Situating Methods in the Magic of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

Communication Monographs, Forthcoming

30 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2017

See all articles by Madeleine Clare Elish

Madeleine Clare Elish

Google Inc.; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Danah Boyd

Microsoft Research; Georgetown University; Data & Society Research Institute

Date Written: September 20, 2017


“Big Data” and “artificial intelligence” have captured the public imagination and are profoundly shaping social, economic, and political spheres. Through an interrogation of the histories, perceptions, and practices that shape these technologies, we problematize the myths that animate the supposed “magic” of these systems. In the face of an increasingly widespread blind faith in data-driven technologies, we argue for grounding machine learning-based practices and untethering them from hype and fear cycles. One path forward is to develop a rich methodological framework for addressing the strengths and weaknesses of doing data analysis. Through provocatively reimagining machine learning as computational ethnography, we invite practitioners to prioritize methodological reflection and recognize that all knowledge work is situated practice.

Keywords: Methodology, Big Data, AI, Machine Learning, Epistemology, Ethnography

Suggested Citation

Elish, Madeleine Clare and Boyd, Danah, Situating Methods in the Magic of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (September 20, 2017). Communication Monographs, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Madeleine Clare Elish (Contact Author)

Google Inc. ( email )

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Second Floor
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University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Danah Boyd

Microsoft Research ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02142
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Georgetown University ( email )

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Suite 311
Washington, DC 20057
United States

Data & Society Research Institute ( email )

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11th Floor
New York,, NY 10011
United States


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