Constructing the big data imaginary : An evaluation of the metaphorical use and operational function of big data in company publications
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This research investigates the metaphorical use of big data in 275 company whitepapers published from 2011 until 2015. Lacking a clearly demarcated definition the term functions as a material metaphor connecting data practices and its proposed benefits. Qualitative analysis of the corpus revealed that the big data is promoted as a tool that resonates corporate values such as cost saving, effectiveness and decisiveness amongst others. Colorful imagery and lively models are used to exemplify these benefits. Quantitative analysis uncovered that big data is most often used in quotes on the opportunities of big data, that a business lexicon is used to explain these opportunities and that the sentiment of these quotes is predominantly positive. All documents in the corpus are informative, describe problems, explaining complex issues and propose solutions to these problems. More importantly, they serve to persuade customers and partners by promoting ideas and concepts. Big data is very carefully constructed metaphor expressed through authoritative and positive language. It creates a self-referential system because it does not require meaningful statements to be constructed using outside references. Without big data a company would have to undertake a multi-threaded conversation in which every element of every data practice is connected to every trait. Using big data metaphorically it is possible to group these traits together and communicate them under one banner.