Big data and food retail: Nudging out citizens by creating dependent consumers

Michael Carolan at GeoForum: “The paper takes a critical look at how food retail firms use big data, looking specifically at how these techniques and technologies govern our ability to imagine food worlds. It does this by drawing on two sets of data: (1) interviews with twenty-one individuals who oversaw the use of big data applications in a retail setting and (2) five consumer focus groups composed of individuals who regularly shopped at major food chains along Colorado’s Front Range.

For reasons described below, the “nudge” provides the conceptual entry point for this analysis, as these techniques are typically expressed through big data-driven nudges. The argument begins by describing the nudge concept and how it is used in the context of retail big data. This is followed by a discussion of methods.

The remainder of the paper discusses how big data are used to nudge consumers and the effects of these practices. This analysis is organized around three themes that emerged out of the qualitative data: path dependency, products; path dependency, retail; and path dependency, habitus. The paper concludes connecting these themes through the concept of governance, particularly by way of their ability to, in Foucault’s (2003: 241) words, have “the power to ‘make’ live and ‘let’ die” worlds….(More)”.