Through the eyes of the machine: Exploring the emergence of Big Data through mapping Digital Expectations

Tao LegĂȘne Thomsen & Tobias Bornakke

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis explores how the trending phenomena Big Data came into being. It positions itself between the Sociology of Expectations and the emerging field of Digital Methods to conduct a large-scale, longitudinal study on how expectations and visions of the future of Big Data, are enacted in digital settings. Theoretically, the thesis draws on Actor-Network Theory, and employs a quali-quantitative approach to account both for patterns at a global scale and the particularities of locally constructed arrangements. Furthermore, it relies on Digital Methods to extract information by mining different databases, to map the development of different aspects of the networks in which Big Data resides. The thesis studies the role of expectations in three ways: Firstly, it accounts for how expectations change over time. Secondly, it looks at how these expectations enroll a range of actors by associating them with Big Data. Lastly, it shows how expectations in the form of coherent visions propose a particular future shape for Big Data to take, thereby shaping the technological development trajectory. We propose three contributions from this study. Firstly, the range and scale of data that Digital Methods allows this study to encompass provides a thorough account of the emergence of Big Data, providing empirical insight into one of the biggest buzzwords today and throwing light at how such large-scale trends and hypes arise. Secondly, the method we have created for the study is a proposal for how the Sociology of Expectations can be empirically operationalized for a digital reality. Lastly, by taking a critical look at the tools we employ we show the limitations and shortcomings of Digital Methods, augmenting the development of a field still in its formative phase and proposing venues for further development of large-scale digital studies of emerging phenomena.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2013
Number of pages130