Datafied Childhoods

Data Practices and Imaginaries in Children’s Lives

by Giovanna Mascheroni (Author) Andra Siibak (Author)
©2021 Textbook XIV, 202 Pages
Series: Digital Formations, Volume 124


Datafied Childhoods examines the multiple ways in which datafication, algorithms, and artificial intelligence (AI) transform the contexts for children: at home, school, and in peer and parent-child relationships. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an important moment for reimagining how data are repurposed for the social good and best interests of children.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Advance Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: The Datafication of Everything
  • Chapter 3: Datafication as a Practice of the Self
  • Chapter 4: Mediatized Parenting as Datafied Parenting
  • Chapter 5: Mediatized Homes as Datafied Homes
  • Chapter 6: The Mediatized Peer Network
  • Chapter 7: The Mediatized School and the Datafication of Education
  • Chapter 8: Datafied Childhoods, Datafied Futures?
  • Index
  • Series index

←x | xi→


The idea for this book emerged in November 2019, when Andra wrote an email to Giovanna inviting her to co-edit a volume on the datafication of childhood. Giovanna replied, suggesting that “the two of us could write the book, since we have both written extensively on children, families, and the internet, and, more recently, on children’s data.”

Following this email exchange and a Skype call, we enthusiastically embarked on this journey, and had the first draft of what is now Chapter 2 written by the end of December 2019. However, the journey to completing the book took much longer: life, work, and the COVID-19 pandemic in particular interfered with our passionate engagement with the datafication of children’s (and families’) lives.

We are therefore deeply grateful to our own families for their patience and support at times when everyday family life was complicated not only by the commitment that writing a book requires, but also by the restrictions implemented to contain the pandemic, and the complexities of balancing work with being home and parenting. Giovanna thanks her partner Massimiliano and her daughter Clara for tolerating weekends that she spent in front of a computer with a distracted mind, fully absorbed in this project—thanks for your love and understanding! Andra is deeply grateful to her partner and ←xi | xii→her daughters for their unconditional love, support, and understanding, and for her parents and sister for being the greatest safety net ever. Without the encouragement and support from you all, we would never have completed this project.

We would also like to thank the many friends and colleagues who helped us sharpen the ideas developed throughout the book through inspiring conversations, invitations to seminars, and day-to-day collaboration on common research projects. These include: Gaia Amadori, Piermarco Aroldi, Veronica Barassi, Göran Bolin, Davide Cino, Fausto Colombo, Nick Couldry, Ola Erstad, Catrin Finkenauer, Lelia Green, Leslie Haddon, Ellen Helsper, Andreas Hepp, Veronika Kalmus, Sonia Livingstone, Anu Masso, Tijana Milosevic, Maria Murumaa-Mengel, Jessica Piotrowski, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, David Smahel, Julian Sefton-Green, Elisabeth Staksrud, Mariya Stoilova, Marit Sukk, Katrin Tiidenberg, Simone Tosoni, Lorenzo Zaffaroni, Bieke Zaman, and many more—sorry if we left anyone out. Thank you all!

We are very thankful to the series editor, Professor Steve Jones, for his recommendations and warm encouragement to develop our ideas into a book. We are also grateful to Dawn Rushen, who painstakingly edited our text and polished it from all the imperfections of non-native speakers. Formally, we note that the editing and proofreading were supported by Fondazione Cariplo, through the grant Ricerca Sociale 2019 for the DataChildFutures project.

In the book, we base our considerations on empirical evidence collected as part of the many research projects in which we have been involved since 2010 and earlier. We would therefore like to acknowledge the generosity of the families, children and parents alike, who let us into their homes and their lives.

This book is the outcome of a genuine and equal collaboration: we have shared each chapter, and we have learned a good deal from working with each other.

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What This Book Is About

This book is about the multiple ways in which digital media, sensing networks of internet-connected objects, algorithms, and artificial intelligence (AI), are transforming the contexts in which children are growing up, as well as the practices in which children, families, and educators engage in their everyday life. By this, we do not mean to suggest that the latest technological developments alone are responsible for radical changes in childhood. Although the experience of being a child is undoubtedly changing, so, too, are parenting cultures, families, and education—in a word, society. While the children of today are still fundamentally children, and childhood has always been diverse, “children growing up today are among the first to be datafied from birth” (Children’s Commissioner for England, 2018, p. 11; original emphasis). As homes, schools, and cities are increasingly equipped with smart technologies that collect data about the users and the environment, mundane everyday practices generate an incessant flow of data, while being simultaneously shaped by data. Therefore, as more of children’s lives become digital, socialization, learning, development, self-expression, and social interaction are shaped by the very technological infrastructures and communication practices that ←1 | 2→support them. Childhoods and the media are changing in relation to each other, and in the context of broader social, political, technological, and economic transformations.

In this work, we argue that looking at datafication through the lens of children’s and families’ lives helps to avoid absolute and universalizing claims on the consequences and implications of data-driven business and governance models.

Our Approach

With this book we make the argument that the relationship between the changes in contemporary childhood and the changing media environment should be analyzed against the backdrop of broader social, political, technological, and economic transformations. Therefore, we make use of a child-centered perspective that recognizes children’s active role in media socialization and in a surveillance culture, without neglecting the structuring force of social institutions—including the power of datafication and algorithmic governance—on childhood.

More specifically, we draw on the following assumptions, that will be discussed more thoroughly in Chapter 2 that follows. First, we theorize datafication as both a product and an intensifier of mediatization (Couldry & Hepp, 2017; Hepp, 2019)—an outcome of mediatization insofar as almost each and every social action and interaction is now mediatized and generates data traces, as well as objects of various kind being turned into media (Bunz & Meikle, 2018); but also as an accelerator of mediatization, since our everyday interactions and actions are increasingly reliant on the infrastructures of data and automation.

Second, in line with the “materialist phenomenology” (Couldry & Hepp, 2017, p. 5) that informs the social-constructivist theorization of mediatization, we adopt a “non-media-centric” approach. This means that our discussion of datafication assumes everyday life as the analytical entry point, aiming at foregrounding the practices through which digital media are put to use in social life, and the social consequences of data practices from the viewpoint of social actors. Relatedly, we also aim to emphasize how datafication is more than a data-driven business logic (Zuboff, 2019). Rather, it is a pervasive ideology (van Dijck, 2014) that has been normalized and interiorized in social imaginaries (Couldry & Mejias, 2019; Lyon, 2018), thus informing ←2 | 3→and transforming social practices. On these bases, if we are to have a meaningful understanding of datafication, it is important to ground it “within the frames of reference of ordinary people” (Lyon, 2018, p. 186). In the study of the datafication of childhood, this approach translates into the attempt to de-center data in order to look at the practices through which data are generated, consumed, and made sense of, in the diverse digital-material contexts of children’s lives. Accordingly, the book examines the datafication of early childhood across differing life stages—the unborn, the baby, the toddler, the preschooler, the primary school child, and the teen—and different life contexts: the home, the school, the peer network.


XIV, 202
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XIV, 202 pp., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Giovanna Mascheroni (Author) Andra Siibak (Author)

Giovanna Mascheroni (PhD, Università Cattolica) is Associate Professor of Sociology of Media in the Department of Communication at Università Cattolica. Andra Siibak (PhD, University of Tartu) is Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu.


Title: Datafied Childhoods
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218 pages