Big Data, urban governance, and the ontological politics of hyperindividualism

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Big Data’s calculative ontology relies on and reproduces a form of hyperindividualism in which the ontological unit of analysis is the discrete data point, the meaning and identity of which inheres in itself, preceding, separate, and independent from its context or relation to any other data point. The practice of Big Data governed by an ontology of hyperindividualism is also constitutive of that ontology, naturalizing and diffusing it through practices of governance and, from there, throughout myriad dimensions of everyday life. In this paper, I explicate Big Data’s ontology of hyperindividualism by contrasting it to a coconstitutive ontology that prioritizes relationality, context, and interdependence. I then situate the ontology of hyperindividualism in its genealogical context, drawing from Patrick Joyce’s history of liberalism and John Dewey’s pragmatist account of individualism, liberalism, and social action. True to its genealogical provenance, Big Data’s ontological politics of hyperindividualism reduces governance to the management of atomistic behavior, undermines the contribution of urban complexity as a resource for governance, erodes the potential for urban democracy, and eviscerates the possibility of collective resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalBig Data and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences


  • Urban governance
  • democracy
  • epistemology
  • individualism
  • ontology
  • pragmatism


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