CFP: Big Data Ethics and Politics

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Call for Papers: Big Data Ethics and Politics

Special Issue of Social Science Computer Review (SSCR)

Guest Editors

Wenhong Chen, University of Texas at Austin

Anabel Quan-Haase, Western University

Aim and Scope

Big Data are dramatically changing many aspects of social life, including political elections, public discourse, business, public health, and journalistic practices. Big Data has gained new meaning and is no longer restricted to digitally collected information, rather it encompasses any and all information collected, stored, linked, and analyzed either online or offline. Accordingly, scholars from multiple disciplines are increasingly interested in investigating the ethics and politics of Big Data. Big Data and their meaning are socially constructed, and influenced by evolving social, political, and technological forces. The Arab Springs of 2010 uniquely demonstrated the political side of Big Data and the role social media engagement came to play in mobilizing societal groups. The 2016 US presidential election further raises questions around the use of Big Data for political purposes and the ethics of harnessing the power of the Big Data for political purposes. Addressing data ethics and politics is an integral part for Big Data studies. The study of Big Data ethics requires new understandings, as big data has a unique set of features and parameters. The complexity ranges from data sampling to informed consent to data analytics. New ethical dimensions and questions are surfacing as more scholars engage in Big Data projects. Big Data have challenges such as objectivity, accuracy, veracity, and inclusiveness.  Bigger does not always mean better, accessible does not always mean ethical, and convenience does not mean efficient. It is important to understand and create awareness of the biases and limitations inherent in Big Data studies, especially when its predictive power is taken for granted. This special issue calls for theoretically-grounded, empirically-sound, original work to advance a balanced and context-rich understanding of Big Data ethics and politics, especially epistemological and methodological vantage points are welcome that help to make visible Big Data  contradictions, gaps, and omissions. It encourages work with diverse theoretical and empirical approaches that shed light on ethical and political concerns, consequences, and contingencies of various aspects of Big Data studies.

Topics of interest include (but are not limited to):

  1.   What are the historical developments and current socio-political trends that influence and structure Big Data production, distribution, and application?
  2.   What power relations influence, structure, and play out in Big Data?
  3.   What are the socio-technical processes underlying data collection and storage? From whom is data collected and by whom is data used?
  4.   How are class, gender, and processes of racialization presented and represented in and through Big Data?
  5.   What are the global patterns and local variations of Big Data practices, ethics and politics, especially when comparing liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, the global north and the global south? Given the uneven access and use of Big Data methods and analytics, is there a data imperialism or data nationalism?
  6.   How are Big Data being shaped by and how are they shaping ethical and political debates? For instance, how do social, economic, and political factors affect how governments and businesses collect and exchange Big Data? How are Big Data practices facilitated and constrained by notions of digital capitalism?
  7.   How do Big Data and methods reproduce and repurpose institutional logics and organizational meaning?  Do Big Data contribute to or hinder an informed, connected, and engaged public? How do actors align or resist privacy erosion and the prevalence of ubiquitous, invisible algorithms? How do people and organizations use data to navigate and negotiate their social and geographic landscapes? What are the incentives and disincentives for individual and institutional actors to “game the system” and engage in data activism? Can Big Data facilitate access and mobilization of resources for social change?
  8.   How can Big Data and existing social science theories and methods be mutually beneficial to one another? How can Big Data better address issues such as construct validity, reliability, replicability, and temporal confounds?  How can comparative or cross-platform approaches capture the divides, dilemmas, and dividends of Big Data? What types of data access and ethical guidelines can be developed for researchers and practitioners?

Important Dates

May 31, 2017: Send a 500-word abstract to

June 30, 2017: Decisions on abstracts

November 30, 2017: Send full papers to

January 30, 2018: Reviews returned to authors with publication decisions

February 30, 2018: Final and revised papers are due

All submissions will be subject to the journal’s standard peer review process. Authors should follow the Information for Contributors of Manuscripts as published on SSCR website. Information about formatting guideline can be found at

Expected publication date is June 2018

For inquiries, please contact:

Wenhong Chen

Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Sociology

Moody College of Communication

University of Texas at Austin

Anabel Quan-Haase

Associate Professor

Faculty of Information and Media Studies /Department of Sociology

Western University