Are Research Data a 'Common' Resource?

Natasha Mauthner


This article explores the implicit philosophical framework that underpins, and provides the moral and political justification for, the move towards treating data as a so-called common resource. It begins by tracing the emergence of the idea of viewing data as an open access common resource. It then outlines the regulatory, policy and legislative mechanisms that have been instituted to encourage and ensure that researchers comply with data sharing requirements, and that are institutionalising new ownership regimes away from research data being treated de facto as private property towards it becoming public property. It also spells out the case being made for treating data as a public good, including scientific, moral, economic and political arguments. The article then moves on to suggest that positioning data as a common resource is dependent on a Cartesian and representational understanding of data, their production, and their use in the making of knowledge, drawing in particular on the work of Karen Barad. Barad’s critique of classical Cartesian and Newtonian metaphysical assumptions helps to reveal the positionality of the assumed universalism of treating research data as a given and a priori common resource. The final section of the article considers what treating data as a common resource and public good, and the exclusion of the labour and relations of data producers that it depends on, does ontologically, epistemologically, morally and politically. In particular, it suggests that emerging regulatory, policy, legislative and discursive practices reinforce, institutionalise and legitimise power differentials and inequalities precisely along the lines that feminist scholars have been contesting for over four decades.


research data; data sharing; ESRC policy; Karen Barad; agential realism; common resources; open access; academic labour; knowledge production

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