Socialising Big Data: identifying the risks and vulnerabilities of digital data-objects is a recently awarded ESRC strategic investment and collaboration between colleagues at CRESC and Cesagen and the Goldsmiths, Warwick and Northwest DTCs. To begin in June 2013, we will be investigating how Big Data analytics in business, government and academia frame complex issues of behaviour change, risk management and harm prevention in terms of data collection, mining, aggregation, visualisation and synthesis. Through these and other methods, data-objects of various kinds are generated to exploit the hidden potential of Big Data to tell us more about the risks and vulnerabilities of people and things. However, at the same time these data-objects themselves introduce new risks/challenges such as privacy, security, relevance, accuracy, representativeness, and stability and make ways of knowing vulnerable to various forms of failure. The challenge of Big Data is not that it is big, but that it creates new vulnerabilities in part because of the tendency to overlook the social lives of data-objects, which are neither natural nor technical phenomena, but enacted and sustained through multiple and selective social practices. We seek to develop a ‘social literacy’ about Big Data rather than re-iterating the need to respond to ‘the data deluge,’ by locating the successes and failures of the turn to data in ways that recognise their constitution in diverse social practices and specific situations.
The project will do this by developing, experimenting and trialling a repertoire of concepts and methods that meet the needs and interests of practitioners, policymakers, academics, and postgraduate students. Through three carefully coordinated collaboratories we will build on established connections and develop new relations for the social sciences with government and industry practitioners and experts not as end-users, but as collaborators who are part of the relations of production and use of data-objects.
PI: Evelyn Ruppert, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Researcher: Stephanie Alice Baker, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Co-Is: Penny Harvey, Hannah Knox and Yannis Kallianos, CRESC, University of Manchester; Adrian Mackenzie, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University and Ruth McNally, Innovation and Technology, Anglia Ruskin University (and Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen)); Celia Lury, Director, Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick.