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Lyria Bennett Moses, Fleur Johns, Daniel Joyce

Shifting forms can create toeholds for thought and action. Complex social phenomena that tend to confound diagnosis may sometimes be grasped obliquely in the course of their transformation. The aim of this special issue is to trace mutations underway in associations rendered or experienced in data. In particular, contributors to this issue reflect upon associations traceable in data that are of a juridical nature (or could be so understood), or that have salience for legal institutions and norms. This is something other than inviting consideration of ‘problems’ that technology makes for law. It is something other, too, than thinking about whether law does or does not determine or reflect socio-technical practice, or vice versa, and how some law-technology correspondence might ‘properly’ be maintained. Instead, contributors engage here in a collective experiment of envisioning data as vectors of lawful relations on the global plane, and at other scales.

This is unfinished business for Big Data & Society. In this journal’s opening issue, Rob Kitchin argued that “the development of digital humanities and computational social sciences… propose radically different ways to make sense of culture, history, economy and society”. But what “sense” could “Big Data empiricism”, as Kitchin described it, make in, of and for global law and policy? This is among the questions that the contributors to this special issue take up. Neither digital technology nor law is pivotal to this inquiry, so much as their irrepressible leaking and morphing into would-be or could-be versions of the other.

As paradigmatic a shift as the turn to epistemologies of Big Data might seem, making connections between these emergent epistemologies and older associations is also an important task of this collection. Sheila Jasanoff traces, for instance, the history of the production of “a panoptic viewpoint from which the entire diversity of human experience can be seen, catalogued, aggregated, and mined” from the mid-twentieth century, especially in the emergence of the “global environment” as an “actionable object for law and policy”. Naveen Thayyil likewise draws an analogy between change in weather and climatological studies from the 1960s onwards (from instrument reading techniques to computer modeling) and parallel shifts in approaches to risk regulation (from conventional risk assessment to precautionary approaches, the latter increasingly advanced through “big data” automation). Ben Hurlbut similarly connects “scientifically authorized imaginations of future risk” on the global plane to earlier incarnations of the “republic of science” assembled around pandemic risk since the nineteenth century. Other contributions to this volume re-frame contemporary phenomena by reference to associations of more recent provenance: Sarah Logan analyses “post 9-11 mass surveillance” and the “anxious information state” it enshrines. Likewise, Gavin Smith; Kath Albury, Jean Burgess, Ben Light, Kane Race, Rowan Wilken; and Daniel Joyce focus on “data cultures” ascendant during the past decade and the legal and political conflicts and connections that surface amid them.

The protagonists and environs of the stories told in these pages vary greatly. Not all are of a kind that one might expect to find featured in a journal about “Big Data and Society”. Scientists keep company with museum designers; government officials rub shoulders with journalists and activists; terrorists and those who hunt them mingle with weather forecasters; software and search engine developers are interspersed with “quantified selves”; dating app users fraternize with bird watchers contributing to citizen science initiatives. What Daniel Joyce calls “the challenge and opportunity of big data” turns out to have stakes for many who may not see themselves as so invested or enrolled. Nonhuman protagonists are similarly diverse and varied in sophistication and scale. They include files (both paper and digitized), reports, remote sensors, satellites and diverse forms of scientific equipment, viruses and the organisms that transmit them, government computer systems and the smart phones ubiquitous across many parts of the world. Settings range from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory to the ICRC’s Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, from Indonesian bird markets to gatherings of scientific experts, from courtrooms and security agencies to the hybrid space of screen-mediated sexual encounters. To draw all these persons, places and things into a collective account of contemporary juridical mediation in data is, from one angle, preposterous. And yet the very preposterousness of this agglomeration conveys something of the voracious indifference, roving opportunism, and endless repurposing characteristic of new analytical methods and software designs that aim to extract actionable insight from massive datasets using machine learning and other automated techniques.

The dilemmas with which these protagonists grapple, or the conditions under which they come to be datafied, are similarly diverse. Nonetheless, common quandaries recur in the stories that our contributors relate. One is the difficulty of trying to generate or project a sense of a whole out of unresolved difference, or making the global – as such – available to experience and asserting sovereignty over its scalar elements. As this volume makes plain, this quintessentially modern challenge persists amid tendencies that seem aimed in another direction: towards data-driven personalization, nano-surveillance and therapeutic attention to the singular.

