Diversity and Neocolonialism in Big Data Research: Avoiding extractivism while struggling with paternalism

Paula Helm*, Amalia de Götzen, Luca Cernuzzi, Alethia Hume, Shyam Diwakar, Salvador Ruiz-Correa, Daniel Gatica-Perez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


The extractive logic of Big Data-driven technology and knowledge production has raised serious concerns. While most criticism initially focused on the impacts on Western societies, attention is now increasingly turning to the consequences for communities in the Global South. To date, debates have focused on private-sector activities. In this article, we start from the conviction that publicly funded knowledge and technology production must also be scrutinized for their potential neocolonial entanglements. To this end, we analyze the dynamics of collaboration in an European Union-funded research project that collects data for developing a social platform focused on diversity. The project includes pilot sites in China, Denmark, the United Kingdom, India, Italy, Mexico, Mongolia, and Paraguay. We present the experience at four field sites and reflect on the project’s initial conception, our collaboration, challenges, progress, and results. We then analyze the different experiences in comparison. We conclude that while we have succeeded in finding viable strategies to avoid contributing to the dynamics of unilateral data extraction as one side of the neocolonial circle, it has been infinitely more difficult to break through the much more subtle but no less powerful mechanisms of paternalism that we find to be prevalent in data-driven North–South relations. These mechanisms, however, can be identified as the other side of the neocolonial circle.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBig Data & Society
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • Big Data
  • Data colonialism
  • European Union
  • diversity
  • paternalism
  • research policy


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