Monday 1 May 2023

Reflections on BD&S during the transition of Editors-In-Chief

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.

As part of this transition both Evelyn Rupert and Matthew Zook have written short reflections on the first nine years of the journal and thoughts about where it is going next. 


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

I still remember my excitement when Evelyn Ruppert first contacted me about joining Big Data & Society (BD&S) as a co-editor in 2013. It was an energizing prospect made even more so by the chance to be part of a group of interdisciplinary social scientists grappling with the many forms and meanings of Big Data practices. Evelyn assembled  a team of scholars I wanted to read and talk with, and an invitation to be part of the editorial team was, in my mind, a front-row seat to the most exciting show in town.

Ten years later, I feel exactly the same. I am regularly astounded by the breadth, quality, and creativity of the articles we publish. They represent world-class scholarship and are agenda-setting in every sense of the word. A key part of this success has been Evelyn Rupert's development of the initial proposal and selection of the first round of co-editors that shaped the vision and voice of the journal. It is no overstatement that without her, BD&S simply would not exist, and for that, I am forever grateful. 

I am also deeply appreciative of the editorial group whose careful and hard work has been instrumental in making BD&S a success. The co-editors - both current and emeriti - have brought a wealth of disciplinary expertise (sociology, politics and law, science and technology studies, geography, journalism, computational social science, data science, planning and policy, media and communications) that they have successfully drawn upon to oversee the review and publication of a broad set of work. Our editorial assistants have done tremendous work behind the scenes to ensure BD&S stays on track, and our assistant editors promote all articles as they appear and oversee new initiatives such as the BD&S Colloquium series begun in 2022. Our editorial board and reviewers have provided vital input on papers that we rely upon to make our editorial decisions, and finally none of this would be possible without authors submitting their work. A heartfelt thank you to everyone. Without all of your hard work, the journal would not be what it is today.

Shifting from reflections on BD&S accomplishments to future plans, I see three principal tasks/challenges set before us. The first concerns expanding topics of inquiry, and we look forward to the exciting new topics, approaches, and theories that our authors bring in their papers. The heart of the journal remains focused on how Big Data interacts with social practices. However, this has continued to evolve in terms of the different deployments of Big Data (e.g., infrastructure, platforms, blockchain), applications (e.g., generative AI, health, identity, nature), and forms of governance (e.g., justice, securitized, privacy) to name but a few of the exciting topics currently under review. Second, there is the ongoing challenge of inclusivity of people and places in the papers we receive and publish. We seek to expand the journal's engagement across geography, practices, and theory, such as (but certainly not limited to) Big Data from the Global South, algorithmic justice, queer/trans data, and indigenous data regimes. Third, is the evolving meaning of Open Access publishing. Being an open access journal has been in the DNA of BD&S since it started, and I want to thank Robert Rojek and Sage for their willingness and ongoing support in making this happen. It has ensured that the good work that our authors write, and we review, gets to as large of a readership as possible. In particular, Sage's ongoing commitment to Research4Life and providing APC waivers has been essential to our ability to run exciting special themes and ensure that no article that we have accepted editorially has been lost due to APCs.

As I look back over my nine years with BD&S, five years as a co-editor and the last five as Managing Editor, I am amazed at the scope and scale of what the journal has done. Close to 1,200 authors have published 600+ articles both as stand-alone pieces and as part of 25+ special themes curated by guest editors. It is tremendously heartening to be part of such an intellectual community. As I step into the role of Editor-in-Chief I look to this community to continue to support and define the journal's work as we move forward. I am especially pleased to be working with Jennifer Gabrys (in her new role as Managing Editor), our co-editors: Rocca Bellanova, Dhiraj Murthy, Sung-Yueh Perng, Sachil Singh, Ana Valdivia, and Jing Zeng and the journal's Editorial Assistant, Natalia Orrego. 

I am grateful for my time with the journal and am looking forward to the years ahead. It is still a front row seat to the most exciting show in town.