A second theme that emerges from this collection surrounds the actual and potential substance of legal order. Long-held ideas endure about sociality and culture, on one hand, and market-based exchange, on the other, as that which comprises the “stuff” of which order is made, and that which legal norms and institutions must foster and defend. Yet this collection entertains a further, speculative idea: that there may be forms of relation of growing significance, manifest or realised in data, not reducible to the expression or defence of exchange or socio-emotional connection, but which nonetheless have legal ramifications. That is, digital data may be “lay[ing] the groundwork for new claims and appeals to conscience” and responsibility (Jasanoff in this volume) and constituting “moral and technical borderland[s] where powerful agencies… coalesce” (Smith in this volume). Consider, for example, relations of correlation between data patterns associated with a terror suspect, and data patterns identified with other persons, in the surveillance work of which Sarah Logan writes in this volume. Correlations in data create a basis for supposition and the visualization of juridical futures, in such a setting, without necessarily corresponding to any apparent economic or social relation. Consider, also, the celebrity-follower relation maintained online, of which Daniel Joyce writes in this volume when discussing recent judicial efforts to protect reputation online. This tie is not quite explicable in terms of economic relations, nor in terms of conventional sociality, although both may be imbricated within it.

Thus, when the contributors to this volume write of data associations in global law and policy, they write not just of pre-existing relations finding expression (accurately or otherwise) in data or being reoriented or “nudged” by data-driven operations and designs. They write also of data as a medium for publicly imagining and re-imagining those relations. Distinct legal and political cultures predispose publics towards adopting quite divergent ways of perceiving and representing global conditions in data, contributors to this volume show. Only by taking account of this divergence and variety, Sheila Jasanoff contends herein, might we recognize “official forgetfulness and underestimation” in the “data practices of ruling institutions” and discern the unanswered pleas for justice embedded in those. We invite you to read and engage with these provocative works and look forward to tracing their afterlife in your writings.


Photo credit: Dominik Bartsch via Flickr CC BY 2.0
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The SAGE open access journal Big Data & Society (BD&S) is soliciting proposals for a Special Theme to be published in early 2019. BD&S is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary, scholarly journal that publishes research about the emerging field of Big Data practices and how they are reconfiguring academic, social, industry, business and government relations, expertise, methods, concepts and knowledge. BD&S moves beyond usual notions of Big Data and treats it as an emerging field of practices that is not defined by but generative of (sometimes) novel data qualities such as high volume and granularity and complex analytics such as data linking and mining. It thus attends to digital content generated through online and offline practices in social, commercial, scientific, and government domains. This includes, for instance, content generated on the Internet through social media and search engines but also that which is generated in closed networks (commercial or government transactions) and open networks such as digital archives, open government and crowd-sourced data. Critically, rather than settling on a definition the Journal makes this an object of interdisciplinary inquiries and debates explored through studies of a variety of topics and themes.

Special Themes can consist of a combination of Original Research Articles (8000 words; maximum 6), Commentaries (3000 words; maximum 4) and Editorial (3000 words). All Special Theme content will be waived Article Processing Charges. All submissions will go through the Journal’s standard peer review process.

Past special themes for the journal have included: Knowledge Production, Algorithms in Culture, Data Politics, Data Associations in Global Law and Policy, The Cloud, the Crowd, and the City, Veillance and Transparency, Environmental Data, Spatial Big Data, Critical Data Studies, Social Media & Society, Assumptions of Sociality and Data & Agency. See http://journals.sagepub.com/page/bds/collections/index for more information.

Format of Special Theme Proposals
Researchers interested in proposing a Special Theme should submit an outline with the following information.
  • An overview of the proposed theme, how it relates to existing research and the aims and scope of the Journal, and the ways it seeks to expand critical scholarly research on Big Data.
  • A list of titles, abstracts, authors and brief biographies. For each, the type of submission (ORA, Commentary) should also be indicated. If the proposal is the result of a workshop or conference that should also be indicated. Short Bios of the Guest Editors including affiliations and previous work in the field of Big Data studies. Links to homepages, Google Scholar profiles or CVs are welcome, although we don’t require CV submissions.
  • A proposed timing for submission to Manuscript Central.

Information on the types of submissions published by the Journal and other guidelines is available at https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/journal/big-data-society#submission-guidelines.

Timeline for Proposals
Please submit proposals by Tuesday July 3, 2018 to the Managing Editor of the Journal, Prof. Matthew Zook at zook@uky.edu. The Editorial Team of BD&S will review proposals and make a decision by mid- to late-July 2018.

For further information or discuss potential themes please contact Matthew Zook at zook@uky.edu.
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‘Aestheticizing Google Critique: A Twenty-Year Retrospective’ is the most recent contribution to the Demos section of Big Data & Society by co-editor Richard Rogers. It is a follow-up to ‘Google and the Politics of Tabs,’ the video screencast documentary on the demise of the online librarian, Rogers made on Google’s 10-year anniversary in 2008. It similarly served as a counterpoint to the company’s own retrospective. This twenty-year look back upon Google critique is an exploration among others of the objects and subjects brought into being by Google according to artists and cultural critics, such as ‘flickering man’, ‘dark web’, ‘filter bubble’ and ‘spammy neighbourhoods’. It also looks ahead, concluding with the observation that now that it is leaving the web, moving onto the streets and beyond, Google is seeking to create new, evocative spaces to (and for) search.


Image credit: Studio Monniker. Published with permission.

For future editions the Demo section editors welcome input and proposals for reflections on projects related to big data, small data, thick data, data markets, dataveillance, data flow, database logics, platform politics, code and coding, access, distributive aesthetics, visualisation critique, cloud governance and so forth.
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After three years of operation, we have established a strong foundation, with over 160 articles and commentaries published.  We have also assembled 11 special themes overseen by Guest Editors that cover topics such as ‘the cloud, the crowd and the city’ and ‘practicing, materializing and contesting environmental data.’ We have been accepted into the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), which will benefit our authors by giving our published papers greater discoverability, leading to increased citations. We have calculated our Impact Factor (IF) for 2016 at 1.925 (we are still waiting for Clarivate Analytics’ response to our request to be indexed). And we have migrated to a new platform - Atypon’s Literatum platform - that has improved functionality and navigation possibilities.

We have also merged the Early Career Researcher Forum with the Commentaries section and will be actively soliciting contributions from researchers at different stages of their careers. Guidelines on all types of submissions to the Journal can be found here.

Finally, after a successful beginning to our section on Special Themes we will now be making an annual call for proposals in June of each year. These will be announced on the blog and Twitter. 

Open Access

We are an Open Access journal but our initial three year waiver of article processing charges (APCs) has ended. As of July 2017 original research articles (ORA) accepted after peer review are now subject to an Open Access APC of $800. Authors who do not have funding for Open Access publishing can request a waiver from the publisher, SAGE, once their ORA is accepted after peer review. For all other content (Commentaries, Editorials, Demos) and ORAs commissioned by the Editor as part of Special Themes, the APC will be waived. We look forward to your submissions and continuing to publish critical work on the changing landscape of Big Data and society.



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With the ringing in of the New Year we are happy to announce changes to the Journal as part of our objective to periodically renew its leadership.

Editorial Team and Board
We have renewed the Editorial leadership of the Journal to ensure it remains dynamic. Three new co-editors joined our Editorial Team (ET) in 2017: Agnieszka Leszczynski, Environment Department, The University of Auckland, NZ; Dhiraj Murthy, Department of Journalism and Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, US; and Jennifer Gabrys, Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths University of London, UK. Additionally, we have introduced a new position, that of Managing Editor.  Co-editor Matt Zook, Department of Geography, University of Kentucky, US has moved into this position and Evelyn Ruppert will continue as Editor.

We are also pleased to announce that Age Poom, Department of Geography, University of Tartu, EE will assume the position of Editorial Assistant. We have also renewed our Editorial Board to ensure that we expand the range of researchers engaged in the Journal. To that end, some existing members are not continuing and we are pleased to welcome a dozen new members. The new list of ET and EB members can be found here.

Thank you
We acknowledge with thanks the contributions of previous members of our Editorial Team: Co-Editors, Adrian Mackenzie and Irina Shklovski; Editorial Assistant Ville Takala; and all the Editorial Board members not continuing with the Journal.  Additionally, the Journal would not be possible and successful without the work of innumerable reviewers. We have learned greatly from their insights and the quality of the Journal attests to their efforts and commitment.


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Photo: Engin Isin 2017
In their commentary, Ruppert, Isin and Bigo propose an understanding of ‘data politics’ as a field of knowledge and power. They argue thatworlds, subjects, and rights are the conditions of possibility of this field and that understanding these conditions is necessary to critically intervene in deployments of data. Towards building a critical scholarship on data politics, BD&S welcomes the submission of original research articles that engage with this framing. Articles will go through the Journal’s  peer review process and if accepted published on the Data Politics special theme page.
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The Journal has launched a new section of the blog that will be dedicated to short essays, provocations and blogs on topics relevant to the study of Big Data practices. The first is on Big Data in Asia:  Provocations and Potentials. Written by Hallam Stevens (Nanyang Technological University), Lyle Fearnley (Singapore University of Technology), Shirley Sun (Nanyang Technological University) and Sara Watson (Harvard University), the essay reflects on a workshop, Big Data in Asian Society, held at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, from 27-28 October 2016.
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