On Researching Data and Communication

December 06, 2016 by Andrew Schrock

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We are awash in predictions about our data-driven future. Enthusiasts believe it will offer new ways to research behavior. Critics worry it will enable powerful regimes of institutional control. Both visions, although polar opposites, tend to downplay the importance of communication. As a result, the role of communication in human-centered data science has rarely been considered. This article fills this gap by outlining three perspectives on data that foreground communication. First, I briefly review the common social scientific perspective: “communication as data.” Next, I elaborate on two less explored perspectives. A “data as communication” perspective captures how data imperfectly carry meanings and guide action. “Communication around data” describes communication in organizational and institutional data cultures. I conclude that communication offers nuanced perspectives to inform human-centered data science. Researchers should embrace a robust agenda, particularly when researching the relationship between data and power.