Ethics from Below: Claiming Democracy Over Digital Infrastructures

With Lilly Irani, Elisa Giardina Papa, Antonio Casilli

We work and live through digital infrastructures seemingly beyond our grasp. We will discuss our ability to create effects through direct and institutional action with the researcher Lilly Irani and the artist Elisa Giardina Papa.

We work and live through layers of infrastructure designed and installed by companies and public agencies, often out of sight and seemingly beyond our grasp. Calls to ethics demand professionals and regulators assess how well these technologies align with notions of ‘the good’. The researcher Lilly Irani argues that we need to go a step further to address the problem of political agency over digital infrastructures. Political agency, in her words, is the capacity of agents to create effects through direct and institutional action. She will present two case studies: a struggle to shape public-private smart cities infrastructure in San Diego, and struggles to transform platform work conditions for Amazon Mechanical Turk workers, in discussion with the artist Elisa Giardina Papa.


  • Lilly Irani is an Associate Professor at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She is the author of Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizaxens in Modern India (Princeton University Press, 2019) and Redacted (Taller California, 2021; with Jesse Marx). She also co-founded the digital workers advocacy organization Turkopticon.

  • Elisa Giardina Papa is an artist whose work investigates gender, sexuality and labour in relation to neoliberal capitalism and the borders of the Global South. She received an MFA from RISD and a BA from Politecnico of Milan, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in film and media studies at the University of California Berkeley.

  • Antonio Casilli is professor of sociology at Telecom Paris and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Institute of Innovation at the CNRS.

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