This one-day gathering assembled a group of experts from Istanbul, Los Angeles, New York, Oslo and Sheffield to discuss questions surrounding the Age of Big Data.
Anyone paying even casual attention to contemporary media, whether popular or scholarly, is now exposed to a steady cascade of voices assuring us that we live in something called the Age of Big Data. Our speakers will present cases in which local communities from all over the world have used participatory data-gathering and mapping practices to open up questions of distributional justice, make claims against power, and gain a sense of themselves as having agency and competence with networked tools.
These images furnish the practice of data analysis and decision support with a visual rhetoric, and they circulate widely. They are reproduced endlessly on blog posts, posted to Facebook and Pinterest and Tumblr, tweeted and retweeted and retweeted again. They circulate, and they seduce. They are admired as much for their beguilingly aesthetic qualities as for any analytical or practical utility they may have. The result is that while data visualisations surely do a kind of work in the world, it may not be the kind of work we’re led to believe they’re capable of doing.
We discussed questions like:
– Who makes the data represented in interactive visualisations and maps, and how?
– Who are the parties responsible for gathering the data, and what criteria do they use for the selection and representation of information they feel to be salient
– What pressures may be operating on either selection or representation?
– What domains of urban life seem to lend themselves most readily to intervention via participatory mapping or data visualisation?
– How can those who generated the data in the first place gain access to it later, either in raw form or as analytic product?
– What implications follow from the choice of a given technical platform or presentation strategy?
– What does it feel like to work with data, in any of these phases or aspects?
– What can communities do with data visualisation, as practice or artifact?
The intention of this one-day gathering was to convene some of those whose work is currently doing the most to push back against this set of circumstances. Together, perhaps we can begin to push data visualisations from being fetishised tokens of a notional futurity — and, at best, flat and settled representations of the way things are in the city — to active propositions about the way things might be.