in International Development Studies, geography and the humanities. Her work focuses on applied problems of data-driven policy and data governance in the public sphere worldwide. After graduating from Peterhouse, Cambridge in English Literature she worked as a theatre director, writer and journalist before becoming a researcher at the Rockefeller Foundation in the US, where she focused on migration and economic inequality. She gained a DPhil in International Development Studies, with a focus on migration and technology in West Africa, from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. She then held postdoctoral fellowships at the Oxford Internet Institute and, as a Marie Curie fellow, at the University of Amsterdam’s International Development Studies department.

Taylor joined TILT in 2016, where she led the ERC-funded Global Data Justice project (2018-2023), working to develop a conceptual framework for the just and pluralistic governance of data technologies and AI. Her work on the intersection of data technologies and political representation has contributed to the emergence of group privacy as a concern for the fields of data protection law, international development and particularly humanitarian practice, and also to the establishment of the field of Critical Data Studies. She is a member of the Dutch Young Academy (De Jonge Akademie), a member of the steering committee of the ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (FAccT), a senior research associate at the African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, University of Johannesburg, and is on the editorial board of the journal Big Data and Society.