In the following pages I would like to reflect on conceptions of community and collective endeavor at stake in contemporary struggles over the promise and perils of big data collection and analytics. Proponents of big data analysis--including scholars, academic administrators, government officials, health care workers, and private sector executives--frequently frame it not just as an intensification of traditional scholarly methods or as a corrective to less accurate tools but also as a social good, as a means for overcoming the kinds of interpretive biases, frictions, and ambiguities often viewed as obstacles to good governance or effective social organization. My interest in this topic stems first from a concern for the relationship or intersection between the enthusiasm for big data that we see today in various corners of academe, and the rise of big data in neoliberal economic discourses about knowledge production and communal life. Yet if appeals to big data in the university--and in the humanities in particular--display anxieties about relevance and survival in a neoliberal environment that privileges empirical, "actionable" evidence, they are not reducible to these concerns alone. While some big data enthusiasts espouse forms of instrumental rationality long denounced by critics shaped in the interpretive
symploke – University of Nebraska Press
Published: Jan 8, 2016
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