Dr Alison  Powell

Dr Alison Powell

Associate Professor

Department of Media and Communications

Room No
Room PEL.7.01J
Office Hours
By appointment on Student Hub
Connect with me

Languages
English
Key Expertise
Technological citizenship

About me

Dr Alison Powell is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, where she was inaugural Programme Director for the MSc Media and Communications (Data and Society). She researches how people’s values influence the way technology is built, and how technological systems in turn change the way we work and live together.

Dr Powell blogs at http://www.alisonpowell.ca and contributes occasional thoughts on Internet freedom and openness to the LSE Media@LSE blog.

Outside of academia she plays the violin, trains in circus arts, and gets obsessed about her garden. 

Expertise Details

technological citizenship; ethics and values in technology design; 'smart cities'; algorithmic culture; and transparency and accountability of algorithmic systems; tech culture; hacker culture; and tech activism

Education

Dr Powell has a Bachelor’s degree in Canadian Literature, training in Science and Technology Studies and critical theory, and many years of field experience working with technical cultures. Her PhD (2008) is from Concordia University’s Communication Studies Programme. She integrates these different perspectives to investigate the social significance of how we build communication technologies, and to develop creative and policy-relevant responses. 

Research

Dr Powell’s book Undoing Optimization: Civic Action and Smart Cities is published by Yale University Press. This book argues that ‘techno-systemic frames’ of urban smartness shape not only commercial and government interventions but also configure citizen responses. In big data optimized cities, citizenship performs to techno-systemic norms. The book not only provides an historically-grounded critique of smart-city optimization, it also outlines the roots of some new ethics and practices that might transform it.

Her past research projects have looked at community wireless networking and its policy impact, digital rights activism in comparative perspective (including Net Neutrality and the opposition to SOPA and ACTA legislation) and the expansion of open source, DIY and hacking culture from software to hardware to open science. She is a sought-after commentator and collaborator on the civic and governance implications of smart cities and technology ethics more broadly.

Current research projects

Dr Powell is Director of the JUST AI project, supported by the AHRC and in partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute. JUST AI is a humanities-led network inviting new ways of thinking about data and AI ethics through:

· Understanding the field with the help of multi-disciplinary mapping

· Intervening in targeted ways to explore emerging challenge areas

· Facilitating networking and connections to support diverse voices and perspectives

As part of this project Dr. Powell is convening working groups on Ethics in Practice, AI and Climate Emergency, and JUST AI also hosts a Fellowship program focusing on racial justice in relation to data and AI ethics.

Dr. Powell also works on other research projects, including a project on explanation as governance in complex systems and another on the concept of ‘repairable AI’.

Research associations and past projects

Dr Powell led the LSE research team for the project Values and Ethics in Innovation for Responsible Technology in Europe (VirtEU), funded by the EU H2020 programme from 2017-2020; and was Principal Investigator of Understanding Automated Decisions, funded by the Open Society Foundations from 2018-2019. She was an associated researcher with the artistic research project Museum of Contemporary Commodities in 2018. From 2011-2014 she was a member of the European Network of Excellence in Internet Science. In this project she studied open source hardware licensing and governance.

From 2008-2010 she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, supported by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

She has collaborated broadly with artists and community organisations throughout her career.

Collaboration interests

Dr Powell is currently interested in projects and partnerships that investigate data and AI ethics in its broadest sense, justice and inequality in socio-technical systems (especially climate justice), and creative or design-led research, especially in partnership with arts or community organizations.

Publications

Teaching and supervision

Postgraduate teaching

Dr Powell is programme director for the MSc Media and Communications (Data and Society), and convenes and teaches on the postgraduate courses Digital Media Futures and Data in Communication and Society.

She has also contributed lectures to team-taught postgraduate Media and Communications courses relating to theories and concepts (MC408/MC418) and research methodologies (MC4M1/MC4M2).

 

Doctoral supervision

Dr Powell supervises doctoral researchers and welcomes applications from prospective students relating to her areas of research. She currently co-supervises Sebastian Lehuede, Henry Lyons and Ville Aula.