The Politics of Big Data: A Three-Level Analysis
European Consortium of Political Research (ECPR) General Conference, Bordeaux, France, September 4-7, 2013, Forthcoming
19 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2013
Date Written: August 25, 2013
What role does politics play in the emerging Big Data domain? The paper argues that Big Data political power struggles surface at three distinct levels of analysis: the social sciences, the information state, and bureaucratic politics. At the social sciences level of analysis, Big Data threatens to divide social scientists into antagonistic methodological camps as it does not conform to traditional research techniques. At the information state level of analysis, a handful of powerful agencies and corporations created around data generation are consolidating their competitive advantage and are unlikely to support important data access and privacy protections. The one brighter spot for Big Data is found inside governmental bureaucracy. Here, trends such as “governance by numbers” at the sub-national level and mutually profitable data exchanges at the national level suggest that Big Data may propel agencies to share information better. The article concludes with a proposal to view Dr. John Snow and his work to stop the cholera epidemic in central London in 1854 as an early harbinger of the Big Data movement. Snow’s work displays redeeming features that may mitigate less desirable effects of Big Data projects across the three levels of analysis. These features are a sense of purpose, ingenuity, clever data collection design, collaboration, humility and humanity.
Keywords: Big Data, social sciences, bureaucracy, bureaucratic politics, the information state, data divide, privacy, data collection, data analysis, e-government, information sharing
JEL Classification: C80, C81, C82, D83, H11, I18, O30, O31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation