Data Fetishism

I find this argument from loc 270 of Rob Kitchin’s The Data Revolution extremely compelling. It reminds me of Roy Bhaskar’s argument about the fetishisation of facts from his Reclaiming Reality. This is what Kitchin says:

Moreover, just as we think of bricks and mortar as simple building blocks rather than elements that are made within factories by companies bound within logistical, financial, legal and market concerns, and are distributed, stored and traded, so we largely do with data. Consequently, when data are the focus of enquiry it is usually to consider, in a largely technical sense, how they should be generated and analysed, or how they can be leveraged into insights and value, rather than to consider the nature of data from a more conceptual and philosophical perspective.

This “conceptual and philosophical perspective” is a necessary, though insufficient, condition for a critical one. Only if we consider the social ontology of digital data does it become possible to reflexively incorporate critique of the originating platforms into the digital social science that those platforms facilitate.

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