Relational Big Data

66 Stanford Law Review Online 73-79, (2013)

7 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2016

Date Written: September 3, 2013


Data now mediate our day-to-day social relationships to an unprecedented degree, due to the proliferation of new data collection and analysis tools that allow individuals to easily track, quantify, and communicate information about our own behaviors and those of others. This type of big data arguably touches more of us more directly than the big data practices more commonly discussed, as it comes to reshape our relationships across multiple domains. This flavor of big data, which I term "relational," is collected and analyzed by individuals, inhabiting social roles (as parents, friends, etc.) as a means for negotiating social life. In other words, we can understand big data not simply as a methodological watershed, but as a fundamental social shift in how people manage relationships and make choices, with complex implications for privacy, trust, and dynamics of interpersonal control.

In this Essay, I flesh out the idea of relational big data by describing its conceptual predecessor in economic sociology. I suggest a few domains in which data mediate social relationships and how interactions might change around it. I then consider what analytical purchase this flavor of big data gets us regarding questions of policy in the age of ubiquitous computing.

Keywords: big data, technology, social roles, interpersonal relations, tracking, family, self-monitoring, social relationships, economic sociology, technology policy

JEL Classification: Z13, Z10

Suggested Citation

Levy, Karen, Relational Big Data (September 3, 2013). 66 Stanford Law Review Online 73-79, (2013), Available at SSRN:

Karen Levy (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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