In January 2023 the journal Big Data and Society transitioned the Editor-in-Chief from Evelyn Rupert (whose role is now Editor-in-Chief Emeritus and Founding Editor) to the former Managing Editor, Matthew Zook. Jennifer Gabrys has shifted from a co-editor to take on the job of Managing Editor as three new co-editors -- Rocco Bellanova, Ana Valdivia and Jing Zeng -- have join the journal. Details on the full editorial team can be found here.
Evelyn Rupert: Looking Back on the First Nine Years of Big Data and Society
Since its launch in 2014, Big Data & Society (BD&S) has become a leading journal for interdisciplinary social science research on big data practices. It has been a privilege and honour to have founded and led the journal through its first ten years. As I step down from the Editor in Chief role, I take this opportunity to reflect on its beginnings and changes over the past decade, as well as consider future developments as the journal enters its second decade.
I started to develop a proposal for an interdisciplinary journal on big data in 2012. It was a daunting task as so little had been published about this emerging object in the social sciences. More attention was paid to developments in related phenomena such as the internet, computing and software, digital media and communications, and digital research methods. However, a few authors in the social sciences initiated critical analyses of big data, sometimes referred to as just a buzzword or the latest bandwagon. Much more was published in the humanities, computing and technology, and business. In this context, identifying potential editors, board members, authors, or reviewers was very difficult, especially for a launch issue.
Perhaps more daunting was to specify the very object of the journal itself. ‘Big Data’ was vaguely defined and often criticised. It presented a potentially risky and controversial title for a journal. Rather than settling on a definition, we started with the following lead statement: ‘The Journal's key purpose is to provide a space for connecting debates 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.’ That is, we let Big Data be an object of debate (and capitalised the term to signal this), recognising it was and is shaped by myriad practices. What is ‘big’ about Big Data, according to BD&S, are the changing practices of data production, computation, analysis, circulation, implementation, proliferation, and involvement, and the consequences of these practices for how societies are represented (epistemologies), realised (ontologies) and governed (politics). Whether algorithms, AI, bots, or digital infrastructures, such practices engage with a variety of data and--contrary to claims of artificial intelligence--all practices are entangled with human agents, knowledge, power and influence.
It is also worth noting that the journal was launched during a moment of major transformations in journal publishing, which involved a move to digital-only formats, open access and financing through Article Processing Charges (APCs). BD&S was founded on all three changes in publishing, each of which presented challenges and opportunities. Today, none of this is novel. Ten years ago, however, each change constituted important shifts in the field of academic publishing, with APCs especially introducing significant redistributive effects in the dissemination of knowledge. Rather than the subscription model, APCs are now the predominant business model in academic publishing, where access to funding has become critical to publish. While BD&S has been able to provide some APC waivers, the distributive consequences of this funding model require more critical analysis and possible intervention to ensure equity across career stages, location and discipline.
Finally, I want to express my gratitude to all the people over the past ten years who joined the editorial team, including all the co-editors, editorial assistants, assistant editors and editorial board members, who are too many to mention. I am also grateful to the authors and innumerable reviewers, who ventured into relatively new territory and helped shape what the journal has become. A last word of thanks is to SAGE, for their confidence in my leadership and especially to Robert Rojek for his guidance and support over the years.
I leave the journal in good hands and I am impressed by the breadth and depth of the current Editorial Team. Passing the leadership of the journal on to Matt Zook (Editor-in-Chief) and Jennifer Gabrys (Managing Editor) fulfils an important principle of mine: periodically refreshing and changing roles is essential to enable the Journal to be shaped by different people and ideas. One thing is certain: Big Data practices are changing, advancing and, in some cases, becoming more pernicious. Critical interdisciplinary work is not only essential but also--as the contents of the journal demonstrate—proliferating as researchers address, challenge and transform the relations between Big Data and societies.
Matthew Zook: Thoughts on the Success of BD&S and What Happens Next