Digital Civil Society Conference

October 31 - November 1st, 2019 - 9:30 am to 5:00 pm

Stanford University Stanford, CA 94305

We depend on digital infrastructure, online information ecosystems, and networked data systems in ways that challenge the notion of independent or private civic participation.

Successful political protest, voluntary collective action, and nonprofit service delivery increasingly depend on practical understandings of how the digital environment works.

Scholarship on civil society and democracy must account for the digital political economy in which associational life now takes place, and must assume the digital capacities of individuals and organizations are commonplace, not exceptional factors.

The Digital Civil Society Lab will examine these complexities in a two day conference in Fall 2019. The event brings together scholars, civil society actors, and industry experts to examine the depth and breadth of ways that our dependence on digital systems shapes civil society action, new forms of civil society activity that are digitally original, and the digital issues and spheres in which civil society now regularly engages.  This cross-sectoral, cross-disciplinary conversation is designed to capture both the breadth of relevant scholarship and the urgency of practice and policy in conversations that can benefit all. 

There are many areas of research and literature across many disciplines, from computer science work on fair algorithms to management studies of digital labor, legal analysis of associational rights to communications scholarship on content moderation that speak to the concept of digital civil society. We seek to draw perspectives from a wide range of scholarship to consider the nature of associational life in democracies in our time of digital dependence. The conference will be structured to ensure a rich cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral conversation. We will use the following questions – and more – to animate the two-day event.

  • Are our associational opportunities, institutions, and practices changing as digital systems reach into so many aspects of our lives?
  • How do our online and offline activities and identities factor into these associational opportunities?
  • What are the legal and regulatory questions (and answers) to our digital/analog associational practices?
  • What forms of technological, organizational, regulatory or behavioral adaptations or innovations are developing, and how do they affect their larger democratic contexts?


  • Jeremias Adams-Prassl - Professor of Law, University of Oxford
  • Lucy Bernholz - Senior Research Scholar, and Director, Digital Civil Society Lab
  • Christina Colclough - Director of Platform and Agency Workers, Digitalisation and Trade UNI Global Union
  • Roberto Di Cosmo - Director, Software Heritage initiative, and Computer Science Professor, Paris Diderot University
  • Morgan Currie - Lecturer, Science, Technology, & Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh
  • Katrinell Davis - Associate Professor of Sociology, Florida State University
  • Lina Dencik - Reader in the School of Journalism, Media, and Culture, and Director, Data Justice Lab, University of Cardiff
  • Stephanie Dinkins - Transmedia Artist, Fellow at Data and Society, and Associate Professor of Art, Stony Brook University
  • Veena Dubal - Associate Professor of Law, University of California, Hastings
  • Nadia Eghbal - Research Affiliate, Protocol Labs and the Harvard Kennedy School
  • Jessica Feldman - Assistant Professor of Global Communications at American University Paris
  • Natalie Fenton - Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths University of London
  • Seeta Gangadharan - Assistant Professor, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Ashish Goel - Professor of Management Science and Engineering, and by courtesy, of Computer Science, Stanford University
  • Anne Hege - Composer; Visiting Scholar at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics
  • James Hicks - Rideshare Drivers United
  • Lilly Irani - Associate Professor, Communication & Science Studies, University of California, San Diego
  • Monica Lam - Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University
  • Heather Leson - Data Literacy Lead, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • Ashwin Mathew - Lecturer, Global Digital Cultures at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College, London
  • Jasmine McNealy - Associate Professor, Department of Telecommunication, University of Florida
  • Nanjala Nyabola - Writer, Political Analyst, and Author, "Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics"
  • Nicole Ozer - Technology and Civil Liberties Director, ACLU of California
  • Lisa Parks - Professor of Comparative Media Studies and Science, Technology, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Benjamin Petit - Documentary Photographer, Co-founder of #Dysturb, and Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University
  • Anne Price - President, Insight Center for Community Economic Development
  • Zara Rahman - Deputy Director, The Engine Room
  • Sarah Roberts - Assistant Professor of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Ge Wang - Associate Professor of Music, and by courtesy, of Computer Science, Stanford University

Conference Content

The conference is organized around a series of metaphors that capture key points of intersection for scholarship, activism, innovation, and policy. The six panels below correspond to six spheres of engagement – from infrastructure to democratic deliberation; from activism to collective action in labor; to underground activity, culture, and meaning – all intersecting with digital forms and digital actions.


What are the infrastructural conditions of possibility for a digital civil society?

moderated by Jonathan Pace

Town Hall

What threats and opportunities for democratic deliberation does digital civil society bring?

moderated by Morgan Currie


What forms of activism does, or can, the digital civil society foster?

moderated by Toussaint Nothias


What are the consequences and challenges of the formation of digital collectives in the labor force?

moderated by Argyri Panezi


What are the critical, but hidden, activities for maintaining a digital civil society?

moderated by Cadence Willse

Theater, Space, and Time

How do we make, find, and keep meaning in a digital civil society?

moderated by Jessica Feldman

More Info

This is an invitation-only event.