Aarhus Universitets segl

Daniela Agostinho

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

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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
StatusUdgivet - 2019
Eksternt udgivetJa

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