The Critical Realism Network Webinar Series focuses on questions of philosophy, morality, ethics, values, and how the social sciences can contribute to these topics.
Abstract: The much hyped concept of ‘Big Data’ has served as a banner under which a range of problematic assumptions about the social world and our knowledge of it have been advanced. This webinar explores the history of big data, the epistemological stances associated with it and the social outcomes it leads to. I argue that it reinvigorates a project of the ‘evisceration of the human’: in this case reducing human agency to its behavioral traces registering empirically within digital infrastructures. If social science consolidates around such a reduction, it leaves us with a circumscribed understanding of ‘online order’, naturalizing the horizons of privately owned platforms and obscuring the political economy logically and empirically prior to them. The status of the human is a productive framework through which to analyze the intellectual underpinning to the emerging political economy of digital economy, as well as potential pole around which cultural resistance could consolidate. In this sense, the politics of big data and the philosophy of big data cannot be pulled apart and critical realism offers important conceptual resources for making sense of this still under-theorized relation.