Inflated Granularity: Spatial ‘Big Data’ and Geodemographics

37 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2015

See all articles by Craig Dalton

Craig Dalton

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Jim Thatcher

University of Washington, Tacoma

Date Written: January 2, 2015


Data analytics, particularly the current rhetoric around ‘big data’ tend to be presented as new and innovative, emerging ahistorically to revolutionize modern life. In this article, we situate one branch of ‘big data’ analytics, spatial ‘big data’, through a historical predecessor, geodemographic analysis. Spatial ‘big data’ promises an epistemic break in marketing, a leap from targeting geographic areas to targeting individuals. Yet it inherits characteristics from geodemographics, including an orientation towards and justification through the market, and a process of commodification through the black-boxing of technology. In addition, epistemological problems within geodemographics helped set the stage for the individual orientation in spatial ‘big data’ analytics. As researchers develop sustained critiques of data analytics and its affects on everyday life, it is important to do so with a grounding in the cultural and historical contexts from which data technologies emerged. This article and others (Barnes and Wilson, 2014) begin to detail a critical history of ‘big data’. Spatial ‘big data’ carries over critical issues from geodemographics: its roles in surveillance, redlining, and the production of consumer subjects and geographies. The shared histories and structural logics of spatial ‘big data’ and geodemographics create the space for a continued critique of data analyses’ role in society.

Keywords: Big data, geodemographics, data science, analytics, black box, critical data studies

Suggested Citation

Dalton, Craig and Thatcher, Jim, Inflated Granularity: Spatial ‘Big Data’ and Geodemographics (January 2, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Craig Dalton (Contact Author)

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Bloomsburg, PA 17815
United States

Jim Thatcher

University of Washington, Tacoma ( email )

1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma, WA 98402-3100
United States

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