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Is the Big Data a Non-Human Ethnography?
Recent scandals concerning the ab/use of personal data by internet giants such as Facebook or Google sparks a new discussion of how to ethically construct, collect and analyse datasets in cyberspace and what impact can these datasets have on the “real” world. Following argument made by Patricia Ticineto Clough concerning the “datalogical turn” and its relation to sociological unconscious, this paper argues that Big data, in its individualizing and performative nature, strangely resonates with ethnographic practices. Similarly as ethnographers, also Big data-collecting agents follow their objects of inquiry into their daily routines on a minute level, interact with them and directly participate in construction of their reality while transcending varying ontologies – those of researcher-agents and those of interlocutors. In other words Big data can be viewed as ethnography conducted by non-human agents. In such case then the paper further argues for the critique of Big data to be put into comparison with post-modern critique of ethnographic representations. By mobilizing the self-reflexive discussions concerning ethnographer’s moral, scientific and individual responsibilities within/towards the field, anthropology could therefore significantly contribute to the current debate concerning similar issues on the frontiers of the cyber-space and the “real” world.