ECPR General Conference – 22-25 August 2018, Hamburg*
*Section title: Political Sciences and the Big Data Challenge From Big Data in Politics to the Politics of Big Data*
Chair: Elena Pavan, Scuola Normale Superiore
Co-chair: Alice Mattoni, Scuola Normale Superiore
*Section outline and themes*
In continuity with the successful set of Panels organized during the 2017 ECPR General Conference in Oslo, the Section aims to offer a space within the ECPR context to critically discuss the nexus between Big Data and political science. It will do so by promoting a theoretically informed and empirically sound discussion along three lines of reflection. First, the Section will deal with the potentialities and the limitations of using large-scale datasets and supervised and unsupervised analytic techniques for leveraging our understanding of political dynamics from party dynamics, to political communications, to social movements and digital activism. Second, by considering Big Data as a complex set of cultural, political and scientific knowledge practices, the Section will offer an occasion to engage with the modes in which Big Data become a “political object” that is critically addressed by contentious grassroots efforts but also dealt within more conventional governance processes. Finally, the Section confronts the outcomes of Big Data usages in the political realm oscillating between enhanced accountability on the side of institutions and the reduction of citizens and their will to objectified data-assemblages that are mechanically treated rather than constructively accounted for. The Section comprises a set of Panels that aim to foster the convergence of scholars and researchers currently working on the value of Big Data for studying politics but also on the forms and the impacts of the politics of Big Data employing different theoretical, empirical and methodological approaches on Big Data.
*1. Big data for the study of political participation
*Chair: Alexandra Segerberg
This Panel looks at how Big Data and related methodological and analytical practices can leverage our understanding of political mobilization and participation – from social movements to voting behaviours. While more traditional forms of collective action still exist, activists lean increasingly on web-based platforms and internet services that produce Big Data flows worldwide. Moreover, Big Data are increasingly considered a fundamental component of electoral campaigns, governmental and legislative dynamics as well as of the interactions between political leaders with their constituencies. To shed light on this complex context, the Panel hosts Papers that investigate to what extent Big Data are changing the way in which conventional and unconventional forms of political participation can be investigated from a broad array of methodological lenses, in different national contexts, transnationally or fluidly across the online/offline boundary.
*2. From data-activism to data justice. The contentious politics of Big Data
*Chair: Stefania Milan
Big Data are not a neutral field of practice and knowledge. When engaging with Big Data, political actors develop specific arrays of data-related practices that construct, manipulate, and even subvert their political relevance. In so doing, the same political actors evoke specific, and sometimes contrasting, understanding of what datafication processes means in and for politics, both today and in the near future. Thus, Big Data become an object of political contestation that fosters the emergence of new collective actors and, at the same time, intersects longer-term mobilizations in other fields – e.g. labour, women and environmental issues. To grasp the multiple lines of contention that characterize Big Data in grassroots politics, the Panel hosts Papers that investigate the relationship between Big Data cultures and practices in different arenas of contention from an empirical perspective in different national and transnational contexts relying on qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods approaches.
*3. Big data Governance and Policies
*Chair: Lina Dencik
Data increasingly regulate our lives. We are assessed, ranked, profiled and categorized according to data that is collected about us. These assessments enable – or limit – our access to services and our ability to cross borders; they define us as potential ‘risk’; and they affect core aspects of citizenship. New publics are created and receive differential treatment based on data analysis. While data regulate society, the regulation of data is becoming a pressing concern. Policies are required for data collection, sharing and analysis, and struggles over policy development have picked up, not least, since the Snowden revelations. Against this backdrop, this Panel invites Paper addressing the role of big data as both tools for and objects of governance processes at different levels – from the national to the supranational ones.
*4. The outcomes of big data in politics: from the accountability of institutions to the invisibility of the citizens
*Chair: Alice Mattoni
In the past few years, a wide array of online services and platforms that rest on Big Data became available that promised to render citizens’ voices more visible within governmental institutions through the enhancement of different mechanisms: from citizens’ monitoring capabilities aimed at increasing accountability to participatory policy making including citizens’ viewpoints. In this respect, while Big Data might offer empowering opportunities, it is also likely that governmental institutions would ignore, silence or even reduce to objectified data-assemblages grassroots creative usages of Big Data. To cast light on the outcomes of Big Data usages at the crossroads between governmental institutions and grassroots citizens initiatives, the Panel hosts Papers that empirically address how Big Data might (or not) increase the accountability and transparency of political institutions at the local, national and transnational levels.
*How to submit a paper*
– papers titles, abstracts (no more than 500 words), and 3-8 keywords
– institutional affiliation
– institutional email address