Governing Data in Modernity/Coloniality
: Astronomy Data in the Atacama Desert and the Struggle for Collective Autonomy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In recent years, different actors in Chile have portrayed the vast volumes of astronomy data produced by international observatories in the Atacama Desert as a unique opportunity for scientific and economic development. Research, policy and corporate initiatives have been put into place to leverage this situation. In this thesis I examine the governance of this data by developing a framework based on collective autonomy. Unlike the paradigms of openness and sovereignty, collective autonomy speaks to long-standing concerns related to social justice in Latin America that took shape in parallel with European colonialism. This framework builds upon decolonial thinking and mobilised groups in the region, situating the analysis in the context of a capitalist modern/colonial world system. Collective autonomy also draws on post-Marxism, foregrounding dissenting voices and examining the changing positionalities of the parties involved. In analytical terms, I approach interviews, field notes and policy documents from a discursive-material perspective sensitive to the role of both meaning and matter. The empirical chapters explore three different spheres. First, I look at the implementation of dataintensive research and examine how the articulation of a new positionality by local actors favours an obedient stance in knowledge generation. After that, I turn to the economy and trace emerging meanings of development, extractivism and the state as actors make sense of what is going on with astronomy data. Finally, I connect the expansion of data infrastructure in Chile with the long-standing threat to Indigenous worlds cultivating balanced modes of existence in the territory. As this thesis shows, collective autonomy introduces previously ignored concerns and changes the actors, scales and aims at stake in the governance of data. Furthermore, this framework aims to depart from the precepts of capitalist modernity and, instead, supports decoloniality and the flourishing of multiple worlds.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
SupervisorAlison B Powell (Supervisor) & Nick Couldry (Supervisor)

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