"Scanning the social brain"

“The tools through which people make inquiries about society are central to the way they come to understand it and the possibility of harnessing ´big data´ are currently giving rise to a set of semiautomated tools that promise new ways to organize social inquiry. They work by programming algorithms to harness massive amounts of behavioral data on the web and synthesize it into manageable visualizations of the social. On the basis of interviews and document analyses this paper provides an analysis of the ways in which such visualizations are constructed and made sense of by project leaders across the areas of public governance, advertizing, military intelligence, strategic foresight and the social sciences. The theoretical framework of the paper is grounded in Social Construction of Technology, Actor-Network Theory and Software Studies in order to focus analytical attention on technological and discursive elements that are playing an influential role in the ´production-chain´ behind these new tools. Looking for similar elements across different industries allows for identifying ´core elements´ that are inevitably salient when constructing visualizations. Similarities in the way these elements are approached will be defined as signs of ´stabilization´ in the trend of visualizing big data whereas elements and approaches that are unique to subsets of cases and specific professional cultures will be denoted as ´flexible addons ´ to these core elements. By following the process of organizing the meaning and use of these emerging tools the paper intend open up these assemblages and specifically ponder the role of algorithms in organizing visibilit”


Published by

Cosimo Accoto

Research Affiliate at MIT | Author "Il Mondo Ex Machina" (Egea) | Philosopher-in-Residence | Business Innovation Advisor | www.cosimoaccoto.com

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