Special issue of FirstMonday: "Making data — Big data and beyond"

Introduction by Rasmus Helles and Klaus Bruhn Jensen: “Data are widely understood as minimal units of information about the world, waiting to be found and collected by scholars and other analysts. With the recent prominence of ‘big data’ (Mayer–Schönberger and Cukier, 2013), the assumption that data are simply available and plentiful has become more pronounced in research as well as public debate. Challenging and reflecting on this assumption, the present special issue considers how data are made. The contributors take big data and other characteristic features of the digital media environment as an opportunity to revisit classic issues concerning data — big and small, fast and slow, experimental and naturalistic, quantitative and qualitative, found and made.
Data are made in a process involving multiple social agents — communicators, service providers, communication researchers, commercial stakeholders, government authorities, international regulators, and more. Data are made for a variety of scholarly and applied purposes, oriented by knowledge interests (Habermas, 1971). And data are processed and employed in a whole range of everyday and institutional contexts with political, economic, and cultural implications. Unfortunately, the process of generating the materials that come to function as data often remains opaque and certainly under–documented in the published research.
The following eight articles seek to open up some of the black boxes from which data can be seen to emerge. While diverse in their theoretical and topical focus, the articles generally approach the making of data as a process that is extended in time and across spatial and institutional settings. In the common culinary metaphor, data are repeatedly processed, rather than raw. Another shared point of attention is meta–data — the type of data that bear witness to when, where, and how other data such as Web searches, e–mail messages, and phone conversations are exchanged, and which have taken on new, strategic importance in digital media. Last but not least, several of the articles underline the extent to which the making of data as well as meta–data is conditioned — facilitated and constrained — by technological and institutional structures that are inherent in the very domain of analysis. Researchers increasingly depend on the practices and procedures of commercial entities such as Google and Facebook for their research materials, as illustrated by the pivotal role of application programming interfaces (API). Research on the Internet and other digital media also requires specialized tools of data management and analysis, calling, once again, for interdisciplinary competences and dialogues about ‘what the data show.’”
See Table of Contents