Emma Uprichard on the challenge of Big Data

Anything that helps us to see the world a bit differently […] can potentially help to nurture a healthy ‘sociological imagination’. But the frame will remain on the relative present – the ‘plastic present’ to use a phrase I’ve used before – and that is unlikely to be enough to help us address the big social problems in the world today and make any substantive changes to them tomorrow. As Heffernan (2013) recently put it, ‘Big data will never give you big ideas… Big data doesn’t facilitate big leaps of the imagination. It will never conjure up a PC revolution or any kind of paradigm shift. And while it might tell you what to aim for, it can’t tell you how to get there. […] If we take C. Wright Mills’ quest for a ‘sociological imagination’ seriously, then ideally we need to also turn to big data to help us think differently, to see differently and re-en/act the world differently. So much social theory has gone into arguing and discussing these very issues and we cannot afford to let big data run away without good social theories about what to do with the masses of data we are producing.’ (Pritchard, ‘Focus: big data, little questions’?, in Discover Society)

Read Emma Uprichard’s article on the challenge of big data – and the discussion in the comments.

Categories: C. Wright Mills, Matters Mathematical, Rethinking The World, Sociological Craft

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