Scanning the Social Brain? The Emerging Use of Web-based Visualizations as Tools for Social Exploration

Anders Koed Madsen

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review


The tools through which people make inquiries about society are central to the way they come to understand it and the possibility of harnessing ´big data´ are currently giving rise to a set of semiautomated tools that promise new ways to organize social inquiry. They work by programming algorithms to harness
massive amounts of behavioral data on the web and synthesize it into manageable visualizations of the social. On the basis of interviews and document analyses this paper provides an analysis of the ways in which such visualizations are constructed and made sense of by project leaders across the areas of public governance, advertizing, military intelligence, strategic foresight
and the social sciences. The theoretical framework of the paper is grounded in Social Construction of Technology, Actor-Network Theory and Software Studies in order to focus analytical attention on technological and discursive elements that are playing an influential role in the ´production-chain´ behind these
new tools. Looking for similar elements across different industries allows for identifying ´core elements´ that are inevitably salient when constructing visualizations. Similarities in the way these elements are approached will be defined as signs of ´stabilization´ in the trend of visualizing big data whereas
elements and approaches that are unique to subsets of cases and specific professional cultures will be denoted as ´flexible addons ´ to these core elements. By following the process of organizing the meaning and use of these emerging tools the paper intend open up these assemblages and specifically ponder the role of algorithms in organizing visibility.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventThe 4S/EASST Joint Conference 2012: Design and displacement: Social Studies of Science and Technology - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
Duration: 17 Oct 201220 Oct 2012
Conference number: 2012


ConferenceThe 4S/EASST Joint Conference 2012
LocationCopenhagen Business School
Internet address

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