- Jan 2019
I proposed three new dimensions to considerin conceptualizations of Big Data, which are intendedto nuance and temper some of the grand claims of BigData’s affordances.Key principles from critical and feminist GIS havehere been leveraged to understand the limitations andimpacts of Big Data. Further integration of principlesfrom critical information technologies research willideally seek to show how technologies shape andreproduce uneven social and political relations. Thissort of research can have practical influence on howtechnologies are leveraged, working to ameliorate thepotentially harmful implications of new technologies.More broadly, research critiquing and situating thegeographies of humanitarianism can be integrated intostudies of Big Data digital humanitarianism. Conver-sations around technologies for development andhumanitarianism overwhelmingly bring Western ide-als into non-Western contexts, without considering theimplications of this power relation. Critiquing theserelations should be central to theories of informationtechnologies, with the goal of rectifying and
• Incorporate critical and feminist critiques in humanitarian-Big Data research
• Integrate critical scholarship into the development of technical tools
• Consider Western contexts and political/social power relations in research and practice with vulnerable individuals and communities
are certainly not limited to, continued struggles aroundknowledge politics and legitimacy (Burns2014;Elwood and Leszczynski2013), shifting understand-ings of scientific knowledge production (Dalton andThatcher2014; Crampton et al.2013), and increasedneoliberalization of humanitarian aid (Adams2013;Hyndman2009; Polman2010). In other words, theseprocesses take a form specific to Big Data digitalhumanitarianism, and exploring this case sheds greaterlight on these larger-scale processes.
overarching critique of digital humanitarian crowd work and the artifacts it produces.
signifies a new epistemology insofar as it portraysevents as discrete and isolated; knowledges as mod-ifiable, categorizable, and abstractable; and locally-situated knowledges as best understood by thoseworking remotely
Evokes complexity of creating classifications and boundary objects that can provide relational data, e.g., report of fire and report of car bombing.
Not only does the convergence of BigData and humanitarianism depend on a particularsocial shaping of technologies and data, but Big Dataitself embodies particular values, social relations, andepistemologies
This premise feels over-stated, as seems to be evidenced in the footnotes -- presumably responses to reviewer questions/critiques.
I don't disagree with social, methodological, and ethical concerns about "Big Data" (scare quotes, intended) but DHN groups are certainly not there (nor are they likely to be) using large data sets. The overly-enthusiastic/optimistic hype about using large, unstructured data, lacking critical examination of its many downsides, seems to be motivating this paper in ways that are unfortunate. Critique of DH work is needed but this approach seems to be chasing imaginary monsters.
Digital humanitarianism can be con-ceptualized as ‘‘the enacting of social and institutionalnetworks, technologies, and practices that enable large,unrestricted numbers of remote and on-the-groundindividuals to collaborate on humanitarian managementthrough digital technologies’’ (Burns2014).
Burns' definition of digital humanitarianism.
I'm not convinced that DHN groups actually work with Big Data (excepting QRCI's MicroMappers algorithm training project with SBTF). I'm not aware of any group collecting large amounts of data and quantitatively analyzing it.
However, discussions of the relationship between BigData and digital humanitarianism tend to be cautiouslyoptimistic. Letouze ́(2012) the challenges facingdigital humanitarianism as falling into five broadcategories: (1) privacy, (2) access/sharing, (3) extract-ing meaning from qualitative text, (4) apophenia, (5)detecting anomalies.
Citing Letouzé, Burns raises challenge of "extracting meaning from qualitative text."
Get Letouzé paper.
Theseunderstandings of spatial technologies build on les-sons from science and technology studies (STS)research that describes the processes by which dataand technologies come to assume and reify social andpower relations, worldviews, and epistemologies(Feenberg1999; Pinch and Bijker1987; Wajcman1991; Winner1985)
Good summation of Bijker's and Winner's STS work
Bor-rowing principles from critical GIS, technologies canbe seen to embody social norms and values (Schuurman2000; Sheppard2005), often reinforcing extant powerdynamics and social inequalities rather than disruptingthem.
Definition of critical GIS.