A Neoliberalisation of Social Data? Big Data and the Future of Official Statistics

Takala, Ville. 2018. A Neoliberalisation of Social Data? Big Data and the Future of Official Statistics. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Many of the existing commentaries on enormous, interconnected, dynamic datasets, or Big Data, as they have become commonly known, have highlighted their technical qualities. It has for example been argued that what separates Big Data from previous forms of data are the so called 3Vs; Volume, Variety and Velocity. In contrast, based on a historical, conceptual and empirical analysis, I suggest that what is novel about Big Data is not just its technical composition, but more importantly the changing jurisdictions between the producers of data that its emergence entails. Its technical composition, I argue, is predicated upon how its production is organised.

I suggest that historically, statistics have emerged out of a co-constitutive interaction between methodological and technological developments and changes in the political and administrative world (Desrosières 1998). Further to this, I suggest that the production of data on which statistics have relied has often been monopolised by dominant institutions. By situating Big Data in the context of political economy, I argue that its emergence reflects broader processes of neoliberalisation that have swept over western polities in the past few decades, notably in the sense that it primarily accumulates in the private, rather than the public sector.

By exploring responses to Big Data within National Statistical Institutes, I suggest that it signals not just an increasing privatisation of data production and related infrastructures, but also an increasing pressure to adopt neoliberal rationalities and values in the public sector. I suggest that at Statistics Finland, where my fieldwork was based, these processes are potentially undermining the social welfarist principles upon which the production of official statistics has for long been based. I argue that the social organisation of Big Data must be rethought based on Social Democratic principles and political imaginations and that the question about the future role of the NSI must form a central component of such considerations.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Big Data, Official Statistics, Neoliberalism, Governmentality

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 November 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Mar 2019 16:04

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:14



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