Bowker, G.C. (2014). The Theory/Data Thing. International Journal of Communication 8 (2043), 1795 – 1799.
Thanks to Barry Brown for forwarding this commentary by Geoffrey Bowker.
I accept Bowker’s criticism of Latour (although it is somewhat sweeping), and I like the point that it’s ‘understanding’ that’s at stake. Latour’s flattening of networks (à la Tarde) has been useful for me in thinking through agency and entanglements, but it starts to run out of steam when it comes to thickening understanding — (I’m in favour of Latour’s pre-Tardian actor-network).
I do wonder though how we might say something more on this data thing? It doesn’t seem enough now to criticise those proclaiming the end of theories, categories and indeed ethnography. We know big data, much like any other interpretive act, slices through and embroiders a kind of truth. The greater challenge is to ask what does data do that might thicken truths and give them some (more/other) legs, so to speak? I’d want to know what Bowker thinks this (big) data thing might be good for and whether they might just enable other forms of understanding.