The Optical Unconscious of Big Data: Datafication of vision and care for unknown futures

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  • Daniela Agostinho
Ever since big data became a mot du jour across social fields, optical
metaphors such as the microscope began to surface in popular discourse
to describe and qualify its epistemological impact. While the persistence
of optics seems to be at odds with the datafication of vision, this article
suggests that the optical metaphor offers an opportunity to reflect about
the material consequences of the modes of seeing and knowing that
currently shape datafied worlds. Drawing on feminist new materialism,
the article investigates the optical metaphor as a material-discursive
practice that actively constitutes the world, as metaphors imply modes of
thinking, knowing and doing that have material enactions. Expanding
visual culture theories, the notion of “optical unconscious” is taken up to
discuss the tensions between displacement and persistence of optics
within datafied worlds, that is, how optical vision is displaced but also
mobilised and repurposed by data-driven knowledge. In dialogue with
feminist science and technology studies and speculative ethics, I suggest
that the datafication of vision offers a chance to reconceptualize the
sense of sight towards a sensorial engagement with big data premised
on responsibility, care, and an ethics of unknowability. Within this
framework, vision may be conceived differently, perhaps not only as
enhancement and control, but as generator of new possibilities.
Ultimately, the article proposes that the visual theories after which big
data is being imagined matter not only for our understanding of big
data’s epistemic potential, but also for the possibility of shaping
emerging data worlds.
TidsskriftBig Data & Society
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)1-10
Antal sider10
StatusUdgivet - 5 jan. 2019

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