Relational Big Data


“Big Data” has attracted considerable public attention of late, garnering press coverage both optimistic and dystopian in tone. Some of the stories we tell about big data treat it as a computational panacea—a key to unlock the mysteries of the human genome, to crunch away the problems of urban living, or to elucidate hidden patterns underlying our friendships and cultural preferences. Others describe big data as an invasive apparatus through which governments keep close tabs on citizens, while corporations compile detailed dossiers about what we purchase and consume. Like so many technological advances before it, our stories about big data generate it as a two-headed creature, the source of both tremendous promise and disquieting surveillance. In reality, like any complicated social phenomenon, big data is both of these, a set of heterogeneous resources and practices deployed in multiple ways toward diverse ends.

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