Database (e)state


Abstract: Database (E)state is an artist and activist led PhD research project that ex- plores the democratic, ethical, and material effects of databases used by local government to manage council-owned housing stock in the United Kingdom (UK). The project draws from my five years of experience as a housing activist and homeowner on Cressingham Gardens Estate in South West London where I have lived since 2006. Lambeth Council currently aims to demolish all 306 homes on Cressingham against the wishes of the vast majority of residents. In the UK affordability and access to housing is a pressing social issue, and yet central government and local authority proposals to address these issues through urban regeneration schemes have proved highly controversial. Activist campaigns have long-fought the demolition of social housing estates such as the Heygate, Aylesbury, and Cressingham, council estates in London. These campaigns, along with the recent Grenfell tower tragedy, have brought the democratic and deliberative practices of central and local government into sharp focus. Central to these practices are database technologies used by local authorities in the management of their housing stock. Such databases, however, are unacknowledged, poorly understood, and mostly invisible and inaccessible to residents. In this paper, I present two artefacts titled 23.Service charge parser and 31.Shadow Database from my Database (e)state project. These artefacts are two of over thirty artist, activist, and research artefacts that operate as multi- ple modes of enquiry into government database technologies. 23.Service charge parser is a programming script that uses computer vision technologies to ex- tract a table of data from .pdf versions of homeowner service charge bills. This script supported efforts by Cressingham residents to contest £127,000 of re- pairs undertaken by Lambeth contractors and staff. 31.Shadow Database is a resident-led attempt to re-create an inaccessible multi-million-pound database system used by Lambeth Council. 31.Shadow Database has helped to slow processes of urban regeneration on Cressingham.

Bio: Tom Keene ( is an artist, activist, and researcher who investigates the role of marginal and often obscure technological objects. He makes things, programs computers, writes and thinks with technologies to explore how they do things in the world. His practice considers techno- logical histories, flows of power and knowledge, and complex sets of human and technological relations. Through this practice, Tom considers how techni- cal objects construct, transform and amplify the social relations of everyday life. These objects have consisted of municipal databases, wireless protocol, algorithms, electrical components, mobile devices, cloud servers, automated vacuum cleaners and biological sensors.