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Data Studies: Adapting Lasswell’s Model for a Critical Approach to Big Data

Mon, May 29, 14:00 to 15:15, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 2, Indigo 202A


The era of “big data” is revolutionizing private, public, nonprofit, and academic work. While there has been an explosion of research into and training materials about how to do data science, there is substantially less critical investigation into topics such as who has access to these tools, what motivations animate these uses, and the effects of such work. This essay calls for more critical work that tackles such questions; such work can be broadly described as “data studies.” To clarify and organize these questions, the paper imports and adapts Harold Lasswell’s model of communication—who, says what, to whom, in what medium, with what effect—to create a model for data studies research. The study illustrates this model with an interdisciplinary survey of some of the relevant work to date, proposing a means of organizing this work and of prompting future research questions.