Everything Counts in Large Amounts – A Critical Realist Case Study on Data-based Production
Aleksi Aaltonen and Niccoló Tempini
Contemporary digital ecosystems produce vast amounts of data every day. The data are often no more than microscopic log entries generated by the elements of an information infrastructure or system. Although such records may represent a variety of things outside the system, their powers go beyond the capacity to carry semantic content. In this article, we harness critical realism to explain how such data come to matter in specific business operations. We analyse the production of an advertising audience from data tokens extracted from a telecommunications network. The research is based on an intensive case study of a mobile network operator that tries to turn its subscribers into an advertising audience. We identify three mechanisms that shape data-based production and three properties that characterize the underlying pool of data. The findings advance the understanding of many organizational settings that are centred on data processing.