1/26/18 – Geoffrey Bowker

How the West was Won by Data

Date: January 26, 2018

Time: 1:15pm – 2:15pm

Room: Luddy Auditorium


While we often think of data science and big data as being contemporary developments, there is a strong argument that we should go back to the late eighteenth century at least in order to see how we have become such a data intensive society.  I explore four overlapping epochs in data history which cumulatively have led to our current frenzy of data collection: the era of censuses and field surveys; the rise of statistics; the development of the control society to it’s culmination in the cybernetic revolution and the current era of data science.  I argue that these longer historical lenses help us avoid the hype on the one hand the pessimism on the other of data discourse today.


Geoffrey Bowker is Donald Bren Chair in the Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California Irvine. He is also Director of the Values in Design Laboratory. He formerly held professorships in the information schools at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and the University of Pittsburgh, and was Executive Director and the Regis and Dianne McKenna Professor at the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Santa Clara University. He has served as president of the Society for the Social Studies of Science. Publications include Science on the RunMemory Practices in the Sciences; and Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences (with Susan Leigh Star). He holds a PhD in history and philosophy of science from the University of Melbourne and a postdoc at Ecole des Minesin Paris.