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The Data Revolution

The Data Revolution
Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences

August 2014 | 240 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
"Carefully distinguishing between big data and open data, and exploring various data infrastructures, Kitchin vividly illustrates how the data landscape is rapidly changing and calls for a revolution in how we think about data."
- Evelyn Ruppert, Goldsmiths, University of London

"Deconstructs the hype around the ‘data revolution’ to carefully guide us through the histories and the futures of ‘big data.’ The book skilfully engages with debates from across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences in order to produce a critical account of how data are enmeshed into enormous social, economic, and political changes that are taking place."
- Mark Graham, University of Oxford

Traditionally, data has been a scarce commodity which, given its value, has been either jealously guarded or expensively traded.  In recent years, technological developments and political lobbying have turned this position on its head. Data now flow as a deep and wide torrent, are low in cost and supported by robust infrastructures, and are increasingly open and accessible. 

A data revolution is underway, one that is already reshaping how knowledge is produced, business conducted, and governance enacted, as well as raising many questions concerning surveillance, privacy, security, profiling, social sorting, and intellectual property rights. 

In contrast to the hype and hubris of much media and business coverage, The Data Revolution provides a synoptic and critical analysis of the emerging data landscape.  Accessible in style, the book provides:
  • A synoptic overview of big data, open data and data infrastructures
  • An introduction to thinking conceptually about data, data infrastructures, data analytics and data markets
  • Acritical discussion of the technical shortcomings and the social, political and ethical consequences of the data revolution
  • An analysis of the implications of the data revolution to academic, business and government practices
Chapter 1: Conceptualising Data
What are data?

Kinds of data

Data, information, knowledge, wisdom

Framing data

Thinking critically about databases and data infrastructures

Data assemblages and the data revolution

Chapter 2: Small Data, Data Infrastructures and Data Brokers
Data holdings, data archives and data infrastructures

Rationale for research data infrastructures

The challenges of building data infrastructures

The challenges of building data infrastructuresData brokers and markets

Chapter 3: Open and Linked Data
Open data

Linked data

The case for open data

The economics of open data

Concerns with respect to opening data

Chapter 4: Big Data


Resolution and indexicality





Chapter 5: Enablers and Sources of Big Data
The enablers of big data

Sources of big data

Directed Data

Automated data

Volunteered data

Chapter 6: Data Analytics

Machine learning

Data mining and pattern recognition

Data visualisation and visual analytics

Statistical analysis

Prediction, simulation and optimization

Chapter 7: The Governmental and Business Rationale for Big Data
Governing people

Managing organisations

Leveraging value and producing capital

Creating better places

Chapter 8: The Reframing of Science, Social Science and Humanities Research
The fourth paradigm in science?

The re-emergence of empiricism

The fallacies of empiricism

Data-driven science

Computational social sciences and digital humanities

Chapter 9: Technical and Organisational Issues
Deserts and deluges


Data quality, veracity and lineage

Data integration and interoperability

Poor analysis and ecological fallacies

Skills and human resourcing

Chapter 10: Ethical, Political, Social and Legal Concerns
Data shadows and dataveillance


Data security

Profiling, social sorting and redlining

Secondary uses, control creep and anticipatory governance

Modes of governance and technological lock-ins

Chapter 11: Making Sense of the Data Revolution
Understanding data and the data revolution

Researching data assemblages

Final thoughts


Kitchin’s powerful, authoritative work deconstructs the hype around the ‘data revolution’ to carefully guide us through the histories and the futures of ‘big data.’ The book skilfully engages with debates from across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences in order to produce a critical account of how data are enmeshed into enormous social, economic, and political changes that are taking place. It challenges us to rethink data, information and knowledge by asking - who benefits and who might be left out; what these changes mean for ethics, economy, surveillance, society, politics; and ultimately, whether big data offer answers to big questions. By tackling the promises and potentials as well as the perils and pitfalls of our data revolution, Kitchin shows us that data doesn’t just reflect the world, but also changes it.

Dr Mark Graham
Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

With a lucid prose and without hyperbole, Kitchin explains the complexities and disruptive effects of what he calls ‘the data revolution’.  The book brilliantly provides an overview of the shifting socio-technical assemblages that are shaping the uses of data today. Carefully distinguishing between big data and open data, and exploring various data infrastructures, Kitchin vividly illustrates how the data landscape is rapidly changing and calls for a revolution in how we think about data.

Evelyn Ruppert
Goldsmiths, University of London

An incredibly well written and accessible book which provides readers who will be curious about the buzz around the idea of big data with: (a) an organising framework rooted in social theory (important given the dominance of technical writings) through which to conceptualise big data; (b) detailed understandings of each actant in the various data assemblages with fresh and novel theoretical constructions and typologies of each actant; (c) the contours of a critical examination of big data (whose interests does it serve, where, how and why). These are all crucial developments its seems to me and I think this book will become a trail blazer because of them. This is going to be a biggie citation wise and a seminal work.

Mark Boyle
NIRSA,National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Data has become a new key word for our times. This is just the book I have been waiting for: a detailed and critical analysis that will make us think carefully about how data participate in social, cultural and spatial relations.

Deborah Lupton
University of Canberra

By carefully analysing data as a complex socio-technical assemblage, Rob Kitchin discusses thought-provoking aspects of data as a technical, economic and social construct that are often ignored or forgotten despite the increasing focus on data production and usage in contemporary life. This book unpacks the complexity of data as elements of knowledge production, and not only provide readers from a variety of disciplinary areas with useful conceptual framings, but  also with a challenging set of open issues to be further explored and engaged with as the “data revolution” progresses.

Luigina Ciolfi
Sheffield Hallam University

A timely intervention of critical reflection into the hyperbolic and fast-paced developments in the gathering, analysis and workings of ‘big data’. This excellent book diagnoses the technical, ethical and scientific challenges raised by the data revolution, sounding a clarion for critical reflections on the promise and problematic of the data revolution.

Sam Kinsley
University of Exeter

Much talk of big data is big hype. Different phenomena dumped together, a dearth of definitions and little discussion of the complex relationships that give rise to and shape big data practices sums it up. Rob Kitchin puts us in his debt by cutting through the cant and offering not only a clear analysis of the range, power and limits of big data assemblages but a pointer to the crucial social, political and ethical issues to which we should urgently attend. Read this book.

David Lyon
Queen's University, Canada

Data matter and have matter, and Rob Kitchin thickens this understanding by assembling the philosophical, social scientific, and popular media accounts of our data-based living. That the give and take of data is increasingly significant to the everyday has been the mainstay of Kitchin’s long and significant contribution to a critical technology studies. In The Data Revolution, he yet again implores us to think beyond the polemical, to signal a new generation of responsive and responsible data work. Importantly, he reminds us of the non-inevitability of data, articulating the registers within which interventions can and already are being made. Kitchin offers a manual, a set of operating instructions, to better grasp and grapple with the complexities of the coming world, of such a ‘data revolution’.

Matthew W. Wilson
Harvard University and University of Kentucky

The Data Revolution is one of the first systematic attempts to strip back the hype surrounding our current data deluge and take stock of what is really going on... The book acts as a helpful wayfinding device in an unfamiliar terrain, which is still being reshaped, and is admirably written in a language relevant to social scientists, comprehensible to policy makers and accessible even to the less tech savvy among us.... The Data Revolution’s main success lies in clearing a space – cutting out the conjecture and gloss, the Utopians and the reactionaries pulling in different directions – and locating a common ground from which to build something.

Read the full review on the Theory, Culture & Society blog.

David Moats
Theory, Culture and Society

Kitchin’s The Data Revolution is absolutely recommendable and provides a sober account of the interaction between society and big data. Kitchin avoids the hubris and speculation often found in literature about big data to focus on big data’s logic. [It] would serve as [an] ideal book in introductory graduate courses that deal with data and information in any capacity.

Andrew J. Iliadis
Communication Booknotes Quarterly

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