Page d'accueil // SnT // Distinguishe... // Big Data, Big Brother, and Social Science - February 20, 2014

Big Data, Big Brother, and Social Science - February 20, 2014

It is our pleasure to host this distinguished lecture by Prof. Ralph Schroeder, Oxford Internet Institute. The lecture will be followed by a reception. Please feel free to forward this invitation.

Date: February 20, 2014
Time: 16:30
Venue: Weicker Building -Room C016 Ground floor, 4 rue Alphonse Weicker, L-2721 Luxembourg

Abstract: The most prominent uses of big data have been in the analysis of social media. A number of studies have analysed social influence, gatekeeping, the spread of information, and the like. This research advances social scientific knowledge in powerful ways, but it behoves us to ask about the consequences. Some have expressed fears about the ability to manipulate behaviour using this research. What this concern overlooks is that the sources of big data are limited: the data are tied to the platforms from which they are derived, and to the uses of these platforms. Once the powerfulness of analysing these sources is exhausted, the ability of advancing knowledge by means of computational tools will also wane. Hence we can also put the manipulations of behaviours into context: they are almost invariably tied to commercial social media, which will use the insights of big data analyses for marketing and the like. Governments, too, may use interactions via social media to shape public behaviour. Social scientists, on the other hand, are primarily interested in advancing knowledge about information and communication behaviours, not influencing it. This argument, which will be supported with a number of social science examples, enables us to reflect critically on the alleged threatening nature of big data – and its limits.

Ralph Schroeder is Professor and director of the Master's degree in Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute. Before coming to Oxford University, he was Professor in the School of Technology Management and Economics at Chalmers University in Gothenburg (Sweden). His recent books are Rethinking Science, Technology and Social Change (Stanford University Press, 2007), Being There Together: Social Interaction in Virtual Environments (Oxford University Press, 2010), and An Age of Limits: Social Theory for the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). A forthcoming book on e-Research, co-authored with Eric T. Meyer, is Digital Transformations of Knowledge (MIT Press 2013). He has is the author of six books, editor and co-editor of four volumes, and has published more than 100 papers on virtual environments, Max Weber, sociology of science and technology, e-Research and other topics. He has been Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator on more than a dozen projects funded by Swedish, UK, EU and US funding bodies. Most recently, these include the ‘Oxford e-Social Science Project: Ethical, Legal and Institutional Responses to Emerging e-Research Infrastructure Policies and Practices’(2009-2012), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and ‘Accessing and Using Big Data to Advance Social Science Knowledge’ (2012-2014), funded by the Sloan Foundation.