Wikipedia, sociology, and the promise and pitfalls of Big Data

Publication Date: 
December 2015
Big Data & Society July–December 2015: 1–5
Hannah Brückner

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Wikipedia is an important instance of ‘‘Big Data,’’ both because it shapes people’s frames of reference and because it is a window into the construction—including via crowd-sourcing—of new bodies of knowledge. Based on our own research as well as others’ critical and ethnographic work, we take as an instance Wikipedia’s evolving representation of the field of sociology and sociologists, including such gendered aspects as male and female scholars and topics associated with masculinity and femininity. Both the gender-specific dynamics surrounding what counts as ‘‘notability’’ on the online encyclopedia and Wikipedia’s relative categorical incoherence are discussed. If ‘‘Big Data’’ can be said to construct its own object, it is, in this instance, a curious and lop-sided one, exemplifying pitfalls as well as promise with respect to more accurate and democratic forms of knowledge.