Member of Academia Europaea

16 08 2016

Without consulting me some wonderful colleagues from the European cultural and media studies community nominated me for membership of the Academia Europaea. So  my selection as a member came as a complete but very pleasant surprise. I am in the Humanities section, specifically Film, Media and Visual Studies which is home to scholars from many different disciplines. Looking forward to contributing to the field through such a nice organisation.

New article: Privacy concerns in smart cities

5 07 2016

The work I have been developing in the context of all urban big data projects, has delivered its first ‘real’ academic article, in Government Information Quarterly. Abstract and full reference below, available to each and everyone and all, because we paid for open access:


In this paper a framework is constructed to hypothesize if and how smart city technologies and urban big data produce privacy concerns among the people in these cities (as inhabitants, workers, visitors, and otherwise). The framework is built on the basis of two recurring dimensions in research about people’s concerns about privacy: one dimensions represents that people perceive particular data as more personal and sensitive than others, the other dimension represents that people’s privacy concerns differ according to the purpose for which data is collected, with the contrast between service and surveillance purposes most paramount. These two dimensions produce a 2 × 2 framework that hypothesizes which technologies and data-applications in smart cities are likely to raise people’s privacy concerns, distinguishing between raising hardly any concern (impersonal data, service purpose), to raising controversy (personal data, surveillance purpose). Specific examples from the city of Rotterdam are used to further explore and illustrate the academic and practical usefulness of the framework. It is argued that the general hypothesis of the framework offers clear directions for further empirical research and theory building about privacy concerns in smart cities, and that it provides a sensitizing instrument for local governments to identify the absence, presence, or emergence of privacy concerns among their citizens.

Van Zoonen, L. (2016). Privacy concerns in smart cities. Government Information Quarterly, online first. Click here to download the article: doi:10.1016/j.giq.2016.06.004

New article: The Muslims Are Coming: the enactment of morality in activist Muslim comedy

30 06 2016

In the context of the many and persistent Islam controversies, we investigate how activist Muslim comedy aims to unite Muslims and non-Muslims. To this purpose and to further current research and theory on humor functions, we develop a morality-based analytic framework that demonstrates the social potentials of humor. We propose to approach humor as engendering moral appeals that function as sign posts, indicating to audiences whom they ought to support based on their shared virtues, and which people ought to be defied for their vices. Our case study focuses on the documentary The Muslims are Coming! Based on a semiotic analysis, we find that this movie invites non-Muslims to unite with Muslims based on their shared normality, modernity and peacefulness. Furthermore, the unified in-group is invited to oppose three out-groups: conservative Muslims, terrorists, and ignorant media. These appeals can be properly understood in the context of the general and official aim of the documentary, which is “combating Islamophobia”, but they also produce particular limitations, for instance with respect to gender, and tend to smoothen legitimate difference.

Hirzalla, F. & L. van Zoonen (2016). “The Muslims are coming”; the enactment of morality in activist Muslim comedy. HUMOR, 29(2), p. 261-287.

Delivering the Jay Blumler lecture in Leeds

23 04 2016

It was a really nice event today, with Jay himself, now 92, present.I compiled a number of thoughts from our identity work in IMPRINTS to talk about the tensions between our sense of self and current means of identification, among which the passport. Increasingly identities are being imposed on us by different technological systems (of the nation state for instance, in the case of the passport and of internet giants in the case of Google) and  cultural regimes of authenticity and nationalism. Partly these are discussions of privacy, but it also shows how our multiple, intersecting identities have become vulnerable to unification. As an honour to Jay I framed the discussion in terms of identity being a vulnerable value, a concept that is central in his work. In return, Jay sang a song for me at the end, something he seems to do on many occasions in Leeds, it was very touching.Lovely day. Watch again here:

Funding fortunes

16 04 2016

Always difficult to get a good grant in the current competitive landscape, but two nice ones came through last month. First, Carlo de Wijs and myself managed to convince NWO that his research Microdynamics of musical innovation, zooming in on the Hammond organ, should be awarded with a PhD scholarship. Carlo is the leading international artist on the Hammond and will use his love for the instrument and his vast knowledge to both write a history and conduct a number of innovative experiments around the organ. Carlo received the grant from no one less than the Dutch minister of education, see this link (in Dutch)

The other grant is for a consortium of urban big data researchers from Leiden University, Technical University Delft and my own Erasmus, to set up a centre for Big Open and Linked Data Cities (BOLD Cities) and examine the multifold social, cultural, analytic and policy challenges that the current data revolution poses for cities. We will focus on three dimensions of the city: urban health, urban environment and urban experience. The Center will conduct research and develop teaching programs, see this link.

Politics and media debate in Groningen

8 03 2016

The Danish TV series Borgen has inspired the North Dutch Theatre to develop a 10 hour play.
In the side show various discussions are taking place; I participated in a panel in Groningen yesterday, titled The spindoctor and the politician. Other members of the panel were Myrthe Hilkens, Jack de Vries and Peter Kee. Birte Shohaus, PhD candidate at RUG had compiled a number of debate triggering fragments from Dutch talkshows. We talked about the role of media and the challenges for women in politics. I tried to claim that politicians’ social media behavior is not really to engage with voters, but to elicit data from likes, shares and comments, and provide the campaign data scientists with detailed information about likely supporters. The data scientist will become the new spin doctor, and in TV drama the Kaspers, Tobies and Joshes will make room for the number crunchers and the nerds. With an audience of 55 +, a spin doctor and a tv journalist in the panel, that did not get much support. But see

Privacy challenges for smart city governments

27 01 2016
Smart cities produce a wide range of privacy challenges. In a smart city ICT  enables the extensive monitoring and steering of city maintenance, mobility, air and water quality, energy usage, civic unrest, tourist streams, and so on. Evidently, such processes use and produce massive amounts of data that require systematic privacy impact assesments. I developed a framework to assess which kinds of data produce particular privacy risks. The monitoring of air quality, for instance, produces impersonal data that are not subject to privacy concerns. Crime registers, however, are at the other end of the extreme and are highly sensitive. In addition, the purpose of data is important as well: service purposes seem to contain less risk than surveillance purposes. Combining data and purpose in a 2×2 grid enables an assessment of high, medium and low risk big data applications. The framework also suggests how specific applications can move from being low risk to high risks because of the technology used. Crowd control based on heat sensors, for instance,  produces less personal data than crowd control based on CCTV (which allows for facial recognition software to identify people). The basic framework is here, but the full paper is online on Research Gate (you need to register to get access), and in progress for a journal.
Privacy framework

The full article is available here: 


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