The End of Politics? Data, Democracy and the Digital


The End of Politics? Data, Democracy and the Digital.
Part of the Being Human Festival 2018.

Digital devices and big data can help citizens engage with the democratic process and inform themselves about our fast-changing world. Simultaneously, the rise of ‘fake news’, novel data-gathering techniques and filter bubbles all seem to contribute to increasing polarisation within society. A panel of politicians and social scientists discuss the impact of these developments on contemporary politics. In the shadow of Brexit and Trump, we ask: is this the end of politics as we know it?

Chaired by Professor Melissa Terras (University of Edinburgh).


  • Marco Biagi (Yale University) was Edinburgh Central MSP 2011-16, now a doctoral student researching political behaviour in industrialised democracies.
  • Professor Laura Cram (University of Edinburgh) leads on projects around Brexit and neuropolitics of voter identity.
  • Dr Isabel Kusche (Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies), researching consequences of big data analytics for politicians and voters in European elections.
  • Dr Nicole Rigillo (Indian Institute of Management), researching apps for citizens and government officials in Bangalore to implement sustainability.

The event will be followed by a drinks reception.

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A former Government Minister turned aspiring academic, Marco Biagi’s experience spans the practice and study of politics. He worked professionally in the field for ten years, first in staff roles in communications and central party research on policy and public opinion, then as the elected Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Edinburgh Central. In 2014 he was appointed by Nicola Sturgeon as Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment. He stood down in 2016 to make the transition to academia, beginning a PhD in Political Science at Yale University and specialising in Comparative Politics. His research covers electoral politics and political competition in consolidated democracies, with a particular interest in how parties identify, target and mobilise sections of the electorate.

Laura Cram is Professor of European Politics and Director of NRlabs Neuropolitics Research at the University of Edinburgh. She acted as Special Advisor to the Scottish Parliament, European and External Relations Committee, on the Inquiry into the Impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on Scotland. She has published widely on the governance of the European Union and on the question of EU identity. Laura held a Senior Fellowship on the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe programme during the Brexit referendum. She uses a transdisciplinary neuropolitical approach, building on methods from cognitive neuroscience, big data, psychology and political science, to provide new insights into the implicit contextual factors and, often unconscious, internal processes that shape public attitudes, identities and behaviours and impact on perceptions of legitimacy, democracy and trust. Her lab’s research provides new insights into politics and public policy theory and practice. Using experimental approaches, including fMRI brain scanning, survey experiments, behavioural games, face-emotion coding, eye-tracking and physiological hormone testing along with social computational science, NRlabs examines how groups and individuals respond psychologically, physiologically, behaviourally and at a neural level in different political contexts and decision situations.

Isabel Kusche studied sociology at Dresden University in Germany and the New School of Social Research in New York City. She received her doctorate from Bielefeld University in 2008. Between 2002 and 2015 she held academic positions at a number of German universities (Jena, Bielefeld, Osnabrück, Kiel). From 2015 to 2018 she was a Marie Curie COFUND Fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark, where she worked on a project on political consequences of the financial crisis in several European countries. She is currently a EURIAS Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH). Her project at IASH aims at an assessment of possible consequences of Big Data applications in political campaigns in Europe. Her general research interests include political communication, political clientelism and corruption, the impact of digital media on society as well as sociological theory.

Nicole Rigillo is a socio-cultural anthropologist interested in the shifting meaning and practice of citizenship and governance today. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and holds joint affiliations at the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Anthropology and the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore’s Centre for Public Policy. Her current research examines how citizens in Bangalore are using online platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter to mobilize government representatives towards collaborative and informal improvements to municipal infrastructure and systems (e.g. waste management, community security, maintenance of public space). Her doctoral research at McGill University’s Department of Anthropology examined the growing involvement of non-state actors in public goods provision in India, following the passage of a 2013 law that made it mandatory for corporations to engage in corporate social responsibility.

Melissa Terras is the Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at the University of Edinburgh‘s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, leading digital aspects of research within CAHSS, and Director of Research in the new Edinburgh Futures Institute. Her research focuses on the use of computational techniques to enable research in the arts, humanities, and wider cultural heritage and information environment that would otherwise be impossible. She is an Honorary Professor of Digital Humanities in UCL Department of Information Studies, where she was employed from 2003-2017. Books include Image to Interpretation: An Intelligent System to Aid Historians in Reading the Vindolanda Texts (OUP 2006) and Defining Digital Humanities: A Reader (Ashgate 2013). She is a Trustee of the National Library of Scotland and serves on the Board of Curators of the University of Oxford Libraries. You can generally find her on twitter @melissaterras.