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Corporate Capitalism and the Growing Power of Big Data: Review Essay

D&S fellow and technical writer Martha Poon responds to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier’s Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, challenging their premise that “companies that can situate themselves in the middle of information flows and can collect data will thrive.”

In this Review Essay, which also engages with Dan Bouk’s How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual and Liz McFall’s Devising Consumption: Cultural Economies of Insurance, Credit and Spending, Martha takes us on a tour of the history of capitalism and consumption and brings us back to first principles to ask: “What’s old and what’s new about data science? What kinds of outcomes can digital data predict?”

What kind of power is big data?

Data are used to run the system, but data analytics do not describe the process by which the system generates its outcomes. That’s why data science should be categorized as operational control and not as an exercise in the practice of knowledge.