Politics of connection : Investigating (personal) data in transit – Autumn school 2024 (CNIL and EHESS), October 14th-18th, 2024 – Paris (France), Call for participation

Call for participation :

Dates: from 14 to 18 October 2024

Location: EHESS (Paris, Campus Condorcet) & CNIL

Working language : English

The EHESS and the CNIL (French Data Protection Authority) are organising an international and multidisciplinary Autumn School to explore the political implications of data flows.

The Autumn School is open to early-career researchers (doctoral and post-doctoral) from all disciplines, fields and sectors, who are interested in studying data flows through their socio-technical structures from a multidisciplinary perspective. It will address the circulation of all types of data, with a particular focus on personal data.

Senior researchers from different disciplines (law, political science, sociology, STS, history, philosophy, geography, IT) will provide the selected candidates with theoretical and methodological resources and support. Time will be devoted to discussing the participants’ own research. Meetings with practitioners, documentary screenings and thematic tours will also be organised.

Application deadline: June 9, 2024


 Since the first regulations were introduced in the 1970s in response to the threats information technology posed to freedoms, computer hardware has become more powerful and more affordable, data processing techniques have multiplied, and the boundary between personal and non-personal data has been complexified by the countless traces left by all human activities on the internet. However, the core issue remains the same: how to allow the circulation of data while respecting individual and collective freedoms?

The literature on the behind-the-scenes aspects of digital expansion is flourishing, from establishing and promoting shared connection protocols to agreeing on data standards and format, from the materiality of cables and of data centres to the maintenance of the connections themselves, from geopolitical tensions to the way information is spread and processed. The aim of the Autumn School is to encourage dialogue between different approaches in order to grasp the complex and fundamental nature of connections from all possible angles.

Connections are understood here as infrastructures, i.e. sociotechnical arrangements – combining discourse, technical elements, humans and conventions – that organise the circulation, sharing and transfer of data. By bridging disciplinary and thematic perspectives, geographical areas and scales, this Autumn School aims to establish and share an overview of the issues raised by the connections that underpin the considerable imprint digital technologies have on the world and on human existence, starting with the issue of personal data protection. In addition, it will provide the ideal conditions to explore the way these issues are interwoven and the added value of combining investigative methods to study such interweaving.

This Autumn School proposes the following three lines of inquiry, which correspond to tensions, both theoretical and methodological, that characterise any investigation into digital connections.


 As connections shape data circulation, they allow certain flows and prevent others, with potentially considerable social consequences, if only in terms of access to services. These affordances and constraints are linked to a property that is essential to the existence of networks: interoperability, i.e. the ability of information systems to exchange and interpret data. Interoperability requires conditions that are not only technical, but also legal and organisational, conditions that can be hard to meet. Interoperability selects what is shared and how, but also highlights the importance, when thinking about connections, of considering what hinders or obstructs them, sometimes to the point of disconnection. Here, various political issues come into play: reconfiguration of territories by connectivity infrastructures, social inequalities in the face of connections, the right to data portability, the right to privacy and emerging discussions on a putative right to remain offline.


 Portability of data and interoperability of software tend to make invisible not only the physical digital network (data centres, cables, IXPs…), but also the more informational arrangements on which it is based (communication protocols, legal agreements, data schemas…), as well as the types of data processing they allow. The implications of this invisibility are particularly important when it comes to data protection, as most of the time users cannot perceive the quantity of personal data they produce, the protocols or legal grounds on which it relies, or the infrastructures that have access to their data. At the same time data circulation reinforces the visibility or invisibility of data, people, practices and even spaces. Investigating this tension is imperative in order to shed light on the misleading distinction between materiality of infrastructures and immateriality of information, e.g. in the debate on the environmental consequences of the digital boom.


 The study of data flows requires taking into account all the actors that these flows involve and link together, both governmental and non-governmental. What is the most appropriate approach to studying the large national and international infrastructures (such as big corporations or data regulation authorities) and actors that have an impact on digitalisation at very local levels? An illustration of this tension lies in the ambiguities of the notions of digital sovereignty or data sovereignty: who is sovereign, of what and within what parameters? Many geographical, institutional and legal boundaries are crossed by data in transit. The complexity of these flows requires an analysis of the links between various viewpoints. Thinking about the multiple scales of digital deployment requires methodological inventiveness, with recourse to multi-site ethnographies or mixed methods, which does not come without complex questions.

–> to apply : link to application platform

All applications will be carefully considered by the scientific committee, which will also act as the selection committee for participants and as the group of trainers. In addition to a CV, the application includes two short texts, in English: 1/ a presentation of the candidate’s research, specifying the methodology and sources used, as well as the candidate’s interest and expectations regarding the Autumn School (500 words max); 2/ an abstract of a proposed presentation, which should reflect at least one of the lines above (300 words max).

The selection committee will be attentive to the relevance of the applicants’ research to the Autumn School theme and to their  interest expressed in interdisciplinarity. Although their research does not necessarily have to be very advanced, it is nevertheless desirable that prior to arrival participants have already collected some material they can discuss.

Successful applicants will be contacted by the end of June at the latest. They must send the organisers their 5,000-word presentation (including bibliography) by 1 September 2024. A syllabus in digital format will be made available to participants one month before the start of the Autumn School in order to provide a common ground for exchange and debate.

Registration fees of 450 euros (covering meals and accommodation for participants living outside Paris) will be requested. The cost of travel will be borne by the participants, who should request funding from their institutions. After examining the applications, financial support may be offered to up to 4 participants, in the form of waiving registration fees and covering travel costs.

For further information: ecole.automne.cnil@ehess.fr

Organising Committee: Mehdi Arfaoui (Cnil & EHESS), Laurène Le Cozanet (EUI & EHESS)

Project manager: Mariangela Gasparotto (EHESS)

Steering Committee: Jean Lassègue (CNRS & EHESS, Centre Georg Simmel), Jérôme Malois (EHESS), Vincent Toubiana (Cnil)

Scientific Committee: Marine Al Dahdah (CNRS-IFP-EHESS), Carmen Brando (EHESS), Bidisha Chaudhuri (University of Amsterdam), Deirdre Curtin (EUI), Anne Debet (Paris Descartes University & Cnil), Frédérick Douzet (Paris 8 University), Clément Marquet (Mines Paris – PSL), Francesca Musiani (CNRS), Bertrand Pailhès (Cnil), Annalisa Pelizza (Univ of. Bologna & Univ. of Aarhus), Julien Rossi (Univ. Paris 8), Valérie Schafer (Univ. of Luxembourg)

Communication Committee: Samuel Fergombe (EHESS), Julie Lallemant (CNRS & EHESS, Centre Georg Simmel), Feriel Saadni (EHESS